Stillness in the glitter of the night... and back again

Submitted into Contest #199 in response to: Write about a character having a spiritual experience at a concert or a nightclub.... view prompt



This story contains sensitive content

[TW: death of loved one]

Stillness in the glitter of the night... and back again

It was the night of Rue’s funeral, her father would always say, amidst the curls of smoke dragged from the lengthy ashes of his cigarette, that Rue reappeared in the form of a deer. Whereas before pine trees dotted the driveway in their loneliness, the remnants of fogginess cleared and there stood a large, muscly, deer - staring. Her father would explain how its gaze, deep and unwavering, was an invitation; the stillness of its eyes a sign that he would be safe. He would whisper how his feet crunched atop the pinecones as he took the few steps to lay his hand on its side, knowing in that moment that Rue was with him. He felt the softness of his fur, the blood continuing to course through its body and generating breath after breath into the night. Neither creature moved. 

Time eclipsed itself when he remembered how he stood that way for another hour in quietness and warmth, both continuing to breathe and feel the energy of the other’s presence. Nothing but the rush of air, cycling back and forth between the two of them into the wavering darkness. 

“I said sorry when I went back inside the house later on,” he would admit on his exit into the present moment with her. 

“Rue was gone when I checked early the next morning –  but I know that he was sorry, too.” 

Everyone else was occupied that Friday, either too hungover from the previous day’s festivities or too bored to consider venturing towards somewhere unplanned. But it was Friday night after a seemingly neverending week of work, and it seemed like Sam was the only person out of her friends yearning to brave going out. She knew the perfect place to go alone. Somewhere filled with little enough lighting where any shadow could seem romantic and any stranger interesting enough to engage in conversation, stuffed with random antiques softly covered in glitter dust to otherwise occupy time - when you didn’t want to fade into the bite of the dance floor. Angela’s. It was the type of place where the closing door behind you signified a temporary ticket into another world; themed dance nights, where mystics would don sparkling costumes and blind one another with their light, were the standard. A ceiling stuffed with sculptures, so that when you looked up from the noise of it all you would merely see large dark eyes, a plastic angel hanging by a thread, or glowing stars staring back at you. You could be anything, do anything, see anything - every night offered the possibility of magic (or the result of a drug-induced haze). She would head there alone, and allow the enchantment of the club to complete the rest of her time. 

Sam hadn’t considered the story about Rue in years. Memory blurred as she stared absentmindedly at herself while hurriedly preparing to leave. Rinse off the coffee grime from the shop she worked at throughout the week first - the perfume of Ethiopian beans practically caked into the creases of her skin. Brush mascara quickly on lashes, then coat with a layer of thick, goopy glitter until her eyelids could feel heavy and mysterious. Not enough time to work against the frizz itching to break outside of vainly masked gel - hug back the thick, curly hair with a golden clip shaped like a butterfly’s wing. Ready.

It was the relieving kind of summer night that offers at least a partial respite from the stench of the afternoon, where the daytime air is so heavy it feels like condensation accumulating on glass. Sam breathed in the coolness of the air as she stepped into the endless possibilities of the darkness, lifted by the clean breeze to the club around her street corner. Each breath echoed throughout her skin; every hair tensed, rising from her feet to her scalp. The anticipation for the night wasn’t so much about the prospect of meeting anyone new, or discovering something she hadn’t on previous visits. But Angela’s offered a form of socially acceptable quietness, where you could disappear into the illusion of their walls and make any day feel like the glowing stars hanging from the ceiling. 

 “Text us when you’re on your way home,” her roommates laughed on her way out. 

I miss you. I miss how excited you would sound hearing my voice whenever we were talking on the phone. Like you were thinking and waiting to hear me all day. We didn’t really talk about anything that serious - how’re you doing in school, are you excited about the beginning of break, how is your one friend, I forget her name. But I just miss being able to call and know that someone on the other end of that phone really cared. Maybe it was the inflection of your voice - that uptick in tone whenever you would first get on the line and say hi. 

I miss listening to stories about you growing up that weren’t spoken with an overtone of sadness. I miss talking about visiting you and thinking of the future. So are you free this weekend, then? When will we see eachother next? I hope it’s soon. 

All freshness from the outside air recompressed itself into the dimly lit space, which was already buzzing with muffled sound. An attempted guise of sweet floral perfume, over a patchwork of stale cigarettes, sweat, and melted candlesticks, welcomed Sam as she stepped into Angela’s. A swarm of bodies clustered together near a narrow staircase that led down into the glittering allure of the basement dance floor inches away. The staircase wound into blackness that was intermittently disrupted with quick flashes of white; illuminated thin silhouettes danced together against a smudged brick wall. On the left, already nodding to the beat of blasting techno, hungry costumed fairies paced, waiting to catch the overworked bartender’s attention. The door closed behind Sam, and with that the energy of the night’s unexpectedness washed through her. The pulse of the beat, the perfumed sweat, all became her own; she adorned wings from a stranger and joined the crowd hoping for a drink. 

She spotted a lone quilted stool, near a paper-mache crescent moon hanging in the corner. Seemed like a good enough refuge, close enough to the bar countertop. The hairs that were previously tense against her skin started to unbend; cloudy air wrapped around her until she finally could feel warm again. Able to just breathe in the smoke filled air without any tightness, it was easy for her to take in the scene, open up each spectacle without talking, and shower in the crowd’s separate fantasies. Sam sipped on cocktails the colors of stage blush for what could be minutes to hours, until the costumed fairy wings of the crowd began to soften, and the music started to seem less blaring. 

