I should have stayed, I think, for the hundredth time, as I pace the room waiting for my first customer of the evening, I should have stayed. Or, at least, I should not have left as I did, slipping out into the warm humid night and not turning back. I’m like some backwards Orpheus, except a girl of course, walking out of the land of the living and into the land of the dead, the netherworld that was once my home, and leaving fair Eurydice behind without a backwards glance so that she (he, him) would disappear entirely. Only he didn’t disappear, I did, and he still haunts me here. Oh, my education’s showing, a great an inconvenience as a panty line or a massive zit. You see, I’m smarter than I make out, but I left that behind when I ran away from home; smarts are a liability on the streets. So are scales, but they’re easily hidden by a beanie, sure gets you odd looks in summer, but hey everyone just thinks bad hair day or acne, not mutant. And this is just another disguise, the voice, the attitude, everything. A disguise that’s like an old sweater too comfortable to trash, what was it Logan said, oh yeah, act like a whore, get treated like one.
That’s why I’m back here. I couldn’t shake the disguise loose, rather wouldn’t really, it was too comfortable, told myself it kept me safe from troubles and pain. Problem is; I was wrong. Really wrong. Oh God I’ve screwed up my entire life, wrong. I got a happy ending handed to me on a plate and I screwed up, wrong. I would say majorly wrong, but then I’d be showing my roots. Ha, made a funny. Pity there’s no one to laugh.
You see, I should have stayed and if I hadn’t I at least should’ve stuck around for Xavier, every girl needs a sugar daddy, and now I can think of the perfect plan, get him to stick up the moolah and get me an office, and a career in therapy for rich bitches and neurotic executives would be the result. Another happy ending royally screwed up by daddy’s little princess. The problem was daddy didn’t keep enough of an eye on Lancelot of the Lake and he wasn’t interested in Guinivere anyway…
I’m just making things worse. Never look back, never turn round, that’s what I should do, be a perfect Orpheus, and don’t look back to what was or what might have been. Live for the present, carpe the diem, as they say in intellectual circles.
Which brings us back to now. And I’m standing in the scabby apartment in Pittsburgh, waiting for my eight o’clock. Looking around the room, staring at the wooden laths behind the peeling plaster, the roach motel quivering on top of the icebox in the kitchen, the sofa in the middle of the room and the chair beside it, the only furniture in this room besides the hat stand, a tawdry counterfeit of my dream. It’s all an act, of course, it’s not even real, just a device for getting the client interested. What’s his name today? Oh yeah, Gainsborough, now that’s an alias if I ever heard one, a nom de plume, a pseudonym. Oops, got smart again. Gotta stop it.
I think. I’m not Orpheus, I’m Eurydice. You know it wasn’t Orpheus looking back, that sent Eurydice back to hell, back to the underworld, he did all the right things, he was innocent, she ran back because she was safe there, she couldn’t die there, every day was no different from the last, she was safe in the land of the dead, safe from all the bad things that could happen. It was only later, when she returned to her unchanging sanctuary, that she realised she had lost the love of her life, that was the sacrifice she paid, life itself, all that made life worth living. He would have loved her regardless, unconditionally, alive or dead; but it was she who rejected him by retreating back to her safe and lifeless prison. It’s my story I’m telling in the language of my childhood, in the legends I heard then and only really understand now.
It’s only now that I see the bars of my prison. That I haven’t quite ran back to the place I came from, the place he lead me from, never ever looking back. It’s all gone, the trappings of safety and comfort, gone up in flames and reduced to ashes. All gone. Everyone dead, Madame Drache, the green girl…everyone, that’s what they mean by sole survivor. I’ve realised how far I was kept from the realities of this life… the protection rackets, the policemen on the take, the malodorous pimp with the greying afro and bling bling flaking gold paint… how I’ve trapped myself beyond escape…
The doorbell rings. Odd, the client hasn’t just walked in, that’s what they usually do, they’re not the sort to respect a girl’s privacy, especially as they’re paying by the hour and not adverse to walking in and watching the floor show. “Come in, the door’s open,” I call out trying to sound confident and sultry.
The man walks in, wearing a long over coat and fedora that hides his face entirely. I was bang on, we’ve hit pseudonym country. He doesn’t want to be recognised. Smart guy. I mean it, while I’m not the blackmailing type, I doubt that the guy I rent the flat off is so scrupulous, there could be cameras in the lightswitches for all I know. “Mysterious type, huh?” I say trying to keep my cool, “Let’s have the hat off then, at least, I need to see your face to get the best results with my mutant mojo.”
