I stood, dressed in a vintage 50/50 Merc-Tile shirt and Adidas track pants, in front of my leather lined full length mirror, holding both outfits critiquing for all flaws or compliments; examining and modifying for the best narrative. The first was J. Crew dark jeans, blue Gant Rugger cardigan, denim grey colored shirt by Band of Brothers, and Ralph Lauren shoes. The second outfit was all Sean John: a brown leather racing jacket, black crewneck sweater, dark vintage wash jeans, and white shelltop shoes.
It had been two years since Ian Jimenez; four years since ending with Jeremy Schwach. I believed they were different, but they weren’t. Both smiled to confuse, while I talked; they were egocentric, but I thought myself unique. They were cowards asking opinions like collecting pebbles, demanding emotional risks from others. I expected others to provide answers I was not willing to discover; I read greedily choosing pieces of others’ ideas to get through situations with a minimal guilt. To help with this delusion conversations and gestures were considered foreign languages to be deciphered. I had dated but remained perpetually single, only selecting those that were unavailable either emotionally, physically, or by lifestyle; there was no risk of fault or blame when everything went wrong; I only wanted the appearance of trying, that way people felt sympathy. “Dating is difficult,” they’d say and stop asking questions, so I could stay safe by not including anything that wasn’t previously established.
At the end of 2057 I realized it was peculiar the way nostalgia sparkled on memory’s shadow, and decided that 2058 was going to be a new approach, with new revelations. It was time to get off the carousel; no more wondering and wandering; no more perfect fantasy or nothing.
I turned the radio on, put both outfits on the Victorian fainting couch, and allowed the recollection to rest before taking off my clothes. The radio projected an update on increased Depravity Watch following October’s bombing outside Ellis Hotel before switching over to regional Top 40. Sipping absinthe from the tumbler on the white country French chair-cum-nightstand, I walked into the small but functional art deco bathroom, decorated in black and white subway tile, accented with green and bamboo. The free-standing sink, toilet and claw footed bathtub, were porcelain; the rainforest shower and fixtures were nickel. I turned on the warm water filling the claw foot tub.
Steam billowed escape through the open opaque window that overlooked the courtyard. I sat in the hot water, and plucked from the shelf a previously rolled salvia-cigar, lit and smoked it as he sank in the water. I looked out the open window, as the moon began to rise over the opposite side of the building, small fractals of frost grew inward. Several neomorphic insects flew in front of a refurbished WWII Moroccan Tesla-carbon filament lantern, that was there to keep neomorphic bugs away when I smoked on the fire escape; in some forgotten Aerynd University class I learned insects flew into light because of a possibly complex darkness on the other side.
I temporarily put the salvia-cigar out so that he could wash body and hair, that its natural curls were cutely evident. Getting out of the shower I dried himself off, and lit a Salvia cigarette. I powered himself a glass of absinth, stood once again before the choices for outfits took a sip of absinthe, a drag from Salvia, and decided on the cardigan outfit; I accessorized with a KimmelxCarhartt cap, and Moughlin & Piquard watch.
Dressed, I headed down the hall to the elevator, went down to the lobby, and out into the snowy Victorian Parkfront of Paeryt. The Parkfront is known for its colorful, artistic residents and alternative vagabond culture they propagate; fleeing from what they saw as increasing oppressive Malthusian Commission enforced social conformity. Due to its progressive sensibilities of the residents, Parkfront became a focal point of new ideas, whether political, artistic, or cultural. This tradition as an enclave of avant-garde alternative culture was established during the 19th and into 20th Century, when small presses, art galleries, and experimental theatre thrived.
While Parkfront attracted people who came to live and work in the creative vagabond environment after the Resource Wars, it also became for political exiles.
