SHOW ME BRAVE • by Kevin Shamel

“Someone has taken our table.” She spoke through me, as if to a ghost of herself standing behind me.

Her eyes hardened under a glacial frost — gritty, grating winter. Her lips pressed whitely together, crinkling the edges of her mouth into mean postures of offense. Over the sounds of the cantina I heard the growling near-words in her throat.

“Amanda,” I started, but stopped with her icy-hot glare.

Then, like lightning, she returned her gaze across the room. The men seated at the table tried not to notice the palpable wrath growing with each moment, but I saw them straighten in their chairs, and brush down hairs standing on their necks.

Again she said, “They’ve taken our table.”

Perhaps I shouldn’t have shrugged. It brought the weight of her storm on me. Her arm slipped from mine. I could feel her heating up.

It wasn’t that I didn’t care — for it was “our” table. But I knew nothing could be done about it. I knew the men were locals — farmers, or cowboys, or bandits or something. It was our table one night, four years before. It seemed certainly possible that the men sat there every other night.

Sitting at that table was far less important than the reason for our return. Any table in the cantina would serve. Any shadow, candle, or drink.

“Coward,” she hissed.

“Amanda.” We stood at the entrance. People at nearby tables flicked eyes toward us, and pricked their ears. Tension, like a tightening coil of snaky smoke, wound its way through the dark cantina. Eyes shone in candlelight. “Finding another table to call ‘ours’ will be easy. All we have to do is sit down at one. Let’s call someone else’s table ‘ours’ and be done with it.”

She stood looking at me for a moment with defrosting eyes. I dismissed the ease at which she warmed as dawning sentiment. She allowed my lead, weaving between tables, past hushed conversations — cantina patrons letting go of what could have been a scene.

Halfway across the room, she slipped her hand around and grabbed the lapel of my jacket. She spun me to face her. My eyes stumbled around the room as interest in our entrance began anew. She pulled me down to her, and placed her whispery, ballerina lips against my ear.

Her words came like buzzing knives, tossed into the crowd, but aimed at me. “But that is our table.” We stood before it, and she pointed.

The men seated there, the pirates at our table, bristled.

She waited for me to look into her eyes. Snow and ice had bled away to reveal their steel cores. The room melted into darkness, the spotlight widened around the two of us, and the table with its surly, restless men.

She’d put me on the spot again — and so easily. She’d poked at me and then swung open the door to my cage. Just like our marriage. Just like Amanda. She wanted to get me killed. It would make the future easier for her. No awkward accidental reunions, no festering feelings or phone calls in five years. She could just be done with me, forget, move on, be herself again.

I’d trapped her as much as she’d caged me — four years before, at that table by the window overlooking the sea. Two paths became one, and the path became a rut, and the rut a one way track leading to frustration, hopelessness, and want.

But hadn’t it once been a winding walkway through a mysterious garden? Hadn’t we shared the same destination? Hadn’t she at one time admired me? And hadn’t I loved her for it?

I’d been over what went wrong before. Why she’d stopped loving me. I’d given it thought. But I’d never come to an answer. Hadn’t I told her I loved her every day?

I stood in the light, all eyes on my next move. I remembered that we hadn’t needed to explain our mutual love to each other the night the table became ours — we basked in it like the soft light of the candle on the table. We knew. I didn’t say a word as I slipped the ring on her finger. I didn’t have to. She never said yes. Her pale gray eyes told me everything.

As the room faded away, and there were only us, and the men, and our table, I knew. I knew that Love had us, and had never let us go. I knew hearts don’t use words. That no matter how many words I used to tell her I loved her, she was not going to believe me. I’d withered since that night four years ago, worried, and wondered, and wasted our time together. I’d run from her, and lied about it — to both of us.

Wisdom spread itself out in the textures of the shadowy cantina. Our reason for standing in that spot stretched before me, obvious and perfect. The moment sang of fate, and destiny, and within each of those inevitabilities, the fractal patterns of free-will.

“Perdoneme,” I said to the men in halting, passionate Spanish, “pero eso es nuestra mesa.” Our table.

The man across the table looked up at me through shaggy eyebrows and smiled. He picked up his glass. The other men pushed back their chairs.

In a hearty toast, the man said, “To Love — it makes us all fools. And then it makes us brave.”

They drank.

The men left the table, holding my wife’s chair for her while she sat.

Her eyes reflected the fire of the candle.

When Kevin Shamel asked his wife to read this, he asked with a disclaimer: “This is not about me, you, us, or anyone we know.”

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Every Day Fiction