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I. Sparrows

000 |The Night Grows Pale, scene 04

Back in the gloom of the discotheque, I leave my handbag and walking-stick in an empty booth — I don’t have any money and my mobilnik’s two years old and the screen’s cracked, and like, nu, somehow I doubt that anyone at the Peach will want to nick a walking-stick, even if it

is neon pink with silver stripes, and even if the handle’s shaped like a cobra.

I’ve lost sight of Pasha; standing on the periphery of the pulsing throng, straining to pick out any individual person, looking for Pasha, for someone — anyone — I’d known before I met Gilya, I realise I’m once again stalling, once again trying to talk myself into doing nothing, into choking down the part of me what wants, what wants to live, and what wants not to die. The music thuds like a heartbeat in mine ears, and the lights dance like a mirage; the air smells of sweat and hairspray and perfume, and spilt vodka.

Before I can catch myself again, before I can lose my nerve and slam the gates shut against desire, I close mine eyes and step into the crush of bodies amid the glittering fog, as if diving into a mikveh; I dance— okh, I dance badly, letting the Eternal Now carry me from moment to moment, half-oblivious and utterly carefree, the hope of some day landing in Oylam HaZeh rekindling.

I only open mine eyes when some stranger’s hand brushes over the small of my back — on purpose? on accident? — to smile and play the coquette and

lock gazes for just a second—

And then I forget what I’m here for, I forget I have nowhere to sleep, I forget the last two years, and the narrow place upon Osedka — because the petal what caught me by the waist is stunning, a louche queen resplendent in organza and black velvet, entwined in a harness of black leather crossed over a flat chest, cinched tight around a figure what curves like a fiddle.

Like! The kind of rose I’d never dare talk to first, afraid of making a complete shmendrik of myself.

Hesmiles back at me, and raises an eyebrow invitingly, cocking his head to one side as if to show off his nose, beautiful and crooked, elegant like the prow of a longboat; the discotheque lights trace a silver halo around the fractal edge of his hair, a cloud of black curls backlit as if by a setting sun-star, held down by---


—held down by a black yarmulke in the Bukharan style, embroidered silver and gold.

He gestures up at my hair, at the crown of my head, and says, vowels flat and clipped, “bistu a yid, ziskeyt?”

And he laughs even before I can reply, because the answer’s obvious, and steps back just a little, waiting for me to offer an invitation.

Borne on a rising tide of hope and sudden, giddy lust, I raise a languid hand to beckon him; he catches it and I draw him in close to me, twirling him—

And then he spins around again, and his arm’s around my waist, his thigh’s pressed against my thigh. He looks up at me all wide-eyed and faux-demure, eyeshadow shimmering in deep orbits, neon pink and violet against matte umber skin.

I place a hand between his shoulder-blades, and he arches his back as I dip him low, and then we’re nearly nose-to-nose; this close I can see his irises are two-tone, pupils ringed deep gold and amber, shading out to stark blue rims; each sharp cheekbone bears two ocelli, outer gold, inner blue; the two eye-spots between his eyebrows shine two-hued, like shot silk — he’s a nefil. He smells of an aftershave strong and sweet as perfume, and of peach hair pomade.

His lips are lilac, the lipstick glossy like lacquer: I’m not the only faggot vain enough to risk sealing make-up with thaumaturgy meant for outdoor paint. I tap a finger just to the side of one of my snakebites, and mouth, “we match!”

He laughs in response and lifts a hand to cup my cheek; nail-tip claw rings prick my skin like cold drizzle just around Peysakh, a sweet and light pain far from unwelcome. He quirks an eyebrow again, pouting, and taps a finger against his cupid’s bow. I bow down lower, folding near double — he’s a whole foot shorter, and high heels are no good to him when I’m on stilts too — and he rises to meet me, and we kiss.

I’m caught up in him, in the feverish glee of our closeness, in the pointed feeling of my cock growing hard against his thigh. My face flushes hot, and my head spins; I burn as if in ice, and drown in flames and okh, he kisses me harder. I kiss him back, and all I know is his tongue in my mouth, both his hands on mine arse, and our hips grinding together.

And the Eternal Now yawns before me, a bottomless abyss, a merciless void, and its edges fray, and its grip slackens, and before I can quite register what’s happened, I’m upright again, and the litvak flamer has got me by the hand, leading me to the booths lining the far wall; I nudge him in the direction of the one where I left my stuff.

I collapse on the pleather seat, wincing at how it squeaks under my jeans. He perches beside me, legs crossed, hands resting in his lap; his fingers are long and slim, elegant as the limbs of an orb-spider.

“Thou canst—” I begin, but I’m out of breath, and like, I can’t quite get the words out; I gesture instead, and he leans against me, breathing hard.

I put an arm around his shoulders, and he leans his head against my chest, and there we sit, entangled in a golden moment.

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The Bitter Drop © 2014–2023, Isak Bloom; licensed underCC BY-NC-SA 4.0