I wrapped my coat tightly around me, keeping the wintry breeze from piercing my skin. It was a particularly cold and brutal winter with all of The Valley covered in six feet of snow at any given moment. The Tesla Walls used as protection against the consistently invading Genesis Garden were also keeping the snow trapped within its confines, limiting the areas were the abundant snow could be moved to; Wuthering Canal worked for a moment by emptying into the NAU, but the un-melted snow that was temporarily dumped into the canal threatened to flood the business district, crippling the northeastern seaboard’s economic and informational strong hold. Additionally, the chemicals and salt sprayed on the mounds of snow, which turn the melted snow water green, made worse the already polluted waterways, killing what little cismammals weren’t already neomorphic and inedible by the Ctesias Virus.
I squeezed between two Watch Guards, atop their hypermorphic horses, to stand on the edge of the sidewalk and flagged down a taxi-carriage. Getting in, the driver’s image appeared on the CCTV in the back, requesting my destination. I answered, “Ti & Coffee,” and the carriage was off down the preserved cobblestone streets to the smoothed paved streets of Landing Alley.
Landing Alley was official formed inside Noex’s borders in 1899, making up the main high-end shopping district in The Valley, combining open air markets and commercial buildings that stretch along the northern mouth of Wuthering Canal. Seventeen small in-let canals mark the area, with the median canal the widest and stretching all the way to Reservoir Park. Landing Alley’s cafés are referred to Neutral Ground became a place where contentious cultures, separated by the median canal, could meet bilingually to do business.
Noex itself is a historic seaport, tourist attraction, and iconic landmark in The Valley, which was originally an extension of Parkfront, which had been a location spot until being overtaken by the formation of Landing Alley in 1899. The irregular street pattern in the district resulted from the clash of Paeryt’s street system with that of the Commissioner’s Plan of 1880, seeking to impose the developing Sidume’s regular street grid on the entirety of the Valley. A street with three lanes of traffic in both directions with a pair of street-car lanes in the center creates the border around Landing Alley from other Noex districts.
I ran my identicode across the carriage’s door, deducting from my accounts, triggering it to open.
Inside the coffee shop I approached the barista to order a chakra root coffee, and deducted currency from my account. I added three brown sugar cubes and organic soy creamer. He took a sip of his coffee, finding it good replaced the lid, before taking his coffee outside to sit at a whiskey barrel converted into a table. Pulling out my Nerv I sent a message:
Outside, with coffee. Smoking. [Send.]
Placing my cellular down, I took a sterling silver case of salvia cigarettes and lit one. I inhaled deeply, and surveyed how empty the sidewalk was; it’d be easy to politely end the date and leave if it all went sideways.
After a few drags off my salvia my date arrived – he was 29, 5’6”, 160lbs; shoulder length brown hair, and a gentle five o’clock shadow; he wore an ill-fitted mud colored trench coat over generic brown clothes; and black Converse. Rork Thompson was a high school guidance counselor. Rork instigating a polite and weak handshake, before excusing himself to go inside to get his Columbian black coffee. When Rork returned we talked for two hours, and found plenty in common with him. We both attended Aerynd University – Rork lived in the dorms, but I had lived in the Quarter of the Stars. Rork had changed undergrad majors several times before graduating with a BAS in psychology, while I had immediately fallen into graphic fiction studies. Rork’s post-bachelors time was spent stumbling through odd jobs before falling into education, and returned to school for his Masters in counseling education. I found immediate success with short stories, essays, and graphic fiction, “but what I’d really like to do is run my own monthly anthology of translated international graphic fiction, among other pet projects I have; I’m currently working on a scholarship coffee table book.” Then Rork asked, “A friend of mine is a resident artist at the Horse Shoe Gallery, and tonight is the last evening of their open house, so…would you like to go?”
