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He has begged her not to go home yet.
And though she has rejected his suggestion of the dessert wine and shaken her head at his watery wink—an old trick from the teenage come-ons he must have attempted half a century before—she is walking with him now. Slowing her stiletto stride to his hunched shuffle. Letting him grip her palm like the handle of a cane as he lingers along the rows of old Gold Coast mansions, hushed in summer slumber in the city’s safest neighborhood.
He nods to his doorman, who holds open the gilded entrance.
Waves at his valet, who assures him both cars have been detailed and filled.
Then in the slide up in his gold-plated elevator, he clutches the rail and recounts his recent renovation: annexing the next-door unit into a grand penthouse, selecting the art and furnishings with the designer who decorated the downtown law firm that he owns.
“I’m so happy you finally agreed to come,” he says. “I want to know your opinion.”
She laughs, reminds him of her role as mere entry-level receptionist at her design agency, though she has already told him so before, over the toast and caviar.
“But you are young and beautiful,” he replies, “so you know and understand beauty.”
She giggles again, shifting her heels in the hall carpeting. Switching her phone between her hands as his fingers fumble in his pocket and rattle with the lock.
And then an expanse of night skyline opens up and down, floor to ceiling, and she is transported toward the brocade curtains sweeping apart for the view—the taper of taillights trailing off like a million emergency flares lined along Lake Shore Drive, the flash of ambulances wailing into faraway ER ports, the flicker of a thousand apartment windows crowding together with hers, somewhere far out, far below.
Her palm presses to her breasts. And then his hand covers her shoulder.
“Such a vantage point, isn’t it? Wait until I show you the rest. I want to know your opinion.”
He taps his fingers down her forearm to her hand, slips the phone from her clutch, turns her around, flaps his arm out into the living room.
And with a little skip, then a totter, a tug on her hand to right himself, he leads her toward the spot-lit nude, past the phallic corner sculpture, around the curvy white sofas facing each other in a lovers’ tryst.
“I could see you there, lying naked maybe,” he says with his wink, and she giggles again and shakes her head.
“You’re so happy and positive. Such a beautiful laugh,” he says, and she laughs at his misinterpretation.
Then he lifts a photo frame off the sideboard and places it into her hand.
“Oh,” she says.
Her fingertips tense, weighted unexpectedly with the heavy frame of a middle-aged bearded stranger astride a motorcycle. One of those choppers that sometimes startle her awake in her studio apartment far south of here, when her body tenses alone in the dark, waiting for another gunshot—or for just a backfire, shot off by some foolish man on a motorcycle.
“Yes, I was quite the dashing daredevil in my younger days,” he says. His hips waver in an attempted sway up against the back of her little black skirt.
“Oh,” she says again.
“Now, though, instead of motorbikes, I collect cars,” he continues, pulling her fingertips into the hall bridging the two adjoined units. “I remember riding a bus home over the State Street bridge when I was a young man, just starting out as a first-year attorney, and I promised myself that one day, I’d be driving over that bridge in a Ferrari.”
He stops, jiggles a doorknob, and then slides apart two wooden doors. “I call this my top-floor cellar,” he announces.
In the narrow shaft, long rows of wine refrigerators extend like bank safes on either side, leading to a tall, actual safe that rises erect at the end of the far wall, where a lock and keypad, hard steel, protect vintage jewels, or maybe bars of gold.
“Some rare bottles in there,” he says. “I’d like to see some of those reds on your lips.”
And then he slides his palm, papery like a banknote, up to her wrist.
“May I kiss you?” he asks.
His breath rasps, cools her face. “I’d really like to kiss you,” he says.
She giggles. “Maybe—maybe in a bit?”
His eyes, hovering just in front of hers, blur with a haze, maybe of cataracts, maybe of sadness, and his cheeks sag like his hand, falling limp.
“Maybe show me more,” she says.
“Yes, yes, I want to know your designer opinion,” he replies, reanimated, turning with his tottering hop, ushering her to the study, where two leather chairs whisper, almost kiss. “I can see you there reading to me on my knee,” he says to her laugh. “And I can see you over here, too. Come here,” he urges, fluttering his fingers toward the bedroom.
But instead of the fortress of the four-poster king-sized mattress, wrapped in downy covers and padded with thick pillows, the whirlpool tub beckons from the center of the master bathroom, glimmering in the dimmed lights.
“Watch this,” he says, his eyes sparkling the way they must have when he set off fireworks as a daredevil teen, or popped the front wheel when he rode motorbikes, or clinched his first closing statement to a hesitating, undecided jury.
And then from the ceiling, one thin stream of water gushes down. “Imagine stepping in, your skin, after it fills with warm water,” he says, watching her. She laughs, just a little, and turns back to the oscillating, hypnotic waves.
“I want you to see something else,” he interrupts, and he brushes the back of her arm toward a dark doorway.
But with the startled blaze of the overhead bulb, she sees only herself.
