Wine and Afterthought – By Philip Kobylarz

She looked like she needed to be kissed. There we were, alone, finally really alone at a seaside restaurant’s terrace- a dream dreamt for who knows how many years, a reality so improbable that it could only be summed up in the name of what it was. The Mediterranean. Its sea. The beaches. A turquoise that is never oceanic. Kites flying overhead and the sound of people so loud that it was a din. Seagulls perched on rocks not knowing how lucky they are.

There are three sections to the Lion d’Or- the uppermost is a street level palm frond-covered perch of a deck that hides two more cavernous levels underneath in a long, steep descent to the beach. The Hades its steps lead to is box seating for a strand of glistening nearly nude throng of people who have no problem letting it all hang out. Americans and Brits stare only more obviously then others do, condemning only themselves.

Sometimes the palette returns a critical eyeful of bad human tatouage, a winter’s worth of potato soup with lardons displayed like belts of flesh, oiled haunches prostrating their behinds Muslim style on grocery store-bought beach towels while people precisely cut brochettes ring side to the clinkings of demis of rosé and silverware that’s made of real silver.

Other times gods and goddesses appear whose bodies are so perfect, soft focused a little by the glaring sun that Greek and Roman sculpture finally makes sense. The erotica is not what they choose to reveal but how they reveal it. Composure isn’t the word. Grace isn’t either. It’s a mathematic of movement and concealment kept in regard as skirts are shorn and pants are folded and breasts are naturally allowed their curvatures of freedom.

She is sitting across from you, a streak of grey revealing the years she has been away from where she is from and a certain sadness mostly around her mouth that will not speak of the reason she brought you here. There are so many things lovers are to never know. There are so many things to be left unthought.

The date is one that most gigolos would never mind but in this case, when she pays because she “forgot” your credit card that she keeps with her due to your penchant of losing anything that should be mindfully pocketed, you do become her whore. If for only a moment of eternity. And men can be such good whores. Really, it’s not at all that bad of a bad gig but it does make what is worn smell a little off. The scent: either that of a sprig of tobacco snuck in a back alley or that of the tips of the soul decaying.

This is what we sometimes do in this brief ride on a wooden rollercoaster of life: get old enough to secure some income at some bore of an underpaying job we can never find fulfillment at, and we sometimes take out our mothers, if we are lucky enough to do so, to fine restaurants and watch the folly of them trying to decide what not to order, then we walk back to the car, holding them as they can’t make it around like they used to, and after a great, great lunch with more courses than were ever needed, we don’t say “this is how I love you“ because its something we hope they get and we might remember a day like this sometime in the future but its doubtful.

But today, this restaurant is ours. No parents, family, friends. With each sip of wine, there is the illusion of responsibility melting like spider webs broken by a breeze into a nothingness of foam on the beach that might or might not be the bones of mermaids. The view from behind the drinking glass soft tones the afternoon into a genre of painting not yet invented.

“What are you thinking about”, she asks.

“Nothing.”

I’d never tell her that I’m thinking about getting old and that it’s a feeling a little like driving in a new city for the first time and it makes me wonder if this is all there is and if there’s more, how could I ever find it? People are murdered, airplanes crash, ships go under on their way to ports full of people waiting to hear of voyages abroad, and badness happens whole scale and wholesale and there is really only one thing to do. Look at the face of your lover and really look at it as if you both are in a Kielsowski film and remember when it is was the only eroticism that was ever needed.

“So here’s what I think we should get . . .”

“But that’s way too much, I don’t care about the price, but I mean, for afterwards . . .”

“Afterwards what?” She smiles revealing perfectly imperfect teeth.

“What the waves are suggesting.”

She looks out off the terrace, breathes in the air and says, “More waves?”

I can feel her bare legs in between my own under the table and they are warm and smooth and this is the exact moment that I wish would never end. But it can’t be held, or stopped, for even a second.

More wine comes like a secular miracle.

