Perry In Seraglio (Part 2 of 2)
This is the concluding part of one of my earliest short stories, the first part of which ran yesterday in the ‘Reading & Writing’ section of my blog.
“Half a hit, that can’t do you any harm.”
“Acid always leaves me wasted the next morning.”
“So what are you rushing to get up for tomorrow, hey?”
Don pressed the tiny white slip onto Perry’s tongue. Across the room, a singer appeared up on the stage, and launched into a fast song which sent everyone onto the dance floor. Perry found himself in a sea of bodies swelling towards the front of the stage. He felt suffocated, unable to move. Shoving his way out of the crowd, he emerged at the edge of the dance floor in a burning sweat and dropped down onto a chair against the back wall. Lotte, Don and Lynda emerged to join him after the last song. When a waiter appeared with a tray of drinks, Perry paid. He looked up into the face beyond the lip of the tray, into the blank eyes, and felt the room shift. Now Diane was in the corner, whispering and laughing with Don. She caught his eye, came over and touched his shoulder.
“Can I have the keys to the car, Perry? I won’t be a minute.”
“Sure, here.” Perry shook his keys loose from the lining of his jacket pocket.
The music pounded on around him. An androgynous electronic voice sang the word ‘sex’ over and over again. Perry turned around on his seat to face the dance floor – and found himself facing Josie. Her hair was plastered flat on her forehead. She looked sad and pale Perry was confused.
“Josie, where have you …”
“Perry, it’s Michael …”
“Been meaning to call …”
“Perry, he’s killed himself.”
“What? What are you talking about?” he said stupidly.
“This morning. He jumped out of a window. He’s dead.”
Perry stared. The room shifted once more.
Josie talked on, but he could not hear her. He could see her lips moving, but the damned electronic sex-sound just hammered over her words. He felt sick.
“Got to go to the bathroom …” Perry staggered to his feet.
Under cold white globes set into the ceramic tiles of the toilet he splashed his face with water, and the rocking of the room slowly subsided to stillness. He carefully rebuttoned his shirt and combed his hair, then walked back into the heat of the night club.
“She was here a minute ago. I was talking to her!”
“Don’t shout at, me, Perry. I’m not deaf!” Diane swilled down the last of her glass and passed him back his car keys.
“She was here. She said something about Michael.”
“Drugs, Perry, drugs. You must have been hallucinating.” Don wagged his fingers in front of Perry’s face. “None of us have seen Josie since yesterday.”
“You are so tense, Perry. Really,” said Diane. “Let me give you a massage.”
“I know I’m tense. Do you have a ’lude on you?” Perry held out his hand.
“Oh no you don’t,” warned Diane. “Not if you’re driving back.”
“I’ll leave the car here, I promise.”
“Well …” Diane looked unsure. “All right. But only take a half, OK?”
“The man’s a walking pharmacy!” Sammy laughed and moved off to the bar with Lotte.
“All right, don’t make a big deal out of it. I just slipped.”
“You hit the deck with a bang, darling, never mind ‘slipped’. Let’s see your back. Turn around.”
Diane pulled at the back of his jacket. Perry had been on the dance floor. One moment he had felt fine, then the room shifted again and he had lost his footing.
“I’m great, honestly. Just get me a beer, would you?” His mouth was dry and sore, his throat stinging from having to shout all the time. “I’ll come with you, give you a hand.” He felt the back of his jacket. Stitches had torn along a seam. His spine was tender, a bruise swelling. He stood behind Diane as she joked with a waiter. Beyond her shoulder the bar mirrors threw back distorted flashes from the dance floor. He looked up slowly. Sheets of polished metal probably, not glass at all, not the way they twisted and stretched his reflected form. The mirrors made him look almost inhuman, blurring out his hairline, darkening and cracking his skin, sinking his eyes back to flat red dots until it seemed …
“Diane, do I look all right to you?” He touched his hands to his face.
“A tad less than your usual stunning self, I must say.” Diane’s smile faded. “How do you feel?”
“I don’t know.” He accepted the drink from her and walked away from the bar. “Do I look … different?”
“Perry, l really haven’t a clue as to what you’re on about. You look a little, well, tired.” She gestured at the ceiling. “Not that one can see a thing under these lights.”
The music changed tempo. Dazzling beams of red trapped his eyes and seared his brain. As the beat of the music grew faster, revolving lights flicked up onto a huge mirrored ball and hurled shards of colour to the corners of the room. He covered his eyes with his hands. With his skin prickling and the bile rising in his throat he turned and stumbled to the bathroom once more, the beer glass dropping from his hand with a huge bang. Back in the coolness of the tiled room he bowed his head over the sink and tried to be ill, but nothing would come. The edges of the basin were hard and icy against his palms. He could feel perspiration trickling into his ears. His throat felt as if it were on fire. He tore at the collar of his shirt, sending the buttons skittering over the floor. The bathroom appeared to be filled with mist. He could barely make out the outline of his body through the condensation on the mirror. Scrubbing the glass with his sleeve, he stared in disbelief at what he saw.
His eyes appeared to be filled with cataracts, his skin waxy and grey. Overhead, the globe light buzzed and flickered. The room tipped. The image in the mirror changed as rivulets of water ran down. The buzzing of the light moved inside his head.
