The Birthday Boy
Lucy hasn’t been able to get even a word in with her boyfriend Tom and she’s just about had enough, though of course the birthday boy was always going to be the center of attention, birthday aside, what with the moody indigo blazer and the black button down and bolo tie and the fake golden crown to which he’s glued a plastic eyeball where the center jewel ought to be, with his charismatic conversational virtuosity and his sizable mental library of anecdotes and his appetite for attention. Here’s a little bit about Lucy: Lucy’s got those big eyes that turn heads and inspire double-takes, eyes complexly hazel with droplets of jealous green and melancholic blue mixed in those oceanic irides; her aesthetic can best be described as carefully careless, though tonight she’s paid particular attention to the first part, strutting her stuff in her tea-length shimmering dress with a pattern like the night sky and her bold eyeliner decisions; she’s exceptionally pretty but doesn’t feel that way about herself, and because of this she’s got a complicated relationship with compliments and mirrors, to give you a sense of the girl.
Now Lucy has kept a straight face through the chips ’n’ dip fiasco and the last minute guest list revisions and even managed to keep her tone deceptively polite during the whole trick candle versus non-trick candle dispute with Tom’s friend Ben, and so now with the party single-handedly wrestled from chaotic Pollockian antimatter to phantasmagoric Boschian chemical-fest, Lucy feels relaxed enough to crack open a Corona and even stick a wedge of lime down its translucent throat, and go over to spend some time with Tom who’s just now escaped the living room (oxblood walls and black furnishings turned dance floor and filled with aforementioned chemically intoxicated twenty-somethings who have no regard for the subtle décor or their own safety) and found a solitary moment in the deserted and gayly decorated kitchen (lots of pastel colors and purposefully out-of-season rainbow winking Christmas lights) among the handles of alcohol and Chinese food (which she’d resisted but he’d insisted on). He brightens up as she approaches and fits her chin by his collarbone and softly grips his firm trapezius muscle. He wraps his arms around her, lightly pinches her ass.
“Can I plan a party or can’t I?”
“Babe, you’ve really done a fantastic job.”
“I did it all for you.”
“And that’s the best part.” He smiles wolfishly and they kiss. She thinks Tom is a very good kisser.
“And you told people our bedroom is off limits?”
“Like a fourteen year old.”
“Will you not?”
“I’m just being funny, honey.”
“It’s not funny.”
“But it’s my birthday.”
She tries to stare him into apology and then watches his eyes flicker over to the living room. She changes the subject.
“Now do you know who that is over there?” Lucy points to the other real eye-vacuum of the night, a girl she’s been mentally referring to as the Bitch with Hair Like Fire. She’s a sallow, moon-faced girl with a bony frame and a rebelliously bored demeanor and a whole lotta make up. But the real kicker is her hair. She’s shaved the sides of her head and dyed the long hair on her scalp a jumble of clown red, warning orange and police-tape yellow, hair which she’s gelled and teased to defy gravity and point upwards so that it looks like her head is on fire. Right now she’s fiddling expertly with the straps of her low cut loose-fitting tank and playing with another guy’s junk through his pants. Tom looks strangely entranced, Lucy notices.
“I’ve definitely never seen her before. Do you want me to ask her to leave?”
“No, that’s okay. I don’t want you to have to kick guests out on your birthday.”
“Why not? If anybody should be kicking people out, it should be me. After all, it is my party.”
“Well, your party, of course Luce, but thrown on my behalf.”
“Come on, I don’t get a kiss?”
She’s reluctant but he insists and she folds into his profile, momentarily weightless.
“… Oh, it’s okay. She can stay as long as she doesn’t take Igloo’s cock out of his pants in front of everyone.”
“Well you just tell me if you want me to ask her to leave. As you know, I can be very polite and very persuasive.”
“You heard me.”
“… Something about her gives me the creeps.”
“Well you don’t have to talk to her.”
“Okay, okay, go hang out with your friends. I’ll catch up with you later.”
Tom grins his shiny grin and kisses Lucy on the forehead and slaps her ass, then sidesteps back into the mess of tangled limbs and bodies. Lucy sighs, sips a bit desperately at her Corona and readies a plate with the Chinese food she doesn’t mind: beef with broccoli, orange chicken, shrimp fried rice. But before she can dig in with feeble plastic utensils she feels a tap at her shoulder.
“Ugh, you guys are so gross.”
Who else could it be but good old Xanthe Gallaté, a Parisian ex-pat capable of generating enormous amounts of controversy with minimal effort, an old friend of Lucy’s. Xanthe is very thin and has long legs and likes to dress in a way that shows off how thin she is and how long her legs are. Tonight she’s mostly in white.
“How are you, Xanthe?”
“I can see that.”
“I’m still shocked I was even invited to this thing.”
“Shocked? Of course we wanted you here.”
“Whatever. Some party. You really pulled out all the stops.”
“Thanks. I just want to show Tom I’m serious about us.”
“Lucy, listen. I dated the fucker for a year. Maybe he’s different with you, but the only possible explanation for the way he treated me during that year is that he’s incapable of feeling real love.”
