Fiction
Fiction

Waiting for the Americans

Debra Di Blasi


 

I

 

A wind rose. With it came the wet scent of rain and kelp and open sea. Above the tavern a blue awning throbbed. Moorings clanked against the stripped masts of sailboats as the wind moved deeper into the harbor and spread outward, forcing its way up the terraced slopes, over the little villas and shell-strewn roads, through the raw scrubs of the topmost hills, ascending finally into the warm indigo sky above Saint Martin. 

 

Bertrand watched the barmaid grab bottles of rum by their necks and drop them into place under the bar.

 

"Fini!" she shouted, sliding a finger across her throat. “Fini, fini!” 

 

The bottles slid into place so perfectly that Bertrand wondered how many years of the barmaid's life had been spent doing that one task, so that she now took for granted her knowledge of where things belong, no longer proud of it, no longer something to smile about when no one was looking. 

 

Bertrand took nothing for granted, neither his simple knowledge nor the simple moments life now reluctantly proffered. This had not always been the case. In his youth he assumed each pleasure to be permanent, each accomplishment another stone upon which to build the fortress of his success. But misfortune had blemished the pleasures, and grief had shifted the stones. His fortress toppled. Now he was middle-aged and alone and careful not to stack one thing upon another. Now he spread things out flat, and scattered them, so that if one delight were crushed, the others might remain unaffected.

 

One by one, revelers abandoned their tables to the litter of empty glasses and overflowing ashtrays and cocktail straws tied into knots. The tourists—French, Dutch, German—moved inside to the restaurant or zigzagged in small drunken groups up the pier, heading to their rented villas where they would continue drinking until someone fell asleep or passed out or climbed into bed with a new or familiar lover.

 

Bertrand watched them go. He smiled as they giggled and teased one another, as if he were included in their revelry. When they disappeared from view and their voices grew faint—barely discernible from the night birds lamenting the oncoming rain—he felt a hollowness take shape inside him, a desolation so precise he could measure it with his hands. He stared down at his T-shirt and placed his palms around his paunch as if it were a ball he was about to toss. He squinted. There within the fleshy hemisphere lay the whole of his loneliness. 

 

How foolish are the poets, he thought, to claim that love resides in the heart! The heart is only a muscle, a hidden pump. It can be ignored—at least until the night comes and one hears within the silence the pulsing of one’s blood. And even then it’s not really the heart one considers but rather the emptiness of one’s room, the immeasurable stillness beyond the room's window, where the companionable world escapes into dreams.

 

He lifted his T-shirt and poked a finger into his navel. Here, he thought, here is love. Not in the body's heart, but in the heart of the body. As if the black scab of one’s umbilical cord hid a vent that allowed love to seep in. And out. Loneliness, of course, filling up the space left by love's retreat.      

 

Bertrand's loneliness: an old acquaintance. Constant and despised. The unwanted neighbor who will never move away, no matter how often you ignore his little wave each morning as you pass by him trimming his little hedges of pain. For three years Bertrand had ignored his loneliness. And yet, here it was: grown fat as his belly, catching up with him finally while he was on holiday, his defenses temporarily waived in order to let in some small happiness.

 

He measured the width of his belly, then carefully raised his hands up in front of his face. This wide, he thought. This large. My loneliness has grown in proportion to my belly. My love has fled.

 

II 

 

Three years ago when Marie came to Bertrand with tears in her eyes and a quiver in her voice to say that she was bored and was leaving him, Bertrand laughed. His laughter was neither comic nor scornful. In fact, it was not really laughter at all but an uncontrollable reflex: the only manner by which his body could expel the sudden onrush of fear and disbelief. Anger was not possible then. Nor tears. 

 

In the three decades of their marriage, Bertrand had neither uttered a harsh word to Marie nor shed a tear in her presence. Their marriage was based on stability, politeness, reliability—all of which Bertrand provided without exception. Marie had needed these things, demanded them. She’d said as much the day he proposed to her, qualifying her acceptance with a plea that he must never change. And so he hadn't. Thus, thirty-two years later when she told him she was leaving, Bertrand did not shout or stomp his feet or cry; he laughed. And his laughter struck her harder than any blow a lesser man might have wielded. She packed up her things that same day and walked out without another word. 

