It was just a bad feeling, sitting in that dark, smoky bar. The band had finished their set, and I needed a drink after doing a rather poor cover of "Jesus Built My HotRod". The audience was the usual group of pathetic goths and punks, hiding their graying hair with black hair dye. I thought to myself while sipping the third vodka tonic of the evening, "How do the drug stores keep that dye on the shelves?"
Sandy and Shelly, two 'groupies' of my band, came up to the bar and draped themselves around me. Both smelled of sweat, alcohol, cigarettes, and something more foul...Loneliness. In the dull light of the neon signs, I saw through their white makeup, the pores of dried out skin, the scars of acne, the fine lines of age.
"That was a killer set," said Sandy in a lilting voice.
"Thanks," I muttered, draining my drink and slamming it on the bar.
"Are you guys having an after-party?" asked Shelly.
"You mean, are the five us guys gonna go back to the warehouse and get trashed?" I replied. "Yeah, there'll be an after-party."
"Can we come?"
"Don't you come every Saturday?" I asked, malevolently.
I didn't wait for their replies, got up from my seat, and went to the bathroom. While urinating, I read the graffiti over the urinal.
"Fuck Franky!" "Sex and Drugs=Rock and Roll"
I smiled at these frank messages of angst. But just lower from all the other scribbles, I saw small, neat handwriting.
"Arthur. Go out to the alley."
What the fuck? Who knew my name? Who knew I would be standing right here at this urinal? Am I that stoned? I shook and zipped myself up. It's a joke. Somebody in the band...playing a stupid prank. Nevertheless, I made my way out of the dank bar into the chilly alley. Nobody there. I chuckled, lighting a smoke. As I turned to re-enter the bar, a voice softly sounded from behind a dumpster.
A hooded figure emerged, shadowed and ephereal. I smiled; this was a good prank. The figure lifted the hood, and I beheld a vision of beauty.
Here was a woman, young, with light reflecting from her porcelain skin. Her hair was light ash, her eyes colored gems, her lips ruby red. She had a young, full face and a full figure to match. She was heavenly.
"Who are you?" I asked, removing my sunglasses and running a hand through my black hair. I suddenly wished I wasn't so drunk, or so pale, or so thin, or so wasted of life.
"Don't fret, Arthur. I've been watching you. You're ready, now, I think."
"Ready for what?" I asked, suddenly sober. Awed. Transfixed. My God, there were no words.
"There are no words for what I can offer you," the woman responded. I immediately sensed her reaching into my mind, fingering every sad memory. She grasped a hold of one memory, holier than the rest, even more tender. Candles, shadows, a bed, rumpled sheets, Rachel lying in pools of blood, open wrists, my sobbing, and those words, "Why, Rachel? Why?"
The glowing woman was silent as she wrapped herself around this memory.
"Rachel couldn't stop herself, Arthur. The poison had caught hold of her, and she could not forgive herself. She is at peace, now."
How did this woman know about the heroin addiction? How did she know about Rachel's tortured inner self? I asked these questions in my mind, and the woman simply smiled.
"It's time, Arthur. She's waiting."
Rachel-the summer of my life. Dark, funny, mysterious. She was Greek, with olive skin and liquid eyes and full lips, and hair that trembled and curled to the small of her back. We met in the spring years before and fell violently in love. The heroin only enhanced our love, until Rachel began to fade. Insanity breached our fortress. I got off the heroin, replacing it with alcohol. Rachel couldn't stop. And when her veins had collapsed, and her eyes had lost their light, and her hair had fallen out, and her limbs ached, and the tests came back positive for HIV, she couldn't go on. So, she had made our bed a shrine, and laid herself on it, and lit candles, said Hail Marys, and opened her withered flesh for release.
These memories came back over me in a great tidal eclipse, and I fell to my knees. The lesions on my legs split, and a grasped a lock of my own hair, only to see it fall out in my hands. For the first time since my diagnosis, I began to weep, and those tears felt like daggers rolling down my cheeks.
"Please. Help me," I begged, all of my sores opened and bleeding. I felt like Christ.
The woman came and wrapped her great cloak around me, and I fell into her bosom, and wept myself clean. And ever so gently, the woman brushed the hair from my nape and bit, deep into the red poison of my blood. I felt no pain. The woman drank deeply, and as the life ebbed from me, she lay me down on the pavement, and held me in her arms. I knew what she was. But she was not as one would imagine; she was not evil or tainted. She was pure and innocent and fragile.
So, I smiled a smile of great relief, and felt something warm wash over me. It was the air, the molecules, the light. Everything was shifting and becoming translucent, and the Angel of Death reflected joy into my eyes, until it all become indistinguishable.
And then, there was only one voice. Rachel's voice.
"Arthur. You've come home."
There is no deeper breath than the breath taken by the dying man.