‘Your coffee molecules cause too much noise. It is totally messing with my harmonic sensitivities,’ she said. She held a plastic cup of boba tea in her hand. Her nails were chipped and black. The unburst beads rested in the bottom of the cup like Russian caviar.
‘I’m sorry,’ the boy replied.
‘Why were you staring at me?’ she asked.
‘I can always tell when someone is staring, you know,’ she continued. ‘I have powers.’
The boy liked her eyes, hazel with a gold centre, large and startled. Her mouth, even pursed, looked like it kept promises, spoke curling words. He liked her smudged lipstick and the rounded curve of her cheek, her flyaway hair. He liked her. He shrugged and looked at his tennis shoes, embarrassed.
‘Are you meeting friends?’ she asked.
‘No,’ he replied.
‘That’s okay,’ she said, ‘I don’t have any friends either, just followers.’ He smiled when she did, tentatively, and she reached out to briefly touch his hand. Her fingers were cool and damp from the sweaty clear teacup: thrilling.
‘I’m the Comte de Saint-Germain. Would you like to sit with me?’ she asked, tilting her head and looking up at him. The smile lingered on her face like a guest, reluctant to leave. He stared for a moment.
‘I… I’d love to,’ he replied.
They sat across from each other at the window. She looked at him frankly, studying his face, his expression, his inner self. She looked through her fingers, bent in strange shapes, reached out and pulled his hand to her. Flipped it palm up and hmmmmed over it. She traced faint lines with her fingers. Her nails left savage little dents in the pads of his palm. He tried not to wince and took quick little sips with his eyes, catching the edge of her neck, the bird-like movements of her greedy hands. He learned her by angles. He moved his coffee as far from her as possible; interposed the silver napkin dispenser to protect her from the drink’s molecular influence. She noticed his precaution and glanced up at him through secret eyes. She was not, he thought, displeased.
‘So you are the—’ he began.
‘Yes, the Comte de Saint-Germain, have you heard of me?’
‘Maybe. You don’t… D-d-do you m-mean the eighteenth-century nobleman? The e-e-e-explorer, uh, philosopher… I think, uh, musician and uh, uh…’
‘Alchemist, sorcerer, magician… yep, that’s me,’ she said. ‘I have lived for more than one thousand years.’
‘Okay.’ He said. She put his hand back on the table, turned it palm down and patted it gently.
‘I’ve had many bodies over the years, been many people,’ she said. ‘You’re lucky you met me today – I’ve grown tired of being a female. I’ll be transitioning again soon. You have a nice hand, by the way.’ His palm twitched on the table and he pulled it back slowly.
‘It’s a whole alchemical process thing,’ she continued, ‘I’ve been doing it for years. Requires the philosopher’s stone. Have you heard of it? Not that Harry Potter thing; the real thing.’
‘Yes,’ he said before she could rush on, ‘It was u-u-used for turning lead to gold w-wasn’t it? You have one? Really? A philosopher’s stone?’
‘It’s in storage,’ she said. ‘Nobody ever really made that gold thing work. That was just a gimmick.’
‘Really? Huh…’ he paused, looked down at the table, eyed his coffee cup but left it quarantined. He glanced up at her smiling mouth. The curve of her white teeth against her red lips. ‘Um, transitioning?’
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I was thinking maybe an older man this time, or possibly a horse. I’ve never been an animal. I haven’t decided. Don’t you think horses are beautiful?’
‘Yeah… yesss. They are… b-but why?’ His voice broke a little at the end.
‘Just, you know, well… maybe you don’t. Doesn’t matter. I’ve been lots of people. People always leave, you know.’
‘Oh. Okay.’ He paused. ‘I just… just liked… like… talking to you.’
‘Me too. Don’t worry. We’ve still got seven days.’
‘So… y-you speak French?’
‘Oui. Aren’t you going to ask me out? I just said we only have seven days.’
‘Ask you out?’ His mouth opened and closed; no sounds emerged.
‘Right,’ she said with finality. ‘What are you doing tomorrow?’
‘Nuh-nothing, I guess.’
They met for drinks at Suds ’n’ Duds, the local coin-op laundromat. Saint-Germain brought two Hello Kitty thermoses – one filled with orange juice, the other with vodka.