 

Bertrand's anger and tears came later. By then, of course, it was too late.

 

III 

 

The barmaid yanked the metal shutters down over the bar, beginning at the side that faced the terraced slope, then moving toward Bertrand who now stood alone on the deck. Her arms and shoulders were remarkably strong: When she grabbed hold of a shutter, her muscles bulged under the sun-toughened skin. The metal slammed onto the bar top with a thunderous clatter. 

 

Bertrand flinched. 

 

The barmaid reached a hand toward the last shutter and paused. She looked at Bertrand and narrowed her eyes. 

 

"Hey, you!" she shouted, though he stood no more than a few feet away.

 

He raised his eyebrows and pointed to his chest.

 

"Who else!" she shouted. "Why are you still here? Are you drunk?"

 

Although her French was fluent, Bertrand decided she was not from France. Or perhaps she had been at some point in the distant past but had lived on this island too long, pouring drinks and chatting with so many foreigners from so many different countries that her accent was now a homely conglomeration of all she’d heard.

 

Bertrand was indeed drunk but confessed only this: "I am waiting."

 

"For what?" the barmaid demanded, jabbing her fists hard into her wide hips. 

 

Bertrand was not offended by her bad temper. On the contrary, for the past three nights he had listened to her talk with tourists, and joke with them, and tell them over and over, "It is late, my fickle friends, the bar is closing, take your party elsewhere." He presumed her coarseness to be a defense, a weapon against belligerent drunks: men, young and old, who became fiercely lecherous while on holiday. She was not beautiful, no, but she was attractive, with a square face and long bones and sharp, wide-set eyes that were always moving, like prey, or predator.

 

Bertrand said, "I am waiting for my new friends."

 

"Ah," she said, grinning on only one side of her face, "the Americans."

 

Bertrand brightened and stepped closer. "You know them?"

 

"No," she said. "I only have poured their drinks. He likes vodka. She likes the rum—but not too much. More pineapple juice, she always tells me, as if I cannot remember." She snorted. "Her French is terrible."

 

"But ten times better than my English!" Bertrand said, a bit proudly.

 

"Whatever," said the barmaid. She stared up at the last open shutter as if willing it to drop on its own accord. "What time are they meeting you here?"

 

"Eleven o'clock," Bertrand said quietly.

 

She looked at her watch, then frowned. "It's a quarter-past already."

 

"Oh, is it?" he asked, feigning surprise. He had been counting the minutes and knew the extent of the Americans’ tardiness.

 

She looked at him unkindly. "They are not coming back."

 

"But they are!" he insisted. "They must!" He took three quick steps forward. "You see, tomorrow they will return to America, and we will not meet again, not in Saint Martin, but perhaps in France very soon. Yes, they spoke of traveling to France and of visiting me at my home in Beauvais. But I do not have their address, you see, and they do not have mine, so how can we meet again in France if we do not meet here tonight? They promised to come back."

 

The barmaid looked at him dubiously.

 

Bertrand quickly added, "They told me they were dining in tonight and might be late for this very reason." He was surprised then embarrassed by this lie, and averted his eyes.

 

"Well," the barmaid said after a short sigh, "I cannot keep the bar open for your late friends. I must close." She grabbed hold of the last shutter and, with a grunt, pulled it down.

 

IV 

 

After Marie left, Bertrand discovered that he had very few friends upon whom he could rely for sympathy. Some said, "Well, I'm not surprised." And when Bertrand asked them to explain, they merely shook their heads and replied, "I prefer to not involve myself further in the matter." Others listened to his story with quiet attentiveness, then patted his shoulder and mumbled, "Ah, well, time heals all wounds," their eyes and posture already searching for an exit. Still others refused to speak to him entirely. These people, he concluded, had in the course of thirty years become Marie's friends alone and would have nothing to do with him out of loyalty to her. So Bertrand was left to manage his grief in solitude. It was a difficult task. 

