The Air Spoke
She places her cigarette on the edge of the desk and watches it smoulder. The sunlight catches the smoke in its hands and makes it gleam and it seems to fill the room around her. Last night’s wine still lies where it had been spilled, now a stain on the sheets of paper that cover the cheap, old wood of the table. One hand is warm on her thigh, but the other beats out a restless tattoo in the air. She stares into the mirror on the other side of the room, just a few steps from her. It is a beautiful thing, with a gilded edge only slightly marked by years of movement around the halls of this cheap hotel – the glass looks fractured, with several large frames running through it that remind her of her grandfather in the hospital bed.
She tries to piece together the fragments of the night before; tries to reorder the images like the glass.
A hundred thousand lights of a hundred, hundred colours, flickering out their mad neon desires into the darkness. She remembers beautiful Asian women, half-naked, weaving in the doorways of sand-blasted buildings. She can still feel the heat of it all, like the very air was filled with sweat.
“It used to be like a drug,” she tells the mirror, “every breath I took was pleasure. The air told me I needed to be here.”
There was a smoke-filled room; there always was. There was a gritty kind of half-light that fought with the bitter workings of the incandescence, that curled up against the jukebox like a lover, that spat and snarled at the one-arm bandit on the bar. There were men, men in shirts and men covered in mud and men with their hair slicked back like car salesmen – men who licked their lips and tried to order cobra whiskey but couldn’t get their words right and were jeered out of the bar by the owner. There were women too; old women in the corner and quiet women sat huddled together and the owner’s daughter who kept making these flashing eyes at her and biting her lower lip every time she ordered another glass of wine.
When there were more than four empty glasses on her table, and her lipstick graced a pair of cigarettes arranged in the central ashtray, one of the men came over. He tried to speak in English, then Mandarin, then Spanish, but she ignored him. He went away after she lit another cigarette, telling her that she was the most beautiful women he had ever seen.
She took out her camera and caught a picture of the table, with its wine and cigarettes and old stains and scars. She noticed that the owner’s daughter had perched herself on the bar, and that her legs were dangling in the background of the shot – two long streaks in the haze; like bullets that had been fired underwater.
The air still speaks of lust, and hope, and potential – she doesn’t believe it anymore. Her bedclothes move; a long leg pushes through them slowly, deliberately, toes curled in on themselves until the whole thing looks pointed. It accuses her, accuses her of a thousand things; accuses her of wasted night and labyrinthine days; accuses her of pride, and rage, and lust; accuses her of decadence and desire. She stands, slowly, and feels the foreign sun on her naked skin. She casts a long shadow in the small room.
She hears the village come alive outside her window. The bicycles rattle across the uneven dirt and the wasted footsteps stagger to work. She doesn’t listen to the birdsong anymore; it’s all about the living. The bed moans. The old wood whimpers. She steps to the fragmented mirror. Half a dozen pieces of her look back, her thighs glitter darkly at her against the light and tell her she is alive. Her stomach, catching the curve of the sun like the crescent of dawn over the moon, tells her she is alive. Her breasts crackle with a thin web and she remembers the hints of them in a polaroid hidden in an old friend’s attic; they tell her she is alive. Her face tells her she is tired, broken, spread across the room like pages torn from her notebook.
“Te ves como una diosa.”
She can’t tell if it comes from the bed or the mirror or the paper or the spilled wine or the smouldering cigarette. For a few heartbeats, she wishes it was the air, that the wet breeze cut through the building in such a way that it remembered her and loved her and knew that she existed, that her heart beat.
She feels warmth, and sees a smooth hand appear on her shoulder. It trails down, along her arm and to cover her breast and it splits in the mirror. A pair of lips touch her shoulder blade and the body pushes against her. The hands are hungry, and damaged and they break with her body when they cross the frames.