It was only after I had excused myself for the third time, and walked unevenly toward the rest-room as my friends and colleagues sharpened their salad forks and guarded their backs, that I knew beyond equivocation that Gregor had indeed made the first move.
The men’s room wept as I hobbled inside. Light spilled out across the ceiling and floor. The mirror beckoned, a perverted grey siren atop an expensive Italian wave. The latrines were my salvation, my lighthouse. I danced before them, grappling with my belt, offering myself to the god of metropolitan plumbing in some frenzied, pagan ceremony.
And even as I sucked thin shafts of scented air through my clenched and heavily insured teeth, and even as the chrome and glass cradled my twisted face as it drowned beneath the amber and gold, the tactical magnificence of Gregor’s strike could not be ignored. In one brilliantly conceived and stunningly preemptive measure, Gregor had crippled my offensive capabilities. There was no conceivable way in which I could engage him on an intimate level now. The only retaliatory option available to me was one of scope and magnitude, not precision.
I tried to formulate a strategy. I fought against the muffled amalgam of monologue and guile spilling from the restaurant and washing up on the ceramic shores. I focused, caught my breath, and recalled the events leading up to my injury.
The swell of noise and laughter.
The skin, sweat and debris.
I had agreed to meet with Gregor at his apartment, a beige and terra-cotta nightmare which jutted out over the city’s canal, threatening to crumble and shift under the most benign provocation. As I stood below his balcony, wiping rain and regret from my lips and eyes, I imagined him sliding through his hideous bedroom and into the sterility beyond, adjusting a framed reproduction of something that Pierre Bonnard would have disowned and burnt if he, indeed, had painted it. And all the while, trailing behind him like toilet paper on a heel, would be the sickening bouquet of hairspray and inheritance.
In retrospect, it was perhaps unwise of me to accept Gregor’s invitation without first considering the implications. He had never, in all the many long and painful years we had been associates, permitted me access to his home. The distorted perception I had of his domicile, based in equal parts on Gregor’s sycophantic portraitures and my own sinister extrapolations, was of a massive, sprawling labyrinth replete with vanity mirrors and rooms that were constructed, ceiling to floor, out of the spines of first editions. These rooms, Gregor referred to them as petites salles pour de grands esprits, were apparently the corporeal embodiment of his devastating intellectual weight.
As I trudged through the puddles of streetlights, and toward the halogenetic lobby of Gregor’s apartment, I considered, for a fleeting instance, turning and running and pushing myself onwards toward sublime deliverance, toward the rigid familiarity of my pillows and sheets and the miserable plight of a somnolent dawn, swimming its way through rivers of dust.
Instead, I found myself staring blankly into a small metallic orifice, announcing my arrival, and being slowly lulled to slumber by the precious, abstract static that flowed from Gregor’s mind, along the arteries and air ducts and out into the street below.
The door to his apartment was ajar, and through it I could hear the cacophonous rumble of drunken, lilting voices throwing themselves to porcelain wolves. Although I had been mildly suspicious of Gregor’s motives upon recieving his invitation to join him for drinks and conversation, I was now positively accusatory. And had it not been for one of the women spying me as she danced across the shimmering hardwood sea I would have escaped the evening unscathed. Within the beat of a butterfly’s heart, I was pulled inside, imprisoned and condemned.
Roused by my ridiculous attempts to prevent the woman from taking my coat, Gregor joined us in his living room. A blonde and emerald specter twisted beside him.
-Glad you could make it. Care for a drink?
What followed was an awkward period of introductions and biographies, interspersed with lavish helpings of preposterously good wine. Bianca, the petty thief who had tried to swindle me out of my coat, sat beside me on the floor. I made a valiant attempt not to notice the faint outline of pubic hair through her dress, the sound of her lips as they parted, the soft breath of her leg as it kissed the floorboards and then pulled away.
Gregor sat adjacent to us, whispering through his companion’s hair. She would laugh, grip his elbow, and Gregor would smile. A dangerous, treacherous smile.
After Gregor and his companion had retired to the bedroom, and Bianca had excused herself and touched my face, I sat with my hands behind me and listened to the haunted aria of money being thrown away. Every pillow, every ornament, sang to me in a broken dirge. The walls looked on passively. I understood their reluctance to collapse, to fold inward and smother us all to death. I understood the politics of indifference.
Bianca soon returned and made her way through the apartment, toward one of Gregor’s fabled ‘rooms’. I followed, my hand resting on her lower back. Her dress, a translucent green, fell in waves below my fingers.
After finishing our drinks, Bianca took my hand, opened a narrow door, and led me into the darkness. I could feel the wall against my elbow as we entered and, in the brief promise of light that was snatched away as the door closed behind me, I noticed that the room was entirely bare.
I could sense Bianca before she kissed me. Her perfume, her skin. Her tattered, syncopated breaths. Then her lips. Then her fingers.
I took hold of the flimsy, delicate straps that seemed to float above her shoulders and let them fall over her arms. Then, as I unzipped myself, I placed a free hand behind Bianca’s head and eased her down. Her outstretched arms locked my knees in place. Her palms held flat against the door.
As she took the head of my penis into her mouth I casually stroked her breasts, running my fingers over her nipples. With my other hand, I touched the nape of her neck, drew my knuckles across her cheek, touched myself as she masturbated the shaft of my cock, wet with saliva.
I wanted to taste her on my fingernails, to have the stagnant air suffocate me, to drag her through the sweat and filth, to drown.
Taking her by the hair, I wrenched Bianca to her feet, turned her away from me and pressed forward until we hit a wall. She groaned, hitched up her dress, pushed herself onto me. In two strained movements I was inside. I forced her knee up as she touched herself. I came quickly and, while still ejaculating, I withdrew.
The last time I saw Bianca she was bathing in light, semen glistening on the hem of her dress, her fingers between her legs. I collected my empty glass and walked away. The door closed somewhere in the distance, underwater, sinking like an insurance claim.
In the living room I found Gregor, lounging upon his ridiculous couch, naked. His small, flaccid penis rested on his thigh. He was sipping something from a wide crystal glass. It looked like liquid sunshine.
-Sit down. I want to ask you something.
I did as he asked, noticing that my shirt was wrinkled. That my belt was undone.
-Do you believe in urbane warfare?
Gregor poured something into my glass as he posed this question. I shrugged, yawned, cracked my neck.
-It’s a bit late for puns, isn’t it? I’m tired, Gregor. I want to go home.
He sat upright, adjusting his scrotum and crossing his legs.
-I believe that, every day, people like you and I engage in battle. Not in an economic sense, this isn’t about mergers or acquisitions, but in a very human sense. I believe that we have an arsenal, a cache of weapons. A stockpile if you will.
-This is a not a cold war, you understand. Someone has to strike first.
Now, standing in the bathroom and biting my lip, I realise how foolish I was not to have seen Gregor’s ‘theoretical’ conflict for what it was. But Gregor had been thinking on a scale far smaller than I. He hadn’t used Bianca as an assassin at all. He hadn’t grasped the complexity of the war he was waging.
I devise a method to not only wound him, but everyone whom he cares for and loves. I imagine a carpet bombing, exemplary and widespread. The emaciated clerk who need only receive one more careless insult. The quiet neighbour deprived of her medication. The derelict with the sunken eyes. The murderer. The rapist. The thief. I imagine priming one of these weapons, hiding it in Gregor’s home, his office, at a family gathering. A funeral. A wake. I imagine detonating it from a distance and reeling as the walls relent and topple, as the green dress is torn apart.
But then I’m away, watching the devastation from a closed circuit camera.
From a satellite.
From a star.