By Annie Sewell-Jennings
Chapter Three: New York City, New York
“Why does it always rain on me?
Is it because I lied when I was seventeen?
Why does it always rain on me?
Even when the sun is shining
I can’t avoid the lightning”
--Travis, “Why Does It Always Rain On Me?”
“You know, I think that I was born in New York City. I don’t care where you fucking found me; I don’t have any connection to California, you know? I’ve always loved New York. It’s where everything is now. It’s where everything always was. How could I not be from New York? Maybe somewhere in Queens or Brooklyn, maybe the East Side or something. I don’t know, but there’s Manhattan in me and I know it.”
Every time they make the pilgrimage to New York, she always makes the same statement. She has an atlas of the United States, a map filled with highway markings that are irrelevant in the flooded ruins of the Big Apple, but she still marks wherever they are and where they are going in the good spirit of cartography. Maps are important to her because she has no geography of her own, and is therefore in constant search of somewhere that she can call home. Somewhere that she can be a part of.
She rocks the boat as she stands up and dances along to the music on the radio, enticing the batteries into working even though they have been long dead, and he watches her from the back of the boat, his snippet of poetry in motion. She’s decked out in turquoise, her one-armed shirt exposing the myriad of tattoos that run along her inner arm, even though artists beg her not to do it there since it’s so painful for women. She always laughs it off, but he can see her cry when they press the pen to her flesh.
Rain falls liberally from the skies, falling into the river that cuts through downtown Manhattan, and she loves the clouds in New York. Sunlight burns her, makes her feel ill and lightheaded, and she prefers the nighttime or at least the rain. She does not know that there was once a New York that had parades of people sweating as they paced down concrete streets in the humid month of August, or that it used to snow here and Central Park would be glazed over in white.
Bangle bracelets jingle on her slender arms as she tries to entice him into giving her a fuck in the middle of Times Square, and he loves her exhibitionism. It’s something that he treasures, something that he finds refreshing and invigorating, and it’s one of the reasons why he can never, ever be angry with her for everything that she did. It’s not her fault, and he knows this deep inside. She was not Joan then when she made those awful decisions, when she said those spiteful things, when she broke his heart and left him bleeding.
But Joan will not do these things to him. Joan will not hurt him, because she loves him. She loves him so deeply that she cannot stop kissing him sometimes, foregoing the breath that she barely needs and fixating on the man that she is addicted to. When they have sex, they make love and war all at once, and it’s the best thing that he has ever experienced. She is his compass, directing him across the country, taking him to the cities that she desires, and he’ll follow her anywhere.
Anywhere but California.
Sheets of rain pour down onto the new river that cuts through the city, turning Manhattan into a post-apocalyptic version of Venice, and he guides their makeshift gondola through the waters, watching as she places her hands on her head and shakes her fine little ass to the thick, propelling beats that her stereo blares, dipping her purple velvet hat lower over one eye, her sunburned skin cool and slick underneath the rainfall. Whenever he sees her, it is impossible to turn away. She is lovely, truly and completely, and he steers the loud motorboat through the river, never ripping his eyes away from her lithe, beautiful body.
Thoughtfully, she looks around the city and drinks in the atmosphere, looking down curiously at the atlas in her hands. “I wonder if I really was born here,” she murmurs, and behind her, he chuckles.
“You certainly act like you were,” he scoffs. “Got that snippy little New Yorker attitude, all holier-than-thou, like you’ll only shop at Saks and won’t touch anything that’s not Prada.” He shakes his head disdainfully. “Always hated those little high-society birds, flitting around asking about bank accounts and timeshares. Y’know, I think that’s why I left New York in the 80’s. All the punks turned into yuppies overnight.”
Shaking her head, she gives her lover a chiding glance. “I can’t believe you’d abandon this place over some uneducated losers turning from The Ramones to Huey Lewis,” she says wryly, twirling a braided piece of white hair around her index finger, giving him a sugary look. “I think I want to do my hair in cornrows again.”
He snorts. “Cornrows,” he says, shaking his head at her. “In case you didn’t notice, luv, you’re not black.” He chuckles. “Actually, you’re rather red.”
