Bordeaux, Part 2
[Continued from last week]
She turns to the bar and finishes her glass, then orders another round from the bartender. “I think I’ll go to the restroom.”
Blood pounding in my ears, I follow her to a dimly lit hallway. The restroom door is locked. We edge close to one another along the opposite wall. Without a word, she presses her hand against the front of my slacks.
Exit, a conservatively dressed blonde whose features remarkably resemble my wife. My companion vanishes inside, leaving the door ajar.
The restroom is covered in subway tiles that dance in the candlelight. She reaches past me to insert the lock.
“Tell me your name,” I ask.
With a shush, she pushes me against the door. Her lips are wet. Our kiss tastes like dark fruit, chocolate, and tobacco.
I break for air. “It’s been awhile, since —”
“Don’t talk,” she says, biting my neck. Down south I do a jig. “Do what you want to me.”
I run my fingers up and down her spine, tentatively approach her breasts.
“You fuck like I’m going to stop you.”
“… I’ve been with the same person twenty years.”
She withdraws to fix me with her eyes. “We’re the only ones in the world, understand? Nothing exists outside that door.”
She bites me again, harder this time. I push against her, knocking us into an artisanal metal shelf unit in the corner. Rolls of unbleached toilet paper spill onto the floor. She looks at me with a hungry look in her eyes and pivots to face the wall. I kick the toilet paper aside and grab what I can of her closely cropped hair. I kiss the crook of her neck. Her body presses into me. She gasps like Kitty once did.
I bend her over the faux industrial sink. We rip open our belts.
Don’t blow this, says a voice in my head. Please God, don’t fuck this up.
In a swift motion — zero build-up — she eases me into her. She’s wet and hot and our faces in the mirror refuse to focus.
I want to believe her, as we slam against one another. I want the world to fade away. To live in this moment, this action. Our fucking to last forever. For a moment, forget about my wife, my job, my plans. I am dead. I am dying. I am nothing and never was. The fantasy doesn’t last. Just as suddenly, I need to escape, to nullify this. No one exists for me but my wife. Fate will draw us back together.
Denial is a drug like any other.
I am fucking a stranger in a public restroom. Nolan Buckle, Fucker of Strangers.
My heart is choking. Her blushing skin is a weapon. It’s sweat, it’s flowers, it’s every meal I need.
I pull out and come onto the floor. We wilt over the sink.
Breathing in short sobs, I am a shell. Nothing dwells inside these bones. It is impossible that I ever loved anyone. The heart is a muscle that keeps you walking. Without it, perhaps I can rest.
She sits on the toilet. I glance away and wipe up the floor. There’s a knock. She flushes, rinses her hands, and slides out without so much as a word. The next occupant half-enters and freezes at the door — my wife’s conservative doppelganger again. I clasp my belt and restack the toilet paper.
When I rejoin my new friend at the bar, she says, “You’re not obligated to talk to me.”
I weigh the coldness in her voice.
She finishes her new glass with a slug, then stares hungrily at the bartender’s back.
I ask, “Did I do something?”
“I’m not going to fuck you again. That was a one time deal. Bordeaux,” she tells the bartender.
I try to catch up. She swills the dregs in her glass.
Barely audible, a song by Nina Simone starts playing, the type of song that digs its way into your soul and forever after carries the memory of the first time you heard it. So it is that I’m suddenly in Paris with Kitty in a cellar just like this. It seems like forever ago and yesterday, our honeymoon. Grey has crawled into my hair, wrinkles annexed my face. The memory of youth escapes me. What was it like to leap and run, to never be short of breath, to feel invincible? To know who and what you are, who and what you want? To feel alive without the salve of alcohol?
The song winds to a close. I realize I’ve been singing. The bartender returns with her poison.
“Is that your move?” she asks. “Casually start whenever the right song comes on?”
“You’re not obligated to talk to me,” I say.
She takes a long pull from her glass.
“Not so long ago, you were laughing.”
“Not so long ago, you were coming,” she fires back. “So let’s say thanks and let that be that.”
I lean my glass against hers.
She withdraws and slugs it down.
“Maybe you should slow down.”
“I know my limits.”
“I can get you a cab.”
“You bought a drink for a stranger and she fucked you in the bathroom,” she says, venom in her voice. “No questions. No attachments. Why don’t you go home, feel proud? Big man. Lothario.”
“I’m not like that.”
“You’re exactly like that. So am I.”
If she cares about people hearing us, her volume doesn’t show it.
“Right now,” she continues, “I’m a mystery. You can chalk it up to me being adventurous. Carefree. A true-to-life 44 year old sex kitten. Who knew those existed? What? Didn’t think I was that old? Already the illusion’s starting to fade. Middle-aged desperation. No mystery there. Not the full picture but you don’t want that. Nobody wants that.”
The light from the bar casts shadows across her knuckles. Gripping the stem of her glass, they’re fine art. “I’m separated,” I tell her. “My wife’s suing me for divorce.”
“I don’t want to hear your story.”
“All due respect,” I say, lowering my voice, “I think the drunk might be turning on you.”
“That’s the point.”
She signals to the bartender. Are they allowed to refuse customers in here, with the prices they’re charging?
“Listen,” she says. “I have time left here and that’s as joyful as it’s going to get. One phase has ended, another’s just begun.”
For some reason, maybe my own drunk reasserting its authority, I cannot pry my eyes from her translucent skin. Cannot fathom the idea of her walking down a beach without clothes to shield her from burning.
She rests her head in her arms. “You ever look at yourself in the mirror?” she asks. “Really look, and end up thinking, ‘My name is not my name. It’s arbitrary. It’s a label.’ There is so much more and so much less to a person than the name they were given at birth.” She nudges her glass across the bar. “Go on looking, you start to realize those falsehoods extend to your entire life. There have been a sequence of events that you’ve bore witness to, and yes, you’ve made decisions, but all you’ve ever done is witness one fraction of a larger story.” The bartender busies himself elsewhere. “Everything you’ve witnessed is arbitrary. Everything you’ve ever chosen is a false positive, because the full list of possibilities wasn’t made available.” She straightens up, sways, rights herself. “So. What argument is there, tell me, not to burn your whole life down and start over? It doesn’t need to be any better. It doesn’t need to be romantic or altruistic. It’s better if it’s not. A person’s moral compass is a fixed thing, and however long we follow it, the same choices are going to present themselves over and over again, bringing the same results over and over again.” She rubs her eyes, sighs harshly. “You have to not listen. Behave differently. Choose the wrong thing on the menu, every time, so that you can experience… anything. Not just something of value. Anything. It’s easier to be dead than it is being alive.”
I down the last of my glass. “If we’re planning to stay a while,” I say, “we might as well get a bottle.”
A piano tune finds its resting point. My companion lifts her eyes to hold mine. Segments conversations float toward us. I abandon my stool to fetch the bartender as a new song begins to play.
[To be continued…]
This piece appears as part of a serialized fiction experiment by Nathaniel Kressen for At Large magazine. New installments are published weekly, each based around a different liquor.
Nathaniel Kressen is the author of two novels — Dahlia Cassandra (named Best of 2016 Fiction by Entropy & Luna Luna Magazine) and Concrete Fever (Bestseller, Strand Book Store) — as well as the co-founder of Second Skin Books and the leader of the Greenpoint Writers Group. He was commissioned by At Large magazine to publish his third novel in serialization — now available, with new chapters publishing weekly — titled My Life on Rye. And, as one half of the wife-and-husband team Grackle + Pigeon, he’ll be publishing a tome for modern living this fall — Blanket Fort: Growing Up Is Optional (William Morrow). You can find his work at nathanielkressen.com.