In Vino

By Robert Malone

They came out the back door, hard shadows distorted and long by the yellow light behind them, the two of them grinning at some conversation unheard. Stumbling to plant themselves on the oversized cobblestone steps, she dusting a spot with the back of her hand before making camp, lifting her coat with precision, he dropping blindly onto the top step, falling back sprawled on the cement, staring straight up at some featureless spot above him. She stretched back to nudge the door closed behind them, muting what was left of the dying party and its white noise of conversation, the clinking wine glasses, leaving only the night’s cold sharp silence. She pulled two cigarettes from a pack, biting one herself, laying the other on the plane of his chest.

“You got a lighter?” she asked.

“I feel weird,” he said.

“Never mind, found one.”

“I . . .”

“You okay?”

“I think we’re the only two who smoke.”

“I didn’t even know you did.”

“I feel weird.”

“Weird how? Here,” shaking the lighter at him. “You getting sick?”

“No. Just weird.”

“Emotionally or physically?”

“Emotionally. Though it’s bleeding over into an unpleasant physical sensation.”

“Stop.”

“I’m just . . .”

“No, you’re lighting the middle of your cigarette. Stop. Let me do it.”

“I have poor depth perception.”

“Sit up.”

“You remember we went on that field trip to San Francisco in 7th grade? I bought those toy cigarettes at that little junk shop in Chinatown?”

“You’re getting your back all dirty.”

“They had some kinda powder that would billow up like smoke when you blew in em.”

“I remember you sat in the back of the school bus taking drags till Ms. Hampton saw you and came tearing up the aisle, about ate shit tripping over Wes Singleton’s legs, which just pissed her off more. Thought she was gonna strangle you when she finally got back there.”

“There was like a little orange foil all crumpled in the tips that would catch the light when you moved them. To look like embers. Quality product. Someone put some thought into those.”

“Aren’t you cold with no jacket?”

“Like they were made specifically just to piss off Ms. Hampton and not a damn thing else. Just a singular purpose.” He propped himself up at a slight angle with his elbows on the stone, damp from the mist swirling in the paths of light. His head hung loosely as though the muscles in his neck had ceased to function. His eyes were squinted as though focusing, but there was nothing there to see.

“You know how there are thoughts that are just. . .uninvited?” he said, falling back to full horizontal.

“They force themselves on you. Without consent. You’d be better off without.”

“What thoughts?”

“Thoughts you want to be rid of but they . . . I don’t know. Persist, I guess. Won’t vacate the premises of your mind when asked politely.”

“I guess.”

“Compulsions toward idiocy.”

They sat a while without saying anything. Someone must have made a joke inside by the crack of laughter. The porch light went off––either it was on a motion sensor or someone inside had forgotten they were out here. She took long deep drags and blew them out like repressed sighs visible in the pale reflected
moonlight. He stared up at the pitch sky, flicking his thumb unconsciously against the filter over and over, only rarely bringing it to his lips. He’d only smoked half of it before he’d put out the flame and was taking phantom drags. She sat with her arms crossed over her knees, having finished hers and now
looking into the opaque forrest behind the house.

“Another cigarette?” he asked

“You didn’t finish the last one.”

“Do you want to stay sitting out here even if we’re not smoking?”

“You’re not sitting, you’re still lying down.”

“Do you want to lie down with me?”

“No. But I’ll stay sitting with you.”

“I am talking out of my ass.”

“Yep.”

“I am drunk.”

“Among other things.”

“I am drunk.”

“Yeah, well. In vino veritas.”

“Huh?”

“In vino veritas. Spanish. I think. Or Latin, I can’t remember.”

“Oh.”

In wine there is truth.”

“I’m drinkin beer.”

“I mean the alcohol itself. The beer is just the medium.”

“I got me a Coors tallboy. It is large.”

“Do you know what the hell you’re talking about?”

“I do.”

“Sit up.”

“And it’s Latin.”

He shifted into an equally lazy upright position with his forearms on his thighs, triggering the porch light back on, leaned to one side against the brick pillar there under the awning, his eyes pointed down to his muddy black and white Chuck Taylors, blowing smoke out his nose.

