For as real as it felt, I may as well have been on a set, on a dark stage. Two black windows with dark red velvet cushions on the windowseats framed by three lengths of matching curtain had become the background. A wall perpendicular intersected the windows’ plane just to the left, and in front of the windowseat was a high table of wrought-iron garden style that you might just as easily have seen out of doors, and a high bar stool was between table and windowseat. A little pale light gleamed dully against the polished black boards of hardwood floor below, and made out just the bottoms of two legs of a counterpart stool on the far side of the table, presumably unoccupied.
The figure of a woman reclined arrogantly in the bar chair. She wore a black bowler hat and black lingerie – a ribbed bustier and something minimal underneath – and tall white gloves so that only the tops of her arms were bare. She had her arms behind her, and her posture otherwise was a confusing tangle of shadowy limbs. She seemed to be sitting in several positions at once. Her legs were together in a coy side-saddle; they were spread provocatively, they were raised, slightly parted, so her knees were level with her shoulders, she had one foot propped against the curtain between the windows while the other swung carelessly beneath the chair. The effect was unsettlingly arachnoid.
Entered a man stepping up from somewhere below, wearing a black top hat and black tuxedo jacket but otherwise nude, save for black boxers. His skin was the smooth cool pale plastic sculpting of a mannequin skin. He stood in front of the right-hand window, and bowed to the lady. As he did this his right hand went to his top hat, in a gesture caught between a polite tip of the hat and fear that it might fall off his bald head during an unfamiliar act.
“My name,” said he, “is Uninterested Desire.”
She slid forward, her limbs resolving into the expected silky bipedal form as she stood in the light, such as it was, tall and impossibly long-limbed, eyebrowless. She offered a hand absent of wrinkles, even at the knuckle, fingers accented by pink nails a little too small.
“Pleased to meet you, Mister Desire. I am Invitation – Unstaunchable Invitation.”
“I am looking – I think I am looking – for the Hostess. Do you know her?”
She laughed a brief and narrow laugh. “There is no such person! She is but an old wives’ tale. I think you are looking for me. It was I who beckoned you in.”
He widened his arms to embrace her then, making the jacket look silly even though it was buttoned, head a bit too far forward, gaze too low, step too slow. She returned the embrace in a manner that was somehow full of knees and elbows, though I could not see how, and he slumped back with a groan, half out of the light now, bent backwards against another table, apparently in the throws of orgasm. His jacket fell open.
She had turned half away and was dabbing at her eye with a bit of cloth, holding a little pocketwatch as if it were a mirror. One exposed girlish hip was thrust towards him, in case he cared to look. Her arms, pulled forward, bunched her artificially symmetrical bust together.
“But the Hostess,” Desire said, craning his neck without rising. “You are not her?”
She faced him, standing with parted legs. “Do you wish me to be?”
At this moment someone, attired similarly to the man, came up and served them drinks from a tray he carried, and swung away out of the light. As he left I could see his back was hunched. Invitation and Desire were quiet. Invitation sipped her drink.
Desire let his head fall back on the table. “I wished… I wished her to be.” Hesitation. “You?”
“What of me do you want?” she asked, setting aside her drink and doing that thing again with her legs. Hands on hips, legs wide, pressed together, one foot raised so ankle touched knee, leaning to the left, best foot forward. Noticing any one posture reduced the others to shadows, summonable to the mind by giving them any measure of attention. If I watched her painted eyes she almost appeared aquatic.
“I want – I want you,” Desire muttered, looking her up and down. Then he stood, and straightened his hat. “I want to take my leave of you,” he repeated, firmly.
She seized the red curtain and swirled it about her, so that it hid all her clothes and her face up to her eyes, which became, for a moment, deep and human. “Come back,” she offered, “come back anytime. Come back tomorrow.”
The scene fell dark, solitary points of illumination on her black polished shoes as she clicked four times against the floor back to her chair. Her hands, visible inside their dusky white gloves, where locked around her raised knee, itself unseen.
After a moment, a pinhead-sized prick of coal rattled to life with her inhale, and its counterpart appeared in the dark window, as if a firefly were looking in.
After another moment, all light disappeared and the scene went completely black. The vanishing sound came from Desire’s footsteps down the hall.
A long while later, Invitation gasped something unintelligible into the dark.