Waiting endlessly will take place in innumerable parking lots in foreign cities. The streets will be lit by nicotined yellow lights, the curbsides stained in Thursday’s garbage spill and worse. Hours of worrying that is caused by blank-minded waiting will go by as tea steeps in a multi-use, no frills pot bought at a Vietnamese store in the inner city. This is a reminder that the city herself is beautiful but secret alleyways paintings in waiting. To be on her beautiful coast only enhances the memories of her marginal areas where the homeless find comfort and green beer bottle collect into bowling pin ballets. The places you mostly are, waiting for times like this. Waiting to be the center of attention. Waiting for her to remember that all you care about is how she doesn’t really care about you.

“Oh this bread is so good. You can really taste the taste,” she says.

Here we are and are and are. I write my name on random places in Europe and America with a black marker, a close call at permanence, and if anyone sees it or reads it, that’s enough. Just someone looking who for a second receives another’s existence or the thought of it. Even though, with her, I’m always unsure. Maybe the definition of sexy is never really knowing what it is.

“This wine is so subtle you can’t even taste the alcohol” she says as I beat the waiter and fill her glass and empty my glass that tings on my tooth and resonates crystalline.

She laughs and licks butter off her knife. Clouds are reflected in its sheen.

In a town south of Grenoble there is a rock in a park where dogs are seemingly not allowed due to little blue signs no one pays attention to yet where I fed mine as Belgian motorcyclists laid out a table cloth on a tree stump and had a lunch that they also, strangely, videotaped. Like minds? On the rock in the park of this nowhere place with views that look into forested pasts of revolution and invention, sub-alpine, I wrote my name in black marker. I thought of writing hers but somehow I couldn’t. Silly thoughts of adding a +.One day I’ll return to see if it’s still there. The sadness of being might be worth measuring. This is one of my many plans for the future. It amounts to what they call a sweet nothing.

“Maybe one really, really big wave” she says toasting the sea.

I have no idea what she’s talking about. I smile and cheen-cheen.

When we get to the end of the known world there really isn’t much to see. There will be a sea that’s perfectly azure and more topless sirens that can be counted. There will be desolate white islands that no one ever desires to hike because they look like bone and dryness personified. There will be a promise of another escape of a 53 euro bouillabaisse, just a promise in a heat-inspired dream of a summer that’s growing so hot that soup could never be envisioned. There will be other places and other times so infinitely finite. Recorded in digital photos. Mused about in lost notebooks.

Maybe getting older isn’t so bad. We age and with it comes a terrible wisdom that whistling really isn’t fun, that there are dreams still to be had. To be a singer at a café that will get us some publicity and a nicely printed poster that recounts a victorious night at a local theatre. A desire of civilized pleasure that will result in a weekend at a farmhouse in grapevine country, let’s call the city Pertuis and everyone born through whatever spats of lust and sanctified love will eventually take a dip in the outdoor Olympic-sized swimming pool next to a baby palm tree and for a moment happiness, children being the children of desire and the cycle itself desirous. Like a great meal, all will be shared. Sharing, the only thing worth not wanting so bad.

“Do you think one day we’ll live in a place like this?” she asks but doesn’t look at me. She’s busy trying to figure out the origin of the napkin’s fine feel.

“Don’t we already?”, I say.

At the end of ends, which we both suspect is true, there probably won’t be Wagnerian music but the sound of an American soap opera translated badly into any other language. There will be the strange whining screams of a foreign ambulance but it won’t be so bad because it isn’t coming for anyone we know. Or anyone we really know. Maybe. Ourselves?

Without clocks, and no good restaurants have them, there is only the absence of time and a suggestion of what that might mean.

There is only an endless stream of beautiful waitresses that I can guess I would badly want then never want to know, who are so happy when we tip them big as we remember that this is a place where they don’t get paid low wages and there is nothing you can do but look at their perfectly cut hair and a reflection in the tain of their eyes that reveals a wanting to know how it is where you come from. Their damn fine slender bodies where fat isn’t an option. But beyond those looks and strands of tousled hair washed once every three days, there is a Platonic purity of beauty that is undeniable so I can’t feel so stupid when the change I do have falls between my fingers and I give them more money than the pastis I order wrongly as a digestif costs. Don’t look at them too long, I remember. The wine will keep coming without having to order more.

