It’s Friday, so it’s time for another chapter of my upcoming novel.
This chapter’s actually kind of special. If you remember, in some of my posts I talk about posting a random chapter on Wattpad, and receiving a lot of positive feedback, and that was what motivated me to keep writing. Well, this is the chapter I posted.
So, yeah. You can download a PDF of the prologue and the first four chapters here. Or you can read it a bit down.
We’re currently at 46% funded. That’s almost half. If you’d like to help out, you can do so here.
Crucified over all the commotion, the moon sheds its filthy, cold light. Neon signs, billboards, street lamps, all melt together to form this Jackson Pollock kind of painting.
Strangers pass him by, their hands tucked deep inside their pockets. Police sirens echo from far away. He passes by the Museum of Sex on Fifth Avenue. A sign reads, “Please do not touch, lick, stroke or mount the exhibits.” It’s enough to make him smile.
On the other side of the street, a neon sign is flashing white over huge windows, “Oliver’s Bar.” Chris decides to go inside, have a beer or two, and then take a cab back home.
The first thing he notices once he goes inside is that it isn’t a busy night. Tuesday, what’d you expect? He can hear a TV murmuring above the chatter of the people at the bar.
It turns out Oliver’s Bar isn’t that big. White brick walls covered with posters and paintings. Cracked concrete columns impaling the wooden ceiling, lamps hanging from chains. A huge, S shaped bar on the right with a huge vase filled with lilies on it. On the other side a few booths. Opposite the front door, through an archway, Chris can see a stage with a piano enthroned in the center.
He takes a seat at the bar, next to a guy who’s sipping lazily from a glass of whisky. Bartenders pour spirits from upside down bottles. Droplets of whisky and vodka form and fall soundlessly as he lights up a cigarette.
“What’ll be?” asks one of the bartenders.
The bartender smiles.
Chris takes a sip of beer, bitterness fills his mouth. ““This is nice,” he says, waving his hands around.
The bartender nods.
Chris proceeds to staring at his face decomposing in the back bar mirror. Around this image, people talking and laughing. He feels like in that Edouard Manet painting with that woman at the bar. He feels as static as some colors on a canvas, as dead as some colored stains slowly fading away on a painting.
The bartender puts a bowl filled with peanuts and a newspaper on the bar. “Something to keep you busy.” His Adam’s apple goes up and down as he says the words.
Chris takes a couple of peanuts and throws them in his mouth. Something to take away the bitterness. He skims through the newspaper. He has read it earlier today. Stories about people he doesn’t know, people he doesn’t care about. Perfect strangers dying, stealing, smashing their cars against concrete walls, setting buildings on fire. Perfect strangers in a perfectly unhappy world. Section after section of nonsense…
The television running in the background, smoke hovering around the bar, people coming and going…
Chris looks up and the bartender catches his eye.
“Another one?” he asks, already reaching for another bottle of beer.
The bartender extends his arm. “Oliver,” he says.
“Chris Packlem.” He looks around. “So this is your place, huh?”
Oliver smiles. “Do you like it?”
For whatever reason, Chris feels like doing some small talk with Oliver. They talk for a while about sports, about the weather, about how difficult it is to keep a business afloat these days. When he notices people heading for the other room, he takes his bottle and follows them.
A woman is seated at the piano, her eyes closed. She’s barely breathing – a moment of quiet surrender. It feels as if she’s not dead, not quite alive, but trapped somewhere in between. Suddenly, she snaps her fingers and takes a deep breath.
And Chris takes one step, then another one. And another one until his knees are touching against the edge of the scene – that’s the closest he can get. From where he’s standing, he can see her all too well. There is something about her eyes, something mysterious and vaguely perverse at the same time.
Sitting in front of that piano, in a ceremonious state, her voice invades a hundred souls, her voice hovers above cheers and claps. And she smiles. She smiles because only on a stage, surrounded by a hundred strangers, is she truly alone.
The air is so filled up with smoke that it’s getting harder and harder to breathe.
“She can do magic, this one,” a guy next to Chris says.
Stuck in this moment of sweet contemplation, his eyes burning with strange excitement, Chris Packlem can’t explain it, can’t deny it, can’t define it, can’t analyze it, but he’s damn certain she’s the woman he’s always been in love with.
Before he can figure it all out, she stops singing. For a few moments, she’s there, sitting at the piano, staring back at him.
His chest empty, his eyes sore, he’s afraid to go talk to her. Stranger still, that’s the only thing he wants to do. He wants to talk to her.
But what’s the point? He thinks, so he heads back to the bar and orders another beer. He swills it down fast. He orders another one. He looks at his watch. Two thirty in the morning.
Oliver’s drying his hands on a paper towel. The TV has stopped murmuring. He’s free to breathe in the silence.
“Excuse me.” A hand touches his elbow. He turns around. The singer is glaring back at him. Her thumb waves over her shoulder, pointing toward the backroom. She leans closer to him, her eyes narrowed. “Do I know you?”
Chris shrugs his shoulders. “I don’t think…”
“I just feel like I’ve met you before.”
She leans even closer. Their faces almost touching, her beautifully sculptured lips assert an almost magnetic attraction, Chris says, “I don’t… I don’t remember…” His hands dangling around his body, useless. They’re too close.
