Haunted Flesh Flames go to Dinner

They sort of careened into each other downtown, spinning around each other’s drunken trajectory, somehow instant friends, bonded by the endless night, by the pact of debauchery, all the edges of daily grinding, the hard knocks, and pay-the-bills headaches, put on hold. But all that was in the background, chasing them down with their drinks.

They followed Emmanuel up the hill, which seemed replete with buildings, superimposed on each other, stacked on each other; Emmanuel was taking in the surrounding city like an Escher painting, a new permutation of seeing double. It was all part of the film these people he met were making. They took advantage of their drunken ascent to get some choice shots. Unfortunately the twilight was only allowing them a few surfaces upon which they could project artistically meaningful and humorous phrases. They only got two in.

The phrases failed to really register on Emmanuel; it was their thing, this film business, and he only brushed up against it obliquely. Well, maybe it was becoming more his thing too. He was kind of escorting them, had fallen into the role of organizing the mood.

On the way they related to Emmanuel their intense distaste for cutthroat restaurant kitchens. They seemed to be getting across that they worked in such, to be giving Emmanuel their impression of them. They were using him as an audience, a sounding board for their displeasure at being used, being driven by the insane, selfish busyness of these greasy consumer culture kitchens, which trapped them in a double bind of ‘I need money but I hate this, and I am so much more but here I am trapped in these stuff-your-face factories, getting paid shit to do shit…’

They were like haunted flesh flames, and he could see their Celtic blood harking back in them, feeding their presence, that old proud fire, and they could be roaming the battlefield, a war band of headhunting picts, finally rising up to settle the score with the infidels who’d broken the bonds of honour.

Emmanuel took them into the restaurant at the top of the hill. He knew it would be different, a counterpoint. Inside it was mellow, respectful. The atmosphere was truly aesthetic, understated, beautiful in that soft, gentle way, reconciled with the hard lines of the world, finding balance and peace and sober artistry anyway, but not in spite—just so.

They sat down.

There was a subtle feeling from the kitchen. It was like a sort of concern, a conscientiousness that was intent to do well by them without being cloying. It was an intelligent feeling, the organized intent to create an aesthetically pleasing, efficient and enlightened atmosphere.

They were all simply wordlessly impressed by this. The kind of thing where your heart hurts because it is relaxing, when so used to constricting in defence.

Natalie’s eyes took on an odd focus then. She swore. They looked where she was gazing. Out the window, visible from a few blocks away, high up, was one of those eye-grabbing, digital animation advertisement billboards, the ones with the cleverly psychological phrases that dig into your psyche, trying to find that piece of ground to plant its flag into, to claim you for the corporate empire. Natalie didn’t say it, but it was clear how her reaction was a bitter reproach for the way it intruded into this beautiful, considerate restaurant realm. Cognitive trespassing.

Emmanuel didn’t react, continuing to let the atmosphere take him, to assume it as the rising sign of their evening. He watched as the haunted intensity slipped into a place that was like an opening in the woods, with mossy green rocks to sit on, and a river to contemplate, after walking out of the hardcore porn, quick easy buck, concrete jungle district. It takes a moment to adjust, but the contrast is clear, the effect obvious.

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