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Death by Beauty
Late night city streets were the perfect backdrop for anyone but Emily. The cold echoes of music and people shouting made her feel ill at ease, and the dull, distant wails of taxi horns and sirens constantly reminded her that she didn’t belong here. Chicago was crammed with living, breathing bodies, swarming with whites and blacks and reds and yellows: a thousand indifferent, staring faces, hundreds of hard, shiny eyes, dozens of clammy, groping hands, all scrutinizing the strange girl who didn’t belong. It made her squirm, clutch her hands tightly inside her jacket, force her legs to hurry, hurry, hurry away from all the glares and noise and roaring cars. She didn’t belong here. She knew it. But she couldn’t leave; not yet.
Emily really didn’t know why she had bothered to get off here on her way to Ohio for her new job interview. She had seen Chicago once before when she was very small, and she could remember liking some parts of it and hating others. But she had liked nothing enough to want to return again, especially now on a business trip of all times. The train had stopped here to refuel and allow for a smoking break. She had been sitting in her seat by the window, straining her eyes in the dim underground terminal, trying to focus on the Sudoku puzzle in her lap. But the train was too dark for her too see anything on the page, so she had kept looking out the window. And it was then that she saw Him.
His gaze unnerved her. It seemed as though he could see right through her clothes to her bare flesh, and through her flesh to her wildly pounding heart. She caught her breath with a strangled gasp, nearly choking as she realized the vague memory of truth reflected in his body, the truth she had dreamed about for years and molded and fashioned in her imagination ever since she was a young girl. He was the man she had dreamed about at night while tossing and turning on her single bed, the man she had written pages and pages about in her diaries. She had seen certain features of him reflected on the faces of many men, both living and dead, but never had she seen anyone so complete, so utterly perfect, so ultimately fulfilling every chimera she had ever entertained. She felt a rush of adrenaline in her chest; sweat prickled under her arms and across her back. Her whole body seemed to throb with anticipation. He was beautiful. No, he was absolutely perfect, the epitome of every longing and desire she had ever had. And he was looking at her, watching her, standing all by himself on the dark, crowded platform. People were walking around him like he didn’t exist, talking and smoking and pulling their luggage on trolleys behind them. Was she the only one who could see him?
Emily quickly looked around, gathering her thoughts in vain as she sensed his torrid eyes, blue as still water, swallowing her up. She checked herself—she had seen handsome men before; why was this man any different? Soon the train would be moving again and he would be left there forever. No matter how she felt about him now, she would remember it for about a day, and then it would be as though she had never met him, never even seen him. Her mind and imagination would move on to other things. There was no reason to fall head over heels in love with a stranger! She was on business; she had a job and a future to attend to. This was no time for girlish fantasies.
Her feet were hovering over the floor, unsure, while her eyes drank in his image until he was all she could perceive through all 5 senses. She gazed at his red t-shirt and the dark washed blue jeans clinging to the long, hard contours of his body, the silver cross on a chain around his neck, the lines of veins in his tanned hands. She felt the softness of his thick golden hair, the warmth of his skin, the gentle, rhythmic pressure of his heart inside his chest. She could smell his cologne, embedded in his clothes, lingering about his personage like a sacred cloud and sending a rush of saliva to her throat. She stepped off the train and went towards him.
He waited for her as she approached, arms hanging calmly at his sides, his eyes calmly gazing at her. His eyes…his eyes! They were the most beautiful shade of blue she had ever seen, deep and sparkling, framed by thick, sandy lashes. The wind from the speeding trains caught a wisp of his wavy blond hair and smoothed it back across his forehead. She straightened her jacket, threw back her shoulders, measured her walk with long, steady steps. He was watching her every move, and she didn’t want to look too eager, though her heart was ready to burst through her chest with longing. The bellowing train engines were overpowering, shaking the entire depot, but she was deaf to it. All she could do was stare, her brain racing for an explanation, something she could say, some way to justify leaving practically her entire livelihood for a moment to look at this man, to make sure he was really real.
He was real. She felt his warm breath brush her face, saw the steady throb of a pulse in his throat, noticed the slow twitching of his fingers at his sides. “Whom are you looking for?” the man asked, softly. His teeth were white as milk, his low, husky voice sending tremors of pleasure down her sides. She half-laughed, grasped nervously at her purse, dry tongue groping for a sound. “I’m…I’m…I’m looking for you.”
He stared down at her, calmly, contemplatively, searching through her very soul. His finely sculpted lips formed a single word. “Why?”
Emily picked at a thread on her jacket, embarrassed. “I-I don’t know. I think I’ve seen your face before…somewhere…”
“Where?” His beautiful eyes invited her to go on.
“You…you look like someone I dreamed about once, someone I knew somehow without actually meeting him,” Emily stuttered. “But I do know you…I’ve seen your face so many times—”
“—In your imagination,” he interrupted gently. “Every boy you’ve ever had a crush on, every movie star you’ve ever liked, every romance novel you’ve ever read—I’m him, aren’t I?”
“Yes!” Emily gasped. “I’ve written pages and pages in my diary about you, and so many stories! I must have entire volumes of them at home. They’re all about you, every single one! I knew it! But how did you know?”
The man stared at her quietly, his mouth twitching into a queer smile. He reached out his hand and held it close to her cheek for a few seconds, like he was going to touch her but couldn’t quite make up his mind. Then he turned abruptly and walked away into the huge, vast darkness of the station.
Like a fool she followed him, weaving in and out of crowds, vaulting up stairs and over curbs, scrambling through busy walkways. Now she was above the station, running blindly through the streets, her eyes fixed on his broad back. Cars honked and swerved to avoid her, people shouted warnings, but she heard none of it. He was leading her into a dark alley, a back street where none of the lamplight penetrated the rapidly falling twilight. She didn’t belong here. She knew it. But she couldn’t leave now; she would lose him.
Emily caught a glimpse of his red t-shirt as he vanished into the gloom. People stared, snickered, scowled, cursed. She hurried on, conscious only of him. Cars and buses hurtled past, sending gasoline-scented air whipping into her face. Her lips formed a desperate cry. Where had he gone? She had to find him. She loved him.
It was like a movie. It was like a dream. She couldn’t move or feel or speak. All she saw was the speeding silver tram roaring by on its cold metal track. Straight and broad and shiny, the track cut through the city streets. And he was standing on it, directly in the wicked engine’s path. It was coming right at him, faster than her numb brain could process the images. His eyes locked onto hers, seeming to suck her consciousness and will and sanity out through them. He knew the tram was coming. He wanted it to come. He stood perfectly still; long, strong arms folded at his sides, his breath unlabored, his posture almost arrogant. She knew. He wanted to show her just how silly she was.
Emily screamed as the tram thundered past, grinding her teeth and bracing her ears for the sickening crunch of metal crushing bone, of cold steel tearing soft flesh, the sound of life being blotted out. But she didn’t hear it, nor did she really expect to hear it as the shuddering engine whirled past, sending her reeling backwards with a blast of warm air. When she opened her eyes there was nothing. No blood, no splintered bones, no shouts of alarm or ambulance sirens blaring. Just cold, straight, wide tracks, gliding on through the dark streets, people trotting by on their own personal errands, a few pedestrians shooting her odd looks for having screamed over nothing. She didn’t belong here. They knew it. She knew it.
Emily turned and walked away slowly, shoes rasping against the uneven pavement. The man’s image flickered behind her eyelids, but it brought her no joy, no anticipation, no rush of emotions. It was just an image, nothing more. He had never existed, and he never would. Chicago had killed her dream man. And she was glad.