Rain drops suicide bomb into asterisks on the pavement. Our hero Clark weaves through the dark streets, hands buried in the depths of his pockets, thumbing both a lucky quarter in one hand and the love letter in the other. Occasionally the coin-hand will graze upon the chamber of the pistol, and Clark, in his cocaine induced dream-state, will jump, forgetting it was there at all.
Our man turns a corner, ducks underneath awnings of neon lit bodegas, sex shows. Umbrellas bop into one another like lily pads as people across the street shuffle into flooded subway stops. Outside of the safety orb of lampposts people raise little fireflies up, pause, down, up, pass, down, exhuming plumes of smoke that Clark walks through, popped collars of his coat blocking the acrid flanking dumplings.
He stops underneath the protective gaze underneath 184 Sylvester Street, looks up to the yellow rectangle on the fourth floor, third from the right, sees the silhouette as the perfect specimen of feminine grace and Clark falls in love again. He thumbs the coin, feels ol’ Washington underneath callouses, and fishes the currency from his deep pockets, sniffing away a persistent nasal drip. He inserts the coin into the key slot, hears a series of thumps of woken machines, grunts of cogs and pistons…then the sound of sucking air from the mailbox outside.
Clark, our friend, sneers at the silhouette and obtains a plastic capsule containing a jawbreaker. He opens the capsule with difficulty in the way of child-proof pill capsules and feels the complex chemical geometry of fructose, glucose, sucrose in the curve of his palm. He backs up, tips the brim of his hat to shield from the offense of tropical storm Greta, and waits as the silhouette, cartoonish, erotic, twists in an almost two-dimensional fashion to open the fenetre.
The figure, mannequin still, waits patiently in her box of yellow, waits for Clark to lob the jawbreaker four stories into the apartment, which he does. She never reaches out to catch the offer. Clark must always lob it successfully into her folded hands, like a bird which graces his presence on an unsuspecting walker. The silhouette recedes into the electric room, invisible hands shut the window.
The door to 184 Sylvester Street opens and Clark steps into the cotton candy glow of the foyer, wiping his hands on the inside of the coat so he may return to massaging the love letter between two nicotine-stained nails.
Clark grimaces, feels the weight of the pistol in his pocket, resists a cigarette. He walks up the winding step to the fourth floor, makes his way to her apartment. Behind the veils Clark hears the sucking of sugary sweets, the grating gnawing of an open mouth gum chewer, the puckered zow! of a hard candy blanketed with so much citric acid as to burn a whole through your…Clark finds himself in the corner of an alcove, half obscured by a swaying overhead bulb, one nasal bent toward the folded love letter, the glassy powdered snow rocketing up his sinuses. And now Clark is ready, zooming down the checkered hall, one soggy boot after the other, his own face shadowed by his dripping cap.
Out of respect Clark tries the glass doorknob, fully prepared to kick through the lock with a heaving boot. The door is open, to Clark’s surprise, He would have figured that she would have forced him to make more of a commotion. Dilated pupils watch a nicked and cut hand twist, push, go from the outside root beer and rhubarb checkered hall to her apartment with its maple wood and scarlet svelte drapes.
She is always a woman of excess, a bohemian.
The studio is adorned with cotton candy clouds, plasters of the Queen of all four suits on the walls, even some jokers. No longer silhouetted but vulnerable and seen, Lady Luck turns with her sequined dress and conjures the jawbreaker from a once empty palm to the top of her fingers, like finding a coin behind an ear. Clark thumbs the chamber of his gun, knows that she knows it is aimed at her.
Lady Luck takes the jawbreaker to the minibar across the room, moving like an ice skater and places the jaw breaker on a little dais made of hard candy. With a tiny pickaxe, she tap tap taps and crack crack cracks the jawbreaker, its red and blue dotted pockets of condensed sugar rattling like a dinosaur egg.
Her eyes flutter all the while and Clark finds himself hopelessly enamored and at her whim. She pulls a tiny piece of paper that reminds Clark of a fortune cookie from its shell.
