“On the walls of the [afterparty]
only the shadows are the truth.”
Leda invites me back to her place; I let Jeremy tag along. We walk away from The Guvernment, the club that shielded us from morning. A night spent in the ocean-commotion of the crowd; two-steppers, synced by the four-four groove that pounded into our chests. I worshipped at the altar of newfound sounds while pedestaled women danced above me as they twirled glowsticks into flashing spheres around their goddess bodies. Now, the sun shines above me like a stuck strobe, my cosmic pupils in a half-contracting battle with the morning light. I watch Leda wait to hail a cab while my methylene bloodstream pumps clean.
Jeremy pulls an empty Ziploc bag from his pocket. “I sold them all, Cliffy, I made a fuckin’ killing.” He winks at Leda, but she doesn’t notice. “Enough about business. You think this chick’s down or what?” He puts his arm around my neck.
“Maybe,” I say, but I know this isn’t true. Not Leda. I watched her dance her way into idolatry in front of every man in that club. Swatting away every male gaze until she found me dry-heaving on a couch in the back. She dedicated the rest of her night to me, resting my head on her lap, pouring water into my mouth; she caressed my comedown. What compelled her to invite me back is a mystery to me. She said she wanted to listen to some beats while our highs wore off, maybe she looks for more than that, maybe with me, but with the way her eyes roll whenever Jeremy speaks, I know he doesn’t stand a chance.
A cab stops on the curb. Jeremy and I sit in the back. Leda hesitates, and then decides to sit in the front.
“We’re going to Yonge and Wellesley,” Leda says to the driver.
Jeremy leans into me, nudging my rib with his elbow. “Oh shit, dude, that’s the Village, you think she’s a lesbian? Do you know if she has a friend?”
Leda turns around and stares at Jeremy, then turns to me and says, “Does he have to come with us?”
“Yes,” Jeremy says, “Cliffy and I are a package deal.”
Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” plays on the radio. Leda turns it up and ignores us.
We dance in our seats, still riding our highs, as The Guvernment sinks into Lake Ontario, behind us.
Reach out, and touch faith.
Leda spends the ride to her apartment with her eyes closed, dancing to all of the pop hits that come on the radio. As the driver takes us down Church Street, the unequivocal intro to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” plucks its elastic-band bassline into the cab’s speakers. Leda laughs and pauses. Her eyes remain closed while she bobs along with this infectious loop. I judge her for a moment, but seeing her dance reminds me why I should try to forget what’s funny about a single spun so many times that the needle should be repulsed by the wax. Sometimes we should try to remember why these songs are a force, why we begin dancing before we even realize what is playing. As if for the very first time, I hear Madonna’s whiney vocals soar over the dated production that sounds like a flip-phone ringtone; I dance along with Leda.
Jeremy stares out the window. I’m amazed that his blond coif is still sculpted to perfection, his arms much more bulbous than the spaghetti sticks coming out of my tank top. He chuckles at the view of the village. Rainbow flags hang from each unlit streetlamp. Men hold hands with men, women with women, and women with men, too. There is a resounding acceptance in these full-spectrum streets that is relative to perception. Leda must see that Jeremy is ugly on the inside. What he sees as jocular, I know as joyous.
I lie back and feel as if I may melt, resolve myself into a goo that will caulk into the fabric lines of the taxi’s cracked leather seats. My body hums like a low-leveled Sybian; erect flesh in this interconnected world of one. My blood transports a chemical flame through my nerves and into my brain. My skin tingles. My muscles unclench, an expunging of toxic stress akin to post-ejaculatory bliss. My mind computes these sensual pleasures while my open window frame entertains me. My hand rides the wind while the breeze weaves through my arm’s hairs, snakes through my goose bumps. What pleasure, what joy the future holds with my newfound Leda.
The cab halts at a stoplight, Jeremy scrolls on his phone, Leda still bobs. Beside me—three arm’s lengths from touch—a toothless, bearded busker sings “What a Wonderful World” in front of a nickel-sequined section of the sidewalk. Two giant breasts bulge the chest of a heathered grey shirt, breasts that are separated by a studded leather strap holding the passionately strummed acoustic in place. A gypsy-dressed man gravitates into my vision, while gyrating a hula-hoop into his hip’s orbit. He shimmies his sleeve’s jingles into tambourines. For a moment, the cab’s turning signal clicks in sync with this curb-side symphony, but only for one bar, before the driver kicks the car back into motion, thrusting us deeper into the Village, interrupting this moment of stasis.
