Devil of a Time

Copyright (c) 2008 J.D. Chapman All Rights Reserved

As Bob smoked a joint he wondered what was drawing him to the dance tonight. As an invisible mental alert from a pet sets its owner in motion, he sensed some calling that he must be on the move. It must have been his friends — since they had invited him it was proper to accept and the best way to fit in. Hey, it would be booze and loud music and drugs, maybe a couple of babes, who knew? It wasn’t like he was a dancer though — he expressed himself through his thinking, not his movement. Actually he rather hated dancing — it made his hands sweat and once that happened all the girls would avoid him. Even thinking about it made him red, hot, and embarrassed, making his hands sweat even more. But he would go to the dance anyway just for the music and the booze and the scenery.

After Bob and his buddies got into the car his friend Larry lit up another joint. Larry had prepared five or six spliffs before the ride; he started the party from the most lame looking thinnest joint and was gradually working his way towards the gnarliest. Hey what would be the big deal: nothing life-threatening could happen at a dance. He took a hit on the joint Larry passed his way and then passed it behind him to Rick. He had no idea what a college-sponsored dance would be like, although he supposed that it might be somewhat different than square dancing in Junior High. He was drawn to it as much out of curiosity as anything else.

Rick had his girlfriend in the back seat… they had been dating for as long as anyone could remember so it wasn’t unusual for Barbara to be in the car with a bunch of frat boys. Well she “put up” with Rick’s friends at any rate. Barbara was an absolute sweetheart; all the guys envied Rick and figured that his pre-med studies were partly what endeared him to Barbara. Well he wasn’t bad looking either. But Barbara was truly a knockout. The guys all took a big hit on the joint — fully expanding their lungs — and then holding their breath to force in the smoke. Barbara, who was already completely familiar with the drug scene and had probably grown out of it in high school, took a puff and exhaled as if it were a cigarette. She was the kind of woman who could have any man that she wanted. Together with Rick they were the prototype of a successful and beautiful couple.

Bob got to thinking about some of the young ladies around… his mind gravitated toward Karen: last week they had lunch together. It was only a small cafe with a paper menu, but the place had an authentic selection of dishes heavy with garlic and herbs. During a rather peculiar lunch she was flirtatious, getting closer, and then she slipped away again. It was a quizzing in a different language slightly beyond his grasp, as if she were judging him by intuition or the tone of his voice. She was obviously inspecting him — sizing him up — but the whole thing left him frustrated as if the conversation had happened without him. He couldn’t get a clear read on whether she liked him or not. She was even prettier than Barbara in her own way — not an outright mouth-dropping beauty, but a deeper philosophical and worldly flower accompanied with a smoldering and artistic sexuality. Karen seemed to be pretty serious about an architecture student that she had been dating. But Bob was studying architecture too. He wondered if a woman knew ahead of time the occupation of the man that she was going to marry.

When they reached the Student Union Jim pulled the car over into the parking lot… they found a space down near the end. It was your typical mix of cars at a technology school — fixed up older models with shaker scoops and side spoilers, a couple of Audis, and a Beemer or two. Everybody piled out of the car, jostling and horsing around. They shared a bit of restlessness and anticipation, tucking in shirts, a couple of them swiping their hair with a comb. Strangely calm, Bob had a growing sense of curiosity. He could feel the electricity emanating in the distance from the throbbing bass; he noticed the pull of it on his masculinity. When they reached the front door of the gigantic cafeteria that had now been transformed by sound into the dance hall, Bob could see small groups of students hanging out by the entrance. The doorway had a shabby sort of demeanor, less than makeshift, barely enough to provide a spigot of control. Just outside the door small clutches of guys drank beer in plastic cups and scouted out the girls. They weren’t particularly rowdy or redneck though — most of them sported levis or older-looking khaki pants, plaid or polo shirts, or T-shirts advertising a computer brand or an automobile. Groups of girls stood while gabbing at the shared Boy Packets, posing insouciant with their souls akimbo.

As they approached the entry Bob rubbernecked over the shoulders of the frat brothers in front of him, but he could only glean the gyrating shapes of figures in the darkness. The thrumming of the bass notes was commanding; Bob wondered if he would even be able to hear once the evening was over. He tried to see through more of the darkness — decoration? lights? a live band? Geesh, knowing the technology of this place they might have a full-fledged laser show. The room reeked from the rancid spiciness of beer — it was that odd combination of acrid bitterness and the smell of hops: sour and at the same time a refreshing relief. Beer commercials ran through his head… they must have a pyramid of kegs inside. The line moved forward; they were checking the person in front of him for Student I.D. Bob pulled out his wallet, plucked out his I.D. and two dollars, and after handing the money to the doorkeeper he entered. A coed inside ripped tickets from some large rolls and handed him two yellow tickets and a red one. Bob shrugged and put them in his pocket.

