Scene 4

Efficiency City, February 9, 2084. 2155 hours.

 

− Another cosmopolitan, please.

As the bartender mixes it up, I fix my eyes on the singer on the stage. She is belting her heart out, God, she’s got pipes. I can’t take my eyes off her, and spill some of my drink down my shirt as I sip it while continuing to watch her. She’s a big woman. A body made like a drum. A drum with a very deep, powerful sound. She is wearing a glittery dark blue evening gown with black combat boots. She finishes her song to loud applause and walks off the stage. My eyes stalk her as she winds her way through the tables and arrives at the bar.

− This one’s on me, I call to the bartender.

She looks at me.

− What are you having?

− Another martini.

The bartender stirs the drink after adding a drop of vermouth.

− You’ve got a beautiful voice. You’re a star!

− Thanks. Too bad I’m singing at a time when live music is dead.

− Care to join me?

− No, thanks. I should get back to my friends.

− Come on. They won’t mind if you sit with me for five minutes.

She takes her drink and sits down next to me at the bar.

− Nate.

− Aria. She ignores my outstretched hand. I study my cosmopolitan. She does, too.

− You like girly drinks, huh?

− No! I just like the taste. Not my fault if it’s pink.

Aria laughs.

− What do you do, Nate?

− I repair cyber headsets.

− What would your colleagues say if they knew you drink pink cocktails?

− They wouldn’t know what it was. What does that taste like? I ask, looking at the martini.

− Try it.

I do, and almost cough out the sip I take.

− Ugh!

Aria laughs again.

− What do you and your father drink together?

− Never knew my father. Grew up with my mother.

− No wonder.

− What.

− Hey, why don’t you just come over and join me and my friends.

− Aw, I don’t know.

− Come on. Can’t be that fun sitting here by yourself.

− All right.

We walk to a back booth. A woman with corn rows, a small blond man, and a huge, muscular, bald man, look up at me suspiciously.

− Move, Aria says to the big man, who sits closest to the opening on the circular bench. He reluctantly scoots over.

− Sit down, she tells me. I squeeze in between the big man and Aria.

Everyone just stares at me.

− This is Nate. She looks at the big man with a scarred face – Flex – the cornrow beauty – Nel – the guy with short hair – Simeon – the man with no features whatever − X.

− Hi y’all.

No one answers.

− That was a beautiful song, Aria, I repeat.

− Thank you. Are you musical?

− Shit, no. I sing in the shower sometimes, but that’s about it.

− We have a meeting in twenty minutes, Nel tells Aria.

− I know, Nel.

− Where y’all going?

− To the South Valley. Can we drop you off somewhere?

− Nah, it’s all right. I don’t live far from here.

We chat a little more, Aria and I. The others are silent.

− Time to go, Nel says.

− Good to meet you, Nate.

− Good to meet you, Aria. Same for y’all.

Everyone rises and they head for the door. I walk up to the bar again. I order a martini, take one sip, force it down, and walk out the door. I stumble along a darkened street, singing to myself. A song my mom used to sing to me when she was giving me a bath.

A van rounds the corner and sidles behind me. I look over my shoulder. It’s got me fixed in its headlights. I walk faster. The van speeds up, too. I start running, and the van guns its engine, lurches forward, and cuts me off by banging onto the sidewalk. The side door slides open.

− Help! I shriek and turn to run the other way.

− Shut up, Nate. It’s me.

I’m already running.

− It’s Aria!

I slow down and look back. I can’t see into the dark van. A figure emerges from it. I still can’t recognize the form on the dark street. But I turn around.

− Who?

− Aria. The girl you just met at anodyne.

I walk back toward the van.

− Y’all really gave me a scare.

− Sorry. Good job, Flex. As I draw close, I see Flex at the wheel. He grins at me.

− Come on. We’re going for a ride.

− No, thanks. I got work tomorrow.

Aria gets really close to me.

− I know you, Nate. Every day, you get off of work, and put on your headset. Usually the same fantasy. Probly involving some girl in a school uniform. You come into your dirty laundry. And still you can’t sleep. You wanna do that for the rest of your life? Or do you want to meet some real people?

