A DRINKING TALE • by Christopher Owen

Marci and I run through the streets of Montmartre, drunk. Rain falls, turning the streetlights of Paris blurry against the dusk-time sky. Marci is barefoot, shoes in her hands, the streets too slick for high heels.

She seems particularly exuberant, and I like it. She’s been moody of late. Lecturing. But between then and now there’d been wine, which frees her soul like a bacchanal celebrant. It’s enough to make me forgive her incessant texting at each pub we’ve visited today.

We had started our day at a lunchtime writers’ social that took place at a restaurant atop Montmartre. The party was full of boring fellow writers who’d brought their big dreams with them to Paris, Hemingways every one of them. Marci had made me go. Good for you to network. Some publishers will be there too, Noel. Ha! At least there’d been plenty of booze. Wine. Beer. Spirits aplenty. Such tipple helps to fend off all the obligatory ‘how’s your writing going?’ and ‘have you published?’ remarks.

Such things bother me when I’m sober, but hours of steady drinking have alleviated that, and as I run with Marci, I feel good. Everything seems pre-ordained and possible when you’re drunk.

“Oh look, Darling, a little cat,” says Marci. I don’t bother to look. We’ve been playing this game all day.

“Let’s just go into the pub.”

“Oh, you,” she says. “Play the game.”

“Fine.” I look around. “What cat?  I don’t see any — ”

“She must have gone into that bar. Come on, let’s go in.”

Marci loves cats, and when she read Hemingway’s Cat in the Rain, she made up a game where she sees them around the streets of Paris. Today they always appear outside the doors of brasseries or pubs. I don’t really mind, I’m always rewarded with a drink inside.

We go in and I hear someone call Marci’s name. Marci’s eyes brighten and she pulls me along.

“Who the hell?” I whisper.

“Come on, it’s someone I want you to meet.”

“Is this who you’ve been texting all day?”

“Yes, now move.”

The man stands when we approach his table and holds out his hand to Marci. “Nice to finally meet you,” he says. “He then turns to me, hand held out like a hatchet. “Blake Vaughn,” he says, “Scrimshaw Publishing.”

We shake. We sit. We order drinks. My merciful bourbon arrives and helps to quell the queasy feeling that is growing inside me.

“Sorry I couldn’t make the social,” Blake tells us. “Crappy day. But hey, this worked out fine. So, Marci, shall we tell him the good news.”

“Good news?”

“Sure,” says Blake. “On behalf of Scrimshaw, I’m pleased to say that we’d like to buy Streets of Paris.”

“My novel?”

“Of course. I’ll forward you all the details via email, but Marci thought it would be nice for you to hear it in person, and well, since I was in town.”

“But, I didn’t submit it.”

“Oh, Noel,” says Marci. “I sent it. You’ve been worrying over that thing for a year since you finished it. Time to get it out there.”

“But it’s not done.”

“Well, I’d say it is,” says Blake. “Everyone thought it was brilliant. Consider yourself lucky. We don’t usually read unsoliciteds. But, Marci was convincing, and well, friend of a friend, you know.”

“Noel, don’t be mad. This is what you wanted. Take it. It’s time. And lord knows you need the money.”

Ouch, that stung. The grant that brought me to Paris to write has long since run out, and I’ve been living off Marci and her family’s good graces.

“I know this can be overwhelming,” says Blake. “Just look for my email, and think it over. No rush. But on that note, I’ve got to go.”

Blake pays and leaves. Marci smiles at me.

“Don’t be mad, Noel.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because you wouldn’t have sent it.”

“I would when it was ready.”

“Didn’t you hear him? It is ready. Let it go. Start another one. Every single word doesn’t have to be perfect.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“Jesus, Noel, you haven’t even done anything to that manuscript in months. All we do is eat and drink and carry on like…”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know, like you’re trying to be Hemingway or something.”

“Maybe I am.”

“Well, write like him, and stop drinking like the old sot for a change.”

“Great. A lecture.”

“Noel, I love you, but I’m tired of going on like this.” She stands.

“Where are you going?”

“Home. You can come if you want.”

“Hmph. Think I’ll hang here a bit. Looks like I’ve got a lot to think about.”

She leaves. Through the blurry windows I see her hail a cab and she is gone.

After a few moments I decide I don’t like the air in this place, so I go out and walk through the rain for a little while. At length I come to another pub. In the window is a little cat. I laugh in spite of myself. It’s the only god-damned real one we’ve seen all day. As I go into the pub, the refreshing scent of stale alcohol greets me.

Marci doesn’t know that I’ve stolen a good bit of Streets of Paris from others, taken freely the words and sentences of long dead writers languishing in obscure novels. My plan had been to turn those phrases into something I could call my own eventually, but the task has proven difficult. Perhaps I took up a crutch that never should have been used. But my mind, these days, is no longer sharp. Even my hands shake sometimes. Whatever, it will all come out soon enough. Who knows how much I will lose. The deal, certainly. My reputation. Perhaps Marci as well.

Still dripping rainwater, I approach the bar and order a drink. Outside, the streets of Paris echo with a million stories that I’ll never know or tell.

Christopher Owen lives in Texas with his wife and two cats. His work has appeared at Daily Science fiction, Mirror Dance, Mystic Signals and other places. He is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing workshop and the Yale Summer Writers’ Conference.

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