The Path through the City

Amber drove on, because that was all she could do.

She had strayed from the path. How could she not? With those lights, those sounds, so hypnotic, so beautiful, so safe. They called to her, or she thought they did, so she had to stop and see. Just for a while. She drank alcohol before, on those rare nights when her stepsisters were too drunk to remember how much they hated her, and it didn’t seem so bad. How could it be worse to have a drink with a stranger? A mysterious, wild, passionate city-dweller, the kind her stepmother warned her about before her trip. She had to stop, just for the chance. So she followed the azure blue billboard and the muffled, thrumming music and parked her stepmother’s little red car in the parking lot nearby.

She thought she had time. Her stepmother’s files would be safe in her car, and G.G. could wait. One drink, she told herself. That was assuming she didn’t get carded.

The large man beside the door barely gave her a second look as she shuffled along with the modest line of club-goers. She felt proud of how well she fit in despite being alone, despite being from outside the city. Before the trip, she raided her stepsister’s dresser for a pair of stylishly-faded blue jeans and a scarlet tank top that Amber always loved but her stepsister never wore. The shirt all but begged for her to take it – with its pretty white flower pattern on the front, and the straps that crisscrossed over her shoulder blades – and her stepsister would never miss it. Even so, had Amber worn it at home, it would be taken away to go back forgotten to that bottomless dresser. But now that she was lost in the wild depths of the city, the tank top could be lost with her. So she left the sweater her stepmother insisted she wear in the car and transformed into a scarlet-clad city girl. She hoped the clothes would help her look like she belonged, like she wasn’t some no-name girl from the kind of town people only stopped at to fill up their cars before blowing by as though they never stopped at all, as though the town were a ghost of a memory, and Amber even less than that.

It worked. She was inside.

The interior of the club reminded her of a firework show. Between the flashing lights and the shifting colours and the faint, smoky mist settling just above the floor, not to mention the deafening bursts that shook her in her boots, she was nearly convinced that a spinning firecracker would set her alight. Even the glow-sticks that dotted the dancing crowd looked like sparks in the night, like buzzing fireflies and bobbing wisps. Her eyes and ears took time to adjust to the overwhelming sensations, so vivid and so different from the concrete wilderness of the city.

As Amber stepped further into the colourful haven, the bottoms of her boots seemed heavy from the sticky floor. Or maybe it was nervousness that made it so hard to move forward. Nervousness, and knowing that she didn’t belong.

She moved into the clusters of writhing bodies, wrinkling her nose at the sweat-and-alcohol musk of the clubbers. Revolted, she brushed past them, wondering where the clean, handsome boys were – like the ones in her grocery store romance novels. Those dashing city boys that always bought shy girls drinks and listened to them talk the night away. Wherever they were, they didn’t approach her. All the city boys and city girls milled about in dense, suffocating packs, dancing under the fireworks or sitting in too-tall chairs at too-tall tables, laughing and sipping their drinks and utterly ignoring her.

She wanted to believe she fit in too well, but she knew she didn’t fit in at all. She entered the club alone – her stepmother would be the first to point out the foolishness of it, of a small-town girl alone in the wild, far from the protection of the car, and the path – but she wasn’t going to spin on her boots and scamper out of the club like a raccoon caught scavenging in the garage. She was here now, so she would at least have a drink. She knew she shouldn’t. She shouldn’t have stopped at all, but she did, so she couldn’t leave without having just one.

Amber spotted the bar easily, as it was the only source of light that wasn’t moving or flashing. It gleamed a solid, defiant blue that beckoned her toward it. From a distance, the woman behind the counter looked young, but with every sticky step Amber took to move closer the day-glo blue that illuminated the woman’s face caused it to shift and warp like magic. Soon her blue-hued skin looked saggy, her glittery lips pallid, and her bleach-blonde hair spindly.

Amber forced a smile, and the hag behind the bar returned a facsimile of a smile that seemed a well-worn mask applied out of necessity. Her silver-specked lips peeled back to reveal teeth that glowed blue from the light. Something in that glittery blue grin simultaneously repulsed and mesmerized Amber, and when the old woman asked her what she wanted in the kind of hoarse voice one earns after years of shouting over bar counters, Amber found herself saying, “Surprise me.”

Surprise me. That was what the city kids said in her novels. Give me something new, something special, something to commemorate my first trip into the city on my own.

The surprise came in such a little glass. It wasn’t a pint glass like the ones her stepsisters drank beer from. It wasn’t a plastic cup like the ones they drank vodka twisters from. She knew what a shot glass was, of course, but it seemed so silly to drink from something so small.

The liquid inside it glowed blue. Amber didn’t know if the colour came from the glow of the bar lights, or if the drink was blue on its own. It didn’t matter. She paid for the shot and turned away from the bar, looking at all the men and women in the club, but they didn’t return her gaze. Invisible, Amber raised her glass to those unaware city people, or maybe to city people in general, and emptied the potion down her throat. It came back up, but she caught it and forced it down again before it could escape her lips. It burned on the way down, both times, overwhelming the candy-sweet aftertaste.

When she finally worked up the courage to speak to the clubbers, the music drowned her words, and the drink made her throat too sore to raise her tiny voice. So she floated from group to group, a silent presence, trying to will them into noticing her, and failing. She imagined that a handsome boy was calling her, but when she turned to see him, he was gone. Always gone.

Mute and dizzy from the drink, Amber left the bar alone. The large man by the entrance ignored her for the dozens of city dwellers lined up outside the building. It was as though he knew – just like all those clubbers knew – that she wasn’t welcome in the city. She was an outsider drinking their drinks and listening to their music, and she didn’t belong.

 


 

 

Day 227’s three random writing prompt categories were, “Outsider,” “Stay on the path,” and, “The city as a dark forest.”

To be continued…

– H.

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