Velvet Sway

Candlelight flooded over glass and silverware across the circular table. A yellow rose petal fell from its bud standing in a vase, nearly swaying into the diner’s pasta and sauce. The diner, clean with clear skin and a cool head under icy curls, plucked up the petal. It was velvety smooth between her fingers. She gazed down at her untouched meal with eyes half shut. Across the table, her friend– partner? Girlfriend? She wasn’t sure– talked animatedly between mouthfuls of chicken and wine.
The dining lounge was packed with done-up couples under dim lighting. Smells of food and of the groomed swam through the close space of ten small tables. It was an intimate place for couples. All around them people hunched over their meals. They held hands and gazes, sipped wine and spoke softly. They used the dinner table as a common meeting ground– a center for which they could lean in and connect. Yet she, with the rose petal, remained silent and curious. How did they connect? How could she?
“Viv, are you even listening?”
Her partner, hovering over her plate, held fork and knife in midair and stared across the tablescape at her. At that moment, Vivian thought she looked deranged. Skepticism mingled with irritation, utensils meant to dismantled meat held at the ready; she wanted to gobble Vivian right up. Vivian dropped the petal.
“What? Sorry. I was thinking.”
Her partner set the silverware down and wiped her mouth with her hand. With a deep breath, she readied herself. Or, tried to calm herself.
“If you didn’t want to come…”
She let that hang in the space between them. Across the room, a young man began to propose to his girlfriend. The girlfriend stood and shrieked, breaking the soft harmony of murmured conversation and tinkling dinnerware.
“Oh!”
Vivian stood and held her hands together at her chin. A sweet gesture, meant to express well wishes, she thought. The promise of a union was meant to be celebrated, after all. Her collected memories told her so.
“Vivian.”
Her partner— definitely not girlfriend– had remained seated. Vivian turned to her.
“It’s so sweet, isn’t it?”
She pulled the line straight from a piece of fiction– a formulaic, unsurprising response.
The friend– not really a partner at all– sighed with a sad smile. She downed the wine that remained in her glass in a single gulp. Leaning back in her chair, with her hands behind her head, she surveyed the room. Vivian turned back to watch the couple; the girlfriend was nodding emphatically, tears splashing over rosy cheeks. The friend let her chair back down with a thud.
“Let’s blow this joint.”
Vivian sat down quickly and felt a knee creak a bit. She rubbed at it absentmindedly.
“Should I go find the waiter?”
The friend shot back a scowl beneath a raised brow. She sighed again and spoke in a whisper.
“We’ll just go.”
She looked in the direction of the proposal. People were now making their way to congratulate the engaged couple. The waiter was struggling to open a bottle of champagne.
“But what about the payment? We can’t just leave.”
Vivan looked at her untouched pasta. Another petal had fallen and landed bullseye atop sogging parmesan.
“Jesus, Viv. You’re so rigid.”
Vivian’s head snapped up to her… friend?
The date stood and grabbed Vivian’s hand and pulled her from the table. Vivian was dragged over to the happy couple. The new fiancee was showing her ring off, and Vivian’s date made a point of fawning over it.
“It’s amazing he knew exactly the ring I wanted!” exclaimed the woman, forceful enough to be slightly unbelievable.
The date, her hand still clutching Vivian’s, now made for the door. As they neared the exit, the waiter finally popped the champagne cork. A few people shouted, startled. Without looking back, the date rushed out of the restaurant. Vivian stumbled out onto the street in her wake.
The usually busy shopping strip of the city was deserted at dinner hour. Most people had not dined and dashed. Metal lampposts cast an orange aura over the street, climbing up the glossy windowed exterior of the buildings before fading into high-rise darkness. Even after all she had seen, soaked up, or learned about the world, Vivian could not exactly identify the feeling she felt in the city as she stood beneath metropolitan towers. They were all so minuscule in comparison. Insignificant. Vivian’s date laughed.
“We can go back and pay,” suggested Vivian.
The date stopped by a lamppost and swung a foot up, balancing on one leg to tug at her hose on the other.
“Chill out. They can’t do anything about it.”
Vivian frowned while her date smiled broadly. She stumbled over to Vivian and took her hand. The stench of red wine was all over her, swirling with an overpowering perfume. How could Vivian have confused this? Her date’s hand was slightly wet, and she looked down at their hands as fingers wove together.
“Woah. Your hands are freezing,” said the date.
Vivian pulled her hand away. It felt sticky and warm.
“We should probably call it a night.”
The two of them stopped and faced each other. Her date was pretty, even with swollen pupils beneath clumped lashes. She pouted now, and Vivian found that the wine had stained the inner ring of her lips. Her kinky hair glistened in the lamplight.
“Oh, Vivi…” she said it as if speaking to a pet, “Don’t be upset. I’m sorry.”