‘Laundromats remind me of breakfast,’ she said.
The sun was setting across the street. The cold outside fought the heated inside, and the giant panels of sheet glass sweated with fog and moisture.
She was wearing a purple silk robe tied tightly around her narrow waist. Lemon-shaped sunglasses held her hair back. He thought she might have had a few drinks before he arrived. Someone had drawn stars and moons on the robe with a permanent marker. He thought she was beautiful, but didn’t know what to do or say. He carried her basket of delicates in from the car.
‘Don’t look at my panties,’ she said. He dutifully looked away while she opened and fed the machine.
‘I l-l-like your robe,’ he said and followed a crack in the ceiling tile with his eyes.
‘Yeah,’ she replied, ‘I miss being Merlin.’
‘Yes, I was Merlin before I was the Count. I just like being the Count better. France in the eighteenth century was pretty cool. Maybe not so much the guillotine, but…’ She shrugged, extracted a ziploc bag from inside the robe and shook the remains of the powder into the washer’s hungry maw.
‘You knew Arthur?’
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘He was a super-jerk. Real control freak.’
‘B-but he was the king—’
‘That’s no excuse,’ she said and slammed the lid like a tombstone. ‘Not that Lancelot was any better, mind you. They both took off and left Guinevere cooling her jets in a nunnery. Typical sexist behaviour. That’s when I just said “enough” and decided to take a break for a while.’
They sat on lime-green plastic chairs shaped like ice-cream scoops, drank screwdrivers and watched the dryers rotate. His head began to spin. He got up, walked to the window and placed his hand on the glass; thin trails of moisture ran down in streams. He lifted his palm away and saw the lamplit street smeared through the nothingness left behind. Saint-Germain slid between him and the glass and put her small hand, fingers spread wide, in the centre of the mark he’d left. His handprint made a dark halo around her tiny white digits.
‘That’s perfect,’ she said.
‘Can you s-still do magic?’ he asked.
‘Of course,’ she replied and removed her hand from the glass. He could hear a smile in her voice. ‘But what’s the point when you have washing machines in the world?’
‘Y-you could m-make someone f-fall…’ he paused for breath, ‘in l-l-love.’
‘No,’ she said. ‘That never works.’
The waves pounded the Battery wall, shattering into flecks that flew high in the winter air. They walked the old stones, he in a shapeless peacoat, she in a fleece-lined bomber jacket.
‘C-c-can I hold your hand?’ he asked and held his breath, darted a look at her. Her cheeks were flushed; he looked back at the sea nervously.
‘Yes,’ she said finally and made a quick motion. Her hand dived between his fingers like a shivering bird returning to its nest.
It was warm and firm inside of his. Her slim fingers threaded through his perfectly. They seemed to know where they belonged. He’d worried he’d do it wrong, that he’d be clumsy. He felt his heart beating heavily in his chest and in the base of his spine. He smiled and felt the cold spume evaporate from his face. They exchanged a slow wondering look and continued walking.
‘Y-you’re beautiful,’ he said, suddenly overcome, needing to say something. She was quiet for a long moment and he thought he’d said too much. They turned at the end of the wall, retracing their steps.
‘I noticed you wore another superhero T-shirt today,’ she said, her eyes glowing. ‘Why do all you chubby guys wear superhero shirts? I don’t get it.’
He thought hard, hurt a little. Almost took his hand back. She squeezed gently.
‘H-heroes are s-s-selfless,’ he said slowly, ‘and they’re r-reliable.’ He stopped and watched the iron waves roll in, crash and recede. ‘That’s what I want to be.’
She looked at him for a long time. She rose onto her tiptoes and kissed him on the corner of his mouth, very gently.
‘That,’ she said, ‘is the best answer.’ She turned and tugged him to walk beside her, slid her arm through his and sheltered against him.
‘You better be glad,’ she said, ‘that you’re so good at holding hands. I never thought I’d end up with somebody who wore Superman T-shirts.’
Saint-Germain took him to a midnight screening at a small $2.00 movie theatre. It crouched shamefully in the back of an empty strip mall like a mangy sheepdog with cataract-blued eyes. A much-folded poster of Christopher Reeve, handsome and whole, shone like the bright wings of a captured blue and red butterfly in the scratched NOW SHOWING frame. She bought two tickets from the girl in the glass booth. They read ‘Superman (1978) Auditorium 2’.