A hand reaches up oddly to the brim of the hat and lifts it up and forward and before I have time to take in the face with a flick of the wrist the hand propels it through the air to hang on the hatstand by the door. I’m amazed, I can’t think of anything to say, and part of the reason is that face, there’s something so familiar about it, the sharp firm chin, the dimple above it, even the tangle of black hair upon his head produces the strangest feeling of deja-vu. I’ve never seen the guy in my life.
I’m silent. No mutant tongue action here. I don’t know what to think.
Then the world explodes. All with one word from those oddly familiar lips, “Stacey,” they say.
Everything changes, as I recognise the voice, those at once harsh and sweet tones, “Kurt? Whose face are you hiding behind?” my voice sounds small and afraid unable to voice the one question I truly want to ask.
“Why my own, o most fair of damsels, do you not recognise me? That is but a small matter to correct.” And the false face is gone, replaced by the one I know and then the statement makes perfect sense to me, except for the colouring, it is the same face, the eyes are crowned by the same impressive eyebrows, but they’ve changed to something stranger and more beautiful.
I think a moment, “Image inducer?” I ask, remember what I had been shown of the X-men’s amazing collection of high technology, where the phrase “out of this world” was more appropriate than usual.
“Not exactly. Magic.” He smiles somewhat uneasily.
“Magic?” Colour me confused.
“I’m not exactly the man you remember. He wasn’t really real, he was an illusion created by the Church Of Humanity as part of their insidious plans. But, I think that part of him that was real loved you more than his heart could bear and that was the key to the lock which set me free. You don’t exactly know me, you just knew someone who in some ways was rather like me. Yet, he was and still is part of me and I want… you to… no I can’t make you do anything… I want to get to know me… that’s the real me I’m talking about” and then his voice descended into fearful confusion terrified of how I might react, that I might just declare all his words typical male bull.
He needn’t have worried. “You’ve been looking for me, how long?”
“Since I realised, since I became whole once more, it wasn’t just the Church Of Humanity who were the problem, there were other things that happened, I met my father again in that business on Sanctuary, that set the whole of me free. I am at one with myself for the first time in my life. I’ve got balance, everything in equal measure, all that I have, my birthright I suppose, well not quite more my liferight, everything that has made my life is here all at once. I am a Catholic, I am a gypsy, I am a gymnast, I am a saint, I am a soldier, oh and I am a witch.” he stopped there trying to gauge my reaction.
“A witch. As in rhymes with bitch?” Do I really want to return to the twilight zone?
“Yes. That meeting with my father shook a lot of things loose. Things I’d even hidden from myself. I mean, I was raised by a gypsy witch queen, and nobody ever even contemplated that I might know anything of the arts arcane. Nobody was ever tempted to ask how I could recognise the most powerful and dreadful spell known to man and yet claim ignorance.” He looked at me, “That’s the condensed version, I’d be more than glad to explain further, once we’re in a more savoury locale.”
He was speaking differently, there was more of a charm to his voice, it sounded rounder, fuller, more alive. There wasn’t that tentative edge of fear and loathing. He had changed. He even smelt different, that same smell that had alerted me to him was stronger, a touch of the alpha male was mixed in for good measure, and there were some things I still couldn’t recognise. I asked the question, I forced the point, “Why are you here?”
“I’ve come to take you away from all this.” As clichés go, that was a biggy, but I could hear, smell, taste the sincerity behind it.
I could also hear other things. The pimp was outside the room with my eight-thirty, another gentleman, it seemed. He was worried at the lack of happy noises, afraid I’d done a runner, planning to teach me a lesson. Kurt had locked the door behind him.
“But Orpheus never came back for Eurydice.” Now, that was plain stupid, I’ve dropped the mask, I asked the question my heart, my soul wants answered. Now he pulled me close into his arms as his tail looped back to retrieve his hat from the stand, “Yes, but Orpheus was a loser, he just went and sang and screamed, when I nearly lose somebody, I go out and do something about it.”
There is a thumping bass beat as the guys outside throw themselves against the door. The accompaniment is the creaking and splintering of the wood. It won’t hold out for long.
As Kurt holds me in his arms, enfolds me in his long trenchcoat, embraces my waist with his tail at once gentle and firm; I have one more question to ask, “Why Gainsborough?” And he speaks to me gently as the door shears from the frame and crashes into the room, “Once upon a time, I met a very wise woman, she was convinced that it was my name.” And then we are gone, surrounded by wisps of purple smoke, as the men run into the room.