The conference of Young Diplomats is held in the offices of the European Bureau of Rectalocution, newly remodeled and lubed for our vital purpose. There are no walls within the complex, only a woven maze of curved glass partitions closing in on one another, occasionally opening into a conference space. Webinars stream in the center console of each office clot. I was seated at an elliptical table surrounded by suits, wearing the blue dress my mom bought to cover my tattoo. The first talk was about security standards for diplomatic housing. The speaker was a thick-necked former Marine who told us a joke about lacrosse. He said the most common point of entry in European homes was the terrace, or balcony area, and that as we choose our apartments we should always keep in mind a preference for middle floors. Middle floors would require potential assailants to repel down the face of the building and lord knows these people are probably not trained to belay.
Las Aventuras del Joven Rappel is a Spanish TV show where a balding man in drag pretends to be a teenage girl with telepathic powers. I don’t have a TV in my hotel room, but I’ve been watching it during lunch with the parking attendant. His name is Guille and he has excellent taste. We have a hash-TV barter system, and he wants to take me to his pueblo next weekend. I told him that the show reminded me of Strangers With Candy, and showed him a clip where high school kids get an assignment to write a poem about the bombing of Hiroshima. It’s supposed to be funny.
I was taking my time getting up to leave the elliptical table and feeling around in my purse for my glasses case with the last hash joint I rolled before I left Morocco. We had two hours for lunch so that we could drink our bowls of heavy cream and have one or three cigarettes to follow the wine before our nap. On the way out I spotted Helen Conway burning through a list of apartment leads on the consulate phone, speaking with a perfect lisp and gleaming her teeth at me.
Instead of opening into the outdoors like a regular, sane building, the Bureau’s only exit is into the Mar de la Tranquilidad. I assume Guille chose that name because the parking garage is more like a moon crater than any place compatible with human life, but he never really explained it. En route to the booth, I notice several Young Diplomats approaching from the periphery. Four, maybe five suits and I can’t tell because my glasses don’t reach around that far. They call my name and it upsets me that they know it, but their loser tractor beam is locked already and I’ll have to kiss each of them twice regardless. Matt Young is an amateur cartoonist who decided to grow his hair and beard until he goes home to Long Island. I made a drawing of an enormous rat stripper during the meeting and he asks me to take it out so he can show his friends. He tells them it’s “epic”. I demur and say I’m going to smoke but they want to come with me. We’re all on our way out aren’t we? I arrange my facial expression to indicate displeasure. Actually, I say, I’m just gonna stand around for a while.
I can hear that Guille is watching Alaska y Mario before I can see it. It’s a Spanish reality show about two flamboyant, aging 80s rockers. The tiny TV rests on the sill of the booth, next to an aloe plant with that turns translucent as the headlights pass through it. I do not need to ask, because I heard him chicking his lighter in his pants pocket when I came in. ¡Yo se que tienes fuego… porque soy LA JOVEN RAPPEL! Incidentally, Alaska is not her real name and that is NOT her real hair color. He puts up a sign that says REGRESO EN SEGUIDA, which is not very real either. Guille is impressed by my telepathic powers, and we walk into the interior territories of the garage.
The garage is shared between eight federal buildings in a pijo neighborhood north of the city center. Two of the buildings intentionally lean over each other at obscene angles. Europeans will not accept the problem of where to put a car, let alone how to right a building. Who made this place? is a good and impossible question to ask. Guille says it was made by God because it’s the Sea of Tranquility. We take note that each octant of the garage has a unique system of lettered and numbered markings. The diplomatic octant also has colors. At Disneyland, each parking section has a Pluto or a Donald Duck. At the airport back home they are Cowboy boots, and spurs, and cow skulls. In Europe it would be considered an insult to name a parking octant after Donald Duck. His comics have sold literally hundreds of millions of copies, and he has surpassed Jesus Christ and Santa Claus in popularity, numbers-wise. These are also the countries where instead of elves Santa has slaves in blackface. It’s my business to keep these facts safe in the inert corridors of my Young Diplomat mind.
Now we are in the silver belt. Every other column has a silver sign, until every other column has a gold sign.
We light the joint. The track lighting along the ceiling makes a grid that extends in every direction as far as I can see. I watch the lights get smaller and closer together until, at the end of my vision, they melt into bigger and bigger lights and the rows of the grid disappear, and the edges are blindingly bright. Melting vision is not a problem in the actual universe. Like the parking garage, the universe is also strewn with points of light, but they will never coalesce. The further away you look, the faster the points of light recede, and we’re moving away from them too. Faster and faster the longer we do it until they’re so far away that even when our time-machine telescopes strain their eyes, all they will find is a past moment before anything was ever created and we will be perfectly alone in the total darkness with just the sound of our own breathing to feed back in our brain. Haha, phew. Phew!
I realize now that I am being “suspiciously quiet”. It’s hard to look Guille in the eye when he stands so close to me. Maybe he’s leaning to kiss me, but I am a Young Diplomat so I blow my smoke at him instead. I look especially icy blue reflected in the window of this Volvo. But ribbons of my reflection curve over the Volvo and onto the Volkswagon and the pillars turn from gold to silver as Guille guides me back, sullen.
There is another version of the story which I will also share. In this version I also become suspiciously quiet while contemplating the expanding universe. I hear Matt Young say the word orange like a Long Islander and the sound bounces off the cars. It’s been about two hours, and we have break-out sessions with regional academics at four. Guille holds the delicate end of the joint to my face and touches my mouth. I just look at him and don’t inhale, so he drops it and hooks his two fingers under my bottom lip and then along the sides of my tongue. My head hinges like a Pez dispenser and his fingers fall from my violent, well-trained mouth. His hand hits my thigh on the way down, and I feel the spit through my nylons as they rip and give way while I’m still standing up. I’m sad because I shouldn’t have been rude to Matt Young. It’s just a beard. My ankles roll hopelessly beneath me and the little heels beneath them scratch the yellow paint on the concrete. I feel like an animal feels. When his gloved hand is on me it’s impossibly large and difficult to pinpoint. The blood he snapped off the other hand lands on the white Volvo.
There was no way of knowing what time of day it was when I came to. I dreamt that my legs were a car door, and when a hand tried to open it I slammed it over and over and over. I was in an octant with numbers but no colors.
In his lecture about personal safety, the Marine reminded us never to over-indulge. I tapped my right foot a thousand times and realized I was missing my nylons and my underwear but not my shoes. I closed my eyes. In a forest, you’re supposed to follow water when you’re lost. Streams flow downhill into larger streams, which flow into rivers, and rivers flow into people. But the Sea of Tranquility is grey all the time, the sun doesn’t rise, and the arrows on the ground don’t flow in any particular direction. I don’t remember how long it went on! I walked until I saw the blood on the Volvo, and until I remembered that public transit is so top notch in Europe that the only cars are shiny new cars, and no one who isn’t frivolous has a car. The word frivolous churned in my gut and I hated the sound of it, even when it was quiet and I was only pronouncing it in my mind. There are at least a few other words like that, and the list is constantly growing.
When I got back I saw that the aloe plant was gone and the parking kiosk was empty. I walked in late and I was brazen and no one noticed my bare legs. The boy at the elliptical table maybe saw my smeared mascara and maybe almost asked me something, but he played with his phone instead. We’re having another break, he said, so I swirled back around the revolving door like a wood bird on a cuckoo clock.