Bordeaux, Part 1
The work I have to do gets done just past nine in the evening, prompting me to stick around longer. Client files. Market indicators. No matter where I dig, the numbers point upward.
A shameful part of me feels pride, daring fate to rip us from our pedestals. It wouldn’t be that difficult. The risk is baked in. A correction’s got to come at some point.
Pride might not be an altogether accurate word.
What does one call the feeling — wanting to watch the world burn, wanting to burn along with it?
Conor manifests just as I’ve pulled on my jacket. We ride the elevator down. I join him for one drink, then another, then another. The locations blur as memories do. A high-end bar with low lighting. A sublevel doorway to piss in. Street lights and taillights and a black cab interior.
Heresy, rewarding the reckless.
Nothing approaches the feeling of awaking mid-conversation, drunk but suddenly lucid. Unaware of the lies you’ve told while introducing yourself. Or, worse, the truths that might have snuck through.
So it goes, I awake in a wine cellar. The woman next to me is laughing, holding a long-stemmed glass of red, half-bent over the bar and spilling off her stool. Her short crimson hair accentuates her pale freckled skin, her sharp features. A trick of the light reveals strands of grey.
Conor is nowhere to be found.
“The rule is,” she says, “your past life has to be different than your life now. The universe doesn’t send you in cycles. How boring would that be?” She tugs on the strap of her dress, which has fallen past her shoulder. “See, I was born in New York. I’ve lived my whole life here. Therefore, in a past life, I lived on a deserted island. I foraged my salad. I hunted my entrees. I smacked rocks together to make fire.”
“That doesn’t work,” I say, half-slurring.
My companion sips wine like a jazz musician holding a note. “You know what they say about private islands.”
“Wait. Was this a private island or deserted?”
“Is there a difference?”
“Of course,” I say. “Private island, you have to be a millionaire. Or, billionaire. You have to star in horrible action films.”
“And deserted is what?” she asks. “Some shitty piece of land the cartographers haven’t found yet?” She pauses to study the tin ceiling. “I think mine would have been that one. A floating rock. In this life I’m drowning in culture. In that one I was probably dumb, numb, and happy.”
“You’re not happy in this life?”
“Oh no, no. Very smooth, but your attempts at making an emotional connection are heretofore thwarted. Buy me another round.”
“Ma’am?” she asks.
“… I might have forgotten your name,” I say.
“I had a feeling.”
“Well, Mister Not Drunk,” she says. “You didn’t forget my name, because I never told you.”
“Do I get to know now?” I ask.
“Another drink, first.”
Scarcely trying, I draw the bartender’s attention. In venues of this caliber, the customer is king. “So,” I say, after placing our order, “between that life and this one, which would you choose?”
“It’s not like that,” she says. “The experiences are cumulative. Somewhere inside of me is the memory of walking on a beach naked at sunset, swimming in the ocean, pure silence. But. I went to the Caribbean just once in this life? The airline lost the suitcase with my books? I nearly drowned myself. Lying there with nothing to do? It’s torture. You put me on an island — luxury or otherwise — you better make sure there’s a library.”
Our glasses arrive — a generous pour. “What shall we drink to?” I ask.
“How about to constant evolution, never-ending progress, and the power of denial.”
She swallows her first sip, then eyes me. “You’re not an author, are you?”
“If you are, you have to tell me,” she says. “I need another author in my life like I need a hole in the head.”
“Why, what do you do?”
“I am an editor.”
“Those who can’t write.”
“I’m sure it’s not like that.”
“It doesn’t diminish my love of language,” she says, “or my ability to help shape works of lasting importance. But, the times I’ve tried myself? I’ve, just, looked down and seen dozens of adverbs. No reader deserves that.”
“Would I know anything you’ve worked on?” I ask.
“If you’ve passed a bookstore in the past ten years.”
“So you’re kind of a big deal?”
“I spent some time at the nexus of things. I’m work-for-hire now.” She drinks. “Do you read?”
“Sure,” I say.
“What’s the last book you’ve read?”
“I’d have to think about it.”
“Did you know most animals choose their mate by smell?” she asks, placing her hand on my leg. “No pretense, no conversation. They simply lean in and breathe.” Her nails scratch my thigh, looping inward. “If it’s good, it’s good. And if it’s not, that’s it. No rationalizing themselves into bed. Just the scent. That one all-encompassing breath.” She leans forward and cranes her neck, exposing impossibly white skin inches from my mouth. Whispering into my ear, she asks, “Don’t you wish we were animals?”
“Do I smell good to you?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say.
“You, too.” 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.
[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.