You sharpen the knives. There are seven, an ambitious purchase made before you truly understood the way to work. You were naive, seduced by the allure of a better life through acquisition. The fluorescent light above your head flickers. That will need to be fixed before the open house tomorrow. You make a note, then return to the knives. Occasionally, a blade slips off the whetstone and you nick the granite counter. You won’t use the knives. But the act of whetting a blade is a ritual and rituals are important.
You could be anyone as you slip into an old pair of high-top sneakers. Your dull black hair drapes across your brow. Your legs are too long for your trunk. You bite your nails. Realistically, this is a fault. Your fingers catch on fabrics. Streamers hang from the ragged edges, which are a liability in your line of work. You must stop biting them.
A chilly current flows through the air, a variety rare enough in Orlando. Tonight is certainly a night for a sallow, fidgety boy with a stutter, most likely blond. Someone translucent, like the clarity of winter in the City Beautiful.
Already, you feel the spring of hardwood beneath your feet, the banal conversations between songs. You dance. You will dance.
Parliament House is impossible. You went there last Friday. This week there will be too many questions and you’d just as soon avoid the entanglement.
Park the car. The door is not far, then you are inside. Goth music. Black walls. Pop music. Red walls. The wristband—yellow tonight—rips your arm hair. First, a drink. Then skip upstairs for a perch above the dance floor.
Even now, the work remains a rumor. Some are afraid to go out, yes. But, surely, they’re safe here. If they travel with friends and don’t pick anybody up... They’re wrong.
“You need a drink,” he says suddenly. He saw you before you saw him.
“Have one already,” you say. You jiggle a glass.
“You don’t get it. That’s cute, you know?” He stands. Bowlegged. Cocks his head to the side and grins.
His teeth like a printer’s stamp pressed into his thick lower lip. “You need to buy me a drink.”
“Ask what I want.” He’s Puerto Rican with a stainless steel lip ring, a tight shirt, and a concave abdomen.
“No,” you say. He won’t do for tonight.
But he’s persistent. He slides onto the neighboring stool and presses his thigh to yours. “You’re salty, papi, but I won’t hold it against you. Vodka cranberry, by the way.” He extends a hand. “I’m Alex.”
You shake hands, noting the wide, sinewy finger pads like a frog’s toes. Tonight he’s safe, but maybe some other night he’ll be appropriate. You disappear and a moment later fit his hand with a plastic cup from the bar.
“Drink,” you say, and he does, thanking you.
Making up some excuse you walk away. You’ve already wasted too much time with him.
The night progresses swiftly once you’ve refocused, and before long you spot your perfect boy.
The rest comes simply. Your left hand meets his right shoulder. Your lips mesh. Can he taste you? No. You lack a distinct flavor; you are a perfect reflection of him even in this way.
You invite him home. He agrees.
And then you’re both gone, slipped into the night like a knife into its chock.
Reprinted by permission of the The Unnamed Press.
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