Angela’s lips sprayed ice all down into me. It was the same with every woman, but hers, her coldness, the electricity of sex, was untenable.
“I’ve been wanting to do that all night.”
I looked at Angela. The smoke-filled room covered her like a fog. She came in close and she whispered, again: “All night.”
I wiped the red off my lips, lit a cigarette, handed it to her, then I lit another for myself. I inhaled slowly, looking down and nodding.
I looked down at the steps behind me, toward the dance floor. Meredith was in there somewhere.
“We better go,” I said.
I rested my hand on Angela’s waist and pulled her in one more time.
“You’re a bad sister.”
I kissed her neck. She took a drag. She blew with a little stream out the corner of her mouth. She placed her hand on my chest, and I felt that my chest must have felt strong. The girl in the fog looked me in the eyes like a frightened child, and said:
“I’m not all bad. Just a little bit.”
I exhaled through my nose.
“She’s no saint, you know?”
“Oh, trust me, darling.”
We finished our cigarettes. We didn’t kiss again – though she tried to. “Later,” I told her. I followed her down the steps and she looked back up at me with a floating, Cheshire smile. There was no seeing any other part of her.
When we got back to the bar Meredith was checking her phone. She had in front of her three drinks – gin and tonics with lime. She saw we’d arrived and tucked her phone into her purse right away. I was worried she’d smell Angela’s perfume. I turned my head a second and wiped my lips one last time. I turned back and Meredith was handing me my drink.
“Smokers!” She shook her head. “I’d have gone, too.”
“Sorry sis. I just couldn’t wait. Jacky here begged us to wait for you, he really did. But I forced him into it.”
“Oh?” she said. “That right?”
“Absolutely. Had to drag him outta here with all my strength. He’s like a little puppy, that one. And you’re his master.”
Angela laughed and fluttered hey eye-lashes like a cartoon school girl. Meredith and I exchanged a glance. Angela finished the display and changed her tone:
“Something wrong? Who were you texting? Has he been calling?”
“Non stop,” said Meredith. “I’m not sure what to do.”
“Oh you poor thing.”
Angela hugged her sister. She whispered something in her ear. Meredith nodded.
“We’ll be right back, Jacky. Girl stuff.”
Meredith gave me a token smile.
“I’ll be right back.”
And the two sisters walked back up to the smoking room. I stayed leaning on the bar. The music changed to The Strokes. The old song played, and the days of university came to me – those first days of drugs and sex and wildness. I saw myself dancing, like a fool, with one of the girls, years ago, not The Other, but another long before her. The girls on the Paris dance floor bounced and pointed their fingers in the air and sang the words in bad French. Some wore mini skirts. Some jeans. All of them, somehow, were beautiful: imported from runways, a truck dropping off a shipment of models through the back door. I was high. Drunk on whiskey, wine, and now gin. But high. Angela’s ice poured through me. The dance floor wobbled and spun and I was in the middle of it all. Angela. Meredith. “Ha!” I laughed out loud. And what of The Other?
I spoke her name under my breath:
It wasn’t painful to say.
I shouted it one last time: “Sofia!”
The thing that had dragged me so miserably under so much cold water, sludge and airlessness, the thing, the name, the woman and the eyes behind it, was now just a breeze. Just a word. Just a harmless three syllables. A name I’d never known or touched or cared for. Not even a scar. Not even a bruise. The women danced around me and in me they danced, as well, the two sisters.
How strange, now: “Sofia.” How strange this remedy, I thought. I couldn’t believe the months of water I had been under. Now, to spring up like this. To leap, finally, to leap and to never come back down. But, wouldn’t the time come? But to enjoy it, I thought. But to enjoy this high.
I went into the dance floor. I grabbed the first girl I could find. She was a cute girl, and her head barely came to my chin. I pulled her toward me.
“Bon soir,” I shouted over the music. My hand was on her waist. “You are beautiful.”
