Something in the night air stinks like sawdust. Translucent snowflakes lilt about before my wrinkling eyes. I imagine they’re tiny ballerinas, then chastise myself for indulging in such clichés. I raise a cigarette to my lips, wondering what I’m doing here.
It isn’t long before I see her, a silhouette etched into the shallow glow of the streetlights. Moving closer to the empty fountain where I sit. New details emerging with each step: the gray, woolen coat which clings tight to her curves, the glossy cascade of auburn hair partially concealed beneath a slouch beanie, lips a brazen shade of red, and the sunglasses six shades darker than the night sky. It occurs to me that I’ve never met this femme fatale.
“Got a smoke?” she asks. Her voice is like fine bourbon on ice. Reaching into my coat pocket, I find the half-empty package of Camels that has until now been my sole companion.
“How is it that the two of us should end up here on a night like this?” she asks as I extend a cigarette to her. I’m not sure how to answer. She lazily clasps the cigarette between her index and middle fingers. “Light?”
“Of course.” I don’t apologize for not immediately offering. I produce a beat Zippo from the same pocket as my smokes, give it a flick, and bring the flame close to the end of the cigarette. She breathes. Deep.
“Such a gentleman.” She observes, coyly.
“My mother raised me right.”
“A rarity these days…” Her voice dissolves in the air and she takes another drag. No sound now. No sound but the imperceptible music of snow slowly accumulating.
“You never answered my question,” my mysterious companion finally interrupts. She’s right. I’d nearly forgotten about it.
“Some questions don’t have answers,” I reply.
“This one does,” she comes back without pause, “I’m here. You’re here. So how did this come to be?”
“Well,” I begin, exhaling a thick cone of smoke, “I was polishing off a few rounds at the McAllister when I caught myself a notion…”
“Yeah… A notion. Something about this empty fountain on a winter’s night… Seemed like a moment that I needed to be a part of.” The words ooze like hot syrup. Oh well. She already knows I’ve been drinking.
“That answer your question?”
“I guess technically it does,” she smirks.
“So what about you?” I ask. Partly out of courtesy, partly out of a genuine interest.
“Maybe… Maybe I’m the woman of your dreams. A figment of your drunken, lovelorn imagination to satisfy your heart’s insatiable craving.”
“Shit, I thought this was a serious question,” I cut her off. She looks slightly offended. Only slightly.
“I am being serious,” she retorts, “Now will you let me finish?”
“Sure. Sorry. Go on.”
“Anyway,” she clears her throat and takes a final drag of her cigarette before flicking the still smoldering butt into the wistful piling of snow upon the sidewalk. “For all you know, I had no existence before this moment when I approached you and asked you for a smoke. So yeah, I very well could be a hallucination born from your deepest loneliness. What if that were the case?”
I roll the question around in my brain, watching my cigarette languidly unspool in a single continuous thread.
“If that were the case,” I breathe, “I’d ask if you’d want to go for a late stroll. Anywhere, doesn’t matter. You pick.”
“You’re definitely holding back,” she scoffs, “A stroll? It’s 2017.”
“Well, just what were you expecting me to say?”
“You’re no fun…” Her gaze drifts toward the vacant street. The snow continues its noiseless symphony.
“How about we reverse roles here,” I say after a minute or several, “Pretend that I’m the figment of your drunken imagination. L’homme de vos rêves.”
“No need to be so formal now,” she smirks again, “But if that were the case… I’d… I’d bury myself deep in your chest as you wrap your arms around me, like… The walls of a crystal castle, shielding me from all the wickedness and evil of the world… And there’s an awful lot of wickedness around. I’ve seen it. I’ve felt it, been broken by it. It’s burrowed deep into my veins and poisoned my blood. Yeah, I know all about how cruel life is. God, how nice it would be not to feel the sting of that poison, you know? If only for a moment or two… To feel warmth for once. To feel safe, and maybe even loved, above all. And then…” She stopped to catch her breath, “And then I’d look deeply into your eyes, deeper than I’ve ever looked at or into anything before, and I’d whisper the most sincere words that I’d ever say to anyone.”
I don’t know how to respond. Other than by offering her another cigarette, which she accepts. I light it before doing the same to one of my own. I’m still unsure of what to say.
“Don’t worry, no need to say anything,” she laughs, though half-heartedly, “Thanks, though. For the smokes and the chat.”
Before I can speak, she rises, throwing a final glance at me and disappearing into the dumb drear of winter. I’m alone now, like before, only… More so. No sound now. No sound but the imperceptible music of the snow slowly accumulating.