“You tipped to way too much” she says. “You don’t have to pay for it here . . . no matter how pretty they are.”

She is funny when she tries to be funny.

It’s overcast today and it’s the best thing that could have ever happened because the sun, day after day, can be a drag. It’s another day of waiting for her to say it, and it won’t come, but it’s done, the waiting at least, in style. It’s hard to not be amazed at the women dressed in black who display their poitrines as if they are a type of exotic fruit that can be bought at the tens and twenties of markets found on a day’s walk. These are simply how women are and one half of the world thinks that this is how women should be.

It’s more difficult to not look at the women unclothing themselves only yards away and layering on suntan lotion on their white and caramel colored skin as if the unguent were the rays of the sun itself.

She looks too. At the women. The men don’t seem to interest her that much.

When we leave the restaurant, we see waiters grilling green peppers on tiny barbeque that they fan with freshly washed plates. The smoke is almost sacramental. Their black thin ties are blowing in the sea breeze, wildly.

Walking up the stairs, we are both wobbly and I can hear her body moving in her skirt as she climbs in front of me. I wait four seconds to be at the right level to hear better.

At the corner café, African merchants of useless beach-related gear and jewelry pass so close to the clients that it looks as if they might hug them. This is the reason why we’re here: to be totally private yet to be immersed in crowds, the flavors of the streets, a reality that might be available only in real cities. Whatever reality might be.

Who knows where the woman is going who just left her apartment, across the way? Her body is arrayed in tight pants and it resembles a sultry angel containing wings of promised sex as she lights up and walks in high heels on her way to what we might assume is a dull job in some office that is barely badly decorated in 1960s minimalism. The middle-aged man who sits and watches and drinks at 1:30 p.m. is regarded by no one. The guy I will be.

“What are you looking at?” she asks. She turns mid-way around.

“There, that” I point to the open window we’re passing.

Inside the neighborhood bar there are mirrors, purple walls, a statue of Venus, people conversing and there isn’t even a t.v.

Dogs sit inside it with their legs splayed to take in the coolness of the floor. Then, women in threes pass and everyone hopes they will sit down so we can see how they manage their own particular movement of knee and skirt. If they’d only strike up a conversation with us but they walk on by with their black hair, perfect clothes, and Italian sunglasses knowing that they are much more important than their surroundings.

The waves now come in the form of beautiful people.

At the end of all ends, bar hopping is virtually impossible because there is no reason to leave that has found you. Unless it’s to simply watch people eating, an action that becomes a most intimate form of voyeurism, thus taboo. Some do it so precisely, with such skill, in the reverse that surgeons deconstruct bodies, holding their knives and forks like a Western kind of chopsticks but much more dangerous. The sweet smell of a cigar hangs in the air.

At the end of all ends, this is what’s known. It is the end and that’s all that is necessary to mull about in the brain and not the mind. No rolling credits, no flashbacks, no assurances of an afterlife, just a feeling that a tab that must be paid or is being calculated and lies somewhere between accruing and being on its way. There is always the option to get up and leave and not one soul might notice. She will never know what I’m thinking.

“Don’t you want to swim?” she asks and takes my hand.

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Philip has had work appear or will appear in Volt, Whiskey Island Review, Notre Dame Review, Poetry Salzburg Review, Massachusetts Review, Amoskeag and has appeared in Best American Poetry. He is the current Poetry Editor of Arroyo Literary Review.

3 Comments
  1. Reply
    Roberta SchulbergGoro
    September 4, 2010 at 9:37 am

    I think the real problem in the life of the protaganist – the main character in the story – is that since he is a man, he has not given enough thought to men, only to women.

  2. Reply
    Missy
    November 5, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    The piece seems so solipsistic, like the work of an overwrought poet.

  3. Reply
    Tenis
    January 24, 2011 at 11:31 pm

    Larry King once stated, “I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.” That is precisely how I feel. I am grateful to have learned something new today. – Tenis

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