Oil & Water

1

Falling – like the bass drops in a good slow-banger, or a spirit broken – falling like tension in a dim club when the rhythm picks up – the sensation was unmistakably like falling. A few of us were dancing, thick kids and punks with dreadlocks, long fingers lit up at their tips with neon extensions. Looking alien wasn’t hardly a thing in downtown that year, like the sky was black and red, peaking in by the warehouse slats up above us. Just another night in a dive, I remember thinking, not the wild scene, but these dancers’d fit that role. I sat apart, slouched a bit, hiding behind my hair.

One was a sexy girl, long and rough at the edges like a boy, but a jawline to sharpen knives. Violet hair was spiked, and at first I couldn’t tell for sure if it was dyed or just caught the darkness right. Otherwise she ran with a natural look, not like her friend with the power-glove, googles and cubist cheeks. A long tat ran up both of her dark arms, a techno-tribal line, wrist to delt, but other than a few flourishes like that this one was genetic. She danced like a pro swimmer, effortless, treading water, inside of herself somehow.

When you’re falling into a dream, you tremor suddenly and wake, not sure why. Like falling from a nest. With a twitch you could fly free.

The bassline sassed along, under a shimmering 4/4 flow. I brushed my hair behind my ear as I watched her, and took a slow drink, excusing myself to look away before her eyes could seek me out. Not a lot of people there, clubs in life are rarely like the flicks you know, or the crazy shit you hear about on Mars. Here on Earth it’s just the same damn story, Drag it on, drag it on, whatever cyborgs and rockets, thank god for the drugs. That’s basically what I was thinking then, Don’t be a coward. Don’t be boring, when I looked up and saw another girl walk in, and felt suddenly like I was falling.

This chick that walked into the room right then couldn’t have been more than nineteen, but this was a Sao Paulo nightclub in 2082, so that wasn’t the shocker you might think. Tight skin – in that light more a wash of reflections than a tone of its own – and a blaze of black hair that belonged on a horse, no doubt, to her shoulders thick like a warm breeze. She paused just inside the crowned entryway, shadowed by the artificial lights, looking past me for a second down the empty hall, and I felt much more visible than I appeared to be. Turning just that fast back to the dance floor, her features were prominent in the light, Mayan cheeks with European lips. I’d recognize them anywhere. Cheeks that knew the ends of empires. Lips who whispered the fall of capitalism, saw WWIII and the Panama Nuclear Zone on stream – felt the kiss of wild nights. Those lips . . . something about those lips. Funny how long it took my eyes when my endocrine knew it at once. I was falling. Those lips were mine.

It was a brief moment, then after she left – just turned and went back the way she came – and that dark boyish girl with the spiky hair grabbed her bag and followed her out, the shock lifted and my legs started working again. I shot up from the black chair. It wasn’t just the lips, see, though that’s what got me first when she turned into the light. Her eyes caught a ray, turned it into a spark. She was me.

Well, she should’ve been.

Googles was still getting his groove on, maybe they weren’t friends anyway, just dancefloor lovers like it happens, strangers grinding – parting with the beat. Anyway I remember he was doing some kind of new wave slide as I left my drink – half finished – grabbed my jacket and ducked past the dancing on my way out.

If I’d ever had the cajones to dress how I really wanted – to wear my soul on the outside, so to speak – the confidence to walk like I meant it, she would’ve been me. The hermes jacket, cooldown top beneath, tensho rings along the curve of her ear – but under all that effortless style? It wasn’t just close. My brain lit up with the strange revelation we call recognition, where the features of a face line up and you know it couldn’t be anyone in 20 billion but that old friend you haven’t even seen in 15 years – as if you could see a soul, right? – but add the oddity of looking in a mirror. My speed increased as I pushed through the club’s front door, opening on the rain-smacking, low growl of a muggy Brazilian night.

2

Apple-red embers fell between dark tendril clouds. People can get used to almost anything, studies have shown, and the burning Amazon was no exception that year. You might think of fire and rain as opposing forces, but that’s not how it goes down here. Just because things can’t mix, doesn’t mean they can’t coexist. The same rivers of air bringing rain from the north floated this ceniza muerte for two thousand miles, so that what fell in Sao Paulo all year long had become a bath of cinders – not so much an acid rain as one of actual flame.

But that didn’t stop the party.

2 am glow was a creep on the city street when I came through the door. Under those black-and-red skies was an upward blast of endless steel, concrete and lights, windows – endless windows – dark eyes of the urban badlands where so many millions went on living – like it was normal to have the metal implant-eyes, prosthetic CBs or diamond knives. It wasn’t the shopping-mall-utopia you’re used to, but a few signs still glittered at any hour of night. Drones ziffed around, camera-bugs and little thopters, providing that measured hum you get used to in the city.

