"The Electric Level" by Joseph Dante

Categories: ISSUE 04: Eleanor

The Electric Level

The alley is empty and it’s about to rain. Steam is rising from the street. Sitting here on the curb with a cigarette in hand and a heavy coat ready for the downpour, I watch a middle-aged couple walking by. Arm in arm, the woman smiles and nudges the man. He laughs and shakes his head.

I get up and follow this couple. At first, they don’t notice me. Something I’ve certainly grown accustomed to, living by myself and keeping to corners like this. Looking directly at people from afar while they pretend to look away.

They hear my steps. A stranger has invaded their space and conversation.

I speed up my pace and walk right past them. I’m sure they’re looking. For some reason, I take my left arm out of my coat pocket and flash them the metal. My limb gleams along to the sharp sliver of the moon. Maybe I want them to see something incongruent, something outside their cozy circle of matrimony. I move my shoulder up and down and it makes a clicking sound. I peek through my hand like it’s a magnifying glass. They’re already whispering.

I pretend to look past them to make sure. Of course they’re staring. It hangs off me like an anaconda skin. I stop where I am and turn away from them, taking a final drag of the cigarette. I pretend like I’m thinking about going inside the club in front of me. They finally walk past me, keeping perfectly silent as they do.

I drop the cigarette to the ground and stomp on it. I look up at the sign flashing above me: THE ELECTRIC LEVEL.

You can walk right in. No bouncer, no form of identification or special connections needed. The door closes behind me, and I’m immediately overwhelmed by the smoke and the sweat and the pounding beat of the music.

I find my way to a large couch off to the side. People are crowded around it, and there’s hardly any room to sit. I scrunch myself into the little space left over. A chubby Japanese girl is sitting beside me and perks up when she sees me. She keeps staring at me, one of her eyes milky and bulging out like a gumball. I tuck my heavy arm away.

This girl turns to her friend on the other side, tells her something I can’t make out, and the friend starts to stare as well. Her friend has dark skin and long white hair and is smoking a cigarette. She takes a drag and smoke seeps out of the thin slits in her neck.

“Dance with us?” the Japanese girl says, touching my heavy arm. She can feel the metal already, but I can’t really stop her. It sounds like a question, but she doesn’t wait for an answer. She pulls me up from the couch and all three of us go to the dance floor.

I hadn’t really noticed the crowd when I walked in. I just glanced at a blur of bodies moving to the rhythm, veiled by the smoke and the stench. But as we dance, I see who the people here really are: wild and flashing, shining and sweating, wires and cables dangling, metallic parts exposed and jutting out like bones.

We dance for a while. The Japanese girl moves her hips to the beat. She can dance, really dance, but her lanky friend with the white hair sways very awkwardly. They tell me their names: Yukimi and Yanna. They laugh and I can’t help but do the same. Yukimi says I have a big smile that’s “slightly maniacal.”

The three of us stay on the dance floor for a lot of those long songs that sometimes bleed into each other, and I eventually take notice of a kissing couple in a corner—a boy and a girl, I think—and their electricity in the shadows. There are tangled wires travelling between them, hooking them up as a shared unit of information, their thoughts pouring into each other.

I think of the couple from the alley. Walking home together, they whisper about how my heavy arm kills people or how I can’t touch anyone. But I get distracted again by that boy and girl in the corner of the club, locking lips and connecting their wires.

I leave the Electric Level early in the morning, when the club is finally unwinding. Yukimi gives me a napkin with her name, number, and a message in microscopic writing on the inside fold: Yanna thinks I shouldn’t say this, but I’m gonna: Show it to me next time. We’re all a bit broken here, Mr. Cheshire. All the mad ones are married. Let’s tangle ourselves together instead, let’s flash and flicker in a bit of neon before the signs point us in another direction.

I don’t know anything about tangling up or flashing to a pulse. My fist grinds the paper up like a machine. I look again for the sliver in the sky that lets the wrong part go naked, a vein for a vein, but it’s too blue and already gone.

--Story by Joseph Dante
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--Background & Foreground photo by Ira Joel Haber