She rolls her eyes. “Ha, ha. Very cute.” With a whip of her slandered hair, she turns around to face the city with its drowning skyscrapers and toppled obelisks. What it must have been once… She wishes that she could light the city up again, that she possessed enough electricity within her strange system to make the neon lights of Time Square flicker and burn with fluorescent incandescence. In the distance, she sees the great spire of the Empire State Building leaning slightly to the right, broken by the massive weight of the tides that push against it.
Cold settles underneath her spine, and she shivers under the rains, moisture soaking into her turquoise top and plastering it to her body. She feels it on the horizon that there is something wicked building, like some extra sense inside of her is stirring and waking up. She cannot be alone tonight. She needs the others.
“Randy,” she calls, and he lifts his head from the back. “Let’s go out tonight. Have a few drinks, smoke a couple of blunts, cause some mayhem and destruction. Sound like fun?”
Of course, as always, he can never resist her.
When the world ended, most of the world’s population died with it. Some were fortunate enough to die in the initial firestorm, the wicked flames that swept across the lands and devoured the modern world. Others were caught in the various incarnations of hell that popped up afterwards, freezing to death in the hideous blizzards that struck the dramatically changed West Coast or swallowed in the floods that claimed New York City. Still, there are those who survived.
They don’t consider themselves lucky.
Funny, the things that survive complete and total destruction. A sociologist would have a field day dissecting the strange culture that dominates post-apocalyptic America. Anarchy, naturally, but there is also the music. Everyone turns to hip-hop and hardcore rap nowadays, searching for the furious obscenities of outraged black men, and the drug culture is positively thriving. Any drug you want, you get. Want a joint to block out the memories of seeing your mother drowning in a pool of acid? It’s yours. Maybe a little Ecstasy will divert your attention from the snowfall blanketing the ruins of Hollywood. Just give a call.
Mouth to mouth, they kiss by the bar, underneath the candlelight, while the hum of a generator whirs endlessly in the background. Slowly, her tongue slides through his mouth, teasing the blunt incisors that could be fangs when he is hungry. His cool palm rests at the nape of her neck, fixing him to her in a slow duet of tongue and teeth, lips sweeping and slipping, and she passes the marijuana smoke to him like it’s a secret.
Chuckling, he pulls back and exhales a thin cloud of dissipated smoke, and she watches it sit heavily around their heads in the thick haze filling the makeshift bar. Music is everywhere, surrounding them and binding them. Ja Rule; it is one of her favorites. Outside, the rain is still there as always, cloaking the forgotten metropolis in an impenetrable veil of water. But fuck the rain for a minute. Inside it is warm, because she is there and she always provides warmth.
With a cool flick of her wrist, she ashes the blunt into a plastic ashtray and brings the weed back to her lips, wrinkling her nose a bit at the bitter taste of resin. “Not bad,” she says, her head a little dizzy from the pot. “I mean, it’s not the best weed I’ve ever had, but it sure beats that shit we found in Tennessee.”
He rolls his eyes at the marijuana connoisseur that he somehow raised. Sometimes, he wonders if this was the right thing to do. He shouldn’t have her. He’s a terrible person, an awful man, and the girl that he has made is sometimes too frightfully wrong for words. But she loves him. She loves him. It should be enough.
It has to be enough.
Exhaling another stream of foul-smelling smoke, she looks around her at the throng of people who flock to this place in search of company. New York City is still the capital of the world, even though its streets are now rivers and its skyscrapers lie toppled in the ruin. People know it by name and convene there in hopes of finding love. It is necessary for her to return to Manhattan every now and then to remind her how lost she would be without him. If he were not with her, then she would be nothing more than one of these wandering skeletons in search of happiness.
She is beginning to wonder what she is without him.
“Care to dance, peach?” he offers, and she turns her head to see him standing in front of her, looking appetizing underneath the roseate warmth of candlelight. It breaks her heart sometimes to doubt him, but she’s only human. Or whatever she is.
Tightly, she smiles at him and then shakes her head. “Appreciate the offer, but I think I’m going to cruise the crowd for a minute,” she says, passing him the blunt. “Maybe dig up a decent pack of smokes. You want one?”
The sigh of longing that he emits is answer enough, and she stands up, kissing him thoroughly. She loves him. She really, really does. But she has to see life for herself and not through the tinted glass of his battered Desoto. She needs to be without him, even for a few moments.