The high school boy behind the lonely concession counter yawned hugely, took her crumpled bills, spun the popcorn bucket by shuffling degrees, shot hot butter-stuff on top of the cardboard kernels, asked if they needed a coke or ‘anything’. She said, ‘No, soft drinks are poison.’
They sat against the wall; he leaned into the coarse and shabby cloth curtains. The seat rose up malevolently and caught under his legs whenever he shifted position. Their sneakers stuck to the floor. The auditorium smelt of damp and old popcorn.
She clutched his arm and watched his glowing face eagerly as the screen lit up and the horns blew. He smiled widely, put his arm around her and tried to master the feeling bubbling in his chest, the desire to laugh, to crow with joy.
When Superman threw the crystal that summoned the Fortress of Solitude from the arctic snow, she moaned despairingly and said, ‘That’s such a cold, lonesome place. How can he stand it?’
When the lonely superhero shot across the big screen and rocketed backwards around the Earth, circling faster and faster, working against physics, against all rationality, to reverse time, to revive his love Lois Lane and his friend Jimmy, Saint-Germain climbed over the arm of the seat and into his lap. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled his mouth down to hers, tentatively at first, uncertain, almost tasting him, and then deeply. Her lips were alive against his, desperate. He felt hot tears spilling down her cheeks, tasted salt in his mouth. They entwined their fingers, hand to hand to hand to hand, and taught each other how to kiss until the credits finished rolling and the lights came up.
After, he took her hand and they exited the movie theatre together. Spontaneously they erupted in conspiratorial giggles and ran skipping like truants across the gritty winter parking lot, glancing at each other to test their shared secret.
A low black hearse slid throatily away from the front of Saint-Germain’s building. He saw her face, white and pensive, when he turned the corner. She hadn’t noticed him. Her arms crossed, she hugged herself, one worn-toed boot across the other, and watched the vehicle slip cautiously down the line of parked cars, then around the corner.
‘A-are you okay?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ she said, turning at his arrival. She gave him a wan smile that limped away helplessly. Her eyes looked tired, sad. ‘I just hate thinking about death…’ She looked down at the pavement and hugged herself tighter against the cold. ‘I wish I lived on the island of Delos,’ she said. ‘Thucydides said it was illegal for people to die there.’ She cleared her throat with a hitch. ‘Come on.’
They walked to the market district, together but in separate lives, shrouded in clouds of their own frozen breath. She was distant and snappish, kept her hands in her pockets and her eyes on the toes of her boots. He tried, awkwardly, to get her talking, to get her attention. Things were out of kilter; the gears were grinding between them. He didn’t know why. It made him desperate.
They sat street-side on white metal chairs under a heated plastic tent with false windowpanes. The translucent plastic rippled in the wind and stretched the passers-by, first vertically, then horizontally. The world looked like a watercolour. The restaurant sign read Akropolys in oversized angular blue letters.
‘I thought,’ he said, ‘s-s-since you w-were Plato too, you might like to eat Greek f-f-food.’
‘This?’ she said, glaring from the menu to the gleaming white Doric pillars, the bundles of fake grapes on the table. ‘We didn’t eat this… junk.’
‘Oh,’ he said and reached out to flip his fork face up. Flipped it again face down. Face up, face down. His face flushed. His eyes were on the fork.
‘W-w-what d-d-did you—’ he started.
‘Waitress,’ she said and grabbed the woman’s arm as she passed the table. ‘Bring me a large ouzo.’ The woman looked at her over her shoulder, balancing a tray of dirty plates carefully. ‘A big, big one,’ Saint-Germain said.
‘Certainly, ma’am. Let me just finish—’
‘It’s not a complicated order… It’s ouzo. O-u-z-o. Ouzo. Can you remember that?’
‘I’ll be right back, ma’am,’ the waitress said.
‘But…’ she said to the server’s back. Saint-Germain groaned in frustration.
He looked up from the menu, checked her carefully; saw the moue on her face, the tears building in her eyes. He smiled nervously, trying. She crossed her arms and looked down at the table.
