Dante arrived at the party several hours after its beginning, and by the time he got there the house was already crowded with drunken, happy revelers. Cigarettes out front, weed and salvia in the back, and everywhere empty cans and bottles.
Dante walked through the door and Tweak was the first one to see him. “Man!” he shouted. “How the fuck’s it going?” Dante waved. Tweak abandoned his conversation, stepping away from two women and a man Dante didn’t recognize to come over and throw his arms around his friend. “What the fuck took you so long?”
“Things and stuff. Come on, man. You know these things go until three or four in the morning anyway.”
“It’s the principle of the fucking thing, man. This is a time for celebration, and every minute you spend sitting in front of your computer at home and crying into a microwave dinner is a minute you’re not spending riding the waves of change.” Tweak coughed, took a deep breath and a sip of his drink.
“Did you get it all out of your system?”
Tweak nodded, took another drink, cleared his throat. “Come talk to these girls, man. They’re college girls. Come on!”
“Dude, I don’t think–“
Tweak threw his arm around his friend and led him into the party. Someone gave him a beer, and they laughed, and they traded stories with the other party goers, and they felt good. Important. In an unfair time, in an unfair world, they had banded together to tell a nation that they would be oppressed no longer. That they were not powerless. That there was strength in numbers, and the strength of people was greater than the strength of money. There was so much in this world that wanted to devour people, but together, they could choke any beast from within its very throat. There were more demonstrations and protest planned, at colleges, outside of city halls and banks. Tweak boasted of a friend of his who had called asking for advice on how to put together a demonstration at his university.
Everyone there knew that they could do anything.
* * *
The hours passed. People left. A few more people came to replace them, but like an engine slowly running down, the energy in the party began to fade. People fell asleep on couches, on the floor. People went home, swaying and stumbling, laughing and talking. Tweak disappeared somewhere with one of the girls. Dante stood on the back porch, smoking a cigarette and nursing a bottle of tequila. The lights of the city shined all around him, and for once, they seemed hopeful. A beacon of light and promise in the darkness.
“What are you still doing here?” came a voice, soft, feminine, angry from behind him.
“Oh, Christ,” Dante thought. He turned to find Dympna standing with her arms crossed, her brows furrowed. She was dressed in a black tank top and dark jeans, her black hair cut shorter than Dante ever remembered seeing it before. He stared at her in silence for a few seconds, then sipped his drink.
“I don’t have a good answer for that.”
“What are you doing here at all?” She walked forward, her hands dropped to her side and Dante watched them fall. Her hips swayed with every step. Half of his mind was focused on the rhythm of her movement, the other half preoccupied with making sure she didn’t ball her hands into fists and raise them.
“Tweak invited me.”
“Who told him he could do that?”
“You, I’m guessing.”
She frowned. “Why’d you even want to come here?”
“I didn’t. He insisted. Said it would be a good way to celebrate our victory over the forces of fascism and corporate greed. Or something.” He took another pull from the bottle and leaned back against the porch’s railing.
Dympna snorted. “You were at the march?”
Dante simply nodded.
“Then how come I didn’t see you there?”
Dante blinked in surprise. “You didn’t? I waved.” He grinned, put the bottle to his lips. “I was right in between the other five-thousand people.”
Dympna arched an eyebrow. “Are you trying to get kicked out into the streets?”
“Trying? No. No, I just have a natural talent for it.” Dante turned his back on Dympna and resumed pondering the city. “Come here. Come stand with me.”
“Not interested, thanks.”
Dante held out the bottle of tequila and gently waved it. “I’ve got booze,” he said in a sing-song voice.
“Is that my tequila?”
Dante looked over his shoulder at Dympna, feigned outrage on his face. “Certainly not. Tweak and I went to a liquor store a few hours ago with some people we met here. I bought this there. You can check my receipt if you like, officer.”
Despite herself, Dympna chuckled softly. She shook her head. “What did I ever see in you?”
“My sterling sense of wit.”
“You’re about as funny as cervical cancer.”
“My fiery passion for social change.”
“If you were that passionate, you would have been at the front of the march, like me.”
“My winning personality.”
“You’re an unrepentant, self-absorbed piece of shit.”
Dante smiled weakly, took a drink from the bottle of tequila, and turned back to the city. “I’m trying not to be.”
Dympna stared at Dante’s back for a moment, sighed, rolled her eyes. She walked up to him and took the bottle from his hands. She drank, passed it back. “So, how have you been?”
