Friday night, Nick cranks up his Spotify playlist, a plethora of Tchaikovsky. The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Eugene Onegin.
He’s home on Friday, he’s twenty-six, but he can party.
Nick opens the curtains halfway as other partiers begin streaming up the street. Partygoers with their own networks of friends, friends whose phones ping with texts and inside jokes. Partygoers marching to hidden gatherings, to gatherings planned weeks, even months in advance.
He dances about oak floors, wine glass in hand filled with Merlot. A good blend of promise and bitterness. He drifts about empty floors, imagines people watching his shadow moving about. They are transfixed by graceful motion, a crowd at his door, asking to join. Nick welcomes them, shepherding them into his small spaces with oak floors. They welcome him in return.
Welcome, what a word. A word accompanied by greetings and stories of the world. Nick hasn’t heard that word in some time. A year, at least.
He smiles, while lush strings wash over white walls. He even conjures old friends from his program returning to this scene, casting off their professional sheens and dancing in worlds of carriage wheels and elegance. Friends who hold down jobs, friends who make new friends in their worlds of journalism, as English teachers, even as screenwriters.
But he all gets are knocks on the wall. A demand to shut the fuck up.
Nick keeps waltzing. One-two-three, one-two-three. He must maintain the rhythm. He can’t seem to find dispense tickets at the indie theater, finagle teaching positions, or maintain communication with friends. But he can dance into the past. If he were around in 1890, he thinks he’d be the life of St. Petersburg society, bowler hats, murmured French, and all.
He can party.
Another louder demand rises. Cue a threat to call the landlord, as if he is something to be banished and not a neighbor with a life.
From the street below, a partygoer shouts, “I love you, man,” to some unseen face, a buddy, a girlfriend, the words striking Nick like a pin to a balloon. The partygoer repeats the phrase, the words hovering in the autumn air like some great magnetic force. Nick thinks of friends he went to movies with, drank with, but who never uttered this phrase. He thinks of the neighbor, trying to silence him.
Nick deflates bit by bit, arms falling limp. His legs wobble and sink into the floor in slow-motion, wine shattering.
Partygoers keep marching outside, rhythms untrammeled. Laughter, the clickety-clack of footsteps. Nick turns on the heater, even the TV.
But the noise rises. Clickety-clack, laugh, clickety-clack, laugh, an f-bomb, funny and unabashed.
Meanwhile, pieces of glass shimmer on Nick’s floors, so small, precise, irreparable.
He begins to shovel pieces into a dustpan. Turns off the Tchaikovsky, shame rising to him. Tries to brush aside those words. I love you, man. I love you, man. With paper towels, he takes to the floor, tries to wipe away the wine stains.
Nick wipes, wipes, focusing on the floor. All the while, he murmurs those words. I love you, man, I love you, man.
They’re just empty phrases, he tells himself. They must be.
Nick wipes on, paper towel declaring war on the spot, on that empty floor.
I love you, man.
Things will come out. They must. Maybe he’s just overthinking things.
But the wine stains trickle, their meandering journey hardening, settling, a deep, red, indelible mark.