Darzsa remembered to close the window last night, but he still woke up in clammy trepidation despite the radiator humming in the corner. He wrapped his blanket around his shoulders and ambled to the small kitchenette to get a glass of water. The headache he was abating could have only been brought upon by one of his nightmares. He didn’t have them often, but this one plagued him the worst.
He could have been no older than eight or nine, shopping with his mother. Darzsa stopped to admire a dress worn by one of the ladies in town. Long and white and floating over her leather boots. He looked down at his faded pants and yellowed shirt and knew he fancied elegance—to look as beautiful as her.
Darzsa turned, and his mother was gone, and at every corner, he was somewhere different. He was inside the schoolhouse, sitting away from the other children. He was at home, in his room, while his parents and Daniel entertained guests. He was in a railway car, lungs choked with smoke and tears.
Each time the rooms grew darker, the spaces shrinking around him. He’d run out into the abyss and turn corner after corner until there was nothing. No light, no sound. Only him. His only proof of existence was his heart hammering against his chest. Then the taunts and laughter and whistles filled his ears until he couldn’t stand it and his screams clawed at his throat to drown out the sound, and then…
Always the same, he’d wake up in a cold sweat, head pounding. But this time, there was another corner to turn. There was another cavity of suffocating blackness. Josiah sat at the table with him in that big room in that big house. No Mr. Santoro, no Lottie, no one. Darzsa blinked, and Josiah was walking down the hall. Every step was that rapping sound engraved into his mind.
Tap. tap, tap,
Darzsa followed him; only the light from that empty room flooded the hallway. He reached the door, and Josiah shut it. Darzsa banged and banged on the door until he turned around and was in that same nothingness. Then the taunts and laughter and whistles and rapping until he jolted awake clutching his chest.
He filled his glass and sat on the bed, hooking quaking fingers through his hair and massaging his scalp. Why did he have that dream again, and why was Jo in it? On the nightstand, the picture of Daniel was face up and crinkled. He must have reached for it in his sleep.
The memories Darzsa tucked away always strung together and strangled him when he least expected it. Would Josiah be a new addition to the list of people who’d leave him? No, he couldn’t have that. Darzsa would be remorseful for his outburst and accusations, and Josiah would be in the palm of his hand again. But the way Josiah commanded him yesterday, not to be made some chump taking the fall while Darzsa went off the tracks.
Darzsa had to get out of these four walls before he went stir crazy fantasizing about Josiah’s hands and what he wanted them to do to him. He tucked the photo in the drawer and grabbed some slacks hanging over the chair. Sunlight warmed his cheek as he coated his lashes with a thin layer of mascara. A Sunday afternoon on the town would refresh him on his day off.
Darzsa strolled down the main drag, pulling at his suspenders and eyeing the clothes in the window. All of the stores were lousy with people getting their last-minute outfits for Mardi Gras balls. Suits with matching ties, beaded gowns paired with hooped earrings and pearls, and Oxfords and Mary Janes in different colors adorned the front display.
Chéri would have a ball of sorts, and Darzsa didn’t have a thing to wear. Not like all eyes would be on him anyway since he couldn’t grace the front stage. This year, he wanted to do more than turn a few heads in that back room. Pearl would regret denying him entrance through the front door. That bitch Ruthie would probably roll over and die.
At the last store on the corner, Darzsa halted in front of the window display. Shimmering, bronze, gorgeous. Him. The way those beads straps would accentuate his shoulders and the cinched bow would rest below his waist. He read the sign next to the dress, denoting it was one of those la garçonne looks from Paris.
With a dress like that, the entire club would be his. Darzsa gaped at the silk garment as long as he could before one of the employees yelled at him that his entrance was around back. He thinned his lips into a tight smile and took one last look at his dream dress. One day he wouldn’t have to have to go through back doors, and one day he would get everything he deserved.