 

When he rose each morning, his first thought was of Marie. And when he went about his work each day, his mind wandered to Marie. And when he climbed into bed each evening, his last thought before sleep was of Marie. No matter how hard he tried to push her out of his mind, she always came back. 

 

Finally, the persistence of memory became more than he could bear. One evening just after twilight he got in his car and drove north into La Trouche, toward the low mountains there, where he and Marie had spent many cheerful days of their youth hiking through cool forests. As twilight became night, his car ascended the winding roads, aimed toward the blackness above. He drove fast and careless, searching for the perfect spot: a parabola arcing out over miles of empty space, the earth distant and fatal beneath gravity's pull. He found it: Illuminated in the headlights lay a sharp curve to the left and a low aluminum guardrail dead ahead, separating the road from the wide black air beyond. Hardening himself against life for fear that he might cling to it too dearly when the time came to steer straight, he pushed the accelerator to the floorboard and pinched his eyes tight and whispered, “Adieu, Marie.”

 

 

The Caribbean wind rattled the moorings and the blue awning throbbed up and down, tugging at its anchors. The barmaid stepped out of a side door in the shuttered bar and walked across the deck. She glanced at Bertrand, then up at the night sky. "It's going to rain soon," she said, the acerbity of her voice finally tempered by fatigue.

 

Bertrand shoved his hands into the pockets of his walking shorts. "Yes, I believe it is."

 

"You will get wet."

 

He looked at the awning over his head.

 

"I must take it down," she said.

 

"Oh." 

 

The prospect of standing in the rain while waiting for the Americans did not appeal to Bertrand. He quickly glanced at his villa, half-lit and warm at the top of the hill. Then he pictured the young Americans arriving in a downpour, the man holding a useless newspaper or maybe an island map over the woman's head as they raced down the hill, only to discover an empty pier, a shuttered bar. Bertrand imagined the disappointment washing over their faces, heavy as island rain. He envisioned them huddled at the end of the dock, near the beaten sailboats, silent and downcast. What would they think of him? What terrible unhappiness would they feel? He would never have the opportunity to explain himself, and they would go back to America believing that old French men were unreliable drunks who broke promises and betrayed new friendships.

 

He pulled back his shoulders and nearly yelled, "I cannot leave!"

 

"Okay, okay!” barked the barmaid. “Stay and get wet.”

 

"I cannot leave," Bertrand repeated, softly.

 

The barmaid shook her head and began unfastening the awning from its anchors.

 

VI 

 

The aluminum guardrail was not as flimsy as Bertrand had imagined. Though his car struck it with force, the rail held, softening the impact by bending outward in a grating yawn of metal. He might have had a second chance at death by flying headlong through the windshield, over the hood and beyond the precipice, but he had worn his seatbelt – a habit. Yes, the prudence he’d practiced for Marie's sake had extended into all facets of his life. A life, he realized as he unfastened his seatbelt, that will go on with or without my approval.

 

He sustained no more than a bruised knee, a stiff neck, and a hint of nausea. The damage to the car was more extensive: Steam spewed from under the crumpled hood, and the grille was violently bent backward into the right front tire, now torn open. The car’s engine continued running for a few minutes, then knocked, gasped, and died. Bertrand felt a surprising pang of remorse and grief. It was just an old car, but… He patted the metal fender, sighed, and walked unsteadily to the edge of the precipice. 

 

Far below, among the trees, lights twinkled like tumbled stars. Each one represented to Bertrand the brightness of love, the firelight of couples young and old who had found contentment within each other's flaws and thus no longer questioned their existence or feared the other's death. Bertrand wondered if Marie might be among them, happy now with a new man whose ambiguity toward her not only alleviated boredom but brought back her youth. It had been true, as others had whispered, that Marie had aged prematurely during their marriage. In the last five years, her walk had slowed to a shuffle and her head hung apple-like between her round, sad shoulders. But Bertrand had loved her nonetheless, perhaps even more. And because he’d never considered life with her boring, his youthfulness, by contrast, remained intact. The day she left, he aged twenty years. 

