Naveera never felt more alive than during nighttime in Manhattan. Her boyfriend, Damien, gripped her hand tight, as he led her past lampposts and tourists on Fashion Avenue. One of the design firms held a by-invitation-only rave for tonight only. Damien scored the invite because he knew a girl who worked there. It gave Naveera a funny feeling that Damien always knew a girl, like falling from a height or getting high.
From across the street, strobe lights pulsed on one of the upper floors. Shadows flickered past the windows, followed by the familiar trails of glow sticks. She let herself be pulled toward the stone building, past the line of clubbers, and right up to the side door. The bouncer barely looked in her direction as he nodded Damien through.
After spending nearly $350 on a fake ID that she didn’t get the chance to use, Naveera gritted her teeth. The guy that printed it promised it would pass scanners and black light tests with a money-back guarantee. She wanted to test the theory. The only thing he couldn’t promise was her seventeen-ass self would pass for twenty-two. Naveera eyed her wardrobe: short skirt, tight top, and a push-up bra. So much skin, and the damn bouncer glossed her over!
A thick girl, with piercings Naveera envied, waved them further into the building. “I’m so glad you made it!” the girl’s lip ring cooed. “The rest of your band’s not here yet.”
“Oh,” Damien said. He didn’t match the other girl’s smile. Warm relief flooded through Naveera. “It’s early.”
She watched the girl’s pierced eyebrow raised when Damien introduced her as his girlfriend. Naveera shook the other girl’s hand, secretly feeling sorry for disappointing her. Clearly, she thought Damien was available. Clearly, Damien let her think it.
The three of them entered a tiny elevator. They waited as the girl pulled the metal cage shut, and then pressed a button. The elevator ride to the fourth floor stretched in an elongated silence, accompanied by the whir of the cables. When the ride stopped, the steady electronic beat and bass lines vibrated through Naveera’s body. She caught herself moving with it, and stopped, conscious when Damien dropped her hand and stepped away.
“We have a DJ anyway,” the girl said, bored now. She pointed and walked away. Over her shoulder she shouted, “If you want something to drink, bar’s over there.”
Old paint peeled off the walls, sweaty bodies bumped into each other, and the floor threatened to fall out from under them. Naveera eyed the makeshift dance floor. Her veins hummed and begged for a little X. Enough to make all the touching worth it. An elevated stage waited on the left wall with a large bar alongside it. Alcohol raced out of bottles and down throats. Glow sticks bobbed to the bass line. Her feet slide through liquid on the floor, and she laughed at the threat of being stepped on. Crushed by gorgeous heels and rubber-soled boots.
Red, green, and blue lights flashed around the room. Ropes and ropes of electric cords strung between industrial sewing machines and long tables hung from the ceiling. In the day, Naveera imagined how they’d be lowered in neat rows, waiting for their occupants to start putting together clothes for off-market brands. She’d rather be dead than get caught wearing some shit label.
Damien turned to her, his smile fluttered through her stomach. “Close your eyes and open your mouth.”
She didn’t even ask why. As soon as her eyes were closed, his tongue was in her mouth with the press of something small. She let the pill dissolve. The bitterness of the pill forced her to end the kiss too soon.
“Want a drink?” Damien asked, his hands running along her bare arms.
“Sure. Get me something fruity and girly and full of alcohol.”
He kissed the corner of her mouth before disappearing into the crowd. Another girl with long blonde hair followed him. It didn’t mean anything. Girls always followed Damien. He played guitar and wrote music. He sang like a devil. Naveera reminded herself that he’d chosen her. They’d been together for three months. A record for Naveera. In the past, she’d flown off the handle in the first week of a relationship. Drama kept her mind busy.
Undulating to the music, she danced into the middle of the crowd. Bodies, sweaty and warm, pressed against her bare flesh. Every bare inch of skin someone brushed or bumped into tingled in response. She craved it like water in a desert. The will of the crowd lifted her up. Each song tumbled into the next until Naveera couldn’t remember how long she’d been dancing.
Damien, holding two plastic cups above his head, found her. Naveera grabbed the nearest cup and swallowed the entire drink down in one continuous gulp. She reached for his drink, and he laughed at her, holding it above his head. With a wicked gleam in her eyes, she began to trace her fingers along his chest toward his waist. She watched with satisfaction as his eyes closed in pleasure, then she snatched the other cup and drained it. When she tossed the empty cups away, Naveera caught the swish of blonde hair behind Damien.
“Time for another,” he said, rocking and moving to the beat. Strange hands touched him and he caressed Naveera’s cheek.
