Dubrovnik Underground

She was always underground. Any image, either moving or still, featured her in such a setting. In a subway, in a tunnel, in a passageway, beneath a bridge. It was as though the nature of her life was being told through this symbolic photographic narrative, without her complete awareness of it. Surely, some part of her must have admitted that she favored an existence on the fringe. After all, it was what she had to do in order to make life seem worth living. To align herself on the standard path would have been even more misery-inducing. She laughed sometimes when she looked at her smudged makeup and generally unkempt appearance in the mirror. A disheveled look compounded by unexplained bruises all over her body. They would never hire her in the straight world even if she wanted to be a part of it. Although she had started out as Donna, she had long been going by Dubrovnik, stemming from a latent ambition to be a drag queen and an unexplained fascination with Croatia. In fact, her only driving force to make money was to save up for a trip to, where else, Dubrovnik. Maybe squeeze in some of Split and Hvar if she could. But she doubted she would ever even make it to her first choice, no matter how long she scrimped and saved. It was never enough. The money somehow ended up going to something unforeseen, like a friend’s medical bill or an unanticipated need for a bender. 

It was around these moments of peak poverty that she would slink back to her parents’ house, an oasis just a ferry ride away in Sausalito. Although the Riordans David and Cornelia pretended they were happy to see her, they much preferred an arrangement in which she, a stain on their perfect lives, remained afar, where they could give her money from a distance. But sometimes it just got so hard for Dubrovnik to bear the daily sights of the streets. Sometimes, she couldn’t deny her craving for the luxury of her parents’ baby boomer lifestyle. Replete with a pool, even if a modestly sized kidney-shaped one that many of their neighbors disapproved of. Most Sausalito residents tried to keep their pools indoors, some sort of symptom of not wanting to flash too much impractical decadence. In some ways, Dubrovnik respected the audacity of her parents’ unapologetic sense of bourgeois grandeur. An appreciation she showed by dipping her toes into the somehow gecko-filled pool. She turned around. She could feel her mother’s eyes watching her disapprovingly. It suddenly struck her that all the geckos were dead. Lifelessly floating along en masse in a watery gecko grave. She laughed to herself. An imperceptible giggle, really. Then she slid into the pool while still wearing her sheer black dress. Her mother had long despised Dubrovnik’s zeal for black, constantly parroting, “No one in California wears black,” to which Dubrovnik would reply, “I do.” The only instance of matrimonial parlance she would ever engage with. 

Staring into the sun while floating on her back as she ruminated on this memory of her mother and her ever-present censuring, her fingertips accidentally tapped against one of the geckos, which suddenly sprung back to life and scurried right out of the pool into the nearest bush. She folded her hands to herself and then crossed her arms to her chest like a vampire. She knew that what happened next could change the entire course of her life. If she tapped a gecko again and it resuscitated the same as the other, then something truly magical was at play. If not, she might never believe in any sense of possibility again. Taking a deep breath, she waited a few more seconds before deciding to randomly slap the top of the water and hit another creature back into this realm. It worked. The gecko jolted and scurried just the same as the other.

Soon, she was doing it to all of them. Her mother, about two martinis in, came rushing outside to demand just what the hell Dubrovnik, or Donna, as she still called her, was doing. Dubrovnik gestured loosely at the pool, as though that was enough explanation in and of itself for the strange goings-on of this gecko deluge. Its own sort of ominous version of the Book of Exodus 8:2. Cornelia started shouting at Dubrovnik to get out of the water. That she was causing a scene. Yes, mother, Dubrovnik thought, I’m the one causing the scene, not these reanimated geckos. She sighed and obeyed, knowing her mother would never acknowledge what was actually happening. It was simply part of her repression defense mechanism. Never wanting to penetrate anything beneath the surface of what was actually going on.

So it was that at the dinner table that night, neither one brought up “the incident” to David, who was content to chew on the chicken piccata with capers and a side of kale that the maid had prepared. Dubrovnik knew she had to leave in the middle of the night without saying anything. She would get too angry if she stayed. It was taking less and less time now for her to remember why she so rarely returned into the fold of her immediate family. They preferred to live a sanitized existence that recognized only that which wasn’t real. To them, her life of grit and grime was the unrealest it could get despite being quite the opposite. 

When she arrived back to her hovel among the others in the Tenderloin, Dubrovnik found that Gershwin, the 45-year-old pied piper of the group whom she cared about the most and often had sex with to prove it, was being mediocrely tended to after yet another overdose. Fond of opioids as most of them were, Gershwin’s brushes with death occurred more regularly than any of them brushed their teeth. But this one, Dubrovnik could tell, felt different. It felt like it was going to be fatal. She shoved everyone out of her way and went to his side. He whispered in her ear, “I told you I’d go out in one final blaze of glory.” Tears formed in her eyes despite herself. She hated showing emotion, especially in front of the others, but it was the end for Gershwin, that much was clear. Unless…

***

They had dragged his body behind the dumpster of a Chinese restaurant. Either the police would find him or the restaurant would use him as part of their “meaty” ingredients. Whatever happened to him now, it didn’t matter. His flock had made their peace with his departure from this earth. All of them save for Dubrovnik, who waited until the time was right to return to the corpse with a tarp to wrap him in and a dolly to cart him on. She was going back to Sausalito to see just how magical the pool really was. 

It was still light out when she arrived, but she knew her parents would be in the other room dining (a.k.a. drinking) or out at some bullshit charity event. They rarely if ever enjoyed the beauty of the yard they had paid so much for only as a show of their wealth, not to actually relish nature, however manufactured its form. She “unloaded” Gershwin from the dolly and proceeded to gingerly unfurl the tarp. He was looking particularly gangrenous as she plopped him right into the pool. In seconds, he was revived. Coughing continually until finally finding the voice to say, “What the fuck?”

Dubrovnik smiled and jumped in the pool to kiss him. “I thought I had really lost you forever this time.” 

“Same here. Christ knows I exhausted all nine of my lives a long time ago… So how the hell did you manage to bring me back to life, eh?”

She kissed him again. “Magic.” 

He rolled his eyes. “Okay.” Suddenly he took in the panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean, breathed in the fresh air and realized they were no longer in the belly of San Francisco. “Where have you taken me? Are we in Pleasantville?”

“Would it be so bad if we were? Would it be so wrong to stay and forget the others?”

He arched his brow at her. “You’re serious.” 

“Gershwin, you were dead. Do you really want to go back there to resume your same old tricks?” 

He shrugged. “Well. Yeah. Why not? What else would I do? What else could I do?”

“Not repeat the same fucking cycle. Stay here. With me.” 

“Where, exactly? Here in this pool?” 

She could see one of the geckos puttering around in the water. He stopped to smile and wink at her before waving his little arm in the direction of a small opening at the bottom that she had never noticed before. “If you want to live a life that is better and more carefree–one unburdened by the constant worries of getting your next fix or your next modicum of cash–then yes. Here in this pool. If not, you can leave. You won’t ever see me again.” 

Her life had been spent mostly underground. In every sense of the word. Why shouldn’t she continue it there, in a world safe from the stupidity of fatally flawed mortals doomed to repeat the same mistakes until death (and even after) and the societal judgments spurred by faux moral outrage? Gershwin regarded her warily and sighed. “Uh, listen, it sounds beautiful in theory and all, but, um… I gotta jet.” And jet he did, for he rushed out of the pool with the force and speed of a kamikaze plane. She, in turn, descended into the recesses beneath the pool. Whatever lay beneath had to be a more bearable method of living on the fringe. Otherwise, the gecko would have to pay. 

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