Faith reveals to me that she’s a DJ from D.C. and a budding bisexual over two pints of blonde at the hostel bar around 1:00 AM only twenty minutes after I arrived and keeps glancing at her phone because she’s expecting a text from the cute bartender she met last night at a burlesque show who swore she would be free after her shift this evening and wants to meet-up at an after-hours discotheque that she’s been dying to check-out and now I’m being roped into tagging along even though I’m exhausted but of course I cave and call a cab because I can’t stand to say no to new adventures or pretty girls or nights beyond prediction.
She talks to our driver in French with an accent I can tell he finds atrocious and honestly so do I but then again I speak so little and the words she says sound right and her pace is probably fine because he continues making conversation although it dawns on me eventually that it’s only to keep her from getting keen on the fact that he can see down her shirt in the strategically tilted rearview as she leans forward from the backseat to paint her lips in cherry black and while I make a solid effort can’t manage to mime this to her subtly enough for it to not be awkward so I must admit to myself that he may have won this round and I hope he hits a moose on his return trip to the city.
Along the far side of a strip mall we come to a stop in front of an unmarked door on the other side of which I’m sure unspeakable things are happening and I know that we’re both thinking, Where in God’s name are we? but neither of us will say it because we’re way too cool to blink first at such uncertainty even though we’re well aware that half of all horror movies begin like this so without a word I help her climb out of the car which is when she takes the opportunity to squeeze my hand so softly I nearly don’t notice and say, Hey thanks for coming, and when she lets go I realize the tips of my fingers won’t stop tingling and I can’t blame it on the cold although that would be convenient.
We dance across the overpriced threshold and down the coat check counter and into a leather-clad crowd being groped by a thousand lasers under orbs whose colors shift with the beat of house music so loud it hurts my insides but to it she moves her hips like a pendulum keeping time for every rolling pair of pupils closing in around us while scanning their faces frantically for that set of high cheek bones that drew us out of our warm refuge to begin with but they confiscated our phones at the entrance and Lord have mercy how many people are in this room and there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell she won’t end up disappointed which with every song creeps into her expression and somehow I had lunch twelve hours ago in Louisiana but now my shoulder supports the head of someone I hardly know who’s trying her best to hold back tears as I tell her, I’m sure you’ll hook-up with her another night, and, Yes I’ll be right here when you get out, and when she does she drops something small into my palm and stupidly I shake my head and shout, I’m not taking Molly you got from some shady bathroom stranger, and, Are you out of your mind? so she holds out her tongue for me to obediently place the pill upon and swallows it with a sip of vodka then yells into my ear her answer, Aren’t we all?
Hope’s favorite band is my favorite band as is her favorite book along with so many other things we have in common that actually don’t matter but feel so providential in that moment when I lose my grip on what’s unfolding around me because I’ve convinced myself I know each word she’s going to say and stance she’ll take and clever joke I’d make if she hadn’t beaten me to it already which is why I found it so unsurprising that she made her introduction by interrupting my break by placing five fingers in front of my pool cue and asking, Who are you? and, Never mind don’t bother, and, Don’t you need me to be your partner?
In a back alley beneath a burnt-out floodlight I lean in like a gentleman to light her cigarette before mine as I ask, What’ve you learned from taking care of people who are dying? and as she exhales while searching for her words I get so tangled between the steam from her breath and the smoke pouring from her nose as it chases after the freezing wind rushing past us that I don’t notice when she changes the subject without giving me an answer.
There must be a million voices around us but we can’t hear them from our table in the middle of the barroom when she admits that she’s been burned too hard by too many men she’s known too little about and then takes a drink of my Old Fashioned and swallows the cherry at the bottom and instantly I’m overcome by how such tiny gestures from total strangers can feel so intimate sometimes until she blurts out, Fuck me it’s late, and I have trouble deciphering whether she’s said two sentences or one.
I’m standing outside her room just past 1:00 AM and saying things my brain’s not even taking part in because I’m too focused on finding that perfect second when our sentences fall off their ledges which is when television has taught me that I should steal a kiss but when it finally happens she turns toward her door and tells me, We should hang out one more night first, and so I say, Sleep tight, instead of the truth, Tomorrow I’m leaving, and as I walk up to my floor defeated I can’t shake this vision of her sitting in a dark corner of her studio apartment and listening to her turntable while putting the finishing touches on a self-portrait she wishes she hadn’t started and instead of signing the corner she smashes her cigarette butt into the center then goes to bed alone.
Grace is sitting on a window sill in the stairwell between the second and third floors as I head down to grab a towel and back up to take a shower and down again to use the computer and I notice that she never moves much other than to alternate between phone calls and staring out of the black glass at the side street slowly being inundated by the falling snow so I open my mouth during my final pass and say something funny about how she looks so sad and she laughs and explains the fight she’s having with her best friend out of which she can’t seem to find her way and after she asks for my advice we end up having drinks in the basement and double-teaming jigsaw puzzles and telling one another secrets and looking at the map on the wall for a decedent spot for dinner somewhere within walking distance so we won’t get lost in the storm.
She hails from the Albertan badlands and flesh of her flesh is Native American Sioux and Hungarian Jew and Gypsy and she says one day she’ll run away to the Rockies and live but for her love a lonely life raising goats on a mountainside and all this she wants so badly that she had the whole scene inked on her left shoulder blade which I know because she showed me in the back corner of a deserted pub in the old town when we were only an inch from the bottom of our mugs and huddled together in the shadow of a statue of Tattooed Jesus whose head bowed down with disapproval and eyes warned, Nothing good can come after 1:00 AM.
We skip over the snowdrifts and swim through the sea of flakes that hang almost suspended in the frigid air around us but which gradually gather on her golden head like a halo or a crown of thorns or some other less obvious metaphor for how much I feel like she’s saving me from a routine day-to-day so desperately wanting for Ferris Wheels dusted with fifteen inches of fresh powder and spotlights that scan the sky for constellations rising over a New Year inevitably encroaching—all because she’s too proud of a Canadian to pull up the hood of her cherry-colored jacket since it would be a tacit admission that this blistery evening is anything other than average and there’s nothing but empty streets in all directions so I can’t get a confirmation that we’re not walking in circles around a snow globe that’s just been shaken.
I’m so cold that it’s hard to make a fist as she unlocks the door and sweeps off my snow damp shoulders and points out that my ears are still the color her coat which of course she finds hysterical but, Hey you’ll stop shaking if you just give it a minute, and, Here why don’t I help you? and her hands are warm and her sheets are warm, and so is her breath, soaked in nutmeg and coffee stout, as she whispers, This is real, and, There is magic.