The cab turns left and brakes on a back road, springing Leda’s bobbing head forward. She shakes her head and opens her eyes. Jeremy reaches into his pocket and pulls out a twenty, but Leda beats him to it; she gives the driver her credit card.
I thank Leda for paying. She gives me a smile. “No, thank you,” she says, “I really don’t like being alone these mornings.”
I point at Jeremy. “I guess I’ve never had that problem with this guy around.”
Her sparkling, shadowed eyes are wide, sad, clear as centuries. “You can tell yourself you get used to it, but you don’t.”
She waits for a response that I am unable to empathically give; the idea of loneliness hangs in the back of my mind like a heroin high, something I’ve only heard about, but too afraid to try.
Leda leads us toward the front of her apartment complex. I stop to view the building. Four pillars hold up a white marble façade; it looks like it was a recent add-on to the complex. The morning sun glimmers in the marble, blinding me, forcing my sight to the side of the building; its worn bricks are rich with repeating, carved designs of squares outlining sculptures of two birds in flight holding up a man over water with their beaks. These designs are faded, but they take me.
Jeremy runs his hands over the marble with his head down, “Damn, Leda, you’ve got a nice place here.”
“Thanks. I like the location more than anything.”
“Where do you work?” I ask.
She hesitates. Her vague hand hovers her key over the lock. She turns around and asks, “Are we really prepared to know each other in that other, dirty world?” She opens the door and walks into the bottom floor of the apartment complex.
When she gets a good distance ahead of us, Jeremy gives me an OK sign by touching his index finger with his thumb; I then realize he is making a three with his hand.
I shake my head.
He grits his teeth and whispers, “It’s two-to-one, Cliffy. We don’t have many other options.”
Leda waits at her door. She sees Jeremy’s angry face. “You guys are weird,” she says as she lets us in.
The apartment is dimly lit due to the tall condo buildings on either side of her complex, but light finds a way to beam through two small windows.
The living room is almost bare. It has a futon and a rocking chair with a glass coffee table that holds an empty bag of Lays Salt and Vinegar chips. Leda motions for us to sit on the futon as she picks up the bag. “Well, that’s a little embarrassing,” she says, as the bag crumples in her hand and disappears into her bedroom.
In the corner, I’m surprised to find a DJ setup. The gear is placed on an old multileveled office desk. She has the same setup that I always see online: a two channel Pioneer mixer, with two Traktor devices—an Audio 6 soundcard, and an X1 controller. This was the current standard for most of the top DJs in the scene, Traktor’s mass-produced endorsements, the Air Jordans of rave. This setup was the electronic equivalent to the three-tom drum kit. With the right effects, with enough compression, enough reverb, a good producer can make it sound like Neil Peart is lashing at his kit in your living room.
Leda comes back hugging two fuzzy orange blankets.
“This is quite the setup,” I say.
“Oh, it does the job, I guess.” She walks toward her windows.
“You never mentioned that you were a DJ.”
“I’m not, Cliff, I’m just pressing play on some songs.”
I look back at the equipment. “There’s a lot more things to push on this than a play button.”
Leda shakes her head and squeezes the orange blankets tight. “First thing’s first,” she says, ignoring me. She drapes each blanket over the only two windows in the living room, pinning them to the wall with thumbtacks.
The room goes dark. Leda has blocked the sun.
She illuminates the room with a strobe that flashes fiery colours of red, orange, and yellow. She turns off the light, but leaves a ceiling fan crackling above us.
She walks into her DJ corner and opens her laptop, the Mac power-sound chimes in while she reaches into her back pocket and pulls out a dime bag of yellow crystals. “Do you guys mind helping me kill this? I don’t like having it around during the workweek.”
She pours the crystals on the coffee table, using a Humber College print card to chop it up and separate it into three small lines. “One last bump before the comedown?” she asks.
I hesitate. “I’ve never railed this stuff before.”
She smiles. “It’s the same feeling, just hits you quicker, doesn’t last as long.”
“We’re down,” Jeremy says as he rolls up his twenty and hands it to Leda.
“So, you went to Humber?” I ask.
She tightens the roll of the bill while tilting her head and squinting. “Graphic design, class of oh-eight. That’s all you get.”
We huddle around the coffee table on our knees. Leda sniffs in her share with the sound of a snake’s hiss. Her head pops up as she hands me the bill.