Past long rows of suit pants and jackets and starched white shirts, beyond loafers and oxfords, hatboxes and briefcases, a mirror stretches up and down, floor to ceiling, framing her. He comes up behind, into the tableau. “Look at us,” he instructs, a kind of whispered grunt buzzing against her ear. And as she tilts her head, she sees an old man with white hair, flushed face, stooping, probing a droopy nose against an arc of smooth neck rising from a skimpy strip of fabric, slipping up a bare thigh beneath the lurching fingers of a wrinkled hand that gropes under, fumbling at a pair of panties, then up, blundering at a pair of breasts, which bulge out like a loud announcement beneath a young woman’s scarlet lips, spread wide into a titter that ricochets into a closet stocked full of luxury commodities.
She spins her back to the mirror. Twists her body from his impotent grip.
“I should go home,” she says, tripping, retracing her steps, ever more rapid, through the bedroom, the hallway, the living room, reviewing every table, every counter, every cushion for her muted, missing phone.
“Please,” he begs, pants, from somewhere far behind. “I will take you home. Just let me show you one more thing.”
She shifts her heels, a click on the wooden floor.
“It’s beautiful,” he promises. “Almost as beautiful as you.”
She shakes her head, smiling at his wink, and follows him through the door, onto the balcony, against the railing, where his arms fold around her torso and the breeze cloaks over her shoulders and the city reposes below beneath a twinkling blanket, with the dark ribbon of the river woven through.
“I remember riding over the river,” he says, pointing, “in a bus on the Michigan Avenue Bridge. I was just starting out as a lawyer. And I promised myself one day I’d drive over it in a Porsche. With a beautiful young woman like you.”
She laughs again, a repetition.
Then the only sound is the summer wind kissing her bare skin.
Until his inhale.
“Maybe you can take me there now,” she interrupts. “Over the bridge. On the way home.”
As he dials the valet in the kitchen, her phone—dangling on the window ledge of the living room, over the city’s lights—flashes a red message alert. A group text: “Are you really going out with that old man tonight?” Two matches on a dating app: An artist, long hair, roguish smile, looking for work; a bike messenger, hemp necklace, broad grin, flashing peace signs. A news alert: Man fatally shot at crowded park, moments ago, one block from her home.
The phone suspends in her palm, motionless, over the precipice.
So down below—while she was surveying the city from up here, safe above, far removed—down in the scrum and rush and screech and screams of the hot, dark streets where she so often walked alone, Death had finally arrived. Creeping up from the south. Slinking through her neighborhood’s once safe streets. Waiting. Striking.
Her heels wobble, and she sinks into the sofa’s filling, the way she might sink into that whirlpool tub in the dim light of candles, chandeliers. The spotlight on the art before her glows, steady, calm. And the lilt of the jazz piano filters all around her from discreet speakers within the smooth ceilings of the living room, the library, the bedroom—above the draped fabric sheltering that soft, safe, canopied bed.
Maybe she will let him. Let him kiss her, let him have her in her bed when he takes her home.
“Not the Porsche,” he says into his phone as he shuffles into the room. “Pull up the other one.” He winks.
“I want to know your opinion,” he says to her.
And then, in the dazzling driveway lights, shines a bright red Ferrari.
His final—likely unnecessary—seduction.
While its engine yearns and rumbles with desire, reflected in his watery eyes, he raises the door, erect, and watches her bare legs close into the contours of the low, enveloping seat.
Then they are sliding into the night, in their enclosed security, and she watches her usual subway stops, like entrances to deadly caves, disappearing beneath the streets, behind her now.
But at the entrance onto Lake Shore Drive, the Ferrari swerves, swings, careens up onto the bend of the wrong ramp.
“Oh, no,” she says, “It’s south! Toward downtown! The other way!”
But he only chuckles. Perhaps he also winks, but her eyes, wide, unblinking, strike the road straight ahead, crashing up into her sight through the windshield as the engine thrusts zero to sixty in one, two seconds.
“I want you to see what this beauty can do on these long stretches!” he yells over the roar, the wind from the open window whipping his words above her head, out the passenger window.
The seatbelt yanks and locks her, immobile, trapped against the rigid back.
But the taillights are rushing up in ten, nine, eight seconds. And his hand is fumbling at something by her side. His fingers slipping on the stick shift. His palm shaking on its bulbous head, wobbling like a flopping, deflating penis. And then the car is bucking and shooting ahead and her neck is snapping back and his hand is slapping erratic at the wheel and the taillights are coming and coming in seven, six, five.
Her high heel shifts, stabs at the air where a brake should be, but her foot finds nothing on the passive, passenger side.
In the side mirror, the shrinking city lights.
Out the side window, the black, blank void of the cavernous lake.
And she knows now that nothing is safe.
A flash of the taillights. Coming in four, three, two.
She closes her eyes.
And she pretends that she is walking home, to her bed, all alone.
Andrea Bianchi lives in Chicago. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Witness, New Ohio Review, Cutbank, Epiphany, The Rumpus, The Smart Set, and elsewhere. Her writing was also selected as a notable essay in The Best American Essays 2021.