It was an escape if I wasn’t enjoying himself. How polite of him. “That sounds fun.” I smiled, and returned my mug before walking the several blocks to the Horse Shoe. On the walk Rork said he’d been single for eight years because he had body image issues, and he hoped I didn’t find that off putting. I shook my head, and offered similar information saying I was tired of the parties and half-assed relationships, which didn’t feel half-assed at the time but in retrospect were: holidays weren’t spent together, our friends never liked each other, and we always took separate vacations because of travel for work; I was always in Huxia for publishing events, Ian had refused to leave Pentapolis, and Jeremy was into drugs and music festivals. “Eventually the stress of divergent career trajectories led to break-ups. For the next two years I threw myself into curating a collection of autobio-graphic fiction by Huxia artists, detailing the effects of the Genesis Revolution on their culture.” Rork added that in 10 years since admitting himself an ecchi he had never been in a relationship, not believing that one was appropriate until recently. Compared to Rork’s authentic reason I felt embarrassed as if he was giving a stock answer reserved for mediocrity.
During the day The Horse Shoe was closed, and instead operated as a gourmet bakeshop, Rork had explained. Rork held the door open when they arrived, saying that Horse Shoe was on the third floor and to go to the back for the stairs. The bakery portion was homey with an upscale décor that reflected its deconstructed 20th century Depression Era food. I had hoped there was some uncommon dessert, which I could eat, but there’d been no such luck.
When they got to the third floor I was slightly taken back at how drab the cement décor was. The bar was a sad state with a plank suspended between two wooden saw horses; the bartender looked disgruntled at his task. What few snacks were available were clearly frozen pre-made purchases from a warehouse. There were four artists being showcased. They had nothing linking their works other than lacking polish and finesse. The artists were naïve, believing art and commerce should not mix.
One artist, a photographer, all tits and lipstick, placed her hand on my shoulder, slurring, “You are gorgeous, dahling.” She moved her hair from her face. Her breath was heavy with cheap red wine as she leaned in for a kiss as a greeting. Next she turned to Rork, “Babe!” She kissed him hello. “The pictures of you came out gorgeous! You make a fucking gorgeous drugged out hooker! When are you going to finally get to show your stuff; I loved that gold and jewel mermaid graphic narrative you did.”
“Yeah. Nothing ever seems done enough that I want shown.”
She nodded turning back to me. “What do you do?”
“I’m a curator of tabletop books for Ego’s Own.”
She continued, “You must model for me! Please be in my next series. Who do you want to be dressed up as?”
I smirked. “Anyone.”
“No. You must pick.”
“Consider me a blank canvas,” I rephrased.
She lit up. “Tabula Rasa. Love it!” She took his chin in her fingers. “Would you dress as a woman?”
She suddenly waved to someone over my shoulder, and without excusing herself she left.
I turned to Rork. “Why didn’t you mention you do graphic fine arts?”
“After deep-diving you on UnderWeb when we were set up, I didn’t want you to think I was looking for work. And I was sure you got asked about Jimenez since your obituary on him.”
I silently laughed shaking my head. “I’d have looked at your portfolio.” I smirked; Truth be told I enjoyed review portfolios to find the raw talent and shaping it into a fine artist. “No one asks about Ian since he disappeared.” I silently laughed, “I’d have liked to see your portfolio.”
At 10:15pm, Rork asked if I would care return to the coffee shop and meet some friends, if I would enjoy going out dancing with them. “Sure,” I had answered.
As we walked the streets Rork turned and said, “I have to confess – I helped pay for my undergrad by escorting. I hope that isn’t a deal breaker.”
We continued in silence to the Ti & Biscuit, and met up with Rork’s two friends who were sitting inside, talking over a shared cup of coffee. The young man was dressed in a baby blue polo shirt by D&G, and complimentary New Amsterdam blue track pants, with a black derby hat by Philip Tracy. She was in a classic black MK Capri pant, and grey athletic shirt. They were attractive and polite couple because upon seeing me their eyes got large, “Sorry, if we are interrupting something special.”
Rork diffused their anxiety with, “It’s not a big deal.”
The young couple paused silently waiting.
I stretched my hand out, smiling, “Hi. I’m Dorian. The fuckpuppet.”
The couple laughed. “He’s funny,” the male said. “Gotta keep this one,” she said.
