by Matthew Sanborn Smith
The magazine had flopped open to an article about a small group of people who had formed an organization dedicated to eating Peruvian tree bark. Dennis glanced through this until he let the issue fall back down to the side table. Past the heads of other patients, he lost his eyes in the wood-paneled wall for a while and absorbed this bizarrest of articles.
"There are people who dedicate themselves to eating Peruvian tree bark," he murmured, "And here I sit in a waiting room trying to get approved for some new disease."
"I'm sorry?" said the red-headed woman to his right. She had corralled her little one between her outstretched legs, and only now that she looked at him did Dennis realize how very beautiful her eyes were.
"My God," he asked her, "What's wrong with this?"
"What's wrong with what?" she asked, drawing her daughter closer. He put his hand on her shoulder, very un-Dennis-like, and looked into her green eyes.
"I'll never see you again. Take care of yourself," he said. He left the woman and the office and took the grimy, yellow elevator down to the second floor. He took the stairs down from there.
Hard soles slapped the gritty concrete outside with a rhythm that brought his thoughts into line. All the heads on the street turned to face him, blown his way by a soft October breeze. Not a one looked familiar. He considered all the people he knew in the city and wondered if he had any unfinished business with any of them. Not a damned thing came to mind. His bills were paid, his obligations were met. The lint in his pockets felt bumpy on his fingertips. What about the women? Weren't there any, for the love of God, that he wanted to sleep with?
No, came the voice on a cool gale that wailed through his stomach. He wanted revenge on no one and felt sad for that. Thirty-three years and his life held no passion for him. No excitement, no romance, no sense of joy. Hell, not even hatred or jealousy or rage. Was something wrong with him, or was something wrong with his life?
Tahiti. The word flashed in his mind, no, the concept screamed through his flesh, unbidden. Dennis had a vision of a beautiful, bare-breasted Polynesian lovely sinking longingly into his arms after he had killed a shark with his bare hands. And he smiled. That could work. He hailed a cab. There was an old woman driving, wrapped in a babushka as if she had just arrived from Armenia. He flopped into her back seat with an eruption of dust and inhaled a mildewy stench like it was a grove of orange blossoms.
"Take me to Tahiti," he said. She pulled out onto the street.
"Let me tell you about the world," the cabbie said. "The world has just altered. You are at large within it and it has taken notice. No ordinary things will ever happen to you again."
"That's what I'm hoping for," he said.
She stopped to let a herd of goats cross at the intersection. While they waited she pointed out and up.
"Look," she beckoned. The spacescrapers of steel and blue glass had suddenly turned to pale yellow and dark red stone. Single pieces, as if towers of rock stood here from man's earliest ascension and he had carved these monoliths from within to be his structures. The faces beyond the vinyled car door were all black now. They floated above bodies long and thin which were draped in exotic, weird fashions. He drank in a woman whose face was pierced fifty times and who wore the thinnest of golden rings dripping from each puncture. A triangular sail of royal blue silk sprang from the collar of her dress and fluttered behind her head while the glittering rings waved in the autumn wind.
"You haven't looked before," the Armenian woman said to him in response to nothing he'd asked.
"I want to find my life, cabbie. I want to look around me and know that I'm really living. I want to make love to a magnificent woman in some out of the way bedroom overlooking the streets of Portugal. I want to feel comfortable with myself among strangers. I want to feel my blood pumping as the cold washes over me atop a mountain or on the open ocean. Help me, Cabbie." He capitalized it in his voice, decided that Cabbie was her name now. "For the love of everything that's sacred, help me. There's an extra ten in it for you."
She reached a thick, chewed-nail hand back over her shoulder and waited until he fished a ten-spot from his pocket and stuffed it into her greedy paw. After a glance, the bill disappeared between her legs. She stopped the cab in the middle of the road, shut the damned thing off, and turned, looked him straight in the eye and said:
"Will it. WILL IT!" Those red-rimmed eyes nearly popped from their sockets when she spoke.
He willed it.
And Dennis felt the change as if flipping a toggle switch. In one deep breath, he savored the feel of the air sweeping down his windpipe, over-filling his lungs before he let it rush out with a woooosh.
The thirty-three year-old man stepped from the vehicle, looking through the strange faces all about him. Within seconds, he felt the heat of contact in one smooth, round face. Dennis went to her, took her face in his hands and kissed her more passionately than he had any woman he had ever known. He was oblivious to her lady friend who cursed a red storm of protest. This woman in his arms kissed back, like he knew she would and after covering her long succulent neck with kisses, he pulled back, shivering, while she drew her long, orange fingernails down his chest and stomach.
"How do I call you?" he asked.
"Kirikiri," she sang, like a bird. He stepped back, not at all embarrassed by his raging erection and moved on through the crowd. He could kill sharks from this state of being. Of that there was no doubt.