By Paul Evans
I close my eyes. An expanse of clacking camera flashes evokes memories of a strobe-lit dance floor. A screen to my left relays a time-lapsed video feed from one of the television cameras; I look okay.
Stood slightly back from my parents and Detective Inspector Roberts, I detect Mother’s forced composure by her unnaturally erect posture. As planned she steps forward to the fixed and handheld microphones: conduits to the world’s ears. Strong, hard man Dad just stands there, looking mean, confused and helpless. Twat.
“Suzy darling,” she croaks, stopping to clear her throat.
“If you can hear me I want you to know that you’re not in any trouble. Please find a police station and tell them who you are.”
Her voice was starting to over-modulate. Anguish built in my core; a pressure wave of emotion held in check by sheer willpower. I hope I am strong enough to contain it for everyone’s sake.
“Mummy loves you very much …” she begins, and broke off. Her face contorts into a grimace of raw pain. Dad leaps into inaction like coiled toilet paper.
A police woman put a comforting arm around Mum, and Roberts takes over:
“The disappearance of six year old Suzanne Holmes four days ago is causing obvious distress to her family and the local community. We are committed to finding her. If you have any information, no matter how insignificant …”
This is limbo. What previous life experience could have prepared us? I suspect I should feel worse about this situation. That makes me feel guiltier. Maybe I’ve more in common with the Old Man than I’d like to believe.
The thought of returning to school is beyond contemplation. My sub-celebrity status since coming out so recently and so … unintentionally would surely be eclipsed by this unfolding tragedy.
My former angst is now so disproportionate and distant it seems to have faded into insignificance. I had misread sweet Phillip’s signals in the library. In a moment of hormonally-charged desire I took his head in my hands and kissed him. I am certain he kissed back briefly before pulling away; making a hasty exit from the musty room and my intentions.
The irony was that the ‘manly pursuits’ into which I had been pressured – predominantly rugby and wrestling – had served only to accelerate my sexual maturity. Inevitably, the truth seeped its way through the thin bedrock of life players, to form a cold sharp stalactite which detached above me: the kiss was declared to his parents; his Dad worked with mine and the hideous circuit was complete. To say that he had not taken the news well was something of an understatement. Poor Suzy is … was apparently more of a man than I am.
Devoid of a point of reference or direction in my unravelling life, I resolve to seek out my only emotional datum: ‘Harlequin’s’.
I inspect my visage in the bathroom mirror and throw myself a pout. Time to go. The front pavement resembles a high-tech, low population refugee camp of assembled media; ghoulishly exploiting Suzy’s disappearance. I pick my way through her quiet bedroom and – like all good adventurers – slip through the back window onto the sloping roof of the conservatory, descending silently into the back garden via the water butt.
Night envelops me … as does the paranoia of being followed.
‘Harlequin’s’ proximity is advertised by the distant regularity of the speakers’ bass reverberations. Higher frequencies are attenuated by the atmosphere, rendering the treble inaudible until much closer. They are too weak to survive. Nature made them that way.
Running the Bouncer-gauntlet is less of a thrill these days. I’ve become a bit of a regular and, whilst I suspect they know that I am not yet of age, I can reliably handle my drink and won’t cause trouble.
Currency is exchanged for the stamp of Queens on my hand.
I can’t decide what to drink and bypass the bar towards the nexus of my desire: the dance floor and metamorphosis. Politely negotiating the press of bopping revellers, I gravitate towards a space, Syncing with the rhythm with each step.
Sync complete. Dance.
My brain ignites from dormancy. Billions of neurons fire like Christmas illuminations in Time Square. Working memory allows lyrics and beat to be pre-empted. Action potentials traverse axons, navigating synaptic junctions without error. The cerebellum pumps motor neurons down my spine to responsive limbs. Reward is released from the pituitary gland: hormonal secretions more potent than any drug.
I am a ninja; dispatching undead hordes with invisible swords.
I am a wizard; electricity bursting from fingers and palms.
As if to match my imagination the strobe bursts into life, portraying an agreeably altered reality and betraying the stasis of onlookers. Looking at me??
The song ends predictably abruptly, allowing me to strike a suitable pose at the terminal beat. The next is a Euro-pop crowd pleaser. Individualism can hold for this one. I bounce as one with the perspiring collective, savouring sweet unity.
The night progresses. Sweat flows faster than it evaporates, weighing my sodden shirt. Hair spray holds.
Suddenly an angel stands before me; rapture is reflected in the stranger’s eyes and we entwine in a flurry of hands and tongues. I feel safe with his mouth to my throat; completely confident that – whoever he is – he isn’t responsible for the mercifully swift death of my sister.