A Note From Ray: Listen, man, this story is not a happy one. I started it a long time ago, thinking that it would make a good addition to my “Degenerate Line” (that’s what I call all my weird stories about people being drug addicts, thieves, hookers, whatever). It quickly got too big for me, and—believe it or not—too dark. The only reason I even finished it was because I was tired of seeing it in my Current Writings file. In the end, I didn’t do it justice, and it still ended up being too dark. You can read it if you want, but don’t blame me if you finish it and feel like you just wasted five minutes of your life. But really, man—what else did you have to do with those five minutes? Start knitting some baby shoes or something? That’s what I’m going to do. You’ve been warned.
She looks at me across the table, and I smile. “I love you,” she says.
“I love you, too,” I tell her. I look into her eyes, and I’m thinking of a million other things. Latex covered in sweat and spit…lust without restriction…love without love. I lean over the table, and I kiss her deeply, and I know that it’s romantic, I know that it’s just the right thing to do. I know that I have to get away…
It’s a Tuesday night, I’ve cooked dinner, and I didn’t fool around about it, either: five courses, all made from scratch with real ingredients, just to show her that she’s special. We eat dinner, I wash the dishes, and I tuck her into bed. Theoretically, there’s love-making after the Tuesday night dinners, but it never works out that way—she’s always sleepy after I pack her full of romance and food.
Using my cell phone, I dial my beeper, but I hang up before it rings. I take both my pager and my cell into the bedroom, I strip down to my boxer shorts, and I slide under the sheets, next to her. I kiss her goodnight, she mumbles something about loving me, and I mumble it back.
I stare at the ceiling, imagining disaster: what if the ceiling supports gave out and crashed down on us? What if there was a raw spot in the wiring and the insulation was slowly burning, something that would burn down the apartment complex while all of us residents sleep? What if an airplane crashed though the ceiling as I stared at it?
I wonder what it would be like to die, but I can’t fathom it, and I don’t fight my limitations. I roll over slowly, take my cell phone from the nightstand. I tuck the phone under my pillow, open it, and redial. My beeper starts buzzing.
“What’s that?” She asks. I fake sleep, lying motionless until she shakes me. “Honey, your pager.”
I pretend to rouse myself from sleep, hang up my phone, check my pager. “Shit,” I mutter.
“What is it?” She asks, barely awake.
“I gotta run to the office…server crashed, is what they’re saying, but they’re probably wrong.”
“No idea. Depends on if it’s just the server.” It doesn’t matter if I make any sense—she can turn on a computer, and she can surf the internet, but that’s about all. “If it’s what I think it is, I’ll probably be all night.”
“Good luck,” she mumbles and is back asleep. I dress quietly, kiss her goodbye while she sleeps, and leave.
The night is cold: my fingers go numb almost instantly, and when the wind blows, my bones ache. It only takes me a couple minutes to catch a cab, despite the cold, despite the hour. I rub my hands together as the driver makes conversation. I chat with him for a minute, and then settle back into the seat, letting the warmness of the cab sink into my body.
He starts talking again, this time on his cell phone. I watch the lights rush around me, shining out like a million fallen stars, and I see sin in all of them. I smile. A degenerate story for each of those fallen stars, a mystery that will never be solved, a secret life that will never be discovered.
The cab driver stops where I tell him—a giant brick building that penetrates the cloud cover of the city. I sign in with the night doorman and take the elevator. This is not where I work, but it is my office. I rent space here because there is a gym and shower, and it’s available at any time of the night. The kind of work I do, I don’t really need an office—just an internet connection and a computer. The kind of life I live, the office is necessity. I unlock the door and step into the sparsely-furnished room.
There’s a desk, it’s covered with all kind of things that are specifically set up to look technologically advanced, just in case anyone besides me ever walks in, there are two chairs, and there is a suit hanging in plastic. It’s identical to the one that I wear to work on most days. In the large desk drawer is another change of clothes, almost identical to the clothes I am wearing tonight—white t-shirt, blue jeans, basic stuff that’s easy to forget. I change clothes quickly, pull a brief case out of the desk, and leave.
I tell the doorman goodnight, and he tells me that I forgot my coat. I act as if I’m considering running back up and getting it. “Ah,” I tell him, “It’s just a quick cab ride and then I’ll be coming right back here.”
“Okay, but you’re crazy to be walking out in that weather without a coat.”
He doesn’t understand that I’m crazy for so many other reasons. I step out into the cold, and am paralyzed for a moment. In my mind, I see warm love, I see the future, I see everything wonderful that people always wish for. I wave down a cab, give him an address, and refuse to make small talk.
It’s not a club, but that’s the best word to describe it. A secret club, but not like you had when you were a kid, but almost exactly like what you had when you were a kid. Make believe, complete with pirates and bandits and cops and robbers, but you weren’t thinking about stuff like this when you were a kid.
Outside, it is nothing but a concrete building, most of the windows broken out, the rest of them painted over. There’s trash piled in front of the entryway, and I have to step over it to climb the three steps to the door. I don’t knock.
