An older man rose from a table near the dance floor, brushing away a sprinkle of fairy dust that fell from the ceiling. He walked slowly, his back stooped, and seemed to have some difficulty getting up the steps. No one stood to help him, and I started to move as he wavered and looked like he might tumble.
Evangeline took my arm. “Let him get there himself. These people do, they don’t take.”
Her eyes were hard, the muscles of her face set, so I sat down on a stool and waited. After a few seconds of mumbling and stumbling, he moved to the microphone and into the spotlight. His tan suit had seen much wear, the jacket threadbare and patched in a few places. He held a fedora in bony fingers, crushing the felt in his grip, and his cheeks were unshaven. A few locks of white hair were brushed back over his scalp, and his silver eyebrows were wild tangles of brush over the hollow darkness of his eyes.
“Rise up, brother,” someone said from the crowd. A few others applauded, and someone in the back whistled.
He smiled then, nodded. He turned his head and coughed, placed the fedora back on his head. Then he opened his jacket with shaking hands and pulled out a folded piece of paper, which he carefully unraveled.
“A thorn in red China’s rose,” he read, his voice not much louder than a whisper.
“Speak up,” someone said from the audience. A few people laughed.
The old man chuckled, stepped closer to the mic, coughed again. “A thorn in red China’s rose,” he said, his voice resonant this time, loud enough to wake the drunk sleeping at the end of the bar. The old man looked towards the speaker who’d made the comment. “That work for you, tiny?”
More laughs. The falling fairy dust turned into glittering snowflakes that evaporated when they touched the ground, the tables, the people.
“Perfect,” said the voice, followed by another round of laughs.
“The finish line for me,” the old man read, “hindsight is always twenty twenty. Examining my head, captive honor, ain’t no honor. A worldwide suicide the finish line for me. I realized life was a game, sit in granny’s rockin’ chair, I realized life was a game, non-stop combatant. The finish line for me, hindsight is always twenty twenty, examining my head. But now I’m safe in the eye of the tornado, a worldwide suicide. Get it right, terminate them.”
As he spoke, the world twisted. Bits and pieces of the room folded in on themselves, realigning like an Escher painting. Up was down, down was up, left didn’t have the faintest clue which way it wanted to go. Some of the audience sat on the ceiling, some sat on an airship at ten thousand feet, some sat on the surface of Venus and breathed the toxic atmosphere. Those of us at the bar warped into a pretzel. Evangeline was beside me, and then Evangeline was above me, and then Evangeline was breaking my heart as she rose and left a room that led to nothing beyond the door but red fog that swallowed her naked form as she drifted away, and away, and further.
“Drink,” Evangeline said.
I blinked. The audience roared their approval, the falling snow turned into a blizzard, and Evangeline and I sat at the bar with our glasses in hand. Mine was half full, and a second later I’d emptied it. I set the glass down with an unsteady hand and let the liquor burn through my brain. Maybe by getting drunk I could clear some of the foggy confusion.