Rain pours down over the city and its nightlife. The past is present in the falling water, awake as it clatters through mismatched gutters or drips onto rusty fire escapes. Modernity, the night says, you too will pass like so much discarded trash collecting in the alleyways. Time is a funny thing, however, and retorts by spitting out a well-dressed couple from a bar. The woman leans heavily on her beau, carrying her heels in her hands, giggling as she watches the rain shrink back from the light with a hiss. They both live in the waterlogged velvet of the dark.
She stumbles around with an upturned face, relishing the intrusion of the rain. “It’s like a movie set. I wish I could see it in black and white.” She casts a look back at him over her shoulder. “You said you were a producer?”
The man grins at her, her addled state. “Yeah. I can’t believe you’ve never heard of me.”
“I suppose I’m rather old fashioned.”
The producer strides over to steady her, holding her tightly to him until he feels her wet body begin to soak his Armani suit. Dingy apartments in vine-thronged buildings frown down at them, stonily closing their blinds to the crimes of the street. He looks back to the hole-in-the-wall dive bar, then to the pretty young woman at his side. Her pale feet are bare on the wet concrete, vulnerable to the cold. “I need to go home,” she insists, “I’m wasssted.”
He chuckles as he meets her unfocused gaze. Childlike. Endearing. “C’mon, baby,” he pulls her into an adjacent alleyway, “let’s take a shortcut.”
Led further on by the weight of his hand pressed to her back, the woman watches as his salamander tongue darts from between his lips, slipping back to retreat from the light. Time collects in a puddle around the pair. In the dark space between them, centuries of womanly ghosts tug futilely at her ankles, a whispering instinct. It’s too late. She looks to the producer, but his face is in shadow; squinting, she traces the dim curve of a smile. Doe eyes filled with ancient wariness, she turns to him. She feels her lip quiver. “Don’t make me do this.”
The producer turns back to her. “Has anyone told you how pretty you are? I mean actress pretty. Hollywood star. You’d like that? To be my star?”
She laughs at a memory of silent starlets and a young Los Angeles. “It’s a line I’ve heard before.”
In response, he leans in for a kiss. Long. Demanding. Arms wrap around her waist, grab at her skin and hair as if he’d take it from her if he could. She leans back from his affection, arms listless at her sides as she gives him every opportunity to pull away. She wonders if he really is a famous producer, and if he is how crappy the movies must be now. The actresses all look the same and they never age, or if they do they’re quickly replaced. She’s stopped paying attention long ago. Cinema had gone to hell. So had the world. But the producer kept on kissing her as her thoughts circled, and when she came around to the moment again she knew it’d been enough time. Clawing at his shoulders, she pushed him away.
He grins back at her with no trace of good humor. Once again he leans in for a kiss, following her back step by step until he has her pinned up against the damp brick wall. There’s nowhere else to go, nothing else to do. The woman knows exactly what to do.
It’s a while before the victor emerges from the mouth of the alleyway, long enough for the rain and nightlife to dissipate. Her high heels click against the pavement as she walks, no trace of her former stumble, no alluring hesitation. If the man from a few hours earlier had seen her now, he would’ve gotten out of her way. She wears his coat, collar turned up, hands shoved in the pockets. She’ll never truly be warm again, she knows; warmth is for the living – but it’s less conspicuous to wear a coat on a night like this. People might start asking questions.
There’s a weight in the left pocket, a wallet of smooth brown leather. Inside, she finds several hundred dollars cash, various credit cards, a VIP gentleman’s club membership, and an expired driver’s license belonging to one Herman Nichols. Herman, she lets out a snort. Now there was an old name, one for the grandfathers of her youth. But time, it seems, has a funny way of turning back around and damn if she wasn’t getting used to it.
Pocketing the cash, she lets the billfold slide to the cracked sidewalk. In her mind’s eye she saw the cold case, the only clue a singular wallet with the fingerprints of one Desdemona Brown, a woman who died a century before young Herman was even born. Briefly, she catches sight of her reflection in the window of a closed laundromat, dark eyes, round lips as red as – blood. Reaching for a handkerchief in her purse, she dabs off the offending spot from the corner of her mouth. There. Much better.
Kathryn Rutz is an English and French undergraduate student at the University of North Dakota. This will be her first publication. She enjoys reading classic horror to her cats in her spare time.