 

Now, as he stood at the precipice looking down upon all that might have been but was no more, he could hear the brittle snap of his joints, the aching thump-thump of his heart. 

 

A vague darkness beckoned him from below. But he had lost the courage to leap into it.

 

VII 

 

Scraps of music wafted down from the villas where a handful of terrace lights still burned amber. Overhead, stars vanished behind clouds. Bertrand looked up at the sky and then, hopefully, at the hills again, imagining that this light or that light belonged to the Americans who had just awakened from a nap, realized they had overslept, and were this very moment bustling about to make themselves presentable to their new French friend who they trusted had not given up on them.    

 

The barmaid began rolling up the blue awning, her big hands with their thick fingers remarkably agile as they knotted the ropes. Every now and then she glanced at Bertrand with an expression that revealed nothing. When she’d finished tying the knots, she tried to throw the awning over her shoulder but faltered against its bulk. The canvas collapsed in half so that she was caught between lifting and holding on.

 

Bertrand rushed forward to help. She clutched the awning tighter, scowling at him until he beseeched, "Allow me?" 

 

Her scowl collapsed, and she let go. 

 

Bertrand heaved the awning over his shoulder and, staggering and breathless under its weight, asked, "Where shall I put it?"

 

The barmaid turned and indicated that Bertrand follow, waving a hand forward like the leader of a wagon train in an American movie. She opened the side door to the bar and led Bertrand behind the liquor bottles and juice cans into a small dark room that smelled of spilled beer and mold and dust. 

 

She pointed to a corner. "There."

 

Bertrand dropped the awning with a grunt, and carefully propped it against the wall. It toppled. He repositioned it twice before it stood firm, then brushed his hands together with satisfaction and turned with a smile. But the barmaid had already stepped out and was waiting by the side door, keys in hand. When he passed by her, she only stared impatiently at the key ring.

 

Bertrand calculated how long he had been inside the storage room: no more than a minute or two. He wondered if the Americans had arrived during his absence, found no one, and then, dejected, had left. He glanced up the dock and down the pier. It was empty. He concluded that they would have searched for him had they arrived—they were clever people, and well-mannered. Nevertheless, their lengthening absence planted a seed of doubt in his mind.

 

Before the barmaid locked the bar door, she took down a bottle of wine and uncorked it. She gazed up at the night sky. "Yes, it's going to rain."

 

Bertrand shrugged.

 

"How long will you wait for the Americans?" she asked.

 

"Until they arrive," he replied, his voice rising slightly toward a question.

 

"And if they do not arrive?"

 

Bertrand had no response. He looked down at his running shoes that now, against the dark wood of the deck, appeared very white and, he decided, ridiculous. They were new shoes. He had bought them at one of the duty-free shops in Philipsburg, the day after he had met the Americans. They had worn similar shoes, and Bertrand thought the shoes gave the couple an air of attractive vitality, as if they were just back from tennis or a long hike. Now, however, he realized that they’d worn short white socks with their white shoes, and their legs were brown and lean. Bertrand's socks were black, and his legs were thick and flabby and pink from the sun. It occurred to him, with a rush of blood to his cheeks, that his appearance might have embarrassed the young couple, that although they had been cheerful and friendly this afternoon—no different than usual, it seemed—they had really not wished to be seen with him again, dressed as he was: an aging French man who could not manage even the simplest fashion. He was just about to argue the point with himself when the barmaid interrupted his thoughts. 

 

"Those are good-looking shoes," she said.

 

He looked at her quizzically, unsure if she was making fun of him or not. 

 

She pointed at his shoes. "They're new, yes?"

 

Bertrand nodded.

 

The barmaid studied his shoes a moment longer and added, "Very stylish."