− You guys are real? You’re more unreal than the people in the fantasies, than the guys at work.

− That’s why we’re interesting.

− You’re too interesting. I’m going home.

− We’re going to meet a guy in the South Valley. Just hang out and have a couple beers. Then, I promise, I’ll take you home. Drop you off on your doorstep. Look, an hour ago, you were listening to me sing. Then you complimented me. Now I am asking you to be my friend. Why would you pass it up?

− Okay. But just one beer.

− Get in.

We head over a bridge and penetrate the South Valley. A cop car tails us for a while, then turns away. We pull up to a squat stucco in a large yard with chicken coops and cottonwoods along a wide irrigation ditch. We walk in.

− Good to see you, Aria. The man kisses her on the mouth.

− Hi, Miguel. Say hi to Nate.

Miguel shakes my hand. We lounge around in the living room. Big TV, little plaster saints and a framed print of Jesus of the Sacred Heart, another image of the Virgen de Guadalupe on a shelf. A guitar in the corner. Wood by the fireplace, which has a fire going. Miguel brings out cans of Coors Light for everyone.

− So, how you been, Aria? Miguel asks.

− Good, good. We picked up Nate from the bar. He’s a loner. Didn’t want him to drink all his sorrows away. Die of alcohol poisoning.

− Whatever, I say.

− You seen Joe lately? Miguel asks her.

− Nah, she says.

− He’s got something for you.

− I’m taking a break. Kinda discouraged me after my audience disappeared.

− You’re good, Aria. Don’t give up.

− Yeah. I’m working on something big.

− What?

− Can’t talk about it until it’s taken shape.

− Here’s to you, Aria. Everyone raises his can.

 

On the ride back over the overpass, I ask her:

− Who’s Joe?

− A friend of mine.

− Are you guys into drugs? Selling drugs?

− Something like that.

− Man. I never known drug dealers before.

− We don’t sell drugs, Nate. We’re entertainers.

− Flex doesn’t look entertaining.

Flex scowls into the rearview mirror.

− Don’t piss him off, Nate. He’s not a gentle giant.

− Whatever. So what’s the big secret? Everything you guys do is so hush-hush.

− People don’t always like entertainers. Especially if you get too entertaining.

− I like your voice.

− Where to, Romeo? Flex says.

− Oh, right on Louisiana, I say after I get my bearings. I had fun tonight. Thanks for inviting me, I tell Aria.

− I wasn’t gonna let you sit there and pick up Dahlia. She probly would have eaten you alive in some motel room, Aria says.

− Can I eat you alive? I say to Aria.

Nel snorts.

− You don’t hold your liquor very well, do you, Nate? Aria says.

− Sorry. The next left.

The van pulls up to my apartment complex.

− Thanks again.

− See you, Nate.

− Really?

− Come by Freddy’s Diner in the train station at midnight during the week. We’re almost always there.

− OK. If I can.

− You know you don’t sleep, anyways. Might as well drink some coffee and talk.

I walk through the gate and to my squat apartment building. I hear the van pull away.

 

− What the fuck was that?! Nel says to Aria as they drive away.

− He’s sweet.

− He’s a loser. And he’s a stranger. He just heard about Joe, about your new project, about Freddy’s Diner1. Why didn’t you go ahead and tell him about how you patch into the network and broadcast your fantasies? Why don’t you give him the address of where you broadcast from?

− Why don’t I. I have a feeling about these things. He’s cool.

− Your feeling is gonna get us all virtualized.

− Give him a chance.

− Only you would fall for a bonehead.

− I haven’t fallen for him. But, when I see someone who wants to wake up, I’m gonna tap him on the shoulder.

− You’re not the messiah, Jules, Simeon chimes in. Don’t worry about waking people up one by one. Concentrate on your fantasies. You’re gonna reach the whole world.

− The whole world doesn’t mean anything if I don’t help the one person I meet.

− Go easy on yourself, Flex says.

− You guys worry about where we’re gonna set up the next broadcast from. I’ll worry about me.

The van disappears over the pass between the Sandias and the Manzanos.

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