After thirty minutes drinking coffee we went outside to get a rickshaw. “We’re going to Etica,” the female said, quickly looked over at Rork and added saying to me, “Ever been? Would you like to come?”
I briefly froze; Etica. Is Jeremy in town for a tour? Is he going to be there? I regained myself and gave a Mona Lisa smile. “Yes; haven’t been there in years!”
“So much fun.”
All four of us got into the taxi, and they gave their destination: Etica, in Landing Alley. The uncomplicated outside of Etica blended with the history of all the warehouses in the district.
Following Landing Alley’s formation its decline began with the Genesis Revolution, and its impact on distribution of meat, poultry, and produce from national to regional dancehalls. Concurrent with the rise of vagabond activity a lethal influenza ran rampant through the enclosed protective supplies. To stay relevant, the area turned towards local storage as the prevalent industry, up until 2011 when a growing vagabond culture populated the empty spaces for art, squatting and Tesla Wall around the Valley. In response to the influenza the Council of Interiors passed the Health Measures Act of 2019, quarantining the infected; the Reform Amendment of 2025 made violations felonies; Amendment A followed in 2035, defined what a “qualified case” was, and corresponding sentences. Beginning in September 2043 Landing Alley went through a resurgence of vagabond dancehalls following a FETCH magazine expose on vagabond enclaves beneath Noex warehouses. A few years later a greater catalyst for change was the opening of high-end boutiques.
I waited to see if Rork went for his identicode going to pay for entry; the other two were undergrads so I didn’t hold them to adult standards yet. Seeing that Rork wasn’t displaying his identicode, I deducted the credits for his personal entry. I hadn’t been to Etica since 2055, back when I lived in society’s blind spots; when I thought myself unusual, and knew nothing but shadows, only to find they were not real.
Rork leaned to his female friend saying, “I thought it was free before midnight.
I silently listened.
“Do you not have currency? I can pay,” she answered.
Doran and the female went to the coat check, where she insisted on paying to reimburse for the rickshaw ride.
The interior of Etica was decorated in full warm deep gory colors. The floor was still original iron grates covered in plexiglass allowing a clear view of the waterways and the communal art town accessible by passage ways hidden in the cement walls. The dancehall had no light-beams, but was instead lit by hanging refurbished carbon filament Tesla-bulbs. Above two fully-stocked parallel bars, mirrors jutted out reflecting back the people more focused on conversing.
Circular free-standing bars spotted the carpeted lounge. Amidst several bars were elevated go-go stages, decorated with protected dancers. Men and women, boys and girls, sat around watching. All four went to the bar, where I ordered an absinthe martini, then he turned to Rork, “Anything?”
Rork shook his head.
In the center of the rings was a disco floor, lined on both sides were plush couches. Giant speakers lined the far wall from floor to ceiling, and in front of that was a smaller wall of speakers reaching a quarter of the warehouse’s height. The final speakers hung by metal tension cords, like floating idols above the oversized discotheque altar. On three-fifths of the multi-colored flashing disco floor was pulsating crowd, drunk or getting drunk. Amongst all that, like Babel’s spire stood the DJ booth.
As they danced throughout the evening I felt increasingly out of place, realizing he didn’t know any of the remixes; Did I ever really enjoy this? I drank his martini quickly and immediately got another drink. At 1:15am the female came crying over and spoke to Rork.
“What’s wrong? Why is she crying?” I asked.
“Her boyfriend just bought a girl a drink in exchange for a cheap marijuana cigarette.”
All four immediately left the dancehall, where outside I laughed saying, “I just got old! My ears are pounding. Are anyone else’s?”
Rork shook his head.
Standing on the sidewalk Rork flagged a taxi-carriage, which first dropped the couple off at their Moyra apartment, before we headed to my apartment in Caentibiry Alley. The area is distinguished by being “off-grid,” being set at an angle to other streets in the Valley. Virtually penniless artists, writers and musicians came from around the world after the Genesis Revolution, to thrive in Caentibiry’s creative atmosphere and cheap rent in vagabond communes. The Caentibiry Society for Historic Preservation have long been concerned about development in Caentibiry, fighting to preserve the architectural and historic integrity of the neighborhood, spurred by the increased pace of development after construction of the first Protective Walls of 1990.
