She didn’t want to stay out in the cold any longer. With each second more, the unnamed despair swelled within her, its throbbing weight compounding upon her being. She felt it as sharply as the bite of the wind snapping at her ankles. Bundled figures approached and slipped around her but she couldn’t see them anymore because there were tears in her eyes. She blinked furiously to rid them, but even so, a single drop evaded her batting lashes and rolled down her cheek. It fell, becoming lost quickly in the snow and ice that crunched under her foot.
She felt as alone and insignificant as it, and entirely more bruised. She wanted to scream, to hide, and to do away with the nonverbal feelings that constricted her chest and caused her breath to escape in quick, shallow, huffs.
Around her, kissing couples spun like taunting projections on a blank screen. Tall, thin women with androgynous bodies strode on quick-heeled feet, their minds set on visions of distant lovers. Smaller ones pressed their forms deeper into the hugs of their companions, breaking to move deftly around families of tourists.
Store-fronts glowed with multi-colored Christmas decorations, their best displays of light and gold put forth to beckon ogling pedestrians. There was a jeweled tree in almost every store window and outside, flurries of snow swirled like a scene out of a T.V. show.
If asked, she might’ve answered that it wasn’t the prospect of being alone at Christmastime that upset her. She might’ve laughed, her eyes quickly darting away.
But if pushed, she might’ve confessed that she didn’t know what it was that bothered her so. She would confess, in a slightly bewildered tone, that no, she hadn’t been aware that she was crying; and the tears—well, you know how the wind and the snow get into your eyes.
It was New York’s crazy weather, or maybe it was the lights—and all of a sudden, it was all just too much for her. She stumbled past a lit hotel entrance where a tall, thin man dressed in uniform stood smoking. He straightened as she passed, his moist eyes dimly watching her progress.
She ignored him. There was a dive bar up ahead and she refused to lift her head until she was safely seated within its dark interior, a large cup of beer in her hand. She drank it quickly, desiring the cold, bitter trail it left down her throat, then she signaled the bartender for a second.
The room was more crowded than she thought it would be. There were people clustered around tables, piles of wings and glasses before them. They were smiling, laughing, and talking with large exaggerated movements. Even at the bar where she sat, people interacted with each other. Very few kept themselves apart from the rest.
She caught the eye of a pretty-faced one with hard lips. He paused and stared slowly at her, his eyes blank and open all at the same time. There was violence in the way he’d thrust his body between the patrons sitting at the bar-stool, violence in the set of his shoulders, and a calculated arrogance in the flick of his hand that had drawn the woman bartender to him. Even in his gaze there was muted violence and it made her breath catch suddenly in her throat. She clutched at the cup of warm beer in her hand and exhaled away her breath. Her brow was cool with beads of sweat and she averted her eyes from him, letting the swim of alcohol in her blood instill confidence.
When she raised her eyes to him once more, it was a languid affair filled with equal parts scorn, curiosity, and something else. But his gaze on her was softer now, and his eyes drew her in. She breathed and just as suddenly, he turned away from her, a small smile playing at the corner of his lips. The waiting bartender leaned in closer to hear his words. She returned to her beer.
She didn’t mark when the man from the hotel entered, but turned when he began to speak to her. She replied automatically, and listened as he tried to draw her into a conversation. He introduced his name, but she changed the subject when he asked for hers inviting him to drink with her. Eventually, the warmth spread all throughout their bodies and she said to him with slurred words: “Charlie, why don’t we get out of here?”
The hum of the building made the room feel like a womb, and his naked form by hers was as intimate as her own skin. She lay, staring up at the low ceiling, her alcohol-mired mind weaving his shallow breathing into her thought. He moved awkwardly, propping himself up on one elbow to look at her. His words did not penetrate the buzz in her ears, and she wished he would shut up.
She turned away as he pressed on, her mind moving to other places. There was a song her mother used to sing to her when she was a child, a song about trees, and blood, and fur. She hadn’t thought about either one in years, and it unsettled her now, but she wanted to sing it. “What is that,” Charlie asked. His voice was heavy with curiosity, but the liquor had added coarseness to his voice and filled it with sneering condescension.
“No, listen.” She responded. She turned away again, frown lines appearing across her brows. Her mouth automatically set in a firm line. She began again, determinedly, over the wheeze of his laughter.
After a while, the tiny room was filled only by the sound of her low, strong voice, rising insistently over the hum of the buildings bowels. He was frozen, watching her with mute attention. Charlie was so still that a person peeking into the room might’ve thought him a statue, the way his mouth hung slightly open, his head cocked, and his eyes unwavering at a spot behind her head.
He tried to speak, but when nothing came out, he flushed. He cleared his throat again, working his tongue uncomfortably in his mouth. He’d felt something when she’d sang, something that gave him a glimpse into who she really was, but having seen it now, he didn’t know how to react. She really was beautiful in her own way.
“That was amazing.”
She knew that he was trying to connect with her, but she was suddenly tired of his company. The hum of the buildings, so like a heartbeat, filled her softly with an energy that thrummed within her bones. The vibrations were a song in themselves, a secret pulsing far removed from the façade of glass and stone-covered steel. This tiny room within the bowels of the building was its sounding hall, and this man had lived here without the beauty of understanding.
He lay watching her body rock, her unclothed form bobbing side to side. The single naked bulb that cast a dull, yellow light over his room seemed transformed. From his vantage, it looked almost as if it was a halo that crowned her head. He felt desperately as if he was witness to something profound and he did not want to miss a second of it. He took her hand in his, and when she let him, pulled her down to the bed.
He kept his eyes on her face when he entered her, planting kisses all along her brow, her mouth, her neck. Her eyes were closed. When he fell asleep, she left, closing the door gently behind her.