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Day of the X
A short story
The graffiti was what drew Marjorie's attention first, stark as it was. Mutant X, it said. Just those two words. Wasn't that an American television show? Something that ripped off Marvel comics, took the bits it liked and threw away the rest.
Mutant X. She soon realized, though, that the graffiti was everywhere, as if in this alien city it meant something more than that, some gang allegiance, perhaps? Or perhaps there really were mutants here, hiding their abilities under a cloak but venturing out just far enough to make these marks. This assertion of identity.
A shiver ran through her that was not, quite, from the eastern European cold. The bridge was the center of the city, it drew everything towards it, and she supposed she would see even more of it there. Only from the bridge, though, could she avoid looking at the bridge. Looking at what floated above it, the slowly rotating disk suspended above the roadbed. It was some kind of nightclub. The UFO Club. Because it looked like one. Named in English, as so much was here, the true speech of Slovakia subsumed, pushed to one side. Tourists were a lifeblood here, and she found herself walking across the bridge as night faded.
The club was open and perhaps she could find some good company there. Some man with whom she could forget the second ticket, the ticket that had not been used. Forget why she should not have come, yet it was an escape. An escape from Pat's infidelities, from him entwined with that other woman, her blonde-fair skin bright against his deep tan. She had found them, and she had taken the tickets and walked out.
She had thought of throwing them at him, telling him he should take his hussy, and the elevator carried her up above the bridge, up and out into the club. It was almost empty, too early in the evening for more than a handful. Amongst that handful, a white-haired man, smoking a cigar. Nobody in Eastern Europe had ever heard of a non-smoking sign. Pat would have hated that, he called them cancer sticks and coffin nails. Much good avoiding the cigs had done him, she thought. But then, she supposed it was better to be a live loser, entwined with other women. There had been more than one. He had admitted that, confessed it, and the man looked up from his cigar.
Something about him that was not quite right, and she saw it again, the symbol. X. It could not mean what she thought it meant. It could not mean there was reality in the myth, the bright four color pages. X. On his cigar case. A gang. It had to be, or it was more than that, some power that owned this city. Some underworld power, drifting through the depths of the Danube.
If there was an underworld power, it would be here, surely, here in this dark place where the strobe lights brightened, but not quite enough, where the daylight faded outside the windows. The city below them, turning slowly, first the Medieval city then the Communist apartment blocks. Square and Soviet. More like barracks, from the outside, than anything one would call home.
The man with the X beckoned to her, but he was not her idea of an exciting time. Money, yes, money floated around him like an aura. So, though, did age.
He beckoned again, his face hardening, and she knew she should not say no, and she wanted it to be day again. She should not say no, but she wanted to flee. The day was still there, the last vestiges of it. She swallowed the sunlight. All day, the X, following her, now following her into the night. It had been a day of the X, and he wanted her. She knew that, sensed it, felt it. Knew what would happen if she said no, and her resolve fading. His eyes drew her, pulled her towards him, a magnet.
In her mind's eye, the cops came, in reality, they were absent. The barkeep, ignoring them, cleaning a glass. The same glass, over and over, and the man's fingers drumming on the table.
Impatient, claiming her with his eyes, she drifted over, seeking only escape from him and what he meant and represented. Or perhaps seeking him and what he represented, for the marriage certificate still bound her to Pat, even though her finger no longer carried a ring.
The X cigar case, it drew her eye. "Mutant X."
"A folly. But a useful one. They long to be different and they seek to change. What do you seek?"
She reached her hand to his. "A man." But that was not what she sought, in truth. She sought revenge.
She sought payback, and this was a man all about payback, and in the end, the X marked the spot she wanted to be. For now. Even as part of her knew she could never escape.