I stand in the cold, almost wishing that I had a coat, and then deciding to concentrate on the cold, instead. The wind blows through me, and I can feel my blood slowing. The sweat that had formed on my brow during the cab ride freezes, and I imagine icicles piercing my skin. The door opens, is filled by a giant man with tattoos all up and down his arms.
He stares at me for a second, and although he looks dumb, this isn’t exactly the case. Think about trying to have an emotional conversation with your computer. That’s this guy. He’s not going to smile and say hello, but he has so much information packed away in his brain that it’s terrifying.
He steps aside, not saying a word, and watches me as I walk down a short hall to a desk. The door slams shut, immediately ending the sounds of outside, and it the hall is suddenly casket quiet. My shoes, even though they’re soft-soled running shoes, click on the plastic tiles, and the clicking seems to echo down in front of me. The person at the desk, it’s impossible to tell if it’s a man or a woman, and it doesn’t matter here. What matters is that you don’t screw around about giving her money—you start screwing around with something like that, and the big guy at the door makes sure that you get broken. Or so I’ve heard, anyway. I’ve never spent enough time in the hallway to see anything other than the ritual I’m going through at the moment. I give the desk person money, and walk around the desk and through a door.
I’m in another hallway, and this one is the exact opposite of quiet. Heavy bass sounds reverberate through the walls, drums rattle the floor, an occasional siren pierces the air. I open the door at the end of this second hallway and am submerged in a different world.
The music is a solid thing, I feel it slam into my face and then sink into me, and my heartbeat quickens. The air is hot, and smells of sex and perversion. It doesn’t matter what kind of perversion—there’s too much going on here to differentiate. An obese woman in leather rides a skinny naked man in front of me. He’s naked and she’s hitting him with a riding crop. That’s just the beginning, but that’s not what I’m here for. The room that I’ve just stepped into is roughly the size of a basketball court, and it’s filled with flesh, most of it naked and writhing. The music throbs through the crowd, controlling them, moving them, encouraging them. It’s called The Floor, as in the dance floor, I suppose. This is where you come for cheap thrills, when you’re still trying to decide what kind of freak you are. When you need to summon courage, when you need to build up to the plunge into degeneracy, this is the plank that you walk.
I’ve been on the floor before, but I tired of it pretty quickly, and I now find it more of an inconvenience than anything, although even now it sometimes acts as an aphrodisiac.
I stay at the edge of the crowd, circling the room against the wall, working my way towards the spiral staircase at the far end of The Floor. Somewhere along the way, I get grabbed, pulled into the crowd. I let myself be taken, and by the time I make it to the stairs, my shirt has been ripped apart, my fly has been unzipped, and I’ve been groped more times than I can count.
I climb the stairs, through another door, down another hallway. This one is lined with doors. None of them are numbered. If you don’t know exactly where you’re going, you never get to this hallway. It’s not a secret, but everything going on behind these doors is. This is where you go when to be yourself means that you have to become someone else. There are fantasies here that I don’t want to think about, creeps and weirdos that make me shiver, and I’m one of them.
I get to the door, and just before I knock, I ask myself what the hell is wrong with me. What am I doing? It’s an internal interrogation that I have every time, and I never come up with any answers.
I knock, and the door opens, and there she is…
I stumble out the door, dazed and guilty and fulfilled. Elated and horrified, the way I feel every time that I leave. I look at my watch, but it tells me nothing. The sin-rush is still too fresh, I’m high off of my bad behavior, I can’t think at all. I manage to summon a cab, and I give him the address of my office. I ride silently in the back, smelling of lust and rubber and a million other things that I shouldn’t smell like, wondering briefly about what this cabbie thinks, picking up social deviants from this place night after night, all of them in various states of undress, all of them in various states of mind. I wonder if he ever goes inside, if he knows what goes on behind the un-numbered doors. He doesn’t speak, and neither do I. Back at the office, I shower, I change back into my clothes, and I hail another cab to take me home.
I get a nervous/sick feeling in my stomach as the cab pulls to a halt—is this the time I get caught? Is this the time that I’ve overlooked something, some clue as to what I’ve been up to? Is this when my world of lies tumbles around me, exposing all of my nasty secrets to the world? I hand the cabbie his money, and as I climb the stoop, I tell myself that everything’s fine. I’ll get away with this because I always get away with it. She has no reason to suspect that I’m anything other than what she thinks I am. I never give her a reason to suspect, because I love her.
I smile as I reach for my keys. Thinking about her makes always makes me smile. I love her, and I always will—I can’t help that I’m broken, and I won’t let it stand in the way of a fairy tale ending for both of us.
I reach to unlock the door, and it pushes in. I notice that the frame has been broken. I freeze. I’ve never been in a situation like this, I don’t know how to react, I don’t know what you’re supposed to do. And then I think of her, and then I stop thinking. I’m flying up the stairs, yelling her name, begging her to answer me.
The door is open, not like I left it. I hit the light as I run into the room, and I see that she’s in bed, everything’s fine, I was just overreacting, paranoia running off the excess energy from the club.
I kneel beside her, kiss her cheek, and notice that it’s too cold. I pull down the blanket, and then I scream.