I take in my line through my right nostril, a toxic snot-rocket in reverse. A bitter drip numbs my throat. My right eye waters, my brain aches, and my jaw wiggles as if it has hopes of escaping from my face.
Jeremy rails his line and immediately springs up into the middle of the living room. He takes two-steps then jumps up into a heel-clicking jig.
One last shot of adrenaline shoots the reserve supplies of serotonin into my brain. Paralyzing bliss. I’m happy, comfortable. I lie down on the futon while Jeremy dances behind me in the silent room. I stare at his outline in the lucent fire that the strobe spazzes onto the wall. Jeremy’s shadow dances with a knee-high kick, looking like a goose-stepping variation of the running man.
Away from the strobe’s flare, in the side of my vision, I see a sliver of Leda’s silhouette putting on a headphone necklace. A deep tech beat adds a bounce to the room. Leda sparks a smoke hanging out the side of her mouth, embers glowing through grey ash. I rock on the futon, swaying along with any of my body parts that can move.
Leda taps her laptop, increasing its brightness, making her face boom with a soft gleam in the darkness. This new light makes her lined eyes look like TV static—black-white pixel pupils. Her wet hair has the dark-brown glow of a dimly lit lampshade.
The way she selects her tracks is captivating: sparse grooves, kicks, hi-hats and snares, injecting so much soul into each track with so little. Some tracks have whispers, some have soft echoing chants, but these merely build to her afterhours climax. Each song drags through the room dictated by a slow, haunting tempo, a tempo that teaches me patience. Her soundscape is minimal, abstract; I dance to decipher the noises, riding along with Leda’s sonic narrative, entering her warped world.
The few moments I’m able to examine the silhouettes, Leda lightly bobs with her head down, she must be staying focused on her equipment, twisting Wizard-of-Oz knobs, adding effects at any possible moment. She occasionally looks up, quickly, like she keeps a secret inside of her booth, doesn’t want one of us to sneak up and see that she controls us with an unknown hoax behind the unbroken fourth wall.
She bounces with swagger to the beats that she plays. Her body moves in a way that transcends the concept of effort. Every detail makes the whole of her beauty incomprehensible, like one peak in a sprawling mountain landscape, like one sun-sparking ripple on top of the ocean, like one wondrously architected building in the streets of Paris.
A few tracks into the set, Leda takes me with a cut that shrieks a high-pitched siren through the room. One note holds high, while a bassline pulses within me, deep. The mids are filled by percussive noises that sound like plops in water, boot-scrapes on wood, and faint staccato screams of distant men. My mind is lifted into the terrestrial paradise Leda has created. The mental journey of these loops turn over in my head like a Zen Koan, transmitting an inexplicable wisdom that I try to comprehend while mesmerized by Jeremy’s shadow, still dancing in a mosaic of flame.
I desire to see the source of the sound. I use my remaining strength to sit up straight on the futon. I turn my head and see Jeremy has shuffled over in front of Leda, facing her as she distorts the track. Delays, reverbs, kicking up into the sound, snake charming Jeremy’s swiveling two-step. I can see her looking into his eyes, briefly, laughing at his dance moves. She looks over, sees me staring, raises her eyebrows with tight lips, and quickly looks back down at her equipment. The music distracts me from the scene.
Jeremy dances his way over to me, whispers into my ear over the music.
“She’s so fuckin’ hot,” he says. “Start dancing, man.”
“I don’t know,” I say. “I’m fine down here. The music’s amazing.”
“Come on, Cliffy, don’t pussy out now. This is our chance.”
I shrug. “Man, she’s been focused on the set this whole time. I think she’s only down to spin.”
He laughs. “How high are you right now?”
Leda clears her throat. “I guess I’m boring you guys?”
Jeremy laughs and points at me. “This guy just won’t shut the fuck up,” he yells.
Leda holds up her iPhone. 8:57 AM. “It’s late anyway,” she says, shrugging and raising her index finger; she plays her last song. A dark, minimal groove with an industrial knock that echoes on every eighth bass kick, accompanied by a warping synth that sounds like a haunted musical saw; one final trip before bed.
I now examine Jeremy’s dancing away from his shadow. His eyes are closed as his hands are held up on either side of his head; his dance is a left-right slide that makes him look like a sneaking villain in a slapstick comedy.
Before the song is finished, Leda lights up another smoke, leaves the homemade DJ booth and sits beside me. On an exhale, she says, “I didn’t expect much human contact after the club, but DJing to two dudes and a strobe light may be my new favourite thing.” She laughs as she passes me her smoke.