“You know those thoughts that are just . . . against your better judgement? Thoroughly in bed with your worse judgement. Among the crowd of your judgement, the bad eggs. To be avoided. But you can’t get them out.”

“Cut the poetical shit.”

“Just stuff you don’t wanna think.”

“Like what?”

“You might have some notion. Something completely irrational. But it might be rational, in some other way. I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

“Are you going to smoke that or not?”

“Not that it’s both rational and irrational. Just that it could be rational to do something irrational.”

“Do you have my lighter?”

“If something irrational is stuck in your brain, there might be no other way of dislodging it.”

“Sit up.”

“You could even recognize it for the irrational notion that it is, but also recognize the futility of fighting with it. Fighting a losing fight is irrational. Better to channel.”

“You want me to light yours?”

“Just some non-sensical . . . I dunno. Some weird energy that’s bouncing around between your ears and the more it bounces somehow the more momentum gets behind it, in plain defiance of the rules of thermodynamics, defiant of entropy––or maybe right in tune with the rules because its mere presence exhausts you, uses up all your energy, and that’s why you have to stop it. And the only way to stop it bouncing around, wrecking your head, is to open your mouth and let it bounce right the fuck out.”

“Uh huh.”

“I guess not non-sensical. It could be a coherent notion. A profound truth. Or a profound lie. Some mix.”

“I guess.”

“Got to do something. If you’re unsatisfied with the current state of affairs, you’ve got to do something.”

“Sometimes it’s better to do nothing. The best course of action might be inaction.”

“Undeniably. But nothing is not on the menu.”

“Why not? Why not nothing?”

The porch light went off again.

“I don’t know. You want to feel like you have some power over the situation. Especially when you fucking don’t.”

“Unless you only have the power to make things worse.”

“Better than nothing.”

“Is it?”

“Yep.”

“You’re the dumbest smart person I know.”

“What about I’m the smartest dumb person?”

“No. Just the first one.”

She ground her cigarette into a cobblestone and dropped it on the step below, pressed her hands flat on each side of her as though ready to push herself up.

“We have a little pile going,” he said.

“How about the bar? You can talk someone else’s ear off.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to . . .”

“I’m just kidding, I don’t mind.”

“What bar?”

“The bar. This town is not large. Only one within walking distance––we aren’t capable of driving.”

“Can’t go in there.”

“Why not?”

“Last time I went in there I got sixty-nined.”

“What?”

“I got sixty-nined last time I went there. I was drunk.”

“You got sixty-nined?”

“Yup.”

“With who?”

“Sam and Darryl.”

“No, I mean with who did you sixty-nine.”

Whom.”

“Who?”

“With whom.”

“Goddammit. With whom did you sixty-nine?”

“Huh?”

“Who sixty-nined you?”

“The bartender.”

“The dude with the earrings?”

“No, the chick.”

“What’s her name?”

“Yeah. What’s-her-name.”

“She sixty-nined you?”

“Uh huh.”

“Where?”

“At the bar, I said.”

“Were you really drunk?”

“I told you I was.”

“Did she get fired?”

“Fired?”

“Did What’s-her-name get fired for sixty-nining you in the bar?”

“No, she’s allowed to sixty-nine people. She’s the bartender.”

“After they closed or what?”

“What?”

“Just on top of the fucking pool table or what?”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“I don’t know.”

Eighty-six?”

“Huh?”

“You mean she eighty-sixed you? She kicked you out?”

“Yeah.”

“You said sixty-nine.”

“Did I?”

“Yes you did.”

“Same thing.”

“Jesus.”

“But can’t go in there.”

He reclined to the cement again, sloppily, almost slamming his head as the porch light popped back on. Damp patches all down his back now.

“Split one more cigarette?” he asked.

“It’s fine, I have two,” setting one on his leg that he seemed not to notice.

“You know, you can do whatever you want, but you can’t want whatever you want,” he said. “What you want is what you want.”