She looks into the bubbling mass of bodies, tries to spot the golden crown or his toothy intoxication.
“God, I need another drink, Lucy. By the way, I don’t want to alarm you, but I saw Tom talking to that bitch with the crazy hair earlier.”
“What are you talking about? He told me he’d never seen her before. Just a few minutes ago.”
“Hm. He lied to me a lot too.”
“He doesn’t lie to me.”
“You sure about that?”
She looks down at the steaming food on her plate, now unappetizing, spoiled with crusted oil. Xanthe snaps her fingers.
“Okay now, who’s got that fucking gin?”
Tom’s friend Igloo shouts from the living room that he indeed does have the handle of gin and Xanthe spirals her way out in that direction, tumbling through the crowd. Uneasy and feeling a stomachache coming on, Lucy corners Ben, another of Tom’s friends who tonight has donned a seventies look: auburn plaid sport coat over maroon turtleneck and navy bellbottoms. He is doing that thing where he gets really wasted and then exaggerates his Texan accent.
“Have you seen Tom?”
“Wow Lucy, you’re looking mighty fine tonight.”
“Thanks. So…did you hear me or should I ask again?”
“Ask again, honey.”
“Please don’t call me that. Now, have you seen Tom?”
“Nope. Just been here, dancin’ and romancin’.”
“I mean it, Ben.”
“No, I really haven’t seen him. What’s the matter?”
“Come on, you don’t have to be like that. My mother tells me I’m an excellent listener.”
“… I’m just kind of worried he doesn’t care about me that much.”
“I’m sorry you’re feeling that way. He can be a real prick, huh.”
“Come here, bring it in.”
“… Did you just try to kiss me?”
“You better be fucking drunk, Ben, I swear to Christ.”
“So let me get this straight. You complaining about your boyfriend isn’t you hitting on me?”
“No. You’re disgusting.”
“Shoot Lucy, I am drunk, I’m-”
“-Now tell me where Tom is.”
“… Oh I see now. You’re dangerous.”
“You’ve got about five sec-”
“-You really wanna know?”
“Okay Luce. He’s in the bedroom.”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“If you ever hit on me again I will fuck you up so hard you’ll wish your mother’d never even heard of your father.” She walks away.
“Please don’t tell him I told you,” Ben shouts after her.
Lucy approaches the bedroom door. The dampened scream of an electro-mechanical oscillator infiltrates her ears and her heart thumps like a subwoofer. Carbon dioxide molecules panic in her pressurized lungs. She sighs heavily, opens the door the slightest crack, peers in.
The piercing electronic whine beams between her ears like a high-frequency laser. The Bitch with Hair Like Fire is sitting atop the desk by the right wall. All the walls are oily black. One of the room’s many golden lamps is on its side on the floor though still plugged in and gleaming. It casts dramatic shadows on the two figures. They both have all their clothes on and Tom’s in between her legs, standing up. They’re not kissing, but that’s not to say there isn’t anything intimate about the scene. His left hand is wrapped around her neck, and in his right hand he’s holding an electric skull shaver, which is whirring and screaming like a buzz saw. He runs the razor across her scalp and her fiery hair falls in embers to the floor and smolders. With each buzz she lets out a shriek of pure ecstasy, gripping him tightly with her legs. As he runs the razor through her fiery hair her eyes roll so far back into her skull that only the whites show. There she is, gaping cavernous mouth and hyper-orgasmic (we’re talking mind-shattering and body-rocking) expression, milky eyes with frenzied ink red capillaries trembling. Lucy’s forgotten to breathe, inhales sharply out of necessity.
He whips around then powers down the blade. The Bitch with Hair Like Fire’s eyes return to normal. She seems bemused, puffs at a mostly-smoked cigarette, lays it to rest on the windowsill.
“… What on earth is this?”
“Just shaving a new friend.”
“Oh, Lucy, please don’t be like that.” She’s already leaving. “We didn’t do anything.” She slams the door but the muffled and disembodied cry leaks out, “It’s my birthday!” Lucy storms over to the window in the corner of the living room. The party has become petrified, stone cold silent. All she can hear is her anger beating in her ears like a timpani. She opens the window, takes in the crisp air, stares deep into the sliver of a narcotizing and yellow moon.
“Hey,” someone says behind her. She can tell who without looking. It’s the Bitch with Hair Like Fire (though now her scalp’s been buzzed violently close to the quick).
“What do you want?”
“Your boyfriend and I really weren’t doing anything, I fuckin’ swear.”
“Save it. I saw you two.”
“It was just a fuckin’ buzzcut, what’s the big deal?”
“It did not look like just a fuckin’ buzzcut.”
“Well it was.”
“… Besides, it’s not like I would ever fuck him or anything.”
“That doesn’t mean anything to me. I don’t care about you or your feelings. I care about him, and it’s clear to me that he wants to hop in your pants.”
“And I’m telling you I’m never gonna let that happen.”