The outro of the song draws out, leaving a bare, looping groove to end the night with a mechanical kick, hat, and snare. We still dance.
“Have you done this before?” I ask.
“Not very often,” she says, “Some guys can be creeps.” She points at Jeremy.
“He gets that a lot. He didn’t say anything too offensive, did he?”
She shrugs. “Nothing I haven’t heard before. I just ignored him, focused on my gear.”
But she smiled, why is she hiding it? I change the subject. “It really was a great set,” I say.
“Ah, it’s just other people’s music.”
“But you had me.”
She squints. “I didn’t know you were alive half the time.”
I laugh. “I was listening, it was perfect. It was an experience.”
Leda gives a confused smile. “It’s just an excuse to keep partying, but the music is part of that experience—I guess.”
The song stops. The dancing stops. Silence fills the room.
“Back to the real world,” Leda says.
Jeremy walks over. “Dear Christ, Leda.” He looks her up and down. “That was nothing short of incredible.” He holds out his hand.
Leda stares blankly at him, says, “It doesn’t have to be over,” as she tilts her head. She winks and smiles at Jeremy, motioning toward her bedroom.
My heart palpitates.
Jeremy beams. “May I?”
Leda nods, and says, “I’ll be there in a minute.”
Jeremy zig-zags his arms, doing an Egyptian-style dance into her bedroom; he leaves the door open, spreading some sunlight on the floor of the living room.
“Is this a joke?” I ask.
“He’s super dumb, but he’s gorgeous, so he’ll do.”
“You said he was a creep, you talked like you hated him.”
“Well, yeah, but that has something to do with what’ll go on in there, I guess.” She stands up, facing me, the three bulbs of the strobe sparking light behind her.
“But, I—I don’t know. I thought we had a thing.”
She bites her tongue, looks down, and tucks her thumbs in the waistline of her shorts. “Well, you can go in and kick him out of there if you want.”
“What the fuck?” is all I can say. The morning light spilling from her bedroom forces my eyes closed. I lower my head.
Leda giggles, walks past me, running her hand through my hair. “We’ll party again, soon, Cliff. Get some sleep. You obviously need it. I’m glad you enjoyed my set.” She walks into her bedroom, closes out the sunlight.
A strobe light is a sorry sight when there is no music, when music is taken away from you. I try to enjoy the twilight of my high, soothed by the rhythms of the ceiling fan’s sporadic crackles. Dancing, still, to Leda’s music, omnipresent in my head. I curl up on the futon and stare into the wall, thankful that the shadows have escaped; I find comfort in knowing there is nothing left to complicate the synthetic fervour that sets this room ablaze.
I’m not sure if I sleep, or if my eyes are just closed. I’m not sure if I dream, or if synaptic storms project hallucinations on my eyelids. Whether I’m awake or not, the final comedown begins to infect my thoughts, hidden ghosts simultaneously twanging in my head, every dislike for myself inexplicably illuminated in a moment of rational clarity. I don’t know how much time passes until I hear Leda’s door opening.
She sniffles, wiping her face as she walks toward me wearing pajama shorts that are blue with white anchors on them. I hear Jeremy snoring in her bedroom. She lies beside me; I feel her wet cheeks nestling into my neck. “Is it okay if I sleep here for a bit?” She asks with her voice breaking. “I’m sorry, Cliff.” She holds me tight.
I wrap my arm around her and rest my hand on her soft shoulder. “I just don’t know why you’d invite me back here.”
“I said I’m sorry, Cliff; we didn’t do anything, honest. You make me feel safe, that’s why. Can we just drop this for now and get some sleep, please?”
I relax and hold her tight. My body electric as her grip around my chest loosens. A tempest is within me, but as I hear Leda’s weeping moans morph into soft snores, I’d do anything to keep her from waking. In that moment, I lie still, finding peace in this chaos. I turn away from the strobe light and look at Leda and I as one, a shadow on the living room wall, outlined by the flicking strobe that accents my dim morning with a burning, hopeful hue.
STEVEN SUNTRES is a recent graduate of UNB’s MA in Creative Writing program where he wrote Rave Jesus, a novel exploring tensions between cultural authenticity and commercialization in Toronto’s rave scene. “Afterparty Going,” an excerpt from Rave Jesus, is his first fiction publication. In the fall, he will be a student in Carleton University’s PhD in Cultural Mediations program. Find him on Twitter @ssuntres.