Two bottles of beer sat on the table, both of them full, both of them warming in the summer heat. The bottles shimmered in pools of condensation. Coasters weren’t free, and they usually grew moldy from the humidity. So the bottles sat on the unfinished table, ignored by the two who had ordered them.
There was nothing outwardly threatening about the couple, but there was an aura surrounding them, like a static charge it bristled the air. They were facing the ocean, but they weren’t watching the sunset. The sky glowed crimson, and silence reigned across the table.
Only as the sun dipped beneath the waves did the woman finally speak.
“Why are we here?” she asked.
The man didn’t turn. His eyes were lost behind his sunglasses.
“You said you needed a drink,” he said.
“You know what I mean.”
“Obviously not what you said. Your beer is warm.”
“So is yours.”
“I never said I wanted a drink.”
“So why did you order one?”
“I didn’t want you to drink alone,” he said.
She looked at him. He was looking away from her. She waited for him to turn. He never moved.
“What do you want?” she asked.
He shifted then – not a turn, but something.
“I want to fly,” he said.
“You’re such an asshole,” she said and shook her head.
“You know what I was asking.”
“You asked me what I wanted, and I told you. I thought it was pretty obvious.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Then bloody well say what you mean.”
There was heat enough in his voice to stop her response. She picked up her warm bottle. Condensation dripped onto her shorts. She took a long swill of beer. It was flat and watery. She swallowed more.
He picked up his own beer, but didn’t drink. He cradled it in his hands. The sky darkened and music sprang up from the small restaurant behind. It was thin music, stretched over too much outside sound to be anything more than an annoyance.
“Where do you want to fly?” she asked.
“I don’t need a destination, just an altitude,” he said.
“You must want to go somewhere.”
“Away? From where?”
“Not everything is geography,” he said.
“Away from who?”
The thin music amplified the silence. He drank and made a face.
“The beer is warm.”
“Away from who?” she asked.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“No you don’t.”
“Yes. I do.”
“You don’t want an answer. You want reassurance. You want empty words to place on a shelf and stare at when you get lonely. That’s not an answer, that’s a lie.”
“So lie to me then,” she said.
He drank more beer, smacked his lips and showed his teeth.
“It’s good beer.”
“That’s not…” she sighed and drank from her own bottle.
Stars began to dot the sky. Lights glowed from the restaurant behind and cast the couple’s shadows towards the waves.
“This is where we met,” he said.
“I wasn’t sure you remembered.”
“Of course I remember,” she said. “It wasn’t that long ago.”
“It was a lifetime ago,” he said.
“Two years is hardly a lifetime.”
“When you fall in love, something changes. It’s an irrevocable change. The person who was there before is gone forever. It was a lifetime ago. For me.” He finished his beer. She watched his throat swell with each swallow, thought about how many times she’d nuzzled that neck, kissed that throat…
“What’s happened to us?” she asked.
“Nothing,” he said. “We should go. You husband will be wondering where you are.”
She looked at her watch and sighed.
“You’re right,” she said. “Do you have a mint? I don’t want him to smell the beer.”
The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a tin of breath mints. He handed them to her, careful not to let their fingers touch.
I remembered Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” recently. I remembered the metaphors, the imagery, the interpretations… I only ever read it once, but it stuck…. a good story is like that – peanut butter for the mental palette. That said, what I’ve written is not copied from Hemingway… inspired by, yes.
It’s not about anything other than trying to capture emotion with actions and words left unsaid… a stab at a character piece without character description.