I looked up toward the smoking room. No one was there. I kissed the girl and she pushed me away. I shuffled away, without any embarrassment, and in the middle if the floor I made my space. My arms spun like windmills. The one, oscillating timidly with the heavy orbit of the gin and tonic. The other, wild and meteoric.
Then Meredith joined me.
“You silly fool.” She laughed. She smiled enormously. My heart stopped, although the fog of everything had closed in on me, for that moment, that second, I could see clearly, her, Meredith, all over again. I remembered her on the phone.
“Everything alright?” I shouted over the music.
“Want another drink?”
She came closer and she began to dance. She moved her shoulders, toward me, away from me. She tilted her chin and gave serious looks, lips pursed, between magical smiles. And now we were both at the center of it all. And the world wobbled around me and her, and no one else. I briefly looked up, to catch Angela walking away with a cellphone glued to her ear. She disappeared into the black street outside.
“She’s feeling sick,” said Merry. “She said see ya later.”
And no more was I at the center of everything with Meredith. How quickly I could hop from one plane to the other. How easily I could be moved from euphoria to panic, with just the slightest breath. Meredith didn’t seem to notice. And I had to stand, and pretend, to try and move with joy, as I watched the girl dance in front of me. And I knew that everything I was doing, everything I was made of, was absolute garbage. I felt sick. There was a knife in my stomach as I watched Merry dance.
I decided then that I could never let happen with Angela what was so clearly bound to happen.
Merry and I walked outside. The night was clear. We walked through Pigalle. Indian men hassled tourists, mostly young Asian and American boys, into paying for sex. Strip clubs were painted with 20 foot tall naked women. The great red Moulin, the symbol of sex, was now just a place for photos. The park dividing the boulevard was empty, except for a few Palestinian thugs selling hash.
We made our way back to Rue Eugene and up the stairs. I thought of the night before. We got to my door.
“No fucking touching me, or I swear,” I said to her. She smiled, I could see, as she held the phone to light the door.
She was in my arms, and I was kissing her, before I realized that we were not alone. The lights were all on. There was a woman in the kitchen.
Meredith saw her first.
“Jesus fuck! Who the fuck are you?”
“Sallope – don’t talk to me like that. Jack, what the fuck is this?”
It was Marie. Marie stood wielding a drink above the kitchen counter. A bottle of Pims was mostly empty next to her. There were two plates set for dinner, and lamb on the stove.
“Oh, fuck. Marie. You said you weren’t back, ‘till … what day is it?”
“You pathetic fucking pig!”
Marie hurled the glass of Pims - a terrible, clumsy throw - and it narrowly missed Meredith. I caught a wave of Pims in the face and the glass burst on the wall behind our heads.
“I want you the fuck outta here.”
“Look Marie. You’re over reacting a bit.”
“Don’t talk to me, nene, about over reacting. I think I’m perfectly fine the way I’m reacting, cochon. Now get out, and bring that trash heap with you.”
“Hey,” Meredith said. “What the fuck?”
I could see this was going in the wrong direction.
“K, look, we’re going. I’m sorry Marie. Let me just grab a few things.”
“Out,” she said. “I’ll put your crap into a box and you can get it tomorrow. I’m not gonna spend another second looking at you.”
“But Mar – “
“Now.” She opened the drawer where she kept the knives, and produced a chef’s blade, 6 inches long.
“You ungrateful motherfucker, get the fuck out!”
“I think we gotta go baby,” said Merry.
“OK. We’re out. I’ll grab my stuff to—“
Marie started towards us. We backed away toward the door.
I left the keys on the couch and shut the door behind me. Merry and I hurried out the door, onto the streets, and under the Paris black sky, only our second night under that sky, we laughed. She laughed and everything inside me spun. She was the center of everything, and I no longer existed, except for a voice in my head. Fool. I told myself: Fool. Not this one. Don’t let this one go.