She moved closer, and Vivian could smell the devoured chicken on her mouth. Vivian placed a hand on her shoulder, a signal meant to stop her. They looked at each other, Vivian’s expression blank, the date’s lustful. She pushed passed the gesture and smashed her red-stained lips against Vivian’s nude mouth.
At that moment, Vivian wanted to laugh. She wasn’t sure why, but the idea of opposite intentions clashing together was amusing. The absurdity of it gave her pause, as there was nothing in her data that informed her on what to do. She didn’t pull away. If this was what your partner wanted, weren’t you meant to reciprocate? Was it not the supportive thing to do? She didn’t have the experience. She couldn’t be sure. Yet, she did not feel confident in calling the date her partner.
A vehicle swung around the corner down the street, spilling its headlights over the pair of them as if caught under a city spotlight. Vivian remained still, not knowing how to protest as her date’s tongue lashed about her gate of clenched teeth. The beaming light grew brighter and larger, then disappeared as the vehicle screeched to a halt just beyond the kissing girls. Through the passenger window sounded a long, high wolf whistle. It was only then that the date un-suctioned herself from Vivian’s face in one fluid, cartoonish motion.
“Take it off, girls!” came the shout of a gruff, drunken voice.
The date let her finger flip and thrust it toward the vehicle; one drunken gesture traded for another.
“I don’t really consider you a partner,” admitted Vivian.
The date shot her a quick, confused look before giving a dismissive shake of the head. She grabbed Vivian’s hand and began to pull her further down the street. The vehicle crept along behind them.
“Damn pigs.”
As the girls hurried away, the men in the vehicle began a loud jeering. The date kept huffing and muttering obscenities and insults under her breath. Vivian remained quiet and submissive. Ahead of them, sticking out in neon red like a throbbing thumb, was a sign for a dance club.
“There!”
The date pointed at the sign– at the club– identifying it as their escape from the callers. Vivian felt her knee grinding as they rushed toward the entrance. The sound of it echoed within her, like rusted gears of a car grinding together. She knew that she should go home and take a look at it, but she felt caught in their bizarre experience for which she had no insight. She rubbed a finger along her bottom lip and found that it was still greasy from the after-dinner assault.
Outside of the club stood a bouncer with crossed arms. Vivian expected to see someone buff with a gleaming head. Instead, she saw a thin man with long, stringy hair. He was squirrely and wide-eyed as he cast suspicion over the girls. His arms uncrossed, and he held out a bony hand expectantly.
The girls began to fish through their belongings. Vivian felt a rising sense of dread, while her date continued to mutter under her breath. Meanwhile, the callers had stopped their car a short distance ahead of the club. It continued to run with its engine rumbling low. The budding unease that Vivian felt was halted only by her curiosity; she had heard stories of assault and sexual predators but was unfamiliar with the process. Was her dread all her own, or a logical response based on perception?
After locating their identification cards, the girls placed them in the bouncer’s patiently suspended hand. He flashed a slimy smirk and compared the photos to the faces for a beat too long. HIs gaze lingered over Vivian’s modest chest, and his smirk faltered. The date held her hand out and gave an exaggerated sigh.
“All right. Can we go in now?”
The bouncer shoved the cards back to them, distaste heavy and apparent on his gaunt face.
“Fine. Enjoy.”
As the girls hurried inside, Vivian thought she heard the slamming of car doors.
Sensory overload was the first thought to occur to Vivian as they rushed into the crowd of the club. Blaring music made it impossible to hear what her date was saying, as she had turned to Vivian and said something, yet all Vivian saw was her mouth forming the shapes. Flashing lights of various colors bounced off glistening bodies and caused Vivian to clamp her eyes shut. Her mind reeled as she tried to access some information about dance clubs. Nothing she had seen on screen in movies or television could have prepared her for this reaction. Someone bumped into her, and for a split second, she was convinced that the callers had reached her. Though when her eyes snapped open, she found that a sweaty, half-naked man had danced into her. He continued to dance, oblivious to Vivian’s presence. Her hands had cupped her ears, an action she did not recall making. She searched around, but her date had vanished into the dancers.
When she spotted a dark corner, her legs began to carry her there of their own volition. It was slow going, but she was grateful to be moving away from the crowd. She reached the wall quickly enough and leaned against it. Her legs felt weak.
Thoughts and memories whirred around in her head. She found it difficult to center herself and was disheartened knowing that she was not in total control of her own body. Of course, she reflected, her body was not entirely her own. With that in mind, she focused on an exit strategy. If she stayed amongst the chaos of the club, she wasn’t sure what would happen. She could black out. Her brain may suffer irreparable damage.