The taxi-carriage stopped outside 2700 Caentibiry Alley, the Langham, five blocks from Wuthering Canal – my apartment building. It was a handsome u-shaped Italian Renaissance Revival-style exterior face of brown brick, sandstone, and panels of terracotta details, in commercial Romanesque Revival. The fifth floor’s face that was towards the street was a thick revealing bubble of glass. A wrought iron fence encased the building. Between the arms of the building was a large courtyard with a coy pond, and fountain. The main entrance was in the center of the building. The building’s interior reached through the courtyard entrance, with its low ceiling and minimal light, opens into a bright naturally lit great center court. The five-story central court featured pale glazed brick, ornamental cast iron, Mexican floor tiles, rich Belgian marble, and polished pre-Genesis wood capped by a skylight that allows the court to be flooded with natural light, creating ever-changing shadows and accents during the day. They went up a caged elevator, surrounded by wrought iron grill work all the way up to the fifth floor; geometric patterned staircase and wrought iron railings are used abundantly throughout. Free-standing mail-chutes also feature ironwork.
I led Rork to the salon, the main room was no different than any other cultivated, intellectual, and creative home in Caentibiry. While it was particularly large, showcases always spilled into the foyer and hallway. The wall directly opposite the entry was a large floor to ceiling balcony window, which overlooked the courtyard that opened onto the street side of the apartment building. The curtains were red and gold cotton. Along the left hand wall a fireplace jutted out from a red wall. Above the fireplace was a D. Mack original. The fireplace was flanked by two floor to ceiling built-in shelves filled with books and candles. A small slim 3DHD sat on a rolling table out of the way, pushed in front of the right-hand bookshelf. In the center of the room was a rug. On top of which was a couch, antique Byzantine conversation couch, and two chairs huddled around a coffee table. Strewn about the coffee table were e-periodicals, and galley carbon pages. Between the couch and the fireplace was an eight-person dining table, with two wing back black chairs at the heads of the table; the remaining six were three pairs of Edwardian chairs. The right hand wall, where the fireplace was, made-up a library of antique books. The parallel wall was lined in tiers trailing many feet to the ceiling were original Neo-Baroque, Abstract, and Ubjectivist graphic works by Jimenez, Doran, Kahlo, Charest, Bachalo.
Rork’s eyes got wide seeing the art collection, which many of the artists had been guests in that very room; a few had been my lover as well. I stated dismissively, “I got most in Mesogeosis, working on the coffee book.” My published autobio-graphic fiction stated I was born in the City of Flowers, Biell, to creative parents – my father was an architect who owned the third largest architecture firm in Pentapolis of the Valley; my mother was a classically trained dancer and teacher. I spent my early life in Vargaria and Huxia, where my parents converted to Anthrosophiscal Society. When I was fifteen my family returned to NAU. When he was 17 he began working as an artist’s model. While attending Aerynd University he appeared in the final project student films “Noh” by Johann Tronberg and “Chimera” by F. Rohrbach. After graduation I had found literary success with the illustrated novel series Snow, followed by a junior editor position at Ego’s Own. There he edited, become friends with, and in some cases lover to leading literary and artistic figures Brandenson, Tsubery, Jimenez, Ӛ, Carey, and Kirby.
I took Rork through French doors to the right of the salon, into the bedroom. The room’s three walls were painted different shades of cement grey, with a fourth for the trim. The fourth wall was the large bubble glass seen from the street. A large ornate Ottoman stained glass room divider obscured the bed from the glass. A long installed curtain rod ran across the ceiling with green and watermelon sheer curtains that could be drawn. There was a Victorian fainting couch next to the French doors, against the wall. In the corner was a large mirror. There were four armoires in the room: one against the wall to the side of the mirror, and the other three lined the parallel wall, with the door to the bathroom break the row. The bed was in the center of the room, with a black rug underneath. The bed was wrought iron with antique Mesogeosis country chairs as side tables. On the bed they looked out the bubble window over Pentapolis’ skyline, smoking and comparing notes on life; art; music; philosophy. As their voices grew hoarse both refused to admit to being tired. Instead they moved the night forward by making out and fell asleep next to one another. Underneath his clothes Rork’s body was smooth and unremarkable.
