Daniel M. Cruse
I walked the remaining blocks to the boutique, sapped in the lucid spring evening. I couldn’t get enough of the flowering blossoms, of the lurid openness of night, of possibilities unbridled and unforseen. Up ahead I could see the boutique, pale light breaking through the glass windows—disconnected shadows of the mannequins stretched out into the street. Still a few blocks away, I watched a guy in grey pinstripe pants step into the store. I stopped at the corner, taken back and instantly lonely. Celeste had handed him a glass of moonlight. I thought she only did that for me, that I mattered, but seeing this made a hollow in the pit of my stomach. He drank it down. She smiled as he transfixed his eyes on her’s. I leaned back against the wall and waited. Waited for him to walk out the door with a grin plastered to his face. His shirt shined in the fluid night. The lights in the store vanished. She’d flipped the switch.
“Let’s drink beers on the rooftop,” she headed towards the convenience store up the street.
I came in stride with her and hid my jealousy. She put her hand in mine. All the insecurities vanished. Dusty, the flourescent lit store with its neon beer signs and lottery posters, looked dusty, old, like something from an antique photo. I half expected the store to tumble down; but here it was, dim and scarred. I held the door open for her. We walked down the aisles of candy bars and potato chips. Each label sheened a plastic of some neoprimary color and sucked the light out of the room. Stopping at the coolers in the back, I searched over the bottles of beer, the twelve packs and the cases. She swung the door open and pulled out two pints, handed them to me and then grabbed two more. I paid. Short, with a thin mustache and light mottled skin, the attendant resembled a painting, nothing about him looked real. He handed me my change and I made sure to brush against him, to test his appartionness, his skin gritted like wet gravel. She slid the bottles into her bag before we left the store.
The fire escape to the boutique had rusted sometime in the eighties and flakes of orangered metal drifted to the alley as we made our way up the rickety thing. focused on her ass in those tight jeans. The pants formed like a berry, round and juicy, as she stepped higher and higher. I had her bag slung over my shoulder and handed it to her once she reached the top. Lifting myself over the edge, I stood next to her and we stared at the artificial luminescence of the city. From the east the substellar brightness of downtown shadowed the swaying palm trees. The highways, cement behemoths spotted with bluewhite and red dots, spliced through the city in dissecting strokes. Bulbous mountains jutted from the north and the south, leaving the openness of the west like a mouth into infinity. She opened two lawn chairs and set them on the slanted surface. I sat down next to her. Gripping the bottle top with my left hand, I fixed my lighter underneath the cap and with my right hand created enough downward leverage to pop the top. I handed her the bottle then repeated the process.
The beer tasted cool and flowed down nicely. Silent almost to the point of eerie we drank and stared out at the city, at the world, dreaming. I didn’t have anything on my mind but her: so goddamn beautiful, so mysterious, sharing the moonlight—with everyone. It shouldn’t have bothered me. I took a few large drinks before asking her how work was. She didn’t mention the gaunt bastard that had sipped her celestial light. She kissed me. ‘What’s wrong?’ Her nose crinkled. ‘Nothing,’ my voice null of emotion. She squinted, the purple coming through—barely. I stood up and walked to the edge of the roof. Sitting, I let my legs dangle absently. In two large gulps I finished off my beer.
“I’m not the first huh?”
She looked at me.
“Letting me drink the moonli—“
“—You weren’t the first or the last.”
“I sorta thought…”
I turned back toward the city,“nevermind.” She sat down beside me. A few clouds speckled the sky, unwound springs in the moonlight. She rested her chin on my shoulder and whispered. Numbers, the past, didn’t matter or really even exist. So I turned to her and we kissed and finished our beers. Giggling and semi-stupefied she crawled up the roof, rolling the last two bottles down to me. She stood and stared off. I opened the bottles and took a sip. A wavy distortion, almost translucent, a grey inside a black, her shadow tensiled across the rooftops. My breath tasted hot. I lay back, sipping generously, staring up at the undarkened night sky; a pale black that represented more discoloration than draining. An over abundance of light pushed upward, forcing the darkness higher and higher in the sky, away from me. My skin stretched.
“What would make it better?” She straddled me. Her hair shrouding her face.
“Tell me how you do it?”
She leaned up. Then stood up.
“Why do you keep asking me, can’t you worry about something else?”
I sat up, resting my weight on my elbows as I reclined.
“I just want to know you.”
“Nobody ever knows anything about anybody,” her voice cracked.
Neither one of us spoke. She didn’t look the same. She frowned; the purple in her eyes had lost color and detoned into a listless grey.
Something burned deep in my chest.
“…you should go,” she folded her arms.
For a moment I stood still, let the wind roll over me. Still, I boiled inside. I stepped past her and went down the ladder.
* * *
I wanted to walk to clear my head. I finished off the beer and tossed it onto the sidewalk. The glass splintered, running away from itself. The night had become permanent. Everything had formed a common dullness. Down the street I could see the wall we had sprayed. The bright orange a burning beacon. I began running toward it. My feet stamping against the sidewalk; they singed as I moved forward. The closer I got the dimmer the tag became. I stopped in front of it. The tags pulsed diminishingly. They faded and faded. I stayed until the final ember of their light climbed into the atmosphere, gone.
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I graduated from the University of Southern California's Master of Professional Writing program. I like dinosaurs, thunderstorms and other things.
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