 

He gave her a pained look. "The socks should be white."

 

The barmaid hesitated. "White socks would look better than black, yes. But really, what does it matter? Shoes are shoes. Socks are socks. People are something else."

 

Bertrand was uncertain of her meaning, but he was grateful for her evident kindness, and so nodded and smiled.

 

VIII 

 

It would be a long walk down that mountain. Although he expected someone to drive by any time and offer him a lift, no one appeared. The air was chilled and fragrant, laden with pine and damp moss and a hint of berries. His stomach growled. As if to echo his hunger, a night creature growled upon the mountainside. Bertrand wasn't afraid. Rather, he felt himself to be an integral part of the surrounding flora and fauna, separated only by his clothes that now seemed silly and irrelevant.

 

If I cannot disappear into death, he thought, then perhaps I can disappear into life.

 

He stopped in the middle of the black road and began undressing, carefully spreading his jacket upon the pavement and laying his shoes, wallet and underwear on it. He tied the jacket and its contents into a bundle, walked to the road's edge, and threw it all into the dark valley. It was like throwing away his past, going forward into a new life, unburdened by grief and foolish hoping and the chiding voices of others—and his own inner voice that seemed never to cease its admonitions. 

 

In the vast silence of his discarded identity, he felt exhilarated. He looked up at the mountain disappearing into the black night sky and began his ascent.

 

IX 

 

The barmaid took a swig of wine then wiped her lips with the back of her hand. Bertrand glanced away—at nothing, really, for by now nearly all the terrace lights had gone out. 

 

The barmaid swung the bottle back and forth by its neck. The red wine sloshed pleasantly. "Would you like a drink?" she asked.

 

"No thank you," he said.

 

"Come on.” She shoved the bottle at him.

 

Bertrand flinched. "Oh. Well. Okay." He took the wine, then hesitated. He wondered if it would be impolite to wipe off the mouth of the bottle before drinking from it. He had never shared a bottle with Marie, or even a cup or glass. He decided to err on the side of etiquette and gently put the bottle to his lips, but he did not drink. 

 

"You'll never get drunk that way," said the barmaid. Bertrand thought he detected the flicker of a smile on her face.   

 

He tipped the bottle again, this time with force, and let the wine fill his mouth before swallowing. It was warm and pleasant and not too sweet. He wiped the bottle's mouth on his T-shirt before passing it back to the barmaid. This time he was sure he saw her smile, but it was a crooked one, caught halfway between pleasure and contempt. He reasoned that it was the best she could produce after all these years behind a bar, and so, fearlessly, he smiled back.

 

The barmaid walked to the edge of the dock and kicked off her shoes. They were deck shoes, stained and worn. One seam gaped open, and the laces did not match. She sat down, dropping her big feet over the side. Her legs were long: Her toes skimmed the water when she pointed them. 

 

Bertrand waited for her to invite him to join her. She didn't. She only took another swig of wine and sighed with such heaviness that Bertrand heard it as something they had in common.

 

"May I join you?" he finally asked.

 

The barmaid shrugged. "Suit yourself."

 

He carefully removed his shoes and socks, and eased himself down next to her, grunting as his waistband bit into his belly. When he swung his legs over the edge he saw that his feet were nearly a foot above the water, even with his toes pointed down. 

 

For a long time, neither of them said a word. The barmaid took three more swigs before mutely passing the bottle to Bertrand again. He was careful to not swallow too little or too much. 

 

After another swig and another sigh, and without shifting her view from a distant point far beyond the harbor, the barmaid asked, "What did you see in them, anyway?"

 

"Who?"

 

The barmaid looked at him sidelong, with pursed lips that told him she knew very well that he knew who.

 

"Oh," he said, “the Americans.” Already he was inventing an answer because the real reason seemed far too complicated, too complicated for even him. It squatted somewhere just off to the side, smug and disagreeable. "They were very nice," he explained, "very sunny, like this island."