Once inside the door he stood briefly to adjust to the darkness. Gradually the interior of the room and the students began to reveal themselves — lighter colored pants, white blinds covering the top half of the cafeteria windows, bright and colorful blouses. The music was excessively loud — even more distressing than a baby crying on an airplane. As his chest thumped with the music he wished that he had thought of bringing some earplugs. Again he noticed the beer, the scent now overpowering like he was standing in a vat or working at a brewery. Bob caught a glimpse of the bar and headed over in that direction. Well calling it a bar was rather farfetched: cups of beer covered the top of a large formica table. Lacking even a plastic tablecloth, it was just a cheap fold-out table, naked, with a blanket of large whitish plastic cups. The hack behind the setup glanced at Bob and held out his hand while turning to parley a conversation he was having with a buddy. After a moment of thought Bob spotted a cardboard box of yellow tickets on the table. He reached into his pocket for a ticket; the guy behind the table placed it in the container while ignoring Bob and without breaking the rhythm of his conversation. Bob stood for about five seconds and then realized that was the whole transaction; he reached over and picked up one of the beers. He nodded a thanks to nobody in particular.

He walked somewhat aimlessly over to the side wall as the music blasted — any louder and it would be painful. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness the scene shifted toward a gray twilight. He recognized almost everybody: it wasn’t that large of a school. He didn’t know names, only faces. It was oddly peculair to be familiar with all the souls here, as if he had shown up for a large calculus class with the usual students. Many of them looked somewhat different: cleanshaven or dolled-up for the dance. He nodded to a couple of students in his creative writing class, noticing them with a couple of other folks — dates perhaps, as he hadn’t seen them around here before (they were probably from another school). His ears and heart shook in rhythm with a dying melody, then his world passed through a second or two of a time-reversing silence, and then his body jolted to another loud thumping from guitars, bass, and drums.

The buzz from the beer was starting to kick in and meld with the joints. Bob wasn’t sure if the beer enhanced the fringy effects of the pot or if the pot was enhancing the slow numbing effects of the beer. Somehow though the reactions were becoming mutually compounding and reinforcing at an increasing rate… as he sat amidst the glare of the music and the swirling of bodies and thoughts his fingers began to tingle and he forced himself to smother some flashbacks. Maybe the concoction was creating a synergy — some kind of rekindling of fat cells making them release their stored hallucinogenic molecules all at once. It was beginning to cause a bit of a shocking high: he was very nearly losing his ability to keep his awareness inside of his own body, his brain was losing touch with his body and his soul began to migrate to a place of its own. The multiplying affect of the music was causing a screaming yellow flood like a Niagara Falls sort of high — obstreperous and mind numbing. His brain fell silent: he was just here, wondering what to do.

Then quite to his shock he saw her. Or perhaps it was a combination of catching sight of her and feeling her presence at the same time, a sense that her mental connection was near. Karen. She walked into the dance hall with a girlfriend, then the rest of the mental landscape blanked out, empty: it was only him and Karen. Her blouse and skirt were both a brilliant white. The light narrowed his pupils and made the rest of the room darker, making her stand out almost alone. “An angel,” Bob said aloud, knowing that the sound of the music would drown out his voice. He snapped to several places at once: premonitions of a future employer, his first love, a childbirth. He didn’t know what to do; his face flushed. He shifted his weight a little, but he couldn’t keep his eyes away from her. The force of the magnetism from her love was overpowering: a whitewater rapids pulling at his heart while he tried to keep his soul upright. As his eyes readjusted again to the dark his senses crashed into flashes of spirit, reflections of light from people’s jewelry, and shadows casting on the walls. Karen left her girlfriend and walked over to talk to a small circle of guys who were hanging out in the middle of the room. As she walked she pulled half of Bob’s soul along and pinned it to her skirt. Bob pursed his lips. Okay, this wasn’t the most spaced-out he had ever been — he could keep it together, the place was basically safe, just glass windows and music and people and beer. He tried a short loop to the future, to leaving the dance hall in an hour or so. Of course he would need to wait for his friends as they were driving. Larry came over to talk to him… actually to yell to him.

“Great music, huh?” Larry screamed to Bob… at the same time he noticed Bob’s vision fixated across the room. Larry turned briefly to the object of Bob’s attention — he didn’t make any decision — and then he turned back to Bob. “Huh?” Bob said, having only heard the word “music”. He took back the little piece of Karen’s soul that Larry had sampled, kept some for himself, and gave the rest back to Karen. Larry shrugged and didn’t say anything, pointing instead to his ear. Bob shrugged back in return. Karen left the small circle in the middle of the room and strayed toward his direction, although she still hadn’t seen him. She was using an animal instinct that he wasn’t quite aware of — following a path to stay away from trouble while using her sense of emotional smell. Bob’s heart jumped into his throat… a moment later Karen swung her glance along the wall and stopped for a quarter of a second on Bob, then kept looking, but smiled. Bob had several parallel thoughts: they were his inside of his own head, but at the same time not his — maybe placed there by Karen. Larry turned back again to check on what was happening. Bob cleared his throat and put a finger up to Larry to indicate that he should wait, and walked over toward Karen.

