The first time I saw Freddie Mercury in our elevator, he caught my eye and flashed me a grin.
“I’ve seen you at the Wine Vine,” I said.
Everyone in the neighbourhood called him Freddie, because he was a dead ringer. Small and fierce, with big teeth and a clipped moustache. He even dressed the part, rocking skin-tight white jeans, a wife beater, and sneakers as small as slippers.
“I just moved in this week,” he said. “Nice to meet you.”
“I’m Jane,” I introduced myself. “And you?”
“Fred,” he said, with a puzzled expression, as if I should have known. He kissed me on both cheeks. Called me darling. There was so much electricity coming off of him, like a live wire.
I adored him instantly. I gave him my apartment number, hoping he’d remember and call on me sometime. I wasn’t expecting him to ring that same night, but he came bearing a bottle of Stolichnaya, so I let him in.
Springsteen was singing on Spotify. My new neighbour wrinkled his nose, asked if I had any Hendrix. “Good thing you’re pretty,” I told him, adjusting the dial. People who imposed their playlists too soon were a pet peeve.
But he was easy to forgive for small sins and maybe big ones, too. There was something in his scrubbed and shiny surface that felt in desperate need of mothering. It was all I wanted to do, suddenly, to give him nurture. The thought of taking care of him was exciting somehow, almost erotic. I didn’t know what to make of these sudden instincts.
I had the distinct impression, too, that he was a genius of some sort, knit from something different from the rest of us.
“Darling, dance with me,” Fred said, after we had tasted the vodka. He reminded me of a torero in his white tights and yellow windbreaker. His sleek hips moved with a kind of raw elegance. It made sense, the olive complexion and black hair and eyes. I asked if he was from Spain.
His look flashed a bit of confusion at my question. Said he was from Africa, no, India, then Britain, then changed course again, said his family was from Persia.
I laughed nervously. “I’m Russian, Polish, German, and Latvian,” I told him. I didn’t want to make him uncomfortable. Honestly, I just wanted to be half naked, and feed him applesauce.
“Dance with me,” he said again. There was a train track voltage that went through me when he put his small hand on my waist. I was free and unfettered. When darkness started falling over the city, we lit candles and slow danced on the balcony.
My private sickness was how I was always drawn to the wounded. And I didn’t want to use Fred, however perfectly peculiar and broken he was, even though he seemed to like me, too.
I was, frankly, expecting him to jet as soon as the bottle was empty, head down to the Raven, the men-only fetish bar a few blocks south of the Wine Vine. The chemistry between us was a little confusing. I chalked it up to his need for friendship in new places, and my penchant for falling angels.
So when he asked to stay the night, I was surprised. I suggested we visit his place upstairs instead, and not for the night. I made that clear. I thought he could use a little support unpacking and arranging to feel at home.
At least five fat felines greeted us on the fifteenth floor, orange tabbies and a blue-eyed Siamese. “I don’t know how any sane human can exist without a cat,” Fred said, and scooped one up in each hand as he absconded to the kitchen for another bottle.
There wasn’t much unpacked yet but a bronze statue I thought was a phoenix, and was corrected- a faravahar. There was a gorgeous piano and a plastic costume crown tossed on top of it.
“Do you play, Fred?” I was plunking around on the keys nervously when I felt his heat behind me. There was that quizzical expression again. He waved his small hand to sweep me from the bench, and a smile curled at the sides of his wet mouth.
And he played, he serenaded, he brayed, and he was pure magic, pure opera, and still, rock and roll. The range, the falsetto, the harmony, where did it come from?
“Don’t you know who I am?” he said after his number. “Nobody knows, even though I keep telling you.”
There was a poster propped on the side of the piano, one with his idol, hand raised in iconic gesture, taming the crowd. The Great Pretender, it said.
I was smitten by his songs and the whole strange story of the night, but after awhile I grew uneasy and wanted to be at home in bed, alone, with my own tabby cat.
“It’s getting late,” I said. I put my arm around him to say good night. He kissed me then, and his mouth had the sting of vodka and sadness. I could feel the volt of want shaking my core, but I drew back. I knew from experience how dangerous it was to prey on the wounded.
“Oh, don’t you understand?” he cried, as I slipped from his doorway. “I am dying of loneliness!”
Actually, I did. I gave him my arms again before leaving, dwarfed his lean stature against me. I wanted to tell him I loved him, but that was ridiculous. I didn’t even know him. He was too fragile, and it was too soon. I wanted to save something we might need for later, to hold back a little, just in case.
“The Matador” first appeared in Sledgehammer Lit, 2021
FEATURED IMAGE: Lorette C. Luzajic “The Show Must Go On”, 2021. Private Collection, Toronto.
Lorette C. Luzajic
Lorette C. Luzajic is an author, artist, and editor in Toronto, Ontario. Her small stories have been widely published, at New Flash Fiction Review, Flash Boulevard, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Indelible, and beyond. She won first place in a flash contest at MacQueen’s Quinterly. Lorette is the founder and editor of The Ekphrastic Review, a journal devoted to writing inspired by art. Her visual art has been collected in at least 25 countries.