 

"I don't think you really liked them," she said. "You just liked what they represented: Two good-looking Americans who were still young and crazy in love." 

 

 

Near the top of the mountain, Bertrand grew tired of climbing. He lay himself down among tender bushes and pine needles, and quickly fell asleep. He dreamed of Marie as a teenager and of a song he had not heard in years. When he awoke in the cold shadow of the mountain, his throat was raw and swollen. He realized that in his sleep he’d been straining to sing, dreaming he was a tenor hitting notes so high and pure that the skies spilled snow.

 

He stood up stiffly, painfully, and brushed the leaves from his skin. A toad croaked, and it sounded lovely.

 

By the time he reached the village below, the sky had shifted to gray and the early birds were reclaiming their territories. Villagers gawked as he strode naked alongside the road, but no one offered to help or inquired about his welfare. He found the police station on his own. A sergeant gave him a blanket. 

 

After Bertrand confessed his failed suicide attempt, the sergeant told him that he would be fined for damages to the guardrail and to have his car towed.

 

“Will I be charged for this blanket?” asked Bertrand.

 

The sergeant paused so long it seemed he had not heard the question. As Bertrand was about to ask again, the sergeant replied coldly, “Yes.”

 

XI 

 

By the time the wine was gone, Bertrand was mildly drunk again. The wind had picked up speed but the rain held back. The barmaid slumped with her elbows on her knees. When a strand came loose from the tangle of hair on her head, Bertrand reached to pull it back. With a viper’s speed and precision, she grabbed his wrist. “Do not,” she said, slowly and forcefully directing his hand down against the wood of the dock.

 

“I,” Bertrand said, wide-eyed and burning. Then he whispered, “Forgive me.”

 

“So many of you assume,” she said, looking not at Bertrand exactly, but just beyond him, at a boat or rope or scrap of trash; it was hard to tell. She sighed. “I don’t want love, and if I did, not from a man.”

 

Bertrand started to say something about love, something trite and careless, like so many had said to him after Marie’s departure. Then he thought to tell her of love’s home in the belly. Then he thought better, and in his better thinking absorbed the whole of her statement. “Oh! I understand.”

 

She nodded curtly and looked down at the bottle between her knees. “Yes, so.”

 

He considered her, then, for all her previous bravado, to be a kind woman, kind and brave, to keep a middle-aged man company while he waited for his friends to arrive.

 

“Thank you,” he told her.

 

“For what?”

 

"For waiting for the Americans with me.”

 

She laughed, not cruelly but heartily, as if the punch line of a great joke had just revealed itself to her. “The Americans,” she said with a chuckle.

 

For the first time in a long time, Bertrand felt a sliver of anger lodge in his throat. He scowled and pumped his cheeks with air.

 

“Why did you come here, really?” she asked him. “To this island. Alone.”

 

Such a long story, thought Bertrand. He was tired of telling it, tired of thinking it, tired of weaving it into something that it was not. Inspired by the barmaid’s frankness and precision, he responded, “I tried to kill myself and failed. Failing helped me live life bigger.”

 

For the first time, the barmaid looked at Bertrand with admiration, almost deference. “I’ve never found the courage.”

 

“To live bigger?”

 

“No,” she said, grinning. “To kill myself.”

 

Bertrand grinned, too. Yes, he thought, of course. This was where their lives intersected: in sorrow. He lay a hand on his belly. “Did you love her very much?” he asked sagely.

 

The barmaid made a low sound—one syllable through her nose, as much a sigh as a laugh—that made her head gently ricochet backward. “For a long time, yes, I thought so.”

 

"And then?”

 

“And then one day I realized that I’d never loved her. I’d only loved what she represented—her smarts and looks and happiness. Everything I knew I could not be. I thought possessing her would help me possess those things. What a stupid woman I was.”

 

“Not stupid,” said Bertrand, “human.”

 

"Humans are stupid.”

 

“Sometimes,” Bertrand agreed. “But.”

 

She looked at him and tilted her head. Her jaw softened. “You still want the Americans to show up?”