Along the wall, she spotted her escape– a metal door beneath an exit sign– and began to slide carefully toward it. The glow of the sign’s letters was comparably muted against the frantic club lights. The crowd seemed to have swelled; bouncing bodies crashed into her over and over. Groping hands unintentionally slowed her progress. They pulled her back as if to say, Stay! Dance! Give in!
The dim exit sign swayed within her line of vision. Technopop echoed between her eardrums, causing her head to vibrate erratically. She kept her eyes tightly shut, as if her lids were shields, and stumbled blindly along the wall. Finally, she felt the handle of the exit door and gave it a twist. With a shove, she threw the door open.
The air outside was shockingly cool in contrast to the muggy club. Most of the alley stood in shadow, with a small amount of city light spilling through. Vivian let out gasping breaths and looked around. Behind a nearby dumpster, she could just make out the profile of someone smoking a cigarette. The absence of kinky curls let her know that it was not her missing date.
Slate grey and lumpy asphalt enclosed Vivian, though in the coolness of the night she felt calm. The stranger behind the dumpster did not seem to notice her, so she began to walk in their direction. She was just readying herself to call out when something caught her foot, sending her to the ground. Her knee crashed against the hard surface and she yelled out in unison with a sharp scraping noise. She briefly reflected on the absence of physical pain before noticing the sticky fluid that leaked over her cracked kneecap.
Shuffling noises next to Vivian alerted her to the approaching stranger. A cold, thin hand gripped her forearm and hoisted her to her feet. The pair moved over to the dumpster, where Vivan leaned and examined her injury.
“Thank you. I didn’t notice that bit of trash,” said Vivian.
The stranger chuckled awkwardly, his long hair swaying as he shook his head. Vivian looked up and locked gazes with beady eyes set among hollow features.
“Oh. Shouldn’t you be watching the doors?”
The bouncer grinned before taking a drag on his cigarette.
“Break.”
His voice was amused and grimy. He let out another nervous laugh.
“Well, uh, thanks…”
Vivian felt unnerved under his gaze. His look was one of bemusement and… something else. Shame? Vivian couldn’t be sure. She wished he would move away so she could get out of the alley. Fluid continued to run down her leg. She knew she had to get it patched up soon. The bouncer did not look twice at her injury. His eyes were on her chest again.
“What are you?”
The question caught Vivian off guard. She crossed her arms.
“What do you mean?”
The bouncer took one last drag before flicking his cigarette into the dumpster. He stepped closer and put a hand in his pocket. Vivian pressed herself against the dumpster.
“I need to take care of this scrape,” said Vivian.
Amusement lifted from the bouncer’s face. He pulled his hand from his pocket. Vivian heard a click and caught a glimmer of light bouncing off something in his hand. She couldn’t take her eyes off his now frowning face.
The bouncer stepped closer– too close– and grabbed the inner thigh Vivian’s uninjured leg with his free hand. She took in a sharp breath and spread her fingers open against the dumpster. There was no time to think before the bouncer moved his other hand toward her. She realized she was holding her breath, unable to move.
The scraping sound of metal on metal caused the bouncer to step back. Vivian moved forward and looked down to see a gaping slash on her thigh. Underneath torn cloth, a cord beneath her skin shot sparks. A pocket knife clattered against the ground.
“What the hell are you?”
Vivian covered her new wound with her hands.
“I’m just a girl.”
The bouncer stepped in and gave her a shove. She fell back against the dumpster and slid down, her busted knee no longer able to support her.
“You’re not human. Freak.” He grabbed his knife off the ground and shot her a disgusted look. He began to walk away quickly, muttering to himself.
Vivian lifted scorched palms in front of her eyes. The lack of physical pain confused her, though she did feel drained. The flow of fluid from her knee had slowed. She marveled at the loss of function in her leg, where the exposed cord sputtered out. Was she a freak? She had viewed old scenes of a circus, where freaks in cages were gaped at by an audience. Was this alley to be her cage, now that she was immobile?
The stillness of the alley allowed the echoing of the club music to reach her. For the second time, she felt like laughing without really understanding why. Just behind her people were consumed by lights and music. They used the club as their escape. Her date had likely joined them, sweating out her cares and worries. Yet here sat poor freak Vivian, wounded and losing function, just beyond the wall of the carefree crowd.
In her head, she scanned her data but was unable to find useful information. Maybe she should wait for her date to come looking for her. Maybe she should crawl back into the club and risk shutting down. Maybe she would drain out as she struggled to find ways to support herself.
After all, she had been built to support those around her. She had been programmed to cater to others. Her instructions had been to act as a friend, a lover, a guide– to provide encouragement and study human connection with grace. Now she was unsure about how to support herself. How could she?
In the dark alley, she failed to find an answer. She didn’t have the experience. She couldn’t be sure.

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