He has no friends, really. Just people who keep him occupied. He describes himself as hedonistic, because it sounds clever, and it means he gets away with almost anything. He’s not strictly handsome, but striking: in the way a good haircut can frame an oddly-shaped face.
He’s stacked against a bar, an outside bar that clings to the edge of an inside wall. Those around him listen. Like he’s a cash machine, like they need their symptoms of withdrawal. Like they have the privilege of his presence. He’s drunk, shape-shifting drunk. Soft and friendly, warm blood. His opinions are salutations to better times, a glimpse into the life he says he’s had. The well-cut jacket, the black shirt.
You only have to own a few things, he says out loud, but they’d better look damn good. He’s got a theory, you see, that you only ever have to hint. Imagination does the rest. Other peoples’, and your own.
He’s got a thick ring on his little finger, and a story hanging off it in flypaper strips. It’s about a night in a foreign city: a throbbing marketplace, spices and smells, a pair of charcoal eyes. Heat like a king-hit, mosquito nets and midnight sweat. Dawn with coffee and a salt-boiled balcony. Then the wistful look drains from his face, like his memories have returned to a bottom drawer. But he’s drawn them in, and they’re hooked, and they buy him another drink.
Every sentence is a new beginning: a seam of words from a sewing machine mouth. He knows what sounds impressive. When he leans forward, he shows his scars. Mistimed shiny lines: skin worms in the dim light. There’s a patch of razor burn on his throat that could be a vampire bite. But he’s a man with canines. To rip apart the meat.
He sees the one he wants tonight. She’s alone. She’s cruelly beautiful. She’s the only one looking nowhere near him. Sitting by herself at the end of the bar, head turned aside. He wonders how her body folds up. He wonders where her creases are. He wonders how to break her stony skin. Because this is desire. Always wanting more. Not the light, but from where the light begins. Because he sees the chance for another conquest. He sees the chance to take another piece of the world.
And he moves his eyes like a soft sound. Like a wet tear, cutting through nothing. He moves his shark circles, his luscious ellipses. He moves them past her body. He drinks her in; he feasts her hinted shapes and shadows.
She sees him now, and she moves her feline eyes. To rip apart the meat. His urge grows with her gaze, and he feels the swelling of his blood. In his eyes, in his groin. Unusual, this lack of control. This desperation. This weak-willed beggar who’s breaking his ribs.
She turns away, and he begins to falter. He loses his focus: a speck of mascara on her cheekbone. He’s stumbling, as she moves the skin below her dress. As her inner layer shifts away. As she gets up from her seat. He can sense he’s missed his chance. It’s nothing, but it’s everything, like losing a memory. A moment of promise gone to waste. And no one will ever know, but her. She is his fault line of frailty.
So he turns back to the bar, back to the open slates of more receptive strangers. He leans in close to their open faces, and he starts to tell a story of decadence and scar tissue.
But he knows now. She knows now. That he lives, he breathes, he exists. Underneath all of this, he still shivers in the cold. In his head, like everyone else’s, is the distant rumble of death. A fear of the unseen. She knows he is ferociously fallible.
He stares at the light sheen of liquid coating the bar, at the wet patch of foam around his elbow. He tracks his head for far-flung memories. Exotic, syringe-sharp.
He should find her, somewhere out in the night. He should let her know he doesn’t care. But he doesn’t. He takes a drink from an anxious hand, and moves himself closer to the warm fire of false familiarity. He opens his mouth. They wait.