As he approached she turned her back and started talking with a girlfriend. Was she ignoring him on purpose? Was she passing last minute instructions to her girlfriend to make a quick exit (interrupt us and save me when I scratch my nose)? About ten feet behind her Bob hesitated, but then realized he had no choice except to proceed as it would look rather stupid to stop in the middle of the room. What the hell — so what’s the worst thing that could happen? Even if he made a fool of himself it would be drowned out in the music and forgotten by everyone ten minutes later after a couple of beers. To draw near her side he changed his path: as he approached she looked up and focused her eyes at a spot slightly below his nose, almost at his mustache.

“Hi,” he shouted, immediately conquered by the volume of the music and realizing that she couldn’t hear him. “Hi,” she yelled back. “How are you doing?” Bob asked. Geesh what an inane question. What else was there to talk about? Karen shrugged; she didn’t mind making small talk.

“Do you want to dance?” Bob asked. As the words left his mouth he realized that he was being way too forward and he blushed, then he wondered what the hell made him jump to that question. He figured that it was only a desire to do something. Plus it would be nice to get her away from her girlfriend for a bit. “Huh?” Karen answered, leaning in his direction. No chance.

“Dance?” Bob repeated. “It’s okay,” Karen shouted, slightly misunderstanding him. Bob shrugged. Now what should he do? He didn’t have much else to talk to her about. As the music beat on he stood next to her feeling small and awkward. He spun out a few imaginary pictures of stars and fireworks trying for some mental entertainment. Karen’s friend interrupted by leaning over and imparting some words of wisdom while cupping her hand over Karen’s ear. Bob’s mental carnival distracted Karen a bit, but she leaned over and cupped her hand over her friend’s ear to reply. Bob shifted his weight and suddenly felt rather abandoned, as if he had shifted to another universe, another dimension. The surroundings, music, cafeteria, and beer smell were both there and not there: part of a small speck of place in a point of time, gone in a few hours, gone from everyone’s memory in a few months. Bob smiled at Karen; she shrugged. She sent him a little love packet — payment for his imagination. He leaned over and said “I’ll be over there,” tilting his head in the direction where he had been before. Karen nodded.

As he rambled back Bob felt rather doltish, but at the same time peculiarly elated. At least he had accomplished something by indicating his interest in her. Sigh. She was far and away the prettiest creature he had ever seen: he would give up anything and everything for her. There was nothing else he could do at the moment though — totally helpless he had no idea what to do about it. It was impossible to hold anything like a reasonable conversation amidst all of this noise. He wasn’t much of a dancer and they couldn’t just stand and stare at one another. He noticed that his hands were damp from just thinking about dancing. Somehow in that short interaction she had taken a piece of his soul away that was now forever hers… a piece of his heart was missing. And at the same time he didn’t mind this in the least. It was a bit of a welcome release: a sense of being free from some kind of responsibility. Yet he had to follow the path of his body back to where he had been perched. He made a goal of someplace to walk… it would be a minor achievement to return to his side of the room. His brain was in a body that was moving according to the expectations of society, back to his place in the world, his mind along for the ride, but his heart crying out in longing. Colors slipping by, more and more of himself evaporating, he was a walking shell of a person. As he reached his side of the room he leaned back against the sill of the window and stared out across the slightly blurred lights, the noise, and the dancing heat.

Larry came up beside him, smiled, and nodded. Bob saw Larry’s lips move, but he registered only the music. Larry immediately saw Bob lost in love and somewhat cruelly turned and broadcast a psychic message across the room — man down: alert — man falling through the center of love… Bob could do nothing but watch. A couple dozen of the women connected and withdrew the last packets of his free-flowing soul; a couple of the guys peered on in mild amusement. As the room and throbbing music besieged the edges of his soul he floated helpless, lost, connected by the tiniest spindles of existence — a minuscule thread to a life in the future. Everything he had learned and all his past experiences became irrelevant; things that used to be worthwhile and important suddenly lost all of their significance.

What was all of that past life experience for? Was all of it then just to lead up to here — to this one single instant? He was awash in swirling lights and emotions with nowhere to go, clueless, entranced by an angel that had also turned into his captor. As though he was disappearing his soul floated freely in the continuum of aether, squeezed out of the universe. A tiny internal voice reached into his brain from the future: be cool, there’s nothing you need to do, hang loose and act like you’re supposed to act, everything will be okay eventually. He wasn’t sure whether or not to believe the voice and it didn’t quite matter as he was powerless to change anything at the moment anyway. He sighed, tears welling up in his eyes.

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Categories: Hearts

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