At 4 a.m. in yet another hotel room, the last dregs of the party thrusting about around her, Aria watches, content. A girl lies prostrate in the center of the bed and everyone is taking turns cramming an impossibly large dildo into her ass. There are spent nitrous canisters scattered about like artillery shells. There are spectators gaping with three-ring eyes. There are couples coiled in corners. I’m slumped in a chair by the back wall, the whole scene streaking and swelling before me.
A knock at the door.
Everyone goes silent. Aria marches to the door and flings it open. The waiter wears a starched white shirt and black bowtie, summer job, varsity crew cut. His eyes fixed hard on Aria’s forehead, her panties around her neck, her bruised knees, her body raw and glowing. He doesn’t blink.
On the tray: a platter stacked high with waffles, crispy golden brown, scoops of butter melting on top, syrup seeping down the sides and pooling beneath. We all lift our noses to the sultry haze of hot maple, low notes of cinnamon and vanilla.
Aria accepts the tray, shuts the door. The dildo wielders on the bed beckon to Aria, their fingers synchronized like a chorus line. Aria crawls onto the bed and begins to eat.
Aria eats oatmeal with chocolate sauce for breakfast. Aria’s breasts lay like soft mounds of strawberry ice cream when she’s on her back. Aria brushes her teeth with whipped cream. Some mornings, Aria feels like the rotting core of an apple, discarded by a roadside, picked over by birds and ants. But even then, she looks like fresh cherry pie. Aria has a syrup dispenser between her thighs. Everyone knows waffles are the way to Aria’s heart.
The woman was wearing a slinky black dress and a silver skull necklace that said “Amor” on it. Long, straight black hair. Red lips. She led Aria by the hand around the Summer Arts Gala in the hotel’s Presidential Suite. There was a man creating live food art on nudes. He placed slices of vegetables and fruits – avocado, strawberry, mango, radish – in overlapping rows along their bodies. Aria and the woman, her name was Elena, plucked sour cherries off the belly of one of the models with their teeth. They giggled. They wanted to eat the cucumber slices from the model’s nipples, but the artist scolded them.
“He is too serious about his art, has too many rules,” Aria complained.
“I have no rules at all,” Elena said. “Rules are for cowards. Rules are for people who lack imagination.”
Elena kissed Aria, got her red lipstick all over Aria’s face.
“Amor,” Aria said, fingering Elena’s necklace. “Delicious.”
Elena laughed quick and high like coins clattering into a glass jar.
Aria got too drunk before the night was through. Suddenly, violently. She was kissing other girls, other boys. She was staggering in the brightness of the elevator, swaying to stand up. She lost her room key and lip-gloss in the hallway. She doesn’t remember this. She doesn’t remember the rest.
Morning despair. I reach for Aria across the bed, reach to hold her but she turns away. She says it’s not me, it’s just that she’s… empty, depleted. The hotel room so thick and dark and still that all the clocks have given up. It could be 9 a.m. or it could be noon or it could be the next day… the next week. Heavy drapes shrouding all but the tiniest sliver of sunlight, chasm in the bat cave.
Aria says it’s time to stop. Go home. We need to preserve what little we have left before we’re old and battered. Before no one will look at us anymore. Before our skin is sallow and sagging, our veins an atlas of purple roadways.
She starts to cry softly, clutching her pillow like a teddy bear. I stroke her hair. Aria says, don’t worry, it’s always like this, it will pass. The first few times it was overwhelming, like all was lost. But now I know it just takes time.
I pull her to me and she doesn’t resist. I begin to fuck her slowly from behind. She’s still crying a little, but it sounds more like relief than sadness. Like a lost baby bird that’s finally found her way back to the nest.
Aria says, let’s never leave this room.
The next night was the big Christmas Gala everyone was looking forward to. The Presidential Suite was decked out with strands of silver balls, snowflake chandeliers, tea lights adrift in crystal basins. On a black marble table sat a heathen angel sculpted of ice, vodka cascading down her lizard tongue. Most people were dressed as Santas, along with a smattering of elves, reindeer, and other holiday characters.
Elena arrived late. I think it was around 11, but I’d had a lot to drink, so I can’t tell you for certain. What I do remember is she looked amazing. She was wearing a one-shouldered red dress that clung to her hips and fell just above her knees. Pale, bony knees that sparkled with glistening lotion and those remarkable collarbones, alert, prominent, like a mantle on which to place your most precious souvenirs. There Elena stood in the doorway of the suite, suffused in the soft red glow of Christmas lights coiled around the entry like the arced gate to some magical city.
She scanned the crowd, looking for Aria. By this time, the room was jammed with drunken Santas and the mood had degenerated from its earlier elegance. Elves smacked unsuspecting reindeer with paddles. A woman clad in white fur crawled around on all fours, pawing at people and mewling like a kitten. Aria was also drunk. She saw Elena but Elena didn’t see her. Noticed Elena was holding something – a silver tray bearing an enormous pile of waffles.
Aria pushed her way toward Elena, shoving past dancing Santas, stumbling Santas, kissing Santas. Then a sudden commotion. A roar of voices. Elena was now obscured by the crowd and something was soaring through the air – the platter of waffles! – sailing over Santas who stared up at it like a shooting star. Sailing, sailing for a suspended moment. Then it plummeted to the floor and a mob of Santas dove after it. Santas thrashing, grabbing, flailing about on the white carpet, red arms and legs jutting in and out. Aria was pinned against a wall. Someone had knocked her martini all over her candy cane-striped tights.
Then a hush and a sigh. A small woman rose from the center of the Santa pile. She was dripping with sweat, her red dress gashed exposing a swath of moon-colored belly.
Elena hoisted the platter of waffles, still stacked in a perfect pile, above her head, turned to Aria and whispered, “For you, mi amor.”
She took Aria by the arm and pulled her past the staring Santas, the hungry Santas. Pulled her toward the exit tangled in the red glare of the flashing crook of lights. Pulled Aria out the door, down the golden-carpeted hallway, the silent elevator, past the reception desk, the dozing late-night concierge, and out, out, out into the rippling city night.
They are all voracious. They line up to feast, mewing and growling like barely trained lions. Their mouths are frothing. They are jostling for position. You’ve never known this kind of hunger, but perhaps you have known desperation. They are stomping and rearing in the dirt. They are pounding on doors. They are waking up all the hotel’s guests, but they don’t seem to care or even notice.
Aria walks to the window of our room and pulls open the drapes. It’s dark outside, but the figures are bathed in lamplight, shadows lacerating their features into crude fragments, and she can tell right away what has happened. She can tell that these people have lost most of their senses, they can no longer see, hear, smell, or feel. All they have left is taste.
Aria opens the window and says, “Eat me.”
Elena hailed the first cab, slid into the back seat, and Aria tumbled in behind her. Through the window, they could see Santas, bruised and bloodied and torn, pouring out of the hotel, heads bowed toward the pavement.
Elena licked a tear from the tip of Aria’s nose. “Delicious,” she said.
Aria licked Elena’s nose. They laughed and licked and laughed and then they were kissing, soft and deep. Elena tasted, of course, like chocolate. Aria the rotten sweet of drunkenness. Ice cream swirl tongues and plum ripe lips and lollipop fingers. Tracing cheeks and chins and those exquisite collarbones. Riding the wind and grind of city streets as the cab sped onward toward the waffle house of everyone’s dreams.
Shana Graham is a writer in Seattle. You can find out more about her and her work at www.SUPERSHANA.com.