“Does it matter?”
“If you don’t want me to kick you out on your ass, yes. Show some social graces for once.”
Dante laughed. “I’m… okay. I kind of fell apart once you left.”
“If you expect me to feel bad about that, I don’t.”
“I’m just telling you the truth. It was a rough couple of months. First you, then my job, then nothing. Just a whole lot of sitting around waiting to hear back on applications, spending my time doing whatever I could to keep sane.” Dante took a deep breath, turned to Dympna. “I started having nightmares eventually.”
A momentary look of surprise crossed Dympna’s face, but she quickly replaced it with one of neutrality. “You? You used to brag that you never even had dreams.”
“So what did you have nightmares about?”
Dante took a drink. “Never escaping, if that makes sense. Just… waking up one day and realizing that everything about me’s been devoured.”
Dympna said nothing. She stared at Dante for a moment. “So basically what you’re telling me is that I broke up with you and you lost your mind.”
Dante laughed. “Yeah, basically.”
“That’s too bad.”
“I think so, too.”
They stood in silence for a few moments. Dympna sighed. “So, what are we looking at?”
“The city. I used to hate this city, you know? All cities. Just the very idea of cities. You get too many people too close together, and everything goes to shit.” He smiled. “But then, you get enough people together, and they can change the world. At least, that’s what it feels like. Nights like these, that’s what it feels like.”
Dympna turned her face and smiled. “I think you’re right. But I don’t think that waving signs and marching is enough. It will turn heads, sure, but what will it change?”
“Turn enough heads and change will come on its own.”
“And what if we can’t wait for that?”
Dympna took Dante’s bottle and drank. “What I’m saying is, water can wear away at a stone until there’s nothing left. But sometimes it’s better to just pick up the damn thing and throw it out of your way.”
Dante blinked, once, twice, three times. “I don’t understand.”
Dympna laughed. “No, of course not. What I’m saying is, there’s passion and there’s action, and one doesn’t necessarily mean the other.”
“I don’t follow.”
She sighed. “There was this picture I saw online a few months ago. Some European aristocrats were driving to an opera or a play or something through the middle of a protest. Through the middle of a fucking protest! How arrogant can you be?” Dante nodded, not possessing an answer to her rhetorical question. “The people who had gathered rushed the cart. They were shaking it, throwing trash at it, screaming at them. And someone snapped a picture of the inside, and the look on the faces of those two… parasites. It was a man and a woman. The woman was terrified. Like, horror movie bimbo frightened. And the man looked confused. Betrayed. How could this happen to them?” Dympna smiled. “They got away, of course. But I like to think that maybe they couldn’t sleep that night. Maybe they laid awake in bed, wondering how things had gotten so bad, what they could have done differently that might not have left them living in a world of shit. You know. How people like you and me spend our nights.”
“That’s not how I remember us spending our–”
“Don’t. Really, don’t.” She looked him up and down, frowned. “Are you going to be okay to get home?”
Dante laughed. “I don’t know,” he said grinning. “Let’s find out!” He pushed himself away from the rail and nearly toppled over backwards. Dympna shook her head.
“Look,” she said. “You can stay here tonight, if you want.”
Her words cut through the mist of alcohol that fogged Dante’s mind. “You mean–”
“No. I have an air mattress you can use.”
“Oh,” he said. “Okay. I’ll take it.”
* * *
Dante rolled off of the air mattress and onto the floor with a heavy thud. It was a little bit before noon when he awoke, and around him there were still plenty of people sleeping off the celebrations of the previous night. He pushed himself to his feet, swayed a bit, and stepped into the kitchen to get some water.
The house was silent. Dante knew that he likely wasn’t the first one awake, but whoever else that might have been was already gone. He drank his glass and decided there was no reason not to simply go home and start his day properly.
There was no denying that the streets of the city were dirty by daylight. Every imperfection, every crack, every last speck of grime was plainly visible. The optimis of the previous night seemed to be gone, washed away by the unforgiving light of day.
Dante’s phone rang. He looked at the screen, saw that it was Tweak calling. He answered it.
“Did you hear what fucking happened? Did you hear what fucking happened?”
“No. What? Calm down, man. What’s going on?”
“Where are you?”
“I’m walking back from Dympna’s.”
“They fucking killed them, man! They fucking killed them! At the university! They killed the protestors!”