With lips tinged with cherry cola, she reads with a curved smile, “Monsieur Clark, I feel that you have arrived at the right place, but the wrong time. Comme ca va?”
Clark says, “I am not looking for them. I’m looking for you.”
“Oui,” Lady Luck pours herself a martini glass full of jelly beans, puts a hand on her jeweled hip, “je sais.”
“English,” Clark says.
Lady Luck bats a cat eye over her shoulder, pops a jellybean into the cushions of glossy lips. “You act like you come for here pour moi, but I see nothing but a caricature looking at a caricature.”
“Cut the nonsense,” Clark says, dripping onto the carpet, his boots squishing into the fibers. A siren wails in the distance, cuts through the electric rain-patter on the windows, tap dancing down the gutters into the city bowels.
“Non? Am I not just a silhouette, Monsieur Clark? An idea of an idea?”
Clark reveals the love letter, partially dampened in his rain slicked fingers, the confectionary handwriting blurring like smeared mascara, two full cherry-cola lips blotched in the corner, twisted into a pucker.
“Then explain this, Lady.”
Lady Luck reclines on a chaise, long legs peeking from a raspberry-colored hem. A gem the color of ivory rock candy rests in between her breasts, winking at Clark from across the table, the record player, the liquor cart full of sweet treats and other delights, all sticky with sucrose resin. Eyes glance at the poking cylinder in Clark’s pocket, does not show any sign of discomfort that the cannon might explode her like a popped kernel, the feathers at the hem of her dress pluming like a torn pillow all over the room.
Clark tosses the letter, watches Lady Luck defend her gaze.
“You rolled the dice, Clark,” Lady Luck says, “and you rolled wrong.”
“I regret ever having rolled at all, but here we are.”
“Here you are,” Lady Luck smiles. She pats an adjacent chair. “Come. Sit with me.”
“No. I’m never going near you again.”
“Afraid of what will happen?”
“Afraid of what won’t.”
Lady Luck sighs, delicately places her jellybeans on a glass table, reaches into the crests of her breasts and reveals a candy cigarette. She places it in her mouth, sucks on the butt, offers it to Clark across the room and says it is a new flavor and wouldn’t he try? Clark remains silent and watches as Lady Luck multiplies the candy cigarettes like a dealer fans cards. She places the second cigarette down, rolls it over the table, watches Clark take the sugar stick and disappear behind the rim of his waterlogged visor.
“A long time ago,” Lady Luck says, “things change.”
“You have new lovers. You promised me this would not be the case.”
“Monsieur Clark, little innocent one with your gun, don’t you know that Sylvester Street is where you go to trade promises like trading cards? To remind yourself that words are just that…words?”
“And what words are on that piece of paper you pulled out?”
“A fortune, obviously.”
“And what does it say?”
“That you are not long for this world, Monsieur Clark.”
Clark stirs, puts his finger on the trigger. “Are you threatening me?”
“Non. All I am saying is that you yourself put the wedge in your days. There is a before and after in your life, and now you live in the after, and you hate it. My question is…why did you decide to make our union that wedge?”
“Enough of this.”
“Do you plan to kill me, Monsieur Clark?”
Clark’s hands rattle, every fiber of his being a marionette string, pulling his finger onto the trigger. The barrel shakes, anxious in its own way.
“Will it make you feel better?”
He thinks that it just might. It started as a simple release, a loosening of a valve in an otherwise lonely life, a personal triumph for arriving here and finding all the woman just like Lady Luck but not like Lady Luck, all beckoning on their floors, rolling the dice…the clatter of plastic cubes on svelte green boards, sticky and scabbed with melted hard candies…and then, Clark grits his teeth, wonders exactly when it became an obsession, when she became a possession. It is business, just like the job he leaves down at the salty and sour docks, reeking with generations of dead fish…
“Will my murder save you from your eternal loneliness?” Lady Luck licks her lips, tastes the crystals of citric acid glossed on her soda-pop lipstick like spackle.
