Monday, July 4, 2011

The Hero's Path

by Kathleen Bradean



Piquant

The ring of condensation under George’s glass spread. The water magnified the thin striations of the bar’s wood grain, each shift of color a mark of time. Light, dark, he counted each change until he got lost in the muddled swirls of a knot and gave up.

George wasn’t thirsty, but he was too conscious of how still he’d been. The next time the bartender walked past him, he lifted his scotch with a studiously steady hand. His lips burned as he sipped. He stared ahead, not meeting his gaze in the mirror behind the bar, but focusing instead on the rows of sparkling bottles displayed under spots of light. Green, clear, black; tall, squat, sloped; ancient names, trendy flavors; there were hundreds of choices, and countless combinations. He had only vague ideas of the possibilities. Even now, he wasn’t sure he liked the flavor of scotch, but he never ordered anything else.

He wasn’t even sure why he’d come back to Paris. The city was forever ruined for him. But as soon as his divorce was final, he’d bought a ticket. He enjoyed nothing and wandered restlessly through the streets for several days in search of something that eluded him. It had been a mistake to come. Tomorrow, he’d head home even though he had nothing to return to.

The bartender ambled over. He tossed a small napkin on the bar, drew a fresh highball glass from under the counter, and filled it with ice. He turned to the bottles.

“The Macallan twenty-five,” a woman said.

George swore he knew that voice, but when he turned toward it, he saw only swirls of cigarette smoke hanging in the dimly lit bar. The other patrons sat in booths far away. He was the only person on the short line of bar stools. He shivered and clutched his glass.

The bartender reached for the high back shelf where a few bottles sat on display above the others. He poured with a heavy hand then pushed the highball to George.

Pardonnez-moi mais il doit y avoir une erreur,” George said. He spoke at the same careful pace as he’d lifted his glass. Parisians often switched to English rather than endure his version of French, but he always let them make the choice.

The bartender nodded to George’s side.

George caught her scent as he turned. It wasn’t strong, but he felt as if he were drowning in the smell of sex and copper. He flinched, even though he couldn’t stop himself from looking at the woman who had appeared magically on the barstool beside him.

Her elbow rested on the bar. She leaned forward, bringing her blood red lips to her cigarette, and her profile into his vision. As she exhaled, a mocking smile tugged at her mouth.

For a moment, he wondered if she had a daughter who was her exact twin, because she hadn’t changed. He peered closer to search for lines at the corners of her dark eyes or an errant grey in her black bobbed hair. Her smooth neck and unlined hands were taut as a thirty-year old woman’s, which was what she had been when he met her years before.

Finally, she looked at him. “George.” The slight shake of her head and tone of her voice admonished him.

He glanced around the bar. No one seemed interested in them, but he hunched forward as he whispered in English, “What are you doing here?”

“You summoned me.”

~~

George is about to relive the past. They won't be the same events, but it will pack the same emotional wallop. He's a man of habits. He knows the outcome will never change, but he keep doing the same thing. Alfred Einstein, I believe, called that the definition of insanity.

The past, even the mistakes, is a comfortable place. We know what will happen. It gets harder to let go and do something different as we get older because that wide vista of possibilities narrows over the years until everything seems inevitable. That's comfortable too.

Freedom is scary. It's full of uncertainty. What if I tried really hard and risked everything and had nothing to show for it?

Characters in books aren't real people. They're like real people. (I wish I could find the writer to attribute this quote to, but my Googlefu is weak on this one.) But like a character, one day I decided to be the hero of my own life. That's a fancy way of saying that I got fed up with my insanity - clinging to the same life and expecting a different outcome. I got impatient. I didn't want to be like George, drinking whiskey I don't like and reliving a past that wasn't worth it the first time around. Finally, I was more afraid of the certainty than I was of the uncertainty. What I found out was that most of the barriers in my life were ones I'd built for myself. When I stopped believing in them, they crumbled. Freedom, so the song goes, is just another word for nothing more to lose; I think that includes regrets.

4 comments:

  1. Hello, Kathleen,

    Is this an excerpt from one of your stories? It's wonderful.

    We're all the heroes of our own lives. Regardless of what we choose or do not choose to do.

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  2. Lisabet - I guess I should have said. Yes, Piquant is in the HeartEaters anthology. (If you need more inducement to read it, there are stories by Remittance Girl and Raziel Moore, among others. The anthology has an interesting history) I guess this goes to show one of the problems being a writer - assuming my readers see the connections that I don't provide for them. Somewhere between overexplaining and underexplaining lies perfect understanding.

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  3. Kathleen, now I'm curious to know if She is a vampire - but I should go read the story to find out. I like your explanation of the significance of the fictional encounter, which suggests a variety of things (including seduction by the Forces of Darkness).

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  4. Jean - She's an eater of hearts, and poor George is one of those people who seems to enjoy having his heart broken. The idea behind the anthology was a saying that Raziel or Remittance Girl may have made up that went something along the lines of "Beware someone who takes and eats your heart." Writers and poets were recruited via Twitter (I need to Tweet more often) and put together this charity anthology.

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