 

“Yes,” said Bertrand, firm as ever.

 

“Then make your plea to the Goddess of the Harbor.”

 

“Goddess of the Harbor?” Bertrand scrutinized her, wondering in his drunkenness if she might be a goddess in disguise, sent to rescue him from his vexing loneliness.

 

"A goddess of everything gone,” said the barmaid. “The islanders say she lives at the bottom of every bottle shared between strangers. If she considers your case worthy she will help you. Watch.” She clasped the empty bottle in both hands, closed her eyes, and blew across the rim until a soft whistle rose deeper and louder. “Oh, Goddess of the Harbor,” she intoned, “give me the courage to love again. Or to kill myself. One or the other. And soon.” Then she sat back and smiled serenely. “I pray to her every night now.”

 

"So you believe the mythology?" asked Bertrand.

 

"Of course not.”

 

"Then why do you make your plea?"

 

"To prove that the goddess does not exist so I won't waste my time hoping for the impossible."

 

"But what if she answers your plea?"

 

The barmaid smiled. "She never has." 

 

Bertrand scratched his nose, though it did not itch.

 

The barmaid looked out to sea and said wearily, "Who hasn't had a broken heart at least once in their life." And then quickly, as if retreating from the compassion inside her, she added coldly, "But people survive. The ones who don't, well, they end up dead or living on a tropical paradise that is almost pretty enough to make them forget."

 

She stood with a soft groan. "Your American friends are not coming," she said. "They never were. Go back to your villa." 

 

Bertrand blinked his eyes as if staring under water. Indeed, they burned with salt.

 

The barmaid stared at the empty bottle in her hand, then said with a far-away voice, as if she were not talking to Bertrand at all, "Go back to France or Belgium or wherever, to whoever you were before you came here. Go back and stop making impossible wishes."

 

She handed Bertrand the bottle and then was gone. He knew he would not meet her again.

 

XII 

 

The sea began to murmur, first from afar, then nearer as the rain moved inland. By the time it reached Bertrand, it sounded like polite applause. 

 

The surrounding hills vanished in liquid darkness. All lights everywhere had gone out, the music silenced. 

 

Rain fell warm upon Bertrand's head and shoulders, upon his round belly and flabby knees. It soothed his burning eyes as he looked out to sea, past the sad sailboats, into the interminable blackness. Somewhere beyond that hungry dark—awfully far away—the sun was rising over France. 

 

He raised the empty wine bottle to his lips and blew a slow, steady stream of air into it. The bottle moaned. He glanced over one shoulder then another. The dock lay empty, the wet hills dark. He lowered his head and whispered into the bottle, "Goddess of the Harbor, if you are listening, please hear: Make the Americans remember me.”

 

He breathed again, but this time it was not the bottle moaning but himself. The wind answered in kind. He lowered the bottle and tightened his grip around it and stared beyond the night toward some vague shore bathed in perpetual laughter.

 

“Oh, please,” he said, suddenly shaking the bottle in the wind, proffering it to the goddess and the gods, and to all the universe seen and unseen. “My American friends, my Marie, my love, my youth,” he wept, “please, come back.”

 


 

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Photo Courtesy of Jaded Ibis Productions


Debra Di Blasi is a multi-genre, multimedia author of six books, including The Jirí Chronicles & Other Fictions, Drought & Say What You Like, and Prayers of an Accidental Nature. She is the recipient of a James C. McCormick Fellowship in Fiction from the Christopher Isherwood Foundation, Thorpe Menn Book Award, Diagram Innovative Fiction Award, and a Cinovation Screenwriting Award, among others. Her fiction is included in many leading anthologies of innovative writing and has been adapted to film, radio, theatre, and audio CD in the U.S. and abroad. Debra is founding publisher of the multimedia company, Jaded Ibis Productions and its publishing imprint, Jaded Ibis Press, and frequently lectures on the intersection of literature and new technologies.

 

This story was originally published in Issue 12 of The Literarian