“But the letter,” Clark says, “you wrote me a letter.”
Lady Luck leans back, her exposed shoulders broadened, a passing above-ground subway flickering squares along her face, the other half obscured by blinds. She looks like a Picasso painting, Clark thinks, something to put into a museum that no one can truly understand. Except him, of course. Except our hero. Accept our hero.
“I did,” Lady Luck says, “and it brought you back, didn’t it?”
Clark gathers himself. “Why are you so cruel?”
“This is not the business of tenderness, Monsieur Clark. It is the business of love. You rolled the dice, found yourself on la quatrieme etage, into my cotton candy abode. You ate my candy and it filled such a gap in you that it made you return, again, and again, and again.”
“I thought you loved me,” Clark says, “I love you.”
“You do not love me, Monsieur Clark. You hardly love yourself. That is why our arrangement was perfect. A vacuum, Monsieur Clark, where we only exist to one another within these walls. But now, you live in the after, staring at the rolled dice, hoping for another chance.”
“How many others have you written too? How many others have fallen under your spell?”
“Enough that you are not the first, nor the last.”
“I might be the last.”
“Then please,” Lady Luck purrs, “bring me to your definition of justice.”
Clark withdraws the pistol, steadies the iron sights, blinking away the sour dew lurking in the corner of his eyes. Trapped in an emotional jawbreaker, our hero finds himself at a crossroads, fearing to embark on the path he set before himself, fearing that he has committed, fearing that he is being punished for falling in love. He wonders if this moment, when the hard exterior of a gumball relents from the gnash of teeth, dissolving with saliva, will be a new after for him, or simply the end of the one in which he resides.
Our hero asks himself if a gun referenced earlier in a narrative must go off by the end of ACT III.
Clark screams to exorcise the demons which invade him, have infected him already, drag him along with a carrot to a stick to embark on the eventual candy skull filled River Styx. He fires the pistol, feels the relentless give as his shoulder braces for the kickback, smells the sulfur of gunpowder secede into smells of burnt caramel and confectionary. Lady Luck stares wide eyed, her complexion one which has finally decided, in the final moments, to believe or not believe in a higher power. Cherry-coke lips purse into an “O”, surprised that her lemon drop flesh is unscathed, glancing at the sphincter in the wall, a meteor impact right in the middle of an enlarged Queen of Hearts.
“There,” Clark says, feeling a release, “so you do feel something.”
Lady Luck reclaims herself, her graceful posture lost, not a crumpled wrapper no longer in defiance because now Clark, our champion, means business. In another world, in another time, someone might report the fired shot, but not in this city anymore, under the constant rain and the people underneath, crying lightning, making love with themselves and their demons so they will not be alone. And especially not in 184 Sylvester. Not anymore.
The fortune flutters onto the table, near several speckles of cocaine that fell out of Clark’s pocket. He reads it from the table, keeping his sights on Lady Luck:
Monsieur Clark is a sore-loser.
Lady Luck stares at Clark, amplifying the empty space between them. Finally, she says, “Do you feel better?”
Clark considers this. He really does.
“No,” he decides.
“It’s not me you want to kill, is it Monsieur Clark?”
Clark sniffs a buoy of nasal drip back into his sinuses, stuffs the pistol back into his pocket. He leaves Lady Luck with her smashes candy bars, melted gumdrops, obliterated hard candies, reverses his ascent, watches the notches of the die countdown to the first floor. He returns to the city, a flash of lightning greeting him as he steps from the foyer to the elements, feeling just as lonely as before. No more nor less.
Our friend walks in between the allies, raises his pistol to his cranium, and waits for another strike of lightning to tear open the sky.
Glenn Dungan is currently based in Brooklyn, NYC. He exists within a Venn-diagram of urban design, sociology, and good stories. When not obsessing about one of those three, he can be found at a park drinking black coffee and listening to podcasts about murder. To see more of his work, see his website: https://www.whereisglennnow.com/
Bienvenue au Danse, Glenn.