Oh, how perfect are those lips of hers. How crazy beautiful, how impossible to describe. He just wants to gently press his lips against hers. In fact, he never wanted anything so bad in his entire life.
“I see you two have met,” Oscar says.
She takes a few steps back. “Actually we haven’t… Alice.”
“Chris. Nice to meet you.”
They don’t shake hands, they don’t smile, they don’t even blink as often as they should. They just stare at each other. But then he stands up, as if startled by a nightmare. His palms pressed against his chest, he says, “I’m sorry, but I have to go.” He’s trying really hard to keep this ambiguous smile on his face. He grabs his bottle and takes another sip. “I forgot my cell at home. They must’ve filled a missing persons report by now.”
He knows this smile of his is starting to decompose, so he waves them both goodbye. “It was nice meeting you.” He doesn’t wait for an answer. He’s already headed for the door, in such a wobbly stride, one foot in front of another, like he’s walking the plank.
Once outside, his pulse slows down, his lungs take in fresh air. He feels free. He wants to go home. He needs sleep, lots and lots of sleep.
Chris is standing in his private elevator, climbing up this modern version of the Babel Tower. He feels as if he’s actually headed the wrong direction.
His penthouse, unfolding across three floors. His penthouse, decorated with so much Italian marble and ebony and onyx that you could make a thousand sculptures. You could make real art out of just about anything that people’s shoes step on inside his apartment. You could make something you’d hope would last forever out of his bathrooms.
It’s so quiet inside the elevator. He closes his eyes and hopes that this will last forever, that time will stop, just so he can be all alone in this metal box, travelling up towards a Heaven he can’t imagine. A Heaven he doesn’t deserve.
His eyes closed, his head tilted backwards, he smiles as if he’s found his very own God. As if he’s found redemption in the form of a single moment of silence.
Then the doors slide open, revealing a living full of people, and the moment’s gone forever, lost inside this metal can whose doors are slowly closing behind him. He shakes hands with some of the guests, others he pats on the back. He kisses cheeks, tells a joke or two.
Fake and real diamonds shining pretty. Backless dresses, button-down shirts, designer clothes, silk ties, laced shoes. A lifestyle only money can buy.
He’s tired of all this, tired of having to make his way through a labyrinth of luxury.
Satin, velvet, cashmere, vicuña, mohair, silk. Everyone here is rich, famous, and surgically enhanced to look as best as possible.
And Chris is quite certain he doesn’t know half of these people.
His brain is wobbling inside his skull, floating around in a sea of beer. His temples burn, sweat covers his eyebrows, distorting his vision.
Yves Saint Laurent, Jean Paul Gaultier, Karl Lagerfeld, Versace, Armani, Prada. All the guests are rich enough they don’t need anyone else but themselves.
And Chris hasn’t felt so alone in a long time.
“Buddy, you made it!” A man puts his hand on his shoulder. His limps are so thin and elongated that he gives the impression of being a sketch by El Greco. He gives him a hug. His face is smeared with lipstick. In his right hand, he’s holding a bottle of bourbon.
Chris grabs the bottle and pushes the guy away. He puts the bottle against his lips. Fire runs up and down his throat, but he keeps on drinking; he drinks until his cheeks turn blood red, until he runs out of air. He puts the bottle down on the floor and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. He stares blindly around, slowly shaking his head, then heads for the cantilevered staircase that costs more than its weight in gold.
“Hey, where you going?” the guy asks but Chris can no longer hear him. The guy shrugs and takes the bottle off the floor.
Climbing up towards the master bedroom, two steps at a time, Chris leaves behind a room filled with New York socialites, a world renowned trademark.
Once inside the bedroom, away from all the commotion, he lights up another cigarette. His own way of measuring time. His idea of a slow death. He walks out on the balcony, slowly unbuttoning his shirt. From there he can see an entire city made up of concrete and glass, a city full of lights, a paradise if looked at from the outside. Down on the streets, a clatter of cars and people. Lives and stories, victories and defeats, all evaporating away into the darkness above, rumble dissipating into the faint roar of the night.
Thousands of years of evolution have taught people to isolate themselves in these concrete boxes, well insulated from the outside world.
New York, the Big Apple, dies every single day, when the sun is sluggishly returning back to his grave, only to be born again the following morning. And it does so relentlessly, like a modern Phoenix. New York is a place that exists only to make people feel lonely, to abandon its citizens in huge glass and concrete towers and to let them prey to ruin…
In a city as big as this one, nothing is tragic anymore. Everything becomes information. Deaths, births, diseases, fires, accidents, all become news, only meaningless data that must be sorted and stored in our mind for a while, then erased.
When so many events stopped affecting our lives, no wonder it’s hard for us to understand that every single person we meet during our life is a human being just like ourselves.
This world is only as big as we want it to be. People see only what they think they need to see. For the vast majority of them, the world is still as flat as a sheet of paper.
“Are there any words capable of waking us up from this terrible slumber?” Chris asks a God who’s forgot to listen to His children, a God too busy to answer prayers, too busy to redeem.
He throws the cigarette on the floor and stomps it with his right foot.
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