by Reed Stirling
Amber light streaked the smoky aftermath of a night's barroom activity. I sat at the curve in the counter, deciphering autographs on foreign currency taped to the mirror where, a moment previously, I had caught Magalee arranging her hair. She was now stacking glasses and ashtrays by the sink, having swept up shells from pistachio nuts and sunflower seeds. Cretan music: haunting and distant, barely audible beyond Manolis' persuasion. I felt like the protagonist in a bluesy after-hours song, a little haunted, a little distant, although I had not come into The Socratic Bar specifically for company. The hour had grown late, but not that late.
Manolis and a couple from Boston unwilling to call it a night continued to exchange offbeat travel stories. At this point they were on about the white slave trade in North Africa. In Alexandria, the husband explained, not without some pride, he had been approached on more than one occasion about selling his wife. She was, I had noticed on entering, very attractive. Temptation had been great, the husband teased, but what would he do with twelve camels?
Moving about the vacant tables, Magalee continued with her duties, aware of, but not put off by, my furtive attention. Her movements were unhurried, functional, and the scent she wore lightened the thick air.
"Does it have numbers?" I asked her.
"Does what have numbers?"
"Your perfume. Déjà Vu."
"It is Déjà Vu # 2. There is no other."
I was taken with what she had on. I was always taken with what she had on. This night: a pearl white sweater that loved her, a black leather belt that accentuated her slim waist, a floor length skirt of finely woven wool in a tight chequered pattern. Her skirt in particular intrigued me, its folds, its undulations, its languid rhythms. Magalee moved about gracefully, defined in lines both elegant and provocative. She reached over a corner table to wipe away the traces of occupancy, reached further across to pull a chair into place, and as she did, the perfection of her form was revealed. A moment of benevolence, perhaps, of benign compassion, arranged by nature as a source of consolation during this tyranny of desire, so defined and complete unto itself that it would stand forever in some realm beyond my paltry ogling.
"Nice ass!" New York Nick said when he entered, the goat bells on the door rattling behind him. He nudged my shoulder with his elbow as he passed to the far end of the bar where Manolis still held forth. But by then Magalee and her mischievous nymphs—
I cocked my head at Nick. Sufficient recognition. I refused to let his facile profanity unseat me. And yet at that moment I felt neither superior to him nor more enlightened. And I didn’t reject his language, not really, because through it he had stated, not tarnished, the truth. I just resented his intrusion. His epiphanies might come in other ways: a hairpin turn on a mountain road, a rococo romp with a dubious blonde, or a good belch in the vernacular. Though Magalee had retreated behind the bar, my attention returned to that corner table where I drifted out beyond Nick's irreverence to a land of willowy allusions.
I gained a little insight into the sensuous side of truth: how impulse born of instinct need not deny the aesthetic appreciation of flesh and form; how solids curve and liquefy; how, like statues draped, material substance can be made to take on life. I could appreciate even more the portrait of a smile that enchants forever, or a combination of notes that lifts and holds the spirit beyond time and place, creating sounds that haunt relentlessly—Mozart, Beethoven, John Lennon. In the whirlwind of wonder, I marvelled at how Crete in its glorious simplicity led you to discover the significance of the ordinary, or, in the solecistic world of New York Nick, the mundane. I marvelled at how I was beginning to sound — way too philosophical for my own good! I turned back to the mirror and caught myself grinning.
"Hey, malaka! You pissed?"
Worry beads clicking in one hand, a bottle of beer in the other, a cigarette dangling from his mouth, Nick made his way over to that corner table where Magalee's movements had spun me a fine web.
"No, not at all, Nick. Just sort of happy, sort of free."
"Outa sight, man! Like, how do you do that all on your own? You know, like without a little —"
"What happened to your leg?"
Though he tried not to show it, Nick was limping. An accident on his big road bike, possibly. In my yet happy state, I felt free enough to express concern for him.
"Business. But none of yours." He sucked back on his bottle, and then twirled his worry beads a few times.
"Just curious," I said, not completely annoyed with him, but damn close to it. He hadn’t just chanced by, or come to admire Magalee's endowments, or discuss philosophy with Manolis. He’d come to find me. I shook my head: not interested.
Nick shrugged, and then sucked down the last of his beer. He flipped his worry beads a few more times before heading to the door as cool as a guy not on crutches could.
New York Nick, Hermes in black leather, messenger boy, patron of scoundrels, thieves, and pushers who limp when they do not want to because stonewalls can on occasion impede their progress.
I looked around The Socratic Bar. Magalee had gone. The couple had gone. The air was still, and the music over. Finger and thumb shaping his chin, a plume of smoke over his head, Manolis at the far end of the counter held me in his gaze.
"Again you are the last to go. But tonight you look contented."
Bio: Reed Stirling lives in Cowichan Bay, BC, and writes when not painting landscapes, or travelling, or taking coffee at Bo’s, a local café where physics and metaphysics clash daily. Recent work has appeared in a variety of publications including The Nashwaak Review, The Valley Voice, Senior Living, Island Writer, Maple Tree Literary Supplement, and Out Of The Warm Land II andIII, StepAway Magazine, The Eloquent Atheist, PaperPlates, and The Danforth Review.
by Linda Thornton Peterson
She could hardly believe she was here—Ireland. It was as green as she’d imagined. The minute she stepped off the train, the air heavy with moisture reminded her of Louisiana with its endless rainy days and nights. The wind caught her skirt and whipped her long wild curls across her face. She took a deep breath, the smell of heather and rich black peat filled her lungs.
