The hand that held the flame retreated into the darkness after the cigarette had been lit. Lit only by the flickering candle in the center of the small table and the bright ends of two Marlboros, the face across from her seemed distorted, alien. But it was smiling, laughing. The air in the club was thick with smoke, and at the front a hardcore punk band was thrashing its equipment along with the eardrums of everyone within a hundred yards.

Angela inhaled the smoke of the room; and then took a drag on her cigarette as the chaser. She let the smoke mingle in her lungs, wrapping around her insides until she could feel the nicotine flowing through her veins and into the deep recesses of her brain. Then she exhaled, long and slow, before trying to recapture a second helping with her next breath. The band started doing a heavy metal version of "Sheís Tight" and her companion playfully pressed her bare foot against Angelaís crotch under the table just before both of them erupted in laughter.

"Letís do something," said Tina, eyeing Angela mischievously. Seeing Angelaís look of surprise, she immediately dropped her foot to the floor and continued, "No, I mean letís get out of this dump and have some kind of adventure or something. Thereís got to be something interesting to do in this stupid town."

In her mind Angela immediately pictured her and Tina joyriding, Thelma and Louise-style, in a convertible bound for the bottom of the Grand Canyon. "I like this band. Letís stay here a little longer and see who plays next. Arenít you having fun here?"

"Hey, I know youíre not looking for anyone, but Iíve still got some wild oats to sow. Thereís no one remotely interesting in this place." Tina ashed her cigarette and took another quick look around. "I mean, the lead singer of Christian Fish Spit doesnít look too bad, but Iím not sure if I want to contract a disease at this stage in my life. Címon, I hear a new club has opened up on Eighth St. I think some dancing would do you some good."

Angela winced and shuttled back the last sip of white wine in her glass. "I donít know why everyone has to be interested in doing me good. Basically itís a lack of respect for my ability to take care of myself." She grabbed the bottle and filled her glass to the rim, inevitably spilling some as she held the glass out defiantly in front of her. "And I know what dancing is like. Donít think I donít know anything about dancing. But Iím having a perfectly good time here. You go on and play your mating games at the new Studio 47, or whatever it is. Iím perfectly happy to call a taxi."

"Youíre incurable," grimaced Tina. "I canít believe youíre really having as much fun as you think you are. Thereís a whole world out there, and youíre so content to go on just living in your own mind. You canít get everything out of books, you know." She didnít want to fight about it, so without another word Tina grabbed her purse, flipping her share of the bill onto the table.

"What am I doing here?," said Angela. "Didnít I let you talk me into coming here in the first place? This isnít a book. Why keep looking for fun when Iím already happy? And if I think Iím happy, doesnít that mean that I am happy? I think the least our brains could do is give us some kind of reliable confirmation as to whether or not we are actually happy. But if Iím only fooling myself that Iím happy, well, in the end isnít that just as good as actually being happy? Well, isnít it?" Tina had already slipped into the blackness surrounding the table, and Angela wondered how long she had been talking to herself. The music seemed to be getting louder, even in the last few moments, and she was having trouble even just hearing herself think, a state which she found herself quite enjoying. It was almost as though the music was pulsing through her, and she had become nothing but a conductor of electric sound waves ricocheting around the room.

The song seemed to go on forever, and she felt compelled after a while to get closer to it, before the effect wore off, before her thoughts once again interrupted her full immersion in unconscious pleasure. She rose and let her feet follow her down the few steps towards the main floor of the club. The way was half-blocked with teenagers and wannabees swaying as if in some kind of hypnotic state. She pressed through the crowd, almost to the front where there was a wall of people standing between the giant towers of speakers on either side of the stage.

The stage was only a couple of feet off the floor, but Angela could see the lead singer clearly over the tops of the people in front of her. His hair was short and dark, maybe even dyed black, and on top it was long and wild, shooting out in every conceivable direction. Through the hair his eyes burned out at the crowd, and it was possible to tell immediately that the sound that poured forth from the band through the speakers was a direct extension of his soul, that he alone was responsible for the architectured noise filling the club.

The singer sang into a microphone, but his hands were clutching a guitar as well, and his hands jerked up and down along the strings faster and faster even as his voice cried out. The people in the crowd around Angela started to move more and more, and suddenly bodies were bouncing off of each other in dangerous fury. Se did not resist the mob and felt her feet lift off the ground even as she was almost crushed in the push from all sides. The energy of the room grew even now with each beat and strum, each scream and shout. It had reached the level where it had become unbearable, and sweat poured from each member of the band as they worked to extend the frenzy they had created. Then with a crash it was over but even before the echoes had begun to subside from the amplifiers, the lead singer dropped his guitar and leapt off the stage into the violent sea of humanity before him.