The heat in the crowded room intensifies as she cuts through the crowd of people, her body sparkling with the thousands of tiny turquoise sequins that cling to her dress. She’s a mermaid out of water, colored aquamarine and shimmering like scales clinging to her sunburned skin. Sterling silver jewelry catches the light and throws it mercilessly back at the people around her, and she knows that they are staring at her and her strange hair as she starts to dance.
“Always there when you call… Always on time…”
While he watches her from the bar, nursing a lukewarm beer, he thinks about the question that she asked him back in Savannah. Will she ever get old? Underneath the armor of her sequins, the thought seems impossible. She is the embodiment of youth, the very personification, and it brings a stabbing pain to his heart to remember someone younger than she, possessing the same energy, the same electricity, the same fervor and magic and blood.
_”You’re my best friend, you know,” she confessed to him, grinning that secret smile that made him feel something close to human. “I mean, I know it’s really weird and all to have a vampire for a best friend, but it’s the truth.” She threw her arms around him before he could say anything back and arched her eyebrow. “So, want to go get pizza?”_
There is a tattoo on the small of her back that has been there from the beginning. A name, written in English and in ink, without any of the unusual flairs for language that she always uses when she selects her multitude of tattoos. Often, she will wonder where it came from, what it means, and what it meant to her before she lost her memory. Whenever she asks him what he thinks, he thinks about the promise that he made. Never tell. Keep it a secret. Give her a new life. A better life.
_“Randy, what do you think ‘DAWN’ means?”_
But what good can her life be without that?
In the middle of the dance floor, she revels in her anonymity. Granted, she is almost always nameless, almost always without a port of call, but amidst the others she does not feel so alone, so discarded. No one here has any name, and as she dances with a stranger she feels like they are all just strangers, cast around the world by luck. She doesn’t believe in fate. She doesn’t like the idea of things being that far out of her control.
And then, fate intervenes.
At first glance, she is nothing more than a pile of rubies and gold, her tan leather pants clinging desperately to her curvaceous body. Dark piles of mahogany curls stream around her face in wisps and clips of red-shot brown, and the red velvet tube top reveals all of her delectable brown skin. Life and vivacity seems to pour out from her, and even in the din of the club, she is instantly noticeable. Instantly connected.
Garnets sparkle on her lush mouth as she curves her lips into a smile, and her mouth is moist and wet, like she has been licking icicles. They would melt underneath the intense heat of this girl, and for a moment, she thinks that she *knows* her. She has never known anyone in her life, but this woman… She must know here somehow. They are intertwined.
The smirk spreads into a smile as the women circle each other, one glistening in garnets and the other twinkling in turquoise. “Well, well, well,” the brunette finally says, shaking her head at the other woman. “Imagine that. Meeting up with you, of all people, in all places. Guess God’s got a sense of humor after all.”
Blinking a little, she shakes her head. “I don’t believe in God,” she says, and the scarlet-clad woman’s smile widens.
“Neither do I.”
The music sparks up with the long twangs of an electric guitar, and thick, rapturous bass follows it. “Come my lady, come, come, my lady, you’re my butterfly, sugar, baby…” The firelight of the candles jumps, twitches noticeably, until all of the candles seem to be compiled into a large inferno, searing throughout the club, reaching out with talons of flame.
Together, the women begin to dance, red and blue, dark and light. Red and brown fingers entwine, and velvet and sequins move together in a symphony of sparkles and depth. Threads of thick white hair shimmer in her eyes, but all that she can see is the brunette. She cannot stop looking at her, at the thick rage that sits unsatisfied in the woman’s dark olive eyes. They remind her of the Georgian skies before the hurricanes strike, thick and violent, promising chaos. They remind her of something unattainable, just barely out of her reach. Pulling, pulling for the face, but she can’t place it…
The brunette’s dainty fingers slide up her thigh, disappearing briefly underneath the sequins and sinking into the sea. A sudden, unabashed cry explodes from her lips when the wild woman slides her finger between her thighs, and the brunette chuckles. “Always knew you were hot for me, B.”
