My wife and I were invited to a high society party at a penthouse in the city. The guests were all elegantly dressed and the air was ignited with an evening glow as the setting sun broke between the buildings along the city skyline. The host tapped his glass and got up to make a speech. Everyone turned to listen and I strained on the tips of my toes to look out over everyone’s heads so that I could see the man. He wore a tuxedo and his thick, salt and pepper hair was swept back in a wave. He held up a martini glass as he spoke. He had such a free and easy way of speaking, like a musical harmony of words. It was impressive. It sounded like something from a movie. I’d never heard anything so polished in real life. And I thought that this was why the man was rich; this was why he had all this; this was why there were all these people at his party. He had made his fortune on that voice, on his suave and easy demeanor. He could convince anyone of anything.
Later, when all the guests were mingling, we ran into him in the hallway. He was still holding his martini glass. He thanked us for coming, and as I shook his hand, I had a moment where I realized that I had met him before. I had a sudden flash of his face, that same face, in another place and time. He had been sitting in an arm chair beside a window wearing an overcoat. The colors were faded in memory, and his face had looked somehow older in that quieter setting and in the cold light that had shone on him through the window. But it was him. He’d had that same smile. My wife and I had had bags packed, and we were about to go somewhere. We were moving away, starting new lives. I remembered that we had been joking with him about something, and then he had unexpectedly reached into the pocket of his coat and pulled out a check that he had already made out to us. I remembered that he had insisted that we take it. I remembered his warm smile. I remembered thanking him.
My wife and I were a bit starstruck, impressed that we knew someone so charming and important. We nodded to each other. In what seemed to be one fluid motion with life choreographing itself smoothly under his every move, the man discarded his empty martini glass onto a passing tray and waved for to follow him with a casual sweep of two ringed fingers. He said that he wanted to show us something. He led us to a room down the hall, where a woman was lying in a hospital bed. The man explained that this was his wife. He told us that she desperately needed a blood transfusion. He didn’t ask me outright, but I understood and I nodded. I felt that I owed him something for the money he had given us.
I was taken an empty room next door. It was like an examination room in a doctor’s office. The same equipment and white cabinets and jars of cotton swabs and tongue depressors. I took off my dinner jacket and sat down on a stool and rolled up my sleeve. A doctor came in and everything was set up for the procedure. They found a vein to tap and the blood began to flow out of me. The doctor left the room and left me alone. I had a moment where I thought that this was taking too long, that I was losing too much blood. I thought about calling out, but I couldn’t seem to muster up the strength. Everything in the room started to seem like it was very far away. And then all the weight seemed suddenly lifted from my head, and I passed out.
It was cold when I woke up. The needle was still in my arm, but the line was dry. There were papers and scattered refuse on the floor. The light was different. The air felt different. I wondered how long I had been out. I was a little dizzy as I first got up, but my strength came back to me in fits and surges. I went back out to the hallway. There were holes in the ceiling there, and the daylight shone through. There were half-dried puddles on the floor where the rain had come through the holes. I passed down the hall through patches of light and darkness. All the party guests were long gone, and the house looked like it had been deserted for a long time.
I came to a room where a small group of people were fighting over a ripped up couch. They were dirty and wild and clearly just squatting in the penthouse. Two of them, a man and woman, were tugging one of the cushions back and forth between them until it ripped along a seam and the moldy stuffing flew out everywhere. They both tumbled backwards, cursing and laughing. I passed the doorway without entering the room or engaging in their dispute.
The elevator wasn’t working, and I had to take the stairs all the way to the ground floor. The rest of the building was quiet and deserted as well, and there were more holes and places where the daylight shone through. There was no traffic out in the streets, and the few cars I saw were broken down on the side of the road, stripped, some with campfires burning in them. I saw people pass by dressed in rags, pushing their belongings in rusty shopping carts. They just glanced glumly at me as they passed and trudged on.
I couldn’t understand what had happened. Where had everyone gone? Where was I? I looked up the face of the building to the penthouse far above. The party, the people, they had all faded off like a mist. I looked down at my arm. I could still see the pin prick from the needle. Had they taken that place, that world out of me somehow, extracted it with my blood? I had no idea how to get back. I turned and stared down the street. I passed some people huddled around a garbage can, fighting over some scraps of rotten meat that they had found at the bottom.