by Gary William Crawford
It was a cold night, crisp and clear. Mark didn’t mind the cold. He liked fall and winter best: that was when things were dying. They lived in what could be called an academic slum: run-down, dying apartments inhabited by students outside the university gates.
He arrived at Mary’s place at about 7:30. They were supposed to go to a party at Margaret Walton’s before meeting Anne at the bar. Mark decided that he would give a good performance tonight. It’s interesting how we can trick ourselves into believing that something is true.
“You’re late,” Mary said as she unlocked her door.
“I want to be fashionably late.”
She stood before him for a minute waiting, then rolled her eyes.
“Oh, sorry,” he laughed, pecking her on her lips.
“You call that a kiss?”
He was getting angry. “Let’s just go. Everybody there’s going to be drunk or stoned. I get bored with these things.”
“All right,” she said.
When they got into the car, she said, under her breath, “Anti-social.”
“What? I’m not anti-social. I just want...”
“You’re acting weird. You know tomorrow is your birthday.”
He was silent for a minute.
“The gay bar should be interesting, and Anne’s a friend,” she said.
“Uhmm, yeah, I guess.”
He remained silent the whole time he was driving them to the party. He was silent at the party too. He didn’t drink or partake of the drugs there. Mary was trying to figure him out. Mark hoped she never would.
They left the party early. Mark said he just wanted this night to be over. Mary was getting rather angry with him. She was silent too, and turned on the radio, playing it loud. Eventually Mark turned it down.
The bar, The Mirror, was in the older part of the downtown area. Obviously the bar was packed, and Mark had to park some distance away. The performance he hoped to give tonight was not happening. His silence was continuing to make Mary angry. She slammed the car door when she got out and together they walked almost the whole block to the bar without a word.
The music from the bar could be heard a block away. People came in and out of the front door laughing and talking loud. Everybody was pretty drunk.
The Mirror was, like its name, made of walls of mirror. Cigarette smoke rose like a cloud and the mirrored walls made the place look much bigger than it was. Several of the men greeted each other with a kiss. Mark felt as if he were dreaming.
Mary looked around and saw Anne. Mark went to the bar and ordered a glass of champagne for Mary and a Coke for himself. Mark never drank and drove. He didn’t want to end up like his father, an alcoholic most of his life who was killed in a car accident when Mark was fourteen. Mark’s fascination with death was related to this. He had never really known his father; his father might as well have never lived.
Anne came up to Mark and hugged him. He could smile with her. He liked Anne.
“How is my favorite birthday boy? Always bringing in the new year. Come over and sit with us.”
She introduced everyone and they all sat at the large table. After a few moments she said, “This is Mark’s first time here.”
He managed a weak smile. He didn’t know what was going to happen. In many ways, he didn’t want to know. He wasn’t paying much attention to what everyone was saying. The voices, music, and cigarette smoke seemed to hint at some other world than this. If only he could enter it forever and be free.
Mark looked at his watch. In a few minutes, the time would come. The television in the bar was showing the New Year’s celebration in New York. In a few minutes, the ball would fall.
Everyone watched the television when midnight came. They yelled out, “Happy New Year!” and kissed and hugged. Mary embraced him and kissed him. He almost felt that he could cry. He didn’t want to hurt her but the ghost of guilt was there, frightening him.
Then he heard everyone singing happy birthday. One of the bartenders brought a cake lit with twenty candles to the table. Mark said to himself, this isn’t really happening.
Then Mark saw him, one of the most beautiful and sexually attractive men he had ever seen. He saw his face in the mirror at the back wall. The man appeared to be in his thirties. He seemed to wear masculinity like a sign. He turned around and looked at Mark. Their eyes met and the man nodded toward him.
After a moment of frozen time, Mark looked away at the cake, made a wish, what he had been wishing all night, and blew out the candles. He looked up again, but the man was gone. Mark was heartbroken, with a trace of growing panic. Then he turned around and saw the man walking out of the front door.
Possessed with something that seemed almost a kind of insanity, Mark had to follow the apparition. He wanted him desperately. Mark got up from the table and ran outside. The man was walking away from Mark, his back turned.
Mark hadn’t heard the cries of Mary as he had gotten up from the table. He couldn’t hear anything except a kind of static, as if someone were changing a radio station.
He hurried after the man, who was approaching a Jaguar. Mark guessed that he must have money. Mark reached his own car not far away and got in. He turned the ignition and followed the Jaguar at a slow pace, then faster. The Jaguar turned on a side street near the interstate highway entrance and sped up the ramp.
Mark followed with a kind of excitement that he actually liked. He was doing something he had always wanted to do. His hands were damp with perspiration as he turned the wheel.
Then it happened. An eighteen-wheeler going like what seemed one hundred miles per hour appeared from nowhere and went straight into the Jaguar as if it was nothing more than papier mâché.
Mark was horrified and frightened. He knew that he should stop and get out of the car to help, but something in him was afraid. He went on across the bridge, crying uncontrollably.
He managed to get home somehow. He didn’t know what he was doing. It was as if he were split into two people, each watching the other as if in a dream. He unlocked the door and went inside. It was a little after one in the morning. Mark went into the kitchen where he opened a bottle of wine and drank, long and deep. He would get drunk, he told himself, so drunk that he could die.
Then he went into the bedroom and wasn’t sure what he was seeing in the mirror. He thought it was the man at the bar. It seemed that the man looked Mark straight in his eyes and nodded. It was so brief a vision that Mark could not be sure if it happened. He was frightened more than he had ever been in his life.
Then he heard a man’s voice outside the apartment. It can’t be, he thought. It can’t be him, the man at the bar. What was happening to him?
Then he heard a key in the lock at the front door. Mary was the only other person who had a key. She and Anne opened the door, and Mary cried out to him, “What happened to you? Are you all right? We didn’t know what was going on with you!”
Mark sat on the couch, crying deeply, as he hadn’t cried since he was a kid. “Did you see him?”
“At the door just now.”
“I don’t know what’s happening to me.”
“There was no one at the door. Mark, are you drunk? This is not like you.”
“I really don’t want to hurt you, Mary. Please don’t hate me.”
“Why would I ever hate you?”
“Please both of you, sit down. I’m glad you’re here too, Anne. I have something to tell both of you.”
Copyright © 2008 by Gary William Crawford