André could feel it all, the kind of feeling that ran so deep it risked drowning itself in the pulsing of marrow, sinew and blood. The air was moist and thick around his body. His red shirt, sleeveless and ribbed, was sealed taut against his molded chest with a sweaty glue, some of it his own, the rest acquired at random from inside the club.
The warmth of summer had finally returned from its frigid sojourn in the skies of winter, and with its return the Village was booming again, alive with the ripple of smooth muscle and the glitter of stunning boyish faces. The whisper of sex was hot on the air, the night afire with the thrum of virility.
André laughed to himself for a second, lighting a cigarette between his lips while his friends garnered a sampling of phone numbers. His thoughts were slightly muddledcoloured as they were by the vodka’s vibrant dye but the irony of the suggestion didn’t elude him. He took a drag of his smoke and glanced briefly at the men surrounding him.
The music was still pounding somewhere behind them in the darkness. More clubbers were pouring out the doors, some seeking air, others nicotine, some a quick way home: to sex, to bed, to sleep. Somewhere a few blocks over a cop car screamed past.
Maybe we should head home, André suggested tiredly, flicking cigarette ash to the pavement below. When the whir of the music, the adrenaline of sexy bodies, and the magic of inebriation began its inexorable ebb, there was little left for the socialite, only the terrifying residue of fatigue, loneliness and self-contempt. Like after a withdrawn tide, dead things were left behind to litter the sand.
The others agreed reluctantly. They reassembled on the pavement, marveling at the day’s successful revelry. Taxis and cars began to flow again. Friends and strangers were collected alike and whisked off into the dizzying darkness, disoriented and mellowed at once by the tender embrace of drunkenness.
André led his friends in a criss-crossing amble down the street. Most of the street lights had dimmed by this point; store owners had long since retired; bars were boarding up for the night. As they made their steady pace down the length of the road, the crowds began to disperse, pairs and groups drifting into the darkness of the urban grid.
Ahead in the growing darkness, two glowing red orbs pierced the inky fog. A few more steps confirmed suspicions: a car was pulled flush with the curb, its windows rolled open. The pale glow of a lit cigarette glimmered from the passenger seat.
”Hey!” a nondescript voice called.
The group stopped.
One of the boys walked over to the car curiously. André heard them exchange some brief words. Random notions were making their fleeting passage through André’s fractured thought process, the mirrors of smoke, hormones and drugs scattering a formerly organized synaptic firing. He stepped toward the car.
”Forget it !” André’s friend shouted at the stranger in the car, obviously irritated. He rejoined the group of friends and they took a few steps down the street.
André remained beside the car.
His grey eyes were wide with interest. The world was spinning now; up had begun its age-old merging with down; cold became warm; wet baked itself dry; fear became calm; and peace melted into terror. A split second, a shout from behind, André looked up, saw the canister pointed in his face, felt the spray .
Tires squealed; the night exploded with heat, flames, agony. Tears streamed down his face. His eyes were throbbing. Feeble attempts to open them were met only with more suffering. His lips sizzled with the sensation. He could feel the sands of fire chiseling their callous fissures into his neck. The lobes of his ears seemed to enlarge with the burning.
”Holy shit!” he heard someone scream. ”It’s fuckin’ pepper spray!”
The squeal of tires and roar of pistons faded into the distance, some of his friends hot in pursuit.
For André, the world became a confusing tangle. Surpassing even this sensation of fiery hell made carnal, there was the horrific knowledge of the action. The pain seared him on a level far deeper than any spray could ever have reached. The bitter knowledge of such misplaced, misguided, misunderstanding hatred swelled within his soul.
Like before any storm, there was an ephemeral instant of absolute calm. He could feel one of his friends holding his hand, sobbing in quiet compassion. Beyond that, there was only silence.
Lying on the pavement, clutching his face in agony, André could hear only one thing : above his head, a flag was flapping in the gentle breeze. Its quiet dignity, so sane in the midst of such chaos, brought a smile to his scarlet lips. The dance of the pride rainbow continued for a few seconds until its mystery was overwhelmed by the cyclone of sirens and the pain.
Before he was carried away, André smiled a final time. Without the storm, there could be no rainbow. Each brilliant shade, from blood red to noble purple, spoke of a sky torn and ravaged by chaos. But when the storm passed, when the air grew crisp and clear, the rainbow would arc its splendour across the sky, its colourful tears a testament to the compassion and wonder of human diversity.