J D Roa
“It’s time to turn in,” the first fencer said.
“After this drink, then I’ll turn in,” said the second.
The first fencer rubbed his head with a towel and dipped his feet in the pool. Warm light from the large living room window behind him fell on his shoulders like a mantle. His feet wobbled beneath the surface of the water, which was warm and it gave him a sick feeling. The air was much better in the day while there was wind. It was very hot wind, too, and took his mind off things. He liked that. Evening staled everything, and now he could hear all sorts of noise. He could hear talk between two old men coming from the villa next door. Their laughter was loud and raspy. Crickets whittled. A woman yelled from across the courtyard about cutting up the meat before tomorrow morning. He could hear himself hearing. He didn’t like it. This abnormal displeasure sat with him for days.
After a long time, he spoke up. “Francis. Pour me a glass.”
“I’m almost finished with mine though,” said Francis. “Okay, fine. I’ll pour you one, friend.”
Francis lowered beside him with two glasses in his hand. He slowly inched his feet into the pool before he handed him his drink. “Miguel.”
He took his drink with a faltering smile, and didn’t like Francis’ expectant eyes. The man was always saying happy things with his eyes, so much that Miguel liked to think he was stupid—but he had been in a very bad mood these past few days, and knew he was being unfair. “To women,” he finally said.
Francis raised his glass, his eyes full of smiling, sleepy enlightenment. “To Maria.”
They drank deeply. Both knew it was false. Neither of them wanted to be out in the night like this, drinking to women, or drinking at all. But if there were three commonalities among the two of them, they were fencing, drinking, and doing things they didn’t like.
“Tomorrow will be a long day,” Miguel said with a rasp. The wine was in very good taste, like wine at good weddings. “The shelling hasn’t gone on for two days in a row. It will probably happen tomorrow.”
“There are worse things than death,” Francis said, and neither of them liked how he said it. He felt embarrassed with himself and would have said more if Miguel hadn’t started speaking.
“There are things worse than death, but I am only thinking in the present.”
They sat for a long time, and now a gramophone cut in, and gave them both something to listen to.
“I can’t believe she’s getting married at a time like this,” Francis said.
Miguel’s mouth was a sober, long, purple line. “There is no better time.”
After he had said this, there was a long pause. He patted himself for cigarettes, but he didn’t have any. He cupped both hands around his drink and nursed it between his knees. His feet sloshed. He looked up at the sky for the first time all evening. The moon smiled coyly at him from behind a towering avocado tree. On the gramophone, Maria’s favorite song played. “When her husband is sent out again, there is a high chance he might get killed. There is no better time than now to legitimize the child’s birth.”
“Legitimize,” Francis spat. They both had their private thoughts, their private regrets.
“See, that’s the trouble,” Francis continued. “Why do people need to do things like that? This legitimizing business – God didn’t make Love to legitimize sex.”
“That’s a thought,” Miguel said. He was annoyed with Francis.
“She hasn’t even had a chance to see her options – why is she in a rush, anyway? She has no father to push her into marriage, and her mother lets her do as she pleases. Why is she in a rush?” Francis said, polishing off another drink.
“You can’t change a person’s mind,” Miguel said. He was already thinking about his train ride, how long it would be, how hungry he would get. He hated being on the train. It made him feel helpless and he never liked where he was going, and then there was the view – the kinetic occlusion of the sun behind the mountains and the mountains moving so slowly, dragging the clouds with them, and the shrubs and rocks whizzing by – all of it was deceptive. When was he really going anywhere?
“You can’t change a person’s mind,” Miguel said again with a thoughtless hum in his voice.
Francis continued to talk without listening to either himself or Miguel, and Miguel was not listening anymore, nor was he talking.
Though the two men loved each other, it was a bad night to get together, and still a worse night to have not parted ways sooner.
BIO: J.D. Roa graduated from University of California - Berkeley with a B.A. in English and now works in the greater Los Angeles area as an editorial assistant at a literary agency.
Motivation: I was deeply moved by Raymond Carver's first short story collection, "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" and thought that I should try to write something