Confused but uncontrollably aroused, the white-haired woman shudders and rotates her hips a little, begging the other woman to drop her fingers a little more, to touch a little more thoroughly, to fuck her until she screamed. “Am not,” she protests, and the woman laughs.
“Liar,” she says, her voice sharp and cutting. Amusement sparks in the woman’s dark olive eyes as she looks at her bared shoulders, at the writings and etchings inked into her skin by the blazing skill of a tattoo artist. “Like the new tats, though. Very… Autobiographical. All that time in the slammer and I didn’t come out with any. I figured that the inmates wouldn’t do such a good job, you know?”
She nods her head, eyelashes fluttering with the beginnings of ecstasy as the fingers stroke the swollen inner lips unfurling between her thighs. Blood pumps thick and hard through her veins, and she is helpless against this woman’s touch. Like lightning. The woman touches like lightning. “Oh, God,” she whispers, and then gasps when a delicate fingertip enters her. “Oh…”
Chuckling, the woman leans in closer and licks her earlobe, brushing back her white hair with her fingers. “I love that you tattooed my name into your skin,” she murmurs, and all time stops as the woman’s fingertips slide down her exposed shoulder and trace out the foreign symbol embossing her skin. “Faith looks so pretty in Vietnamese.”
Faith. B. This woman knows her, saw her before she lost everything. She holds the secrets to her dark history in the curls of her hair, the flash of her eyes, the cocky language spitting out of her wicked mouth. Startled, she steps back, blinking her eyes. Play along. Pretend that you know her. Lie like a bitch if you have to. Find out what she knows.
Smiling, she steps back and arches her eyebrow. “Couldn’t ever forget you,” she says, and Faith laughs viciously, bitterly, like every word is acid.
“Yeah, right,” she spits. “You sure forgot about me when I went to fucking jail, B. Sure forgot to send Faith a couple of letters, tell me what the fuck was going on. You know, I could have helped you if you’d just let me in on everything. If you weren’t so fucking above everything, so high and goddamn mighty, if you had just *asked*, then maybe we could’ve saved this place from going all to hell. But no, you had to stand alone, didn’t you? Had to save the day and take all the guts and the glory, right, princess?”
Sneering, Faith steps closer, digging her fingernail painfully into her sensitive, sunburned skin. She can’t help but cry out, not from ecstasy, but from pain and the horrible sense of fear. “Bet you regret it now, huh?” she snickers. “Bet you’re real sorry, now that everyone’s dead and you’re all alone in the world. Tell me, Buff, did it hurt to see her bleed? Did you cry when she was gone?”
All around the room, the candles are beginning to flare up like dynamite. They burn and flicker urgently as the bile rises in her throat, the knots twisting inside of her stomach and the electricity leaping inside of her veins. Can’t be. What the fuck? Oh, God. What is going on? Who is she? What is she?
Furiously, Faith grabs her face and brings it close to hers, forcing the full power of her ruthless hazel eyes. Dead eyes. Eyes that hold no hope, no joy. Nothing but anger and the insane need for revenge. “You always wanted to take everything away from me,” she hisses. “Fucking bitch. Always had to have it all. Now are you happy? Happy that no one has anything because of you? All, all because of you.”
“Stop!” she cries out, pushing Faith away from her, and there’s a strong hand on her back, cold fingers releasing her from the turbulent, nauseating heat searing through her body. Stumbling backwards, she breathes a sigh of relief when she recognizes it as his body, and that is when Faith begins to laugh.
“Oh, God, that’s rich,” she says between fits of roaring laughter. A nasty light sparks in her eye as she circles him, leering at him openly in a manner that makes her want to slap the brown-haired vixen. “Well, well, Spike. Looks like you got your wish. Congratulations.”
Spike. What the fuck? What the fuck is this? Confused beyond belief and pained by everything that she has heard, she turns to him and gives the woman a horrified look as he clenches his jaw and glares coldly at the woman. “Get out of here,” he snarls. “Get out of here while you’ve still got the chance.”
Faith laughs that crazy, stilted laugh that only the unhinged can project properly. The sound of breaking glass. The smell of burning rubber. The taste of dirt. “Fuck you,” she says, and the bar explodes into flame.
All because she knew her name.
(end part three)
Continued in Chapter Four: Boston, Massachusetts