She leaned in, trying to see who was behind him, and shouted, “My turn. Be right back.”
The song blended into a haunting minor key, but kept a beat that everyone could dance to. Naveera slipped past strangers who touched her elbow, her back, her face. She leaned into them, greedily, wanting to be touched and at the same time, jealous of anyone being touched.
A long line of people waited for drinks. Naveera closed her eyes and enjoyed the rhythms of electronica. Her hair stuck to her face and neck, coated with sweat. Instead of ordering drinks, she yelled, “Where’s the bathroom?”
The bartender, a college-aged boy, crinkled his forehead, straining to hear her over the din. She yelled again. This time he pointed toward the elevator. Naveera smiled and handed him a twenty. He held up a finger for her to wait and hastily made her a shot of something that slid down her throat like mint cream.
Her string-up heels dug into the tender parts of her toes, as she toddled to the back hall. Another flash of blonde hair stopped her in the corridor. She watched with a sick fascination as Damien pressed himself against a very tall, very leggy, and very willing blonde girl. Their mouths affixed to each other. They’d done it before.
“What the hell are you doing?” Naveera screamed.
The new couple didn’t break apart. The blonde girl pulled Damien closer — not even particles got between them — to her before releasing him.
Damien glanced at Naveera, his eyes glazed over with lust, a smear of raspberry lipstick across his mouth shaped like a pottery shard. In the dark hallway, all she caught the flash of lights against his teeth. The whites of his eyes.
“Hey, babe,” he managed. “Did you get me a drink?”
“Screw you!” She strode over to him. Raised her hand and slapped him across the face. Her hand stung in guilty pleasure.
“What was that for?”
“What do you think? You’re out here in the hall dry-humping some whore, and you want me to get you a drink?”
He slurred a little, “Why do you care? It’s not like you’ll put out.”
“That’s my fault?”
“Yes, you’re selfish.”
“And you’re an asshole.”
“You’re a little girl.”
Naveera fisted her right hand to slug him. She savored the rising feelings stirring in her gut with the whiskey and ecstasy. She shoved him into the wall, out of the way. The blonde who stole her boyfriend before she dumped him needed to pay. Damien bounced off the wall, whined, “Hey,” but the blonde had run. So Naveera crashed into the bathroom and hoped for a fight. One that would make her knuckles bleed. One that would shoot light across her vision. One that might give her a black eye.
The bathroom light flickered over an empty room. A single toilet sat back in the corner. Naveera clomped over in her stupid shoes and threw up. She wiped her mouth with a rough paper towel, reveling in the way the fibers scratched her skin. Water ran down the sink as she washed out her mouth, spitting the taste of vomit again and again. A dark smudge on the wall replaced the mirror. Probably for safety reasons. Wouldn’t want the workers to know what they looked like under fluorescent lighting. She hit the wall in frustration, then left the tiny room, shaking and crying and … gleeful.
Naveera stormed out of the club, left the Garment District, and headed for home. Black eyeliner and creamy foundation streaked her face. A store window reflected her hideous new nighttime look. She wondered, momentarily, who stared back. A girl. A teenage girl with too much make-up and long sticky hair, dyed purple, swept across her forehead. The rest matted against her scalp. Strangers passed behind her. One or two darted a look her way. No one asked if she need help — fucking Manhattan — but they gave her plenty of room to hobble down the sidewalk. Her beautiful new Manolo Blahnik’s cut lacerations across the tops of her feet.
She hailed a cab back to Central Park and the familiar brownstone building she called home. By the time the doorman let her in, accompanied by a sharp gasp, an ooze of congealing blood darkened her toes and trickled down to soak the flat of her shoe. Every step squelched and bubbled. The elevator doors closed, leaving her alone for the long climb to the floor beneath the penthouse, she tore off her shoes. Fresh tears pricked her eyes, and she threw her shoes against the metal wall, screaming every curse against Damien she knew.
The elevator screeched out and stopped at her floor. The tingling sensation stopped zipping through her skin. Naveera would forgive him. He gave her what she wanted. Her heart drummed under her breastbone like a call on vibrate. She felt amazing and broken and ready to go out the next night, and the night after, and the one after that. She planned on drinking the clubs dry and dancing until her legs collapsed beneath her because that’s what it meant to be alive.
For more information and poetry by Ethel Veva King, please visit this website (http://www.obscurepoetess.klsparrow.com/1930-1939/ethel-veva-king). Poem © Copyright, Ethel Veva King circa 1930. All rights reserved.
Stay tuned for extra content this week from Audrey. Return next Monday for Julie’s answer to this prompt.