Midnight Nursery

The double doors opened and I edged inside, shoulder to shoulder with faceless night dwellers. I skipped down the stairway and through a hot, dark hall. Flashing lights, muffled, rhythmic thumping - and pushed toward the broad, glittery room at the end of the hall. The thumping got louder and threatened to push through my earplugs. I pushed my way out onto the dance floor and let the thumping in. I began to move.

I must have danced for a half hour, until the overplayed Einst├╝rzende Neubauten song defeated me. My legs wobbly, I headed to the bar. My old friend stood by the railing, clearly drunk, steadying herself and oblivious to her date, who was standing at her side, looking lost and hurt. She stopped, thrust her drink in a slow, diagonal zig-zag toward the bar surface, and eyed me.

"You!" she yelled. "It's you!"

She drew back her index finger and stabbed me in the solar plexus, tracing it down my chest until it reached my belt, where she then stabbed my stomach. A moment later she leaned in suddenly, breath hot with liquor and arms slick with dance sweat. She whispered,

"You'd better be careful," she warned. Her voice, low, mingled sex and malice. "I don't know what I might do."

Her body felt fire hot under a long, sleek number. Her closeness was unaware and unconscious, but all the same, I felt her breasts against my arm and I pulled away. She spun her focus round on something else, and I stood, dazed for a moment, taking in the scene. 

Before me, an undulating sea of over-preparedness: white faces, perfectly curled hair, smoking jackets, cigarette cases, purses crafted with more metal than textile. All the dancers seemed suspended in air due to the black floor and walls and stage.  The low hung wooden rafters and air conditioning units were almost invisible too; I could barely make out shapes apart from white collars and white necks, and the rest was like a throng of armored beetles.

I shifted my focus back to the bar, and my drunk friend, and her date. She introduced us. He was nice. He was clearly in love. He looked like a recruit on the first day of basic training. I dwelt on that thought, and gave him a look of deepest condolence and shook his hand. I felt a twinge of regret and something shifted in my gaze, and I ordered a drink.

I leaned against the bar, my legs still wobbly, my heart pounding uncontrollably. The bass thumping gave way to a bright synthesizers. My eyes adjusted to the dark and I saw scuff marks on shoes, rips on tights. I witnessed a screaming match. I grew tired, finished my drink and headed for the exit. 

On the way out I traced a path through the dance floor. Someone else, an old friend from another time, grabbed my right shoulder and yelled my name. I wavered, leaning in and pulling back a few times, trying to understand what he was saying. I couldn't understand through the noise and the slurring, so I stopped it and got away. 

I ran out onto a late summer night, ducked into my car and rolled out over the bridge. The dark low hell in my mind uncloaked and blew away.  By the clock on my dash, it was 12:30 am. I let my spirit sail on the dark flickers of a long deserted highway. I yearned to visit my old home, the isolated cottage by the bonsai nursery.

In the cottage, during the warm nights of late summer, I often spent long nights in the bath, toweling off and staring out the side window into darkness for hours. Out that window, in the darkest, safest corner of the world, through a thick plastic sheet, rows of planter boxes emerged. Rows of delicately clipped branches, drooping leaves, thick steams, vines crawling up high stilts. The nursery lay dormant in the sacred hours just after twilight, draped in plastic, surrounded by thick brush and finely tilled dirt. It always seemed to stretch on forever.

I kept my headlamps off and eased past the cottage and toward the nursery. I stopped in front of a long, dark green and purple streak of land, barely discernible and so far from the hot hell of the city. From my late night perch, I imagined breaking in and walking down rows of small planters, touching branches and soil. I imagined burying myself in the deep, cool earth, cocooned and enclosed. I would then stare from the nursery back across to the cottage, projecting myself past the bathroom window and into the candle lit recesses of its interior. At first bruised and battered by the wayward energy of lost souls, I would slowly recover my wounds in the isolation, as I once did when I called it home.  

The porch light of the cottage blinked out. I slid away down the street and eventually, pulled back out into a flickering stream of homeward headlamps, unsure of my own destination. 

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