Prudence: Chapter 1

1.

Everywhere I look, there are stories.

I see them in the faces of the people who are queued at the entrance, chatting excitedly, or huddling against the cold. They are predominantly twenty-something and thirty-something wide-eyed tourists, hopeful that on this night, they will be deemed worthy.

Scattered among them are locals who have lived in the shadow of the mystique for years, yet are still awed by it. They work their jobs, pursue their dreams, and believe in the magic of the city, yet they know that here is something more – something seductive and enchanting and rapturous.

They are children before me – the lot of them.

Some will be turned away tonight purely for cosmetic reasons. They won’t look right. Or they won’t be dressed right. Or they won’t feel right. Sometimes, it might seem arbitrary – security deciding on a whim. It’s unfair and discriminatory, but such is life, no matter how much people try to change it. Life is unfair and discriminatory.

Those granted entrance will mill in the lobby as they pay their fee, have their palm stamped, and ponder where to go first. If they have been here before, often they are cocksure and haughty, as if they are already privy to secrets newcomers are not. Newcomers gape in a combination of awe and wariness. They marvel at the red brick still evident behind the stucco, the buttressed ceilings and ornate cornices and ponder that this was once an ancient cathedral. Some delight in the possibility, as if there is further gratification in misbehaviour when there’s some underlying defilement.

Now that they’re inside I can see them better, although I know what I’ll see in each of these faces, as well as their hearts. Rarely am I surprised. They come for a night out. They come for fun. They come so they can tell friends and family and anybody who’ll listen that they have been here.

On the surface, it would seem a cheap thrill, like spotting a celebrity.

But under that whimsy, darker needs burn: among them, greed, lust, and anger.

Some in the everyday world deny the existence of these desires. They spend a lifetime locking them away, and commend themselves for their virtue. Others skirt among the edges, only delving – often unintentionally – in moments when they let go. And others court these desires, or give themselves wholly, and change in ways they could not anticipate.

From the lobby, patrons filter into the juncture, an antechamber with a high, basilica ceiling that projects a myriad of colours upon their eager faces. Archways are in every wall, funnelling away – like the strands of a spider’s webs – into every pleasure we have to offer. There are many storeys and a variety of entertainments and temptations, although for the purpose of tonight I will focus only on a few.

Some relax in the Red, Blue, or Yellow Lounges, which are intimate piano lounges; others retreat to the Restaurant, with its dulcet tones, candelabras (with real candles, mind you) and five-star menu, although most simply order something trivial and woefully unbecoming, like nachos, to share amongst a group.

In each room, the respective centrepiece is a central octagon with mirrored walls, rising from floor to the ceiling and ten feet in radius. People stare at them, as if seeing their reflection for the very first time, or perhaps as if they’re trying to delve the secret of their existence.

If only they knew.

Others drift into the gaming rooms, to explore the tales they might’ve heard about the Icons, to engage them in pool, or to play the various arcade machines – some state of the art, and others that are classics. A few pursue the private rooms, to confirm their existence, or possibly even hunt for the fabled basement, where it’s rumoured unspeakably decadent things occur.

Most, though, will head into the Gallery, where the dance floor is like some meteorite hit and left a crystallised crater. Another octagon sits in the middle, this one larger. People orbit it, as if its sheer size commands their attention. Lights flash, music roars, and the air simmers with passion, creating a synergy that infuses every patron, until they are a single mass pulsing to the same heartbeat.

At opposing ends of the dance floor are the North and South Bars, long and arched, made of glass, with white light shining up from their bottoms. They are the lighthouses in the Gallery, a way to orient oneself when the night may have affected judgement and choices turn awry.

Suspended to the right, sitting epicentre to everything, is Constance’s office, also octagonal, and tiled in tiny mirrors so that it shimmers and sparkles like an enormous disco ball, appearing to float there in mid-air. The stairwell that zigzags from its doorway is lost in shadow.

Nobody strays onto the stairwell.

Nobody.

It’s not just out of respect for Constance, nor because of the behemoth security who patrol in their long, flowing leather overcoats, but because trespassers on those stairs are immediately ejected.

It might seem petty in a place where anything could happen.

But even in chaos there are rules.

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