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Fading Neon Lights

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The film rolls and it’s a close-up of Roger’s guitar. Maureen twirling in the wet streets, bathed in city lights. A glimpse of Mark’s hair on the edge of the frame, and the sound of his laughter. And it was Benny, always talking, with no one listening. It was Roger, it was Mimi, it was Collins and Angel, it was Maureen and Joanne. All of them laughing. And it was Roger playing the same three chords on his guitar.

He filmed everything now, like a desperate last attempt to keep them all here. He wanted to preserve them, save them from death, and make them immortal. If he focused on that, on keeping their beauty in the world, then maybe he could forget that they were all fading away.

It was a close-up of Collins grinning, while Angel sat in his lap. It was Maureen with her arms spread wide upon the stage. It was Roger smiling over a glass of beer, and it was Mimi dancing by herself.

Once they had all been so great. They had been young, and full of life and full of art. They were young, in New York, and so very in love with every crappy part of their life. Everything was bad, and it was glorious, because that’s the way it was supposed to be. You couldn’t be a starving artist in New York, without actually starving, and he would always be in love with that period of their lives. They were giants then, they were young and death was so far away.

But suddenly everything changed.

Suddenly April was dead, and Roger had AIDS.

Roger had AIDS, and a neon sign appeared over his head, blinking, DYING. DYING. DYING.

Mark couldn’t believe it, refused to really believe it. And then all his friends had signs over their heads too. So Mark filmed them, making sure to get everything on tape.

It was their apartment in darkness, because the power had been cut, again. It was everyone gathered at Life Cafe, drinking really weak tea. It was Joanne hugging Maureen’s back, while Maureen winked saucily at the camera. It was the camera turned around, filming Mark, just so he could remember that he was there too, and that he was not gone.

He wasn’t gone, but maybe as good as. They would all be gone soon and who cared if he disappeared as well?

Now everything seemed to speed up, and he saw them all like trailing speeds of light, their laughter so loud and quick and he felt like he couldn’t catch the meaning of their conversation. All he seemed to be able to focus on was them, but also the flashing lights over their heads. DYING. LEAVING. DYING.

It was the answering-machine with his mother calling yet again to ask how he was, and it was Angel posing in yet another low-cut dress. It was pictures from Life Support, and Mimi laughing. It was Roger playing the same three chords on his guitar.

Then Angel died, and everything slowed down to a crawl, and Mark could see again. He saw Mimi wasting away, and Roger scowling more than smiling. Collins in constant mourning. Maureen and Joanne was fighting all the time, and Mark was surprised to realize that he truly didn’t care.

All that mattered was his camera, and to shoot more. Because his friends through his lens were beautiful, when he looked at them through a camera they were shining, and Mark didn’t want to think of them in any other way.

Didn’t want to think of Roger in any other way.

If Roger’s neon sign said DYING, Mark wondered what his said... Maybe it said ALONE, or AFRAID, or most probably it was flashing a steady COWARD. COWARD. COWARD.

It was Roger laughing, it was Roger smoking, it was Roger yelling and it was Roger playing the same three fucking chords again, and again, and again on his guitar, while Mark filmed... everything.