Don’t you want somebody to love?

[Estimated reading time: 4 minutes]

Don't you want somebody to love
Don't you need somebody to love
Wouldn't you love somebody to love
You better find somebody to love

I hang on to a lamp post and cough, and it feels like I hack up half a lung. I spit and the red blood mixes with the brackish water in the gutter a few feet away. I analyze the spit for a moment, see that there are no large chunks in it, and continue walking.

The rain is relentless as it pelts me, but I barely notice. It's been hours, days, weeks like this, and I'm tired of caring. I turn up the collar of my jacket, pull my hat down tighter, and just try to concentrate on walking.

A street sign says I'm passing 480th. I look down and continue to put one foot in front of another, another shambling mess out on the city streets. The perpetual gray of the city is an oppressive blanket, and I'm wallowing in it.

I walk past a neon travesty, a pachinko parlor that's hoping to provide their clientele with the skin cancer they're missing out on by staying here below the clouds. I stare a bit too long and a pink neon elephant sign is permanently burned into my retina.

"Enough distractions," I hear myself say. I put my head down and for a while just watch the pavement drift by.

After a while, at a random intersection, I look up and find the street sign. 560th. Getting closer now.

The rain falls from the cloud cover that cuts off most of the city from view. I know there is sun-kissed architecture above us, some two hundred stories of it, but it's hard to imagine those terraced buildings right now. Hell, it's hard to think of the sun right now. That concept doesn't exist in this world.

"Don't you want somebody to love," I hum, and suddenly I feel better. There's hope.

I watch the street signs, get to 567th and turn onto it, continue the slow and shuffling walk. But now I've got some pep in my step.

The shop's sign is a faded maneki-neko, a beckoning cat with an upraised paw, a ubiquitous sight around the city.

I walk into the outer lobby, mutter hellos to the staff behind the glass, put my hand on the scanner and wait. After a moment a green light turns on overhead and I pass through the full-height steel turnstile into the inner lobby.

The inner lobby is an open space with doors lining the walls. There are some chairs and a couch in the lobby, but at the moment they're all empty. A single attendant stands by an open door that has a green check-mark over it.

The androgynous attendant does a half bow and waves to the open door in a "this way, sir" gesture.

The room is spartan in its furnishings: a low table with a glass ashtray, two low chairs, an exit door opposite the entrance. The wall opposite the chairs is dark glass, slightly reflective right now. There are hidden lights in frame around the glass, this is the sole source of illumination in the room. Right now they glow a mild inoffensive yellow.

I close the door and lock it. I take off my jacket and hang it on the hook that's on the back of the door. I sit down in one of the chairs, take a cigarette out of a small flat case and light up.

There's a soft ding sound, one, twice, three times. The lights around the glass frame dim, and now I can see a blue glow on the other side of the glass.

"This evening's performer is Caprice," a voice announces from some hidden wall speakers. "She is going to be sharing yesterday's diary entry with us."

Caprice enters the blue light. I can see the red pinpoint reflection of my cigarette in the glass. If I concentrate, I can almost see similar pinpoints of light in the other see-through mirrors that surround Caprice. I put the cigarette in the ash tray and just watch the performer.

Caprice is in her late fifties, carries her hair in an old-fashioned style, but wears an upscale violet tunic over a red dress.

"Dear Diary," she begins. I close my eyes and listen, take a drag of the cigarette once in a while as I learn about an Upper's day.

Her pet hamster died yesterday. She cries when she reads about that. I weep with her.

But the day isn't all bad. She went on a blind date with a friend's friend, an out of towner. It went well enough, and they'd agreed to meet up again in a few days, but Caprice didn't feel a connection. Caprice muses that perhaps this'll just be a sexy fling, a welcome distraction. I feel bad for her date, but keep it to myself.

There's thankfully no sex scenes.

After the reading there are questions about the hamster, requests to repeat this line or that. I lurk, just sit back and watch but don't ask any follow-ups.

Then it's over, Caprice leaves the small room on the other side of the glass, the lights brighten.

I head out through the exit door, walk through a dim hallway and walk through another turnstile to the outside. It's still raining. I think I hear a cab take off from the roof of the building, but don't bother checking. It's probably Caprice, on her way back to the Uppers, her community service complete.

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