The waitress returned. ‘Okay, ma’am, can I see your ID, please?’
Saint-Germain started to speak and stopped, lips pursed in vexation. She made moves, patting around her bomber jacket, her pants pockets, searching in vain.
‘I don’t have it with me,’ she said finally.
‘I’m sorry, ma’am,’ the waitress replied. ‘No ID, no alcohol.’
Saint-Germain’s startled eyes grew large. She sat forward in her seat, hands palm down on the pristine cotton tablecloth. He saw the pads of her fingers go white under her chipped black nails. ‘I’m the Count of Saint-Germain,’ she said, ‘and I’m thou…’ her voice was breaking now, ‘thousands of years old, you stupid woman. I just want a drink!’
‘Alright, crazy. I ain’t putting up with this… Lou!’ the waitress called into the restaurant.
‘P-p-p-please!’ he interrupted, ‘she’s j-j-just making it up. It’s a joke. O-o-kay? W-w-w…’ His face went red with the effort of getting it out. He gasped with frustration and pointed back and forth from himself to Saint-Germain. ‘Leaving.’ He tugged her to her feet and rushed her out, into the cold. A sudden snow swirled blue in the light of the Akropolys.
Saint-Germain snatched the sleeve of her bomber jacket from his grip and stalked ahead of him down the street. Outraged tears streaked her cheeks. Her mouth looked like a swollen knuckle.
‘Why d-do you have to be so weird?’ he asked.
She turned in a whirl of cold flakes, flying hair. ‘We’re done. You and me, we are done! I knew you didn’t believe in me. I knew it. I’m transitioning any… anyway…’ Saint-Germain began sobbing, her hands clenched into solid balls of bone and muscle. ‘Just go away! Go… go… go. I don’t need you. Go away, you stuttering idiot, I am tranSITIONING!’ she screamed and spun away from him. Her side-sprung boots clocked quickly down the street, taking her away from him, away from the restaurant, away away, until the tears in his eyes blurred and her small receding figure disappeared into the crowded frozen city.
‘Hi, Saint-Germain, it’s me… again. P-please call me back. I’m so s-s-sorry. I believed you, I promise… I believe in you. I believe e-everything about you. Please don’t transition, Saint-Germain, p-p-please don’t l-leave me alone. I’m so stupid. I should have… I don’t know. I’m so, so s-stupid. P-please. I need you. I d-don’t w-w-want to be alone anymore. D-don’t be a h-horse or… or an old man, Saint-Germain. Please don’t leave me. Please…’
‘Saint-Germain, i-is that you?’
‘Hi,’ she said. Her voice came from far away. ‘Can you… can you pick me up? Please… I’m… I gotta go to my mom…’ Saint-Germain’s voice hitched. He could hear the tears thickening her voice. His jaw tightened in sympathy. ‘I gotta go to my momma’s funeral…’ she continued. ‘Please come… please come and get me. I really need…’ Her voice was tinny and tiny over the connection. ‘I need to hold your hand.’ She took a big steadying breath and finished with a small ‘Please?’
‘Alright,’ he said.
The gravestone was simple, a grey granite rectangle. It read:
Elizabeth Mary Watkins
5 August 1970 – 12 January 2018
You were the morning star among the living.
In death, O evening star, you light the dead.
Saint-Germain held his hand with both of hers. The priest held hands with a black leather bible, head bowed, offering final prayers to the God of dead mothers. The three of them stood over the filled grave, an obscene keloid on the face of the earth. The sky was high and blue; the sun shone on bundled white flowers, scattered on lumpish brown dirt.
‘I don’t have anyone,’ she said quietly. ‘I have no one. I have nothing. I loved her.’ A gentle breeze played with the ends of her hair, lifting it and stroking her cheeks and lips. ‘She left me. Who is going to love me now?’ she asked.
‘I am,’ he said and turned to gently touch her cheek.
She looked up at him from swollen eyes. Her lips parted just a little and he saw the cracked lines in the smudged red lipstick. She studied him for a long time. He brushed her loose hair from her eyes, used the edge of his sleeve to smooth the tears from her cheeks.
‘My name is Jane,’ she said. Her eyes turned gold in the sun.
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