In the early morning I awoke first and made chakra root coffee. Rork joined me soon after. I offered to make prepare Rork a cup, but he declined.
“Please,” I said, pouring creamer, “don’t feel the need to be up because I am. Sleep; I’m a morning person.” I sipped from my mug. Rork declined, instigating cuddling on the loveseat in the salon that overlooked the coy pond in the courtyard.
As lunched rolled around I thought to myself Rork was having a good time, and he’d like to continue the date with a meal. Rork had said he doesn’t make much so frequently eats oatmeal for dinner. I could cook something for him. Something inexpensive – pasta and Marsala; pasta is in the pantry, as is garlic, flour, onion, olive oil, and vegetable stock. I just need to get the sake and the mushrooms. Inexpensive items, so I won’t look like I have a lot of credit to spend. Decided, then I asked Rork if he’d like to go with him to the market and stay for a late lunch, “Would you care to join?”
“I don’t think we are compatible to go any further.” Rork kept saying things like “I hope you aren’t hurt” and “I don’t want to lead you on.”
“I’m a grown up,” I interjected to stop Rork from talking. “One date does not a relationship make.”
“Let me get my pants on and I will walk you out on my way to the market.” I took my legs from Rork’s lap, stood up, and walked to my bedroom shutting the adjoining French doors behind him. He replayed the past seventeen hours in my mind, searching for anything I did or said; Did I pay too often? Was I impatient? As I pulled a pair of jeans from my wardrobe, and put them on, I looked around the room, scanning for any artifact that could’ve offended Rork – was a journal read while I was in the kitchen? – all the Moleskine were still locked under the bed. Leaving the bedroom, I scanned my artwork and furniture searching for the offender, but everything looked stylish, worldly and sensibly unique. Not saying anything I walked to the front hall coat closet and removed Rork’s boring coat, saying, “Ready?” I handed Rork his coat; He can put it on his-damn-self. I pulled out and put on my Burberry overcoat, and wrapped a LV scarf around my neck as if it were a tie.
They walked out of the apartment and to the elevator, where Rork instigated polite discussion about the weather. Rork favored the overcast clouds and dingy dirty snow piles on the sidewalk edges. During the conversation I thought to myself that I deserved a better explanation. I felt Rork should elaborate and critique, instead I politely moved the conversation forward, “I prefer autumn and spring because of the colors.”
I walked with Rork to the curbside, where, as I tried to flag a taxi-carriage down, we discussed the weather politely. I stood for 5 minutes unsuccessfully flagging down a taxi-carriage, Rork said it wasn’t necessary, that it wasn’t that cold out and would enjoy the walk. I agreed with an indifferent ok, and added a quick goodbye. Rork gave his goodbye by leaning in to give a kiss goodbye on the cheek. I raised my eyebrows, saying “What are you doing?”
“Right.” Rork stood up again, put his hands in his coat pockets and walked away down the sidewalk. Rork stopped, his hands in the coat’s pockets, said “I…I just forgot,” before turning backward toward the rickshaw depot.
I continued on my way, making a u-turn around the block to the alley-canal back to his apartment building, entered through the delivery entrance, and went up the elevator to his home. I walked up to his apartment numb. I made a fresh cup of coffee for himself, and walked into his bedroom to change into house clothes. He stood inside his bedroom for several minutes dressed, quietly stood in front of his mirror examining his body, and who he was. Then in a quick brutal fit I jumped up and down, his hands clenched in fists, quietly cursing himself for not asking his questions.