Grabbing her suitcase and swinging her backpack over her shoulder, she began looking for a cab. As she approached the street, she looked twice—a familiar figure—an athletic guy, over six feet tall, pushing his sandy hair off his forehead; her heart fluttered making her cough. She stiffened. Then he saw her—without hesitation, he rushed toward her, threw his arms around her and said, “I can’t believe it. What has it been? Five years?”
“At least that long . . . ever since you left for grad school,” she said trying to slow her heart.
“What in the world are you doing here?” he asked.
“Study abroad. What about you?”
“Semester abroad. I brought a few of my grad students to study. I’ll teach a couple of classes.” He gestured toward a small group of female students flagging a cab. They franticly waved for him to come. Before she could speak, he ran to catch up with them, then turned and called out, “Let’s have dinner tomorrow after the orientation.”
Waving goodbye to him, she thought he looked like a school boy piling into the cab. He seemed to be unattached. Not like the man she’d known. Hopefully he’d grown since he’d left for grad school without a word. It had taken her a long time to regain her equilibrium from their break-up—break-up was too kind. She hadn’t had the luxury of a break-up. He was gone without a word, never to be heard from. Now, here they were and she could still feel the sexual tension between them. Ignoring her feelings, she thought, dinner, what harm could that do? After all, she had grown and she told herself their meeting was karma.
They met for dinner, then lunch, then breakfast. They were off again, dating and having the thrill of seeing Ireland together. She forgot the past—the bad parts. That was so like her. The more they were together the more they both wondered why they had parted. When she asked why he’d left without a word, all he said was, “I don’t know why I did that.” He’d get that far away look like he was remembering.
His students were devoted to him; that was obvious by the way they hung around his office. One of them always had an appointment, but he made sure that he had time for her every day. She could always count on seeing him.
“We’ll do dinner as soon as I finish my appointments,” he told her when he called.
“Sure, what time?”
“Oh, eleven. A nice late dinner,” he said in his soft, strong voice.
“I’ll be ready.” Just hearing that familiar voice made her smile.
He was only thirty or forty minutes late; that hadn’t changed. Students need so much attention, especially in a foreign country. But, she quickly forgot the time once she felt his arms around her.
Each weekend, they stayed in little inns. He wrote, while she painted the landscape: the different patchwork quilts created by the long green and yellow grasses bent by the ever changing wind and the fields speckled with white sheep. She loved the lambs and once tried grabbing handfuls of thick wool to hug them like dogs. They fished for Brown trout, cooked them over a campfire, and sometimes slept under the stars.
With the semester ending, they would spend the last weekend together in a nearby village and make plans for when they got home. Prior to coming to Ireland, she’d accepted a job near his university. He said he had something special in mind for them and would tell her that weekend.
Laughing, he told her, “Remember, I’m a military brat. My dad was stationed here in the U.S. Air Force. I spent my high school years near that village. I know it well; no reservations needed. If no rooms are available, the jail always has an empty cell for tourists—like a youth hostel, but no age limit.”
“Charming, I’m sure,” she said amused, but not really at spending their last weekend in jail.
With her classes over, she took the train to the village. Sitting in one of the private glassed-in compartments, she felt like a star in a BBC movie. He’d come after his last class.
It was dusk when she stepped out onto the platform and headed across to the pub. Walking inside she could smell the sweet smoke from men’s pipes mixed with the sharpness of the peat fire. The gas lamps cast a soft orange glow over everything. Two Irish wolfhounds slept by the fire as regulars came in and out for a pint on their way home. No tourist here—a perfect Irish experience.
Although not much of a beer drinker, she ordered a Bass pint and sat sipping it by the large window. She could see the trains as they came and went. Their lonesome whistles made her feel like a child again when the midnight train had blown through her hometown.
It was dark now. She ordered another pint, and then rubbed a peek-hole in the fogged up window. Trains continued to come and go; passengers got off. The pub’s door opened and closed and opened and closed again, letting in the heavy moist air.
Hungry, she ordered chips. They would do till dinner. The first crisp bite burned her tongue, but they were her comfort food. The regulars dwindled; the dogs slept. Pulling her soft leather sketch book out of her backpack, she smiled looking at her colorful sketches of Ireland’s green fields and stone walls. A memento she’d give him. Something she’d not had a chance to do years before.
She finished her chips; then an order of fish sprinkled liberally with balsamic vinegar and another pint—putting her over her limit.
Eleven- thirty, that jail cell sounded good. No class could make him this late. Trains ran frequently, he hadn’t missed one. She put the sketch book back in her pack, got up, nodded good night and walked out onto the cobble stone street. How romantic those cobble stones had seemed when she stepped off the train.
As she walked in the direction of a single light over the door of an inn, her cheek felt wet. She reached up and lightly brushed off a drop, then several. . . . Rain?—Rain.
Bio: Linda Thornton Peterson, a Louisiana native, retired from Northern Illinois University as a psychotherapist and teacher. Five of her short stories and a poem have appeared in The Greensilk Journal. Poetry publications include: The Hanging Moss Journal, the Western State Colorado University Journal and a Northern Illinois University Journal. She won an NIU faculty poetry award and is a founding member of two DeKalb writers’ groups. As a former art teacher and stringer photographer with the Associated Press, she continues to exhibit her art as well as write.