Thomas’ ultimate destination was his apartment, and his bed, but he was in no hurry to get there. Nothing awaited him there, but dreams and memories, neither of which he was particularly interested in dealing with at the moment. So instead, he wandered aimlessly through the wet, dripping city, heading vaguely east, towards the docks. Here and there he passed others out in the city, in ones or twos, almost all silent, each with their own heads bowed under the weight of the city, or of their own problems. Thomas didn’t give them a thought once he was passed them. He had stopped noticing other people a long time ago.
Had it been that long ago? He wondered silently to himself. He remembered there was a time where it didn’t seem to rain constantly, when there were other colors in the city, besides brown and grey and black. He remembered… blue.
Blue had been her favorite color. She had been practically obsessed with it. She collected blue like some boys collect comic books. Thomas had chastised it once or twice, about how if she could have it so, the whole world would be filled with various shades of blue. The only thing that wasn’t blue, and she didn’t seem to have any desire to turn such was her stunning red hair.
Thomas dug his fingernails into his palms at the thought of her. Apparently, the memories waiting at home realized he was avoiding them, and came out looking for him. He looked up from the sidewalk for one of the few neon signs that dotted the long avenue. The sign that answered his need was a strip club with some vaguely suggestive name. Thomas didn’t really care about the name, as long as they had alcohol. With the clientele and the ladies that worked this side of town, alcohol was a necessity.
He traded the dull brown and greys of the outside world for the dull reds and tarnished gold of the inside. Lifting his head briefly to take in the view, he saw only six people in the bar. Two were dancers, each on a separate stage, both lethargically swaying to the pulsing beat that pervaded the bar. They both looked lost somewhere else, and neither paid any attention to the two patrons who gazed at them greedily. In one corner was a Mexican mopping off a third, unused stage. Thomas walked over to the bar, and sat directly in front of the bartender, the only remaining soul in the establishment. He looked up long enough to make eye contact with the bartender, a thin, greasy man, with brown hair and tired eyes. “You got Vodka?” he asked. The bartender just nodded. “Vodka Collins,” he said, and slid a five dollar bill across the bar. He lowered his head as the bartender went off to make the drink. He tried to lose himself in the music, or at least find whatever grail that was distracting the girls from their own chosen profession. Sadly, it eluded him. He thought briefly about looking up and around for a distraction, but he lacked the will to make his body comply.
“You want to dance?” a slightly feminine voice asked from behind him. The voice was tired, like too little sleep and too many cigarettes packed into a life the liver had long since tired of. Thomas shook his head, and looked toward the bartender. He was walking back towards Thomas, drink in hand. “Suit yourself,” came her answer from behind him.
Thomas slowly nursed the vodka, once again trying to keep the memories at bay. He wasn’t very successful, but then, he never really was. They would stay away for a while, but then a word, or a phrase, or a smell, and then he was lost in them again. Now, for some reason, he was thinking about poetry.
She ruled in beauty o'er this heart of mine,
A noble lady in a humble home,
And now her time for heavenly bliss has come,
'Tis I am mortal proved, and she divine.
The soul that all its blessings must resign,
And love whose light no more on earth finds room,
Might rend the rocks with pity for their doom,
Yet none their sorrows can in words enshrine;
They weep within my heart; and ears are deaf
Save mine alone, and I am crushed with care,
And naught remains to me save mournful breath.
Assuredly but dust and shade we are,
Assuredly desire is blind and brief,
Assuredly its hope but ends in death.
He lost himself in the poetry that had been her first, and certainly her greatest love. So much so that she had even managed to get one or three snagged in his brain to sneak out and torment him on nights like this. Slowly, he returned to the real world, as he became aware that the music had stopped, and the lights were up. He looked around; saw the bartender looking at him. “Anything else?” he asked, more of a suggestion than a question. Thomas looked to the rest of the club, and saw the two dancers sitting at a table, counting their meager takings of the evening. He was about to stand an leave when he saw a flash out of the corner of his eye. A flash of blue, and a halo of red. His heart stopped. His eyes met hers, and smiled with the corner of her mouth. She knelt in front of him, and tied his shoes. He hadn’t even realized they were unlaced. Suddenly the absurdity of this woman, kneeling in front of him, tying his shoes, in a strip club, in a rainy, lost city struck him. He sat down, hard. “Don’t I know your name?” she asked, the smile still creeping around the corner of her mouth. Thomas couldn’t speak, when he realized he hadn’t taken a breath since his eyes had met hers. Her eyes. Hers. They burned across his memory like flames the color of her hair. “You ok?” she asked.
Thomas forced himself to breathe, and to exhale an answer. “Yeah, I’m fine.” He said, nodding. His mind was on fire, his thoughts caught in a thundering whirlwind. He wasn’t sure if this was real, or if he’d completely lost himself in the memories. “You seem like the silent type, so I thought I’d say hello. I didn’t think you ever would.” He forced himself to tear his eyes away from hers. “I need to go.” He said, each word labored, barely able to escape his lips. He managed to get up and aim himself at the door. Before he knew it, he was outside.
Then the memories came again. It couldn’t be her, she was dead. He had seen her die, holding his hand, at the hospital. The day she spoke her last words. The day the color drained from the universe. She couldn’t be here now. He had seen her car first, that day. His birthday, and she was on her way to take him to a surprise birthday party. She was never good at surprises, so he’d known about it. Not good at surprises, that is, until she managed to show up here, nearly three years after she had died, in some seedy strip club on a drab side of town. She had died, and with her, she had taken the color, and the life from Thomas’ world. But he had seen her, there, in the bar, as clearly as he had on that last day of her life.
He walked, barely realizing he was moving, until he stood inside the door of his own apartment. The last bit of rain dripped off him in a puddle, as he leaned against the door. He thought back to her, lying in the hospital. By that point, it was certain she wasn’t going to make it, but she didn’t seem to be in pain. Maybe it was the drugs the doctor had given her. She kept just looking at him, and finally, she took a deep breath, and said to him, “Don’t worry, honey, we’ll meet again. Someday.” And then she fell asleep. She never woke up. He never saw her again, until tonight. He sat down on the couch, and stared at the ceiling. It seemed like everything was an illusion now, even more so than before. He had to find her again. If she was out there, then he would find her. Finally, he slept. He did not wake up.