Instantly my mind was so full of conflicting thoughts I stopped dead. I wanted her to turn and see me, recognize me; come up to me and touch me again and whisper words in my ear that would give me back to myself. At the same time I wanted to run, to escape from the possibility of ever knowing. A prosaic and cynical voice also spoke to me, telling me I was mistaken – how could she know anything? What do you want? To hide? You could know these things yourself. You chose not to know. You choose ignorance every day. You know you hide from nothing good.
Doesn’t everyone have these doors in their minds? Walls they build for themselves; against grief, against love, against hardship…
She had my knowledge. And there she was, smiling and laughing as if it was nothing. She owned me. She owed me. I wanted to take it. Take it from her. She has no right to it. It’s mine. She’s mine. Make her give it up.
The glass in my hand felt slick and warm. I’d carried it around without drinking from it, my stage-prop. I had to put it down. She was gone, disappeared into the boiling horde. The noise and atmosphere of the party came back to me, and it was darker, frenetic and hectic. The laughter seemed forced and malicious, the mouths cruel, the eyes hardened and corrupt. Tongues formed around resentful and callous statements; acid dripping, spreading, staining and debasing everything good. Movements were exaggerated, jerky; they seemed like graceless puppets locked in a mockery of human expressions and gestures, alien and unknowable.
I put down the glass, noticing how my hand stung, how the glass had broken in a smiling curve tinged pink with my blood. Liquid seeped out and ran down to stain the tablecloth a darker shade of blue.
Someone tapped me on the shoulder.
He was taller than me by several inches, his face painted in patterns of black and green. His costume was a lizard-skin, tight to his body, scales of turquoise and blue that shimmered in the light. It should have been comical but the effect was threatening; the shape of the eyes altered by kohl, the white, even teeth bared in a barracuda smile.
“Hey,” he said,” a gatecrasher.” His grin widened. He stared hard at me, and something changed in his expression. He looked suddenly like a child who has opened a present and discovered inside the dull wrappings something he’s wished for and dreamed of, and hoped against hope to receive, all the long, long year. “We-ell,” he said, drawing out the word.
What was that? Recognition? People were turning to watch and it became much quieter. I asked, “Do you know me?”
“Do I know you?” he echoed. There was another man behind him and a woman. She was dressed all in red, like a devil, and he was a gladiator in a burnished breastplate and plumes. Lizard-man exchanged a glance with them and she reached out briefly, touched his arm. She looked toward me as she did so, her expression one of pure hatred. “I don’t think so. No,” he continued. “I don’t know you. You don’t know me. If we knew each other you wouldn’t have had to crash the party, would you? Unless you think we weren’t exactly friends.”
This was too much. I opened my mouth, but had nothing to offer, only falling back on my tired lies.
“Sorry. I came looking for someone.”
“Who?” It was the woman who spoke. Her lips were as red as her costume, a scarlet smear against white.
“A man. I’m an investigator. I just want to ask him a couple of questions. I was given this address, that’s all. His name is something like ‘Avocado’. Look, if you want, I’ll go now.”
“Think you should,” the gladiator told me.
“Avocado,” Lizard-man’s grin vanished. “Avogadro. Not much of an investigator are you? He’s dead.”
Someone started to laugh. I didn’t see who it was. I turned away from them and pushed through the crowds, stumbled outside into the cold air, breathing in great gasps of it, my legs trembling. No one followed me, but it was a while before I could start the car.