He fell back from the sink to the floor, cracking his head against the wastepipe behind. Clutching the basin before him, Perry hauled himself onto his feet and ran an exploratory hand above the nape of his neck. His skin was numb and burning. He squinted hard at the mirror again. The back of his neck was wet and warm.
Outside, somebody was trying to get into the bathroom. He must have locked the door. He took his hand from his neck and looked at it. The fingers were red. He brought them up to his face and raked the flesh of his cheeks, looking into the mirror which seemed to show the skin of his face peeling and flaking in glistening grey flakes under his nails.
“Hallucinating again … have to maintain,” he thought feverishly. “Get fresh air. Get …” A streak of pain cut along the side of his head, through his throat, spearing his chest and shoulders. How he grabbed his head and screamed, the sound reverberating from the metal fittings around him. He withdrew hands which held hair and skin and blood, forcing himself to look up into the mirror.
Through watery smears of condensation he barely recognised his form, a shapeless red and grey mass topped with a bloody knot of hair. He clutched at his face once more, the skin seeming to move beneath his hands. The sink below was filling with skin and bloody liquid. He coughed hard, then harder. Something sinewy entered his throat, then his mouth. His cough fell to a guttural barking deep within.
Now his arms burned. Frenzied, he scratched at the backs of his hands until they were raw but for the band of skin beneath his Rolex. As he clawed at his arms, the pain burned away to a deep fierce fire, glowing inside his chest. He tore off the remains of his shirt and dug his clogged nails into the skin beneath.
“Why don’t you go and look for him?” Diane shouted into Don’s ear. He might’ve passed out in the john, or something.”
Don obediently loped off across the thinning dance floor. Diane looked at her watch. It was nearly three thirty. She picked up her marguerita. The ice in it had melted, the salt smearing down the side of the glass. She looked at it distastefully and pushed it to the far side of the table.
Don reappeared at her side.
“He’s not in there. Must have gone home.” Don’s eyes moved with the dancers as he talked.
“The bastard’s probably on the make again. He’d hate not scoring on his first trip to somewhere new,” said Diane sourly. She noticed that Don’s gaze had twisted away in the direction of the washrooms. “What is it?”
“Well, it looks as if there was quite a fight in there earlier.” He looked at Diane. “You know, blood and stuff. You think Perry was in a fight?”
“He’s a lover, not a fighter. He could talk his way out of any situation.” Diane stood up. “Come on, give me a ride to your place.”
Don stood and linked his arm in hers and together they pushed their way out of the room.
“I like this place,” said Diane. “It’s got a friendly atmosphere.” She turned to Don. “We’ll have to come here again.”
“Perry, where are you? I’ve been trying to get hold of you for days. If you don’t want to see me just say so, but pick up a telephone to do it, OK? This is Josie again, and you can call me, because I’m giving up.”
“Perry, this is Abe. I’ve got some primo stuff here waiting to be enjoyed, so come on over. You like, you buy. Take care of yourself.”
“Perry, it’s Marsha. I suppose you heard about Michael. Wasn’t it terrible? I guess you’re feeling low, so call me in a few days. Bye.”
“Perry, Diane again. Where the hell are you? I came around, didn’t you see my note? I’m sorry about Michael. How did you know about him? I’ll call you tomorrow.”
The message machine records and records. Soon it will reach the end of the tape. Soon it will be dark. Behind the machine is the bedroom wall. Beyond that, another apartment, wherein more city dwellers ready themselves for the night ahead. And further beyond is the well of the building, a square dark hole filled with staves of wood, rubble and trash. In a corner of the well is a triangle of hardboard, warped by fungus and soaked in the evening rain.
Beneath the hardboard lies a ramp of corrugated iron, crusted with rust and filthy growths of mould and dirt. Below this are a number of dented sticky paint pots, strung together on a length of rope. Inside one of the pots is a piece of rancid hamburger. A rat approaches, raising itself on its back legs to pause and sniff the air. It moves on, scurrying from pot to pot, peering over the rim of each until it discovers the pungent meat. Gingerly, it enters the pot. As soon as it does so, it senses danger. Now its feet are stuck fast in the paint. Frantically it bangs from side to side trying to free itself, squealing with fear as the rope is released and the pots fall together with a clatter.
There is a heavy movement in the darkness of the corner. Dimly, a shape appears. A scaly shambling thing approaches, half covered in rags, blank red eyes flickering about itself. Suddenly it leaps upon the pots with animal ferocity, tearing at one and then another until it discovers the fat, paint-smeared rat cowering from its grasp. Bony claws pull at the sticky wriggling meal with a grunt of satisfaction. Deep within the scaly wetness, intelligence sparks. A half-thought flickers, trying to make a joke about the advantages of tinned food, but it is fleeting. The concentration of its efforts turns to the fulfilment of a far more basic need.
Later it will try to find a new place in which to forge. Perhaps tomorrow it will try once more to face the daylight. In time it will adapt. One thing it knows for sure. Perry’s in Seraglio forever.
Marsha raised the wine glass by a delicate stem and swilled it gently, listening to the ice cubes as they clinked.
“You never told me,” she said as she watched the ice. “What is it exactly that Perry does for a living?”
Diane thought for a moment before reaching for her glass.
“Oh,” she said nonchalantly, “he’s something in the city.’