Street traffic was always the louder, lower snarling, even if sparse late at night, and I looked around just in time to see the hot, boyish girl getting in, the angle of her leg disappearing, the cab door closing. Somebody else was in it already, seated across from her, that was all I could tell by the streetlights, and it may have been her. But these were autocabs, so even if I hailed one, humming up cool at my digital whim, it couldn’t be told to tail another. The moped stand at the curb – not a parking meter, though of the same make, just a dock for civic transport on the fly – was empty of all but a single toothy longboard skate, and by the time I had even thought through the act, she’d moved into the flow of traffic, around a corner on the smagnetized, pale asphalt – gone.

Immediately of course I started talking myself down, but I won’t deny that in a state of indecision I found myself jogging in the direction she had gone.

What’s possible has a way of changing on you without warning, no doubt, but individuality seems to stick around somehow – like Descartes would’ve said, I am. So maybe I’ve got a twin . . . or more likely the night was playing games. I wasn’t high, as if highs go like that anyway – not drunk though I’d had that sip. My jog came down to a fast walk, as I rounded the sidewalk corner.

A group was walking toward me, and I gave them a wide right of way. Two of the three wore breathers, tubes snaking around and over their shoulders, young punks in long coats, phonebuds plugged into 2ndbrains behind the ear. The rain was quickening, and seeing their modded slickers, with luminescent stickers, I was suddenly a touch self-conscious. Pulling up the hood on my hoodie, tucking my black hair back behind my ear, it spilled out over my collar.

Ever had that feeling, at home in your suburban cove, in traffic, or somewhere so familiar, that nothing was the same, like you swiped dimensions and everything was just a little . . . different? Windows weren’t in the same places, trees were different breeds, all the inconsequential background of life – like you woke up one day and all your neighbors were different people than they’d been the day before?

In the jostling, living, glistening wet, oily and ash-raining Sao Paulo night, there was no sign of the cab, or her – my twin.

3

In the kitchen, back at my place, I stripped out of the wet hoodie. The t-shirt was still dry underneath, so I was making a drink in that vintage Winger T and sweatpants, plinking a little fizzy called Rhyme into the cup with my lemonade. I’d usually cap it at one, I’m not the type to get all slippery by myself, but a little fadeaway never hurt. Sure it was 3 am by then, but time is a long river anyway, for the Lost Generation, like me.

Because life is an endless tumbling, where the right and wrong choices aren’t always so clear. Who you are, who you become – time is a process of falling, like water over stones – splitting, rejoining, splashing, roiling. The moments that make us who we are – flecks in the spray, all these branches of time.

Laying back in bed I was feeling the drug in my bloodstream, like hands of cotton in my muscles, pushing me into the foam. I thought about those girls. Who was I? – to come along and steal the hottie from the dancefloor with a single serious, haughty look? I wanted those earrings, but what I needed was that confidence. Who was I? – taking cabs with dancers in the sweaty Brazilian night? In my mind, over the course of an hour or so she had become legend. I spread myself thinner across the sheets, wandering fingers down my own dark ribs, and wondered in what parallel universe I was ending this night between legs like those – wrapped up in each other. Tracing a nail down the tattoo on her upper arm, baring her sleek dancer shoulders to the artificial cool in my warehouse flat. She wore a chain as a bracelet, with an apple-red little heart-shaped charm. Trading witty bits back and forth in Spanish whispers, bracing skin and baring our selfless dreams. We’d be deep, we could care, and be true. Looking at the ceiling we might lose ourselves in some endless, upward falling – talking about where we could go, what we should be. Touch my hope. Touch my hurt. Looking up then I could see that sky – red and black, through the warehouse slats. We wouldn’t fadeaway so easily.

A stray black hair, lain across my cheek, reminded me that I wasn’t all those things – I was the same shy girl, give or take a little integrity, and for a long, dark moment until I fell asleep, that haunted me, wondering why. Because we’re not like butterflies, too light for the breeze. The choices that define us most often hit with the audacity of a comet, if we’re paying attention. In every moment, the universe cries out, “Will you take her hand?” The distance between us – who we are and what we could be – is nothing subtle, but as broad as the burning river Amazon. In that Rhythm-slip it all came together as one – quick as a sole memory. Save the forest, save the girl. Bridging the future is only as hard as being bold, being true, becoming . . . me. As wet as a waterfall, drip, drip, dripping on the window. We are no frail ash in the wind. Change is wide – as a violent, violent storm, sweeping across the ocean. I took a breath, It’s time. Release – There’s room. Let’s fall into the dream.

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