She was already pouring the wine when the planes came in over the water, four black darts silhouetted against a glistening blue. The evening sun had dipped to just above the horizon, bathing the skyline — our dusty rooftop included — in shades of yellow and orange.
The engines began as a whisper (as always), though within moments they had risen to a whooshing that echoed across the water, through the city streets and off the skyscrapers all the way to the hills overlooking the city.
She poured the wine atop the low stucco wall that ringed the rooftop. The glasses were nestled against an iron handrail.
Her attention was fixed entirely on the drinks, lips pursed as if she had stopped halfway to blowing a kiss. Wind played at her hair and the fabric of her white summer dress. Some distance behind her the shattered face of the Holiday Inn towered above the cityscape.
We had unfolded a pair of lawn chairs on the roof, and as she returned to them with a glass of red wine in either hand the air raid siren began to wail. It was a desperate, hopeless sound that echoed helplessly across the rooftops.
“Here,” she said, offering me the glass that was slightly less full.
Somewhere below us a machine gun opened up. A stream of yellow tracers tap-tap-tapped toward the sunset.
Others joined in, sweeping the sky ahead of the sleek, black jets streaking toward the city.
She sat down beside me.
Ahead of us the sun was slipping below the horizon.
The gunfire was suddenly bright against the dark water.
I tasted the wine, which was a particularly bitter shade of unsatisfying.
“Good,” I said.
She caught and acknowledged the lie with a coy smile, sipped from her own glass and replied, “awful.”
Just before the edge of the city the jets pitched up sharply, straining skyward.
Broken fingers of orange tracer twisted to follow, swatting clumsily every which way.
Flak burst in dark puffs that lingered like sinister parodies of cotton balls.
Her fingertips brushed the back of my hand. “Are we safe?” she asked.
“We’re safe,” I answered.
She gave my hand a squeeze.
The bombs came off the rails. Dozens of tiny ovals I immediately lost among the buildings.
“Five seconds?” she asked.
“Four,” I said.
The jets sliced back toward the water. They followed a course shaped like the first hill of a roller coaster tilted on a thirty-degree angle.
The explosions sent ripples through my wine.
Fire bloomed along the waterfront, rising in orange pillars that reflected off the water. Almost immediately thick smoke began to curl up from the destruction.
Three of the four jets roared back toward the sunset. The fourth, the one on the far left, rocked in the air and then peeled away from the others. It swooped lower in a shallow dive. The criss-crossing streams of tracer fire shifted from the fleeing planes to the cripple headed for the water.
I gulped at my wine.
“Do you think he has a family?” she asked as the plane caught fire.
“Some family,” I said through a tightening throat. “Mother and father. Brothers maybe.”
Then the jet plunged into the sea and it was over.
The shooting stopped.
The air raid siren cut out.
The sounds of emergency vehicles floated up from the streets in its place.
I turned to look at her.
She was holding her wine glass by the bowl in her right hand, her arm cocked out at a ninety-degree angle from her body. It was nearly dark now and the distant flames had begun to play across her features. The thin, pointed nose. The dark eyes. Lips frozen on the edge of a kiss.
“I love you,” I said, and could not keep desperation from creeping into my voice.
She took my hand in hers and pressed each finger to her lips in turn. When she finished she asked if I was ready for another glass.
We clawed at each other in bed that night — her digging her manicured nails into my back until she drew blood, me tightening my fingers around her throat until her breath was ragged and labored.
The fires by the harbor burned till dawn.
Nick Lewandowski has lived abroad in Germany, Spain and Egypt. He is currently locked in a desperate struggle to sell his first novel.