RHAPSODY IN THE DARK • by Christopher Owen

Lightning roils and cracks in the night sky over Paris.  I sit stark still at my café table, a glass of brandy — my tenth, or perhaps twelfth — untouched before me.  Brittany’s first glass of wine also sits unfinished on her side of the table.  She has long since departed, though as each flash of lightning charges the air with spectral light, it is as if some shadow of her still lingers in the space her body once occupied.

There is yet no rain, but all the other patrons have fled inside in fear of the coming storm.  I have not yet decided if I also fear it, or wish to embrace it for its power to wash away things that I no longer have any use for, like love, and lust, and gentility.

With Herculean effort I move my hand to my glass, lift it to my lips, and down the brandy, which I’ve long since ceased to taste.  I still feel a hint of its warming fire, and I wave at the waiter for another.  When he comes with another glass, he stares at me with a look only a Frenchman can give.

“Monsieur, would you care to come inside?  It is going to rain.”

“No.  I don’t care to, thank you.”

“I would like to close the terrace.  I don’t wish to keep coming out in the rain.”

“Just bring me a bottle, then.”

He shrugs, but by the time I have downed my eleventh, or thirteenth, glass, he appears with the bottle. I pay him for everything, then he clears some of my empty glasses and departs. He leaves Brittany’s glass, however — as if she were coming back. I ponder through how many different quantum universes I’d have to travel for that to happen. It certainly won’t happen in this one.

The first few drops of rain begin to fall with the temerity of a lover’s touch. Things always start out that way. Soft. Gentle. Tender. Then things pick up like this rain surely will, building to a fervor, a zeal, a crescendo until everything is wild and chaotic, and then, ultimately and irrevocably, gone. Nothing gold can stay.

Raindrops fall into Brittany’s wine glass, sending little ripples through the surface of her Chardonnay, and I wonder how long it would take for it to dilute the wine into nothingness. I also spot a pink half-rictus of lipstick on the glass where she had taken a sip, a last little echo of her presence that conjures up old ghosts of breathless kisses on nights long passed.

I reach over the table and pick up the glass. Shame to waste wine, even this cheap stuff that Brittany likes to quaff.  I start to take a drink, and see the lipstick staring back at me.  I consider turning it so the smudge is away from me, but I don’t.  One last kiss for old time’s sake, I decide as I press my lips to her imprint and down the wine in a quick gulp.  The taste reminds me of better times.  Of picnics at the Jardin Du Luxembourg, dancing up in the clubs of Montmartre, late night rendezvous in my bed.

The thunder peals again and it reminds me of Brittany’s last words.  “You’re never going to change,” she’d said.  “I can’t live like this anymore.”  There were others, too.  Ones I don’t care to remember.  No one really wants to hear such things, true or not.  But she is right; I’m not going to change.  Nobody ever does, I muse, as I pour myself my twelfth, or fourteenth, glass of brandy.

The rain now falls in earnest, and all of the city blurs around me like an impressionist’s canvas.  I consider getting up and wandering off into the night with my bottle, letting the rain pour over me and perhaps eventually wash me down into the famed sewers of Paris.

In light of the pouring rain, I cease the pretense of drinking from a glass, and begin to take slugs of brandy straight from the bottle.  I also begin to feel good, though in the depths of my mind I know it is merely fueled by the alcohol.  I find solace in thoughts of this being some sort of new beginning.  I can do anything I want now, I ponder.  Brandy for breakfast.  Breakfast in the afternoon.  Afternoon naps on a whim.  I can live for myself.

I almost laugh at such thoughts when a cab pulls up in the damp street.  The back window rolls down and I see Brittany, her golden hair frazzled, her mascara in runs, her eyes glistening.  Somewhere in the quantum multiverse, a madman has rolled the dice, and she has returned.

“Are you just going to sit there in the rain?” she asks.

“I don’t have anything better to be doing.”

“Jesus, Jake.  Come on, get in the cab.”

I stand at a precipice.  New hope and freedom lie before me, in the balance, juxtaposed against familiarity and comfort.  At length, I chose the latter, and rise.  With my bottle in hand, I approach the cab.

When I get in, Brittany says, “You’re soaked.  You’re gonna catch cold.”

“I think I’m inoculated quite well against the weather,” I say, and then take a drink from the bottle.  I offer it to her.

“No thank you.  I’ll drink some wine when we get back to your place.”

“Is that where we’re going?”

“Well, yeah.  Where else?”

I say nothing, and she gives the address to the driver and he pulls away from the café.  He switches on the wipers, and they beat a dissonant time to the crappy music on his radio, and I watch Paris pass by in its blurry glory, the city lights like fire against the darkness of the night.

Christopher Owen lives in Texas with his wife and two cats. His work has appeared at Daily Science Fiction, Fried Fiction, Mystic Signals and other places. He is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop.

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