“You’re not the listening to me. I don’t care if you don’t like him. I don’t want him to want to sleep with you. The fact that he does is devastating to me.”
“I want to be enough for him.”
“Why would you ever want to just be enough for somebody?”
“… What do you mean?”
“I mean, wouldn’t you rather be not enough? Just be your fucking self, exude your self, make him always be pining for more of you and pine for nothing but you. See, then the word ‘enough’ disappears and in it’s wake…true desire. Desire for more. More of you.”
“… What are you doing?”
“Do you like this?”
“I can’t fucking hear you.”
“Good girl. Now just relax. Let me light your flame.”
All the way across the room Tom exits the bedroom, dusting some ashes from his midnight coat. He sees Lucy and the Bitch with Hair Like Fire, sighs, then approaches Ben, who’s speaking animatedly (and smoothing his mustache frequently as he does so) to Xanthe. They’re sharing psychedelic mushroom experiences when Tom interrupts their conversation with a polite and practiced cough.
“Can I borrow you?”
“Yeah, sure thing. Sorry, I’ll be back in a minute. It’s Xanthe, right?”
“Yes. Xanthe Gallaté. You’ll never forget.”
“It’s nice to see you, Xanthe.”
“Suck my dick, Tom.” She storms off and Tom and Ben snicker.
“How cruel were you when you dumped her, man?”
“You see Lucy and that chick over there?”
“Oh yeah. So how’d the haircut go?”
“Who the fuck snitched is what I wanna know.”
“Well between you and me, I saw Lucy and Igloo talking.”
“God damn. Last time I trust a structure.”
“Guy’s a rat.”
“… Look at them. They’re really going at it.”
“I hate to admit it but it’s actually turning me on a bit.”
“Oh I imagined as much.”
“She must be pretty furious.”
“She can be a real drag sometimes.”
“… A little cocaine might cheer you up.”
“Cocaine, huh? Sometimes it makes me a little paranoid.”
“You look like you could use some paranoia. To ignite the senses.”
“Ho ho, I like the sound of that.”
Meanwhile, in the dark corner, Lucy and the Bitch with Hair Like Fire have finally taken a break from each other’s lips.
“You feel sexy?”
“Very much so.”
“One more. Close your eyes.”
Xanthe’s disembodied voice wafts from the kitchen. “Is somebody here smoking? What kind of party is this, Tom? I cannot stand the stench of smoke, you know that. What are you trying to do, kill me? Again? Tom, where the fuck are you? I need to have a word with you.”
When Lucy opens her eyes the Bitch with Hair Like Fire is already halfway out the door, holding a clandestine index finger to her puckered red lips. As she disappears, Lucy looks back to Xanthe, who is shuddering like a glitch against the closed refrigerator door. Something about her appears off, at least to Lucy. She looks like a doppelgänger of herself.
Tom exits the bathroom in a flurry, rubbing his nose and cackling and thumping his chest. Without thinking Lucy moves to the window and grabs ahold of the butane flame blue bottle of Bombay Sapphire on the sill. Tom sees that she’s now alone, asks Ben for a second and makes his way over. Ben doesn’t seem to mind. He tries to help Xanthe get upright. As Tom approaches her he takes off his crown, perhaps even a bit sheepishly.
“I’m really sorry, Lucy.”
Lucy keeps inspecting the crystalline bottle which seems somehow to be generating its own pulsing phantom light.
“I promise you, she and I didn’t do anything.”
“I’m sorry. I just couldn’t help talking to her. Something about her hair…”
She looks hard at Tom, then screws open the glowing bottle and throws her head back, gulps, gulps, gulps again, clears her throat loudly and wipes her lips with the back of her hand. She grabs his arm, drags him across the vacant dance floor and pulls him towards the bedroom, not stopping for a moment even as he protests, “Lucy, what is this?” She opens the door, shoves him inside with both hands, and enters herself, slamming the door behind her.
The whole room is aflame and compressed with dense black clouds of smoke. The flaming curtains shiver frantically in the gust bursting through the open window. They dance as they immolate and turn to gas. The desk has been swallowed up entirely by flame and the walls are fire, the black paint is melting and dripping to the floor like a sludge. Drug-addled partygoers outside are in something of a panic. The sound of glass breaking slices the night like a samurai sword. Though the mattress hasn’t yet been engulfed by the fire, the headboard is sublimating menacingly. Like the gaping maw of a fire-breather.
“Let’s get out of here!” His voice is a panicked arpeggio.
She stares into his fearful wide and bloodshot eyes, trembling and dripping with paranoia. She pushes his chest, forcing him onto the bed.
“Lucy what’s the matter with you?” Tom asks desperately.
She climbs on top of him. Straddles him. An electrical socket bursts and begins to spray white hot sparks and suddenly a crazed look overcomes her face, a wild and dangerous element in her exploding eyeballs, a grin that’s trying mighty hard to hide itself; in total, an expression like a cocked and loaded gun. Then Tom’s face breaks into a smile of understanding. Ah, his eyes sigh, now this is more like it. She inhales sharply.