Summary: A modern take on Pandora’s Box with elements of romance and horror.
All around me the crowd seemed in a trance, enslaved by the heavy bass and the sporadic light.Their winding bodies moved like a tangled mess of flailing limbs, drowning in the stench of alcohol, cologne and blissful ignorance. The music was loud and repetitive, like a cicada buzzing in my ears. My vision see-sawed as an empty bottle slept in my hand, and a couple— or probably not— had their tongues down each others’ throats just a few feet away from me.
Here I was standing, my heart feeling like someone took it and wrung it dry of happiness. Imagine having a girl in your life, or a guy—whatever your prefer— someone you thought was special. I don’t mean hallmark card special or give them extra class time to write a test special. I mean fucking special— in the ways they made you feel.
Now imagine they turn to you one day and tell you they just couldn’t do it anymore. The thing about special is it makes everything else special; and then, when it’s gone, it all turns dull. Not dull like a pencil that needs sharpening, or dull like that kid who still needs extra class time to write a test. Dull, like no amount of alcohol or scantly dressed women could make the world whole again.
I would never say that Finn’s was my favourite bar. For one, it was next to an embassy; I just didn’t like the idea that metres away from this place, where small minds came together without a care in the world, things that actually mattered were going on.
The music was also too loud, but tonight I thought they could stand to turn it up. I could still hear myself think.
A friend of mine had called me out here. “You need to get out and meet new people. Forget her!” It’d be fun, he said. He was a friend who, right now, had his hand slid up some girl’s skirt somewhere off on the dance floor.
I was left at this bar with thoughts of her. After a year together, it had been only a month since she cut me out of her life; they say it takes 17 to heal. She said we would’ve kept going until I tied the knot. She thought she should see other people. She probably already was. Now, I want to tie a different kind of knot. One that goes around my neck. Some people drink to forget; tonight I was searching for oblivion at the bottom of my 7th bottle.
That friend I’d come here with, his solution for me was simple. So simple that it was stupid. Find another girl just for the night, or the morning after if you can talk your way into her pants. It was a “see that there’s more fish in the sea” kind of thing. But I don’t think that works. You don’t just replace a Porche with a Prius and expect not to pine for what you had before.
I looked around. There were plenty of attractive girls with made-up faces and more easily made up minds about going home with someone tonight. What was I doing just standing here? I left the crowd to find a stool upstairs, close to the bar and away from the dance floor, a glass of rum and coke on the rocks in one hand to replace the bottle I’d finished.
The television was set to the news; the weather said it was going to rain tomorrow. I’d be too busy nursing the biggest hangover of my life to go out anyway, I thought as I looked down at my 8th drink. I caught a few words here and there from the captions on the T.V: delegates flying in to visit the embassy next door (something about squashing a war somewhere far away); some man, a local, had been found with fatal stab wounds at a park I used to go to; the animal shelter was holding a cat parade on Friday. Funny, the news always seemed to juxtapose all this irrelevance in such a way that the small happiness afforded by marching kitties only emphasized the real tragedies near and far. That was the media’s real focus. Irrelevant to me though, that’s all it ever was.
“Jesus Christ, you got a look on your face like somebody died,” the bartender remarked. I noticed I was the only one at the bar with her. “Did somebody die?”
“No, just a bad… day. Were you gonna give me a free drink?” I replied, even though I had a half-empty glass in my hand.
“What? You someone special? Everyone came here to forget something. The pain fades toward the bottom of a bottle, but it’ll be back in full swing when the morning comes. No sir, time heals better than liquor. But don’t tell any of them that. It’s bad for business.” She nodded in the direction of the dance floor downstairs.
“Hmm,” I grunted curtly, hoping she’d get the hint and stop talking.
“I been working here a while and this side of the counter gives you a pretty good view of what people are like,” she said, rapping her knuckles on the wooden surface, “And I’ve seen that look of yours before, like a girl just got her teeth out of you and left with a big chunk of your life.”
I was almost angry with myself for being so obvious. “You think I’m that easy to read?”
“You hit the ground hard, didn’t cha? That’s just the way it goes. She makes you feel like you’re on top of the world. Then, next moment, you feel like burying yourself 6 feet under it. I guess that’s why it’s called fallin’ for a woman, right?” the bartender said as she poured a pint and scraped the foam off before handing it to a customer. I’d come to the bar, away from the lively dance floor, because I thought I could get some peace of mind. But this preachy bartender proved me wrong. The way she talked, it didn’t sound like she was into men. The only girl to talk to me all night, of course she’s a lesbian.
