He loved that dress on her. Red, neatly fitting around her slim upper body, skirt flowing in petals to just above her knee. Tiny LEDs around the collar made her neckline seem to move slightly – to flicker and colour-shift in time with how she moved. And she moved like an angel. She crossed the street towards him, long legs brushing against each other on pencil-thin, four-inch heels.
Sean sprang from his chair to meet her at the edge of the courtyard. “You look so perfect. I don't know how you do it.”
Erica kissed him lightly, “I'm inspired by you.”
“I'm a genius.” He took her hand and escorted her back to the table - “vanilla-tip latte for the lady please” - and held out her seat for her.
“You're a gentleman now?”
“Tonight, I am.”
She kissed him once more. “You don't have to be. Though I love it. Be you.”
Me. Me has changed so much, I'm not sure I could tell you who 'me' really is any
more. Except for this one thing: he was and would always be – no matter what cold distance would have to come between them – the man who loved this woman. Erica he'd all but grown up with, Erica he'd slowly come to see as more than friend or playmate, to see the tantalising woman who'd always been evolving inside her. So few and so precious, those happy years that followed his discovery.
Her toes played along the inside of his trouser leg.
“That is you?”
“What is?” An innocent lift of the eyebrow.
“Whoever she is, she's very good at that.”
“You know it.”
The sky behind her was choked tonight, thick clouds and smogs, algal mists, all reflecting a rainbow of city lights. Drones circled overhead, adding their small lights to that great cacophony of colour that saturated the night. Colours that shifted from reddish through to dun-yellow, to a muted,
smoke-stained silver. Far up ahead the whoosh of the sky-train was all but lost to the steady stream of music, chatter, engines, that went on far below.
“You said, 'take me anywhere.'” He opened that up as an invitation.
“What I said was 'take me everywhere.'”
“If there was time. And if I could.”
“Ssh.” She put a smooth finger to his lips. “I didn't mean anything by that. I don't even want to go everywhere.”
“Tell me where.”
“Take me dancing.”
“That much I can do.”
And it felt like dancing, simply walking away from the cafe courtyard. An angel like this one on his arm. Even the way she walked was like a dance – the soft rustle of her skirt against her thighs with each step. He felt like sweeping her up in his arms and dancing with her, here and now. They'd have an audience. People would stop and stare, all right. Why not? He'd be dancing here with the city's most beautiful woman. He'd always liked the envious glances he received from men who saw him with her.
And he wanted to do this right. “Follow me.”
“Where are we going?”
Sean knew where he was heading. He threaded his way through the murky, overshadowed streets, keeping her hand ensconced in his, her bright figure ready in the corner of his eye. The walls and windows all around them were old, greened and greyed by their many years of life; hard smoke had
settled over their exterior, washing them in ash. Now red and orange lights – spliced with greens, blues, silvers – did the rest of the work, dappling them with slightly insufficient colours, so that patterns and shadows were brought out, and that dull, inner-cityness was somehow enhanced.
These were mean streets – at least he supposed they might have been called that once, when poverty was a realer and less universal thing. Before this egalitarian collapse. Before times had really, truly changed. There were still rusting fire-escapes climbing the walls like vines, still a few sickly weeds that grew in cracks. A few silhouettes crouched along steps or perched in windows, looking out over the city – some of them were slapping the latest designer drugs; couples were wired together, locked in shared fantasy; barefoot children had rings on all their toes, had big vacant eyes and puffy, veined faces.
People walking past seemed so grey as to almost blend into the walls, to be animated ash, heads down, hands in pockets. There'd be others – fewer, butothers – whose laughter would be loud, their hair and clothes bright. People seemed to go one way or the other.
Hard to remember he'd grown up in these criss-cross streets, these grimy, life-rich tenements that'd once been so much louder and livelier.
“Bressel street?” Erica guessed.
“Did I ruin it?”
“No. No never.”
Obvious choice anyway: this place he'd first taken her, when they'd been teenagers, when he'd started to notice the woman she was, to be overcome by that – yes, in ordinary parlance: to have fallen in love.
“Do you think it'll even still be there?”
“Perfect. A perfect night. I told you. Perfect like you.”
The club was still there. And surprisingly unchanged. A huge neon globe, twinkling with LEDs and crystal colonies, hung brazenly over the roof. Glass lifts could be seen going up and down the sides, with the city's youth lounging in their lights, posing for passers-by who might see them from the street, or for those already in the club searching for excitement, solace, a mate for the rest of the night. Sunset light shone from the narrow doorway.
“Two please.” Sean held his wrist out for payment and ID. “Thirty-three, since you ask,” he said to the little drone as it blinked his admittance.
“Thirty,” said Erica. As if the thing cared. As if it heard her voice.
And the two of them plunged inside.
Downstairs the light was silver, it came from the centre of the roof and was bounced from spinning balls the full circuit of the room. A white strobe played through it; and hard, rubble music left ripples in the lightwaves. Tiny fireflies seemed to swarm, and in every colour - bouncing aroundon clothes or threaded into hair. Every other head was colour-treated to glow under club-lights, or to glow - a different colour – in the few patches of darkness the city had left to offer. Bright body-paint slithered everywhere, twitching under a combination of lights and rapid movement. It was a packed dance-floor, and most of the dancers were young, probably not quite twenty, the way the two of them had been, once.
“….perfect....!” Erica was shouting in his ear.
“I swear it!”
“It's as close to forever as I could manage!”
“Well, I love you for it!”
And they lostthemselves in the dancing, surrendered these few hours to the enveloping, deep-pitched music. Subliminal cues in the music – or so rumour had it – were there to heighten some emotions, dullothers. That was fine with Sean – this was a moment he wanted to get lost in; deep water he didn't want to surface from and breath.
But they'd have to surface eventually. Mid-dance he grabbed her arm, lead her through the flesh-maze over to the lifts. He selected the one bathed in red, slightly fire-ish light. The light accentuated her dress, which in turn accentuated her body, and her flushed, sweat-beaded face. The
light filled her full of warm tones, left her hair the colour of toffee, her lips like sugar-cherries. Leaning against the glass he buried his face in her. Their dark figures, all enmeshed in hot lights – for sure, there were strangers on the dance floor watching them as they ascended.
The roof by comparison was cool and dark. They weren't alone up here, but the crowds were
far thinner, far quieter, all caught in a mutually agreed-upon melancholy. The complex, cloudy shades in the sky overhead just heightened that mood.
“So tired,” Erica breathed. “We're not as young as all this lot after all.”
“We're not done yet.”
“Hey, I'm just catching my breath. I can party until sunrise.”
Sunrise would be muted and smothered, painted over with layers of smog and algal-haze; a bankrupt atmosphere would diffuse and rearrange the sun's rays before they could come anywhere near to the earth.
Sean caught both her hands in his. “I don't want to go without you.”
“I know, Sean. But you must.”
“I'll die without you.” He felt as if he meant it.
“You'll sleep while I die. While I age, get sick, get old. It's all right.”
It didn't feel all right. The closer the time rushed at him, the less right it felt.He wanted to wrap himself up in her, tell her he just wasn't going –just wasn't. But they'd circled this topic so many times, from somany angles, always coming back to the same place: what help could he give her by staying, but a tiny glimmer of hope perhaps by going? It always came back to that.
She said, “Oh, I don't want to talk about this. Not tonight. I want to dance again.”
The lift opened under them, suffused this time in green light – electric, fresh-spring, deep-lime. Her dress turned fiery orange.