“What do you want?”

“Fuck it.”

“What do you want?”

“You.”

“Light your cigarette.”

“I love you.”

“My lighter’s by your shoe.”

“I love you.”

“I know.”

“You know?”

“Light your cigarette.”

“You know?”

“I know.”

“. . . ?”

“No. I’m sorry.”

“No?”

“No.”

“How long have you . . . ?”

“Are we really gonna do this?”

“Uh huh.”

“Now?”

“Apparently.”

“Okay. It’s been obvious since grade school.”

“Grade school?”

“You always walked me to arts and crafts. It was. . .unnecessary.”

“I haven’t loved you since grade school.”

“You always walked me to arts and crafts.”
“I. . .loved you in grade school. Subtle difference.”

“Are you going to smoke that cigarette or what?”

“Maybe I’ve loved you since grade school.”

“Don’t make this weird.”

“Well. I think we’ve passed the point of no return on that front. Firmly in enemy territory of weirdness, we are.”

A long hard silence. The porch light had turned off again without their noticing. She was a blue silhouette now, biting her lip, looking down at him, shaking her head.

“Are you okay?”

“Not great,” he said. “Fine.”

“Weird?”

“No. Weirdness has a vague, yet-to-be-determined quality. This is more definite.”

“Sit up, goddammit.”

“Maybe I don’t love you.”

“We should clean up these cigarette butts.”

“I’m not sure I can differentiate close friendship with an attractive unattached person from romantic love.”

“Thank you.”

“For what?”

“You implied that I’m attractive.”

“Oh.”

“You’re attractive, too.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“I am?”

“I’d do you.”

“You would?”

“I would. I mean, not me . . .

“Not you . . .”

“If I weren’t me. If you weren’t you.”

“You just said . . .”

“I mean I would. I won’t, though.”

“Oh.”

“It’s a saying. Sorry. I’m drunk too.”

“I think there’s some tobacco left in this one.”

“What happened to the fresh one?”

“No idea.”

“You could have any girl you want.”

“Obviously not.”

“You could.”

“I want . . .”

“Not me.”

“See?”

She held the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger, eyes closed. “It’s not a rational feeling. It’s not a choice I get to make.”

“I understand intellectually. I understand that what you describe is a real phenomenon, romantic attraction being more than the sum of its parts. There’s the physical aesthetic and the intellectual component and the emotional whatever, but then there’s some ineffable . . . thing, too. I can’t comprehend it.

It is outside the male experience maybe.”

“Maybe.”

“But don’t you think we’d be good?”

“What do you want me to say?”

“I don’t know.”

“I can do whatever I want. I can’t want whatever I want.”

Shit.”

“Sorry. It’s okay. You won’t even remember this.”

“How do you know?”

“You didn’t remember last time.”

“There was a last time?”

“Uh huh.”

“Bad logic. This time could be different. But probably you’re right.”

He looked at his cigarette, which he’d been holding unlit for longer than he could remember and which now was broken above the filter from where he kept flicking it and was spilling little strips of dry brown tobacco out one side.

“Keeps going out,” he said.

“Supposed to.”

“What?”

“They’re supposed to burn out after a while if you’re not smoking them. So that if you fall asleep with one in your hand it doesn’t burn your whole house down.”

“Huh. I wish we had more.”

“You like the idea of smoking them more than you actually like doing it.”

“I really need one.”

“I give you one, you take two drags then just flick ashes the rest of the way down while it burns itself out.”

“They look pretty at night. The orange on black. Beautiful. Smoldering radiant orange on the deep deep black.”

“What about in the daytime?”

He seemed to consider his answer. “I don’t know. Less appeal, I guess.”

“If we’re not gonna smoke, let’s go inside.”

“Now?”

“What do you want to do?”

“I want to walk you to arts and crafts.”

“You’re an idiot. Sit up. Walk me inside.”


Robert Malone is a writer and musician from Cambria, California. His work includes novels, screenplays, short stories and non-fiction. You can find his writing and occasional no-budget short films at robertjmalone.wordpress.com

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