“How profound,” I said derisively.
“I changed my mind,” the bartender said as she poured me a drink, “On me.”
“Thanks.” I was genuinely surprised.
“It’s not for you. Give it to that girl there giving you the eyes. Before I give it a go.” she nodded somewhere behind me.
“I think this drink would do better with me,” I replied with a faint smile, not even bothering to look.
“I don’t think so, buddy. I strongly do not think.” she said with her distracted gaze somewhere behind me.
“Well-” I started, but stopped as I felt a cold hand slide over my neck. Like ice, but it was the softest hand my skin had ever known. I fought the urge, but I still shivered.
“Hi.” A voice whispered into my ear, and even amidst the music I could hear it clear as day. It was the kind of voice that made a man wonder how lush were the lips the words had rolled from, and how beautiful the face was that wore them. I turned around and nearly turned to stone.
She had a smile like a shotgun, and eyes that could paint a red dot on any man’s heart. She wore a red dress and her raven hair flowed down it like a river of night sky drowning the day. Every impulse begged me to touch her, to know her in all ways, even though I could tell this girl was fire— the type who only knew how to burn.
“Do you dance?” she asked with an accent I could not place. I don’t know how long I’d been staring, but I finally snapped out of my reverie.
I don’t but I said yes. And somehow I was on my feet again, though I couldn’t feel the ground. Next thing I know I’m on the dance floor. I don’t remember walking there. I felt like we must’ve flown. This story had tragedy written all over it, but I didn’t care. The ecstasy she instilled in me had sobered me up only to let me trip on something more. This was euphoria. This was special again.
Somehow my feet moved to the music, and I felt alive. I felt like we had the kind of chemistry that cast sparks, lighting a fire that had gone cold. When moments before I’d forgotten how to want, now I wanted her. I wanted her more than I’d ever wanted anything.
We danced and all the while she smiled that lethal smile of hers. She twirled around and her body winded up against mine. My hands felt as though they had a mind of their own as they found their way to her hips and the music took us away. No song in the world was long enough for this moment.
She took me by the hand and whispered, “You and I should leave this place”. Her unique accent flavoured her voice like some foreign spice. I’d do anything it asked me. I followed her through the side door, past the graffiti stained bathrooms, and we were outside. It happened so fast.
It was a cold night but my mind was somewhere away from the frigid air that bit at my skin, as my back was to a wall with her pressed up against me. She had one hand on my chest while the other drifted down. All of a sudden it was no longer cold. I should have questioned it. I should have.
We seldom knew each other’s names but we had the infant night for us to play passion’s game. She broke away first and as I breathed heavily I asked for her name. She leaned in as if to tell me, and instead withdrew a small metal box from I don’t know where. It was a black box; three ornate designs of different serpents wrapping themselves around it. The lid had a silver border that led to a keyhole on the box’s front.
She would be back in 5 minutes. She said she wanted to grab a pack of smokes. As she passed me, she told me not to open the box until she returned. I opened my mouth to say something stop her from leaving but nothing came out. And as she turned to leave, leaving nothing but this box and a burning yearning for her as I watched her heels turning, a realization dawned upon me: this heroine of my misery had become my heroin. I don’t know how I’d live if I never saw her again.
I leaned up against the alleyway wall with only a stiff fly sitting in a spider’s web to keep me company. And I waited, turning the box over in my hands with my thoughts on her.
Five minutes passed. Then half an hour. A full hour too. The whole while a curiosity raged within me, setting my mind ablaze with questions. I wanted to know more about this woman, more than this box in my hands could tell me.
I noticed that she didn’t bother to lock it and looked to the mouth of the alleyway for her to return. I waited ten more seconds. My curiosity broke my will. I decided to take a peak. I lifted the lid; it opened too easily.
All I saw was a bright light, all I heard was a thunderous boom, and all I felt were the flames as they ate away at me. The buildings on either side of me crumbled in a column of fire. I found myself scattered across the rubble of the buildings as they were levelled by the blast.
And during this chaos, amidst the smell of charred flesh, the white heat, the crumbling sound of both the bar and the embassy as they were reduced to rubble, in the brief second before all life left me, I had time only for one thought: I never knew her name.