I keep thinking about what I last said to you, and the thing that really kills at me is that I don’t know. I have no idea. I don’t know if I sounded bored - I was pretty young, maybe I just wanted to leave, play, do something else other than see the same family member we always see, right? These things can feel so routine. Even the phone calls we had that I claim to miss now - I didn’t always know what to say. I could be talking to you over the line while still thinking I was missing the best part of an episode that aired every Saturday. And that really kills me. I don’t know if I said I love you or not. I could have just been bored. 

Sam was cushioned and warm now; Angela’s always had that reassuring effect. No more roommates or ground coffee beans or phone calls with numbers you’ve now forgotten - just a blissful silence, a nap against all of the terrible endless noise. Sam slid her card across the bar’s countertop - wistfully telling herself to not forget the open tab - when he entered the club; the door slammed shut, and the haze of it all suddenly crystallized into an anxious focus. The costumes, the DJ, the crowd, the glitter, the hanging decor, suddenly all swirled together, melting into the cocktails and vanishing into the concrete floor until there was nothing but the two of them left in the room. Sam and this stranger had somehow survived the seizing, and something had shifted.

Angela’s was empty now besides Sam and the stranger, and in that silence all of the noise hit against every bone Sam had. Over and over and over again, a tightness bursting in her core, an alarm ringing throughout her body. Waves of heat, suffocating her. Her throat felt raw - how long had she been at Angela’s, anyways? Hours, minutes, years? This stranger’s presence had sprinted straight through her, ripping away the blanket of warmth that Angela’s always promised to provide. 

He was wearing a fitted black t-shirt and a plastic, golden tiara which curled into the longer tufts of dark hair - but all Sam could feel was the sudden hot stake inside of her, burning metal welding itself in her stomach. The stranger wasn’t looking at her, just walking through the door - so what was it making her feel this way? The dark velvet birthmark on his right hand that she was supposed to recognize? Or the assured way he walked into the bar, closing the door behind him and with that every sense of reassurance she loved about the club?

And then she saw the thinly drawn tattoo on his wrist - the outline of a raven taking flight. No more bigger than two quarters placed together, crude black lines that were just beginning to fade. The metal inside of her burned further; her throat was crinkled tissue paper now. She could almost picture the tattoo leaping up from his skin; the drawing of a bird flying towards her. It had something to say, a message maybe, when - 

“Sorry, remind me if you wanted to close this out or not?” 

And it all reappeared as Sam gasped for any oxygen left in the club. She quickly took her card back from the bartender, thank you, you’re right, I definitely wouldn’t have remembered to get my card back anyways - but by the time she reoriented herself to the door the glint of a tiara had squeezed past the crowd, descending towards the basement. The stranger and his tattoo had disappeared, the raven and its message cut. 

The spectacle of Angela’s had returned, but Sam no longer felt cushioned by the isolating noise. The music was blaring again, but she needed to learn what the tattooed bird had been trying to say. 

The day I found out you were no longer here - I think about that day a lot. I was rude to dad, which I always feel bad about. That’s what I remember first. I remember coming back from swimming at the neighbor’s down the street, all chlorine and matted hair and summertime. I came into the house where I argued with dad for a few minutes about staying out swimming too late in the day. He already seemed irritated, but I just assumed that he was upset about that. Something so stupid like swimming. I forgot how it worked out exactly but all of the sudden we stopped talking about swimming, and he couldn’t stop crying on the leather couch, you remember the one I’m talking about right? He was just sitting there and the dog came over to sniff his feet and he just kept on crying while I stood there. I stood there in the room that maybe you can still picture, dripping bug-ridden pool water onto the floor when he told me that you were gone.

Sam remembered the story of the deer as she got up from the chair in the corner, being drawn towards the stairs into the fog.

Strobe lights and techno started to grow louder as Sam squeezed through the make-believe sorcerers lingering near the entrance to the basement.

She hadn’t thought of the story in years, had never really believed her father when he talked of her older brother that way. It offered too much hope that her brother could be out in the world somewhere as something or someone else, still a part of her life; it was just a story told to make a little girl feel better about losing someone she would inevitably miss. Nothing more than that.

Sam had made it down the stairs, past the basement dwellers near the corner of the dance floor with their party favors. There were no lyrics to lose yourself to that night; just an ever changing beat that shook through the crowd, forcing each member to fly and deflect the never ending stream of drums and synthesizers. 

The glint of the tiara turning into the chaos of the night was what she held onto now. The suffocation she had when the stranger walked through the door - the tattoo of the bird flying towards her. The story of the deer meeting her father again in the darkness. The burning that woke her now from her seat upstairs - hope. 

Hope that Rue hadn’t disappeared into the neverending vastness of the black universe.

Hope that her brother was in the club that night with her. 

Rue was gone when I checked early the next morning –  but I know that he was sorry, too. 

Are you able to see me wherever you are now? Are you still here with me? Are you proud of me? Do you miss being a part of my life as much as I miss hearing your voice? Did I say that I love you the last time we were with one another? 

Is the story of the deer true - the part about knowing that you were also sorry? 

May 25, 2023 13:02

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