• Casey Dunn

Portrait Writing: Le Bistro (The Wine Shop)

A short story inspired by the painting Le Bistro (The Wine Shop) by Edward Hopper

He had spent the better part of the afternoon as he had spent the last decade, talking. Louis was no Frenchman. If he was drunk and you were pretty he might even tell you that he wasn’t sure what he was. He would think he was being attractively edgy. That’s not how it would come across. Moving from America at thirteen left him feeling small and unknown. Where other children may have seen adventure, he saw danger. It kept him alive, but it didn’t make him feel alive. Louis always had a predilection for thoughts of despair. It simultaneously kept him going and made sure that he was quite still. At seventeen, he read Siddhartha and thought that he was supposed to find his river. Eight years later he found it.

At the time he was in the desert with a few friends. One of them, wealthier than the rest, had procured an estate for the weekend. No one was outside at the time. It was too hot. The pool was vacant, the air conditioning was not. The adolescent working diligently to be anything but, joined his friends in the cool, protected house. He found a bit of couch and cozied up with a book that talked all about the things he liked to think. Before he knew it the sun had dipped behind a mountain and the drugs were spread about the counter.

His friend had tried mushrooms for the first time earlier that summer and he hadn’t really stopped trying it since. Louis tried them with him once and found that he quite enjoyed sneaking away to the bathroom for solo dance parties. Being around someone, that was fine. But being alone, that was divine. His friend offered him a healthy amount and the fungus crunched and squished in his mouth before sliding down and down. They began cooking food.

All of the guests would realize by the time the food was prepared that the food was a mistake. Nausea set in exactly as the garlic battered asparagus and honey glazed Brussels sprouts with ribbons of baby coconut were lowered onto the oak table. A few bites were taken, but nothing more. Nothing more would be eaten. It was an absolute waist of rather decently cooked food.

As Louis’ acumen for reality started to decay all around him, he started to notice the peculiarities. One woman continuously laughed at no one’s comments while another discussed music and the profoundly esoteric consequences of equality and education. Louis listened as long as he could, but the pirate rave was too tempting.

There he found his friend adorned in a paper machete pirate cap and an endless number of glow sticks. To remember what music was playing would be impossible for Louis the next day, it wasn’t important. About the only important thing was how everyone felt and how that made him feel. He switched from person to person, analyzing their ranking within the crowd. His friend stood at the top and the bottom while everyone else flowed and skipped and evolved. Louis was an outsider or maybe he was inside, but not entirely. It was getting difficult to tell. He needed to step outside. “I’m going to sit in the water, check on me in thirty minutes” he said to his friend. I think his friend said “okay.”

At the pool Louis was crying. Death, that’s right, he had been thinking about death. Not immediately, but always. That was the way of him. Death wasn’t ever too far from his lips. A passionate lover that he helplessly danced with. The others were in the pool. Especially the laughing girl who was still laughing. His friend was nearby scrolling through the music. No one noticed the tears or at least, no one mentioned them. Water is water when in a pool. But it had been growing cold for a long time and so Louis sat by the fire. The fire was safe. It burned up his flesh and tore it away. Underneath, Louis saw who he was. The black tar drifting between arteries. He’s not sure when his friend sat next to him, but they talked about the good times. Those before them and those long past. He wasn’t sure when he really knew about death. Everyone knows of the concept, but the action takes time. They didn’t talk about that. But they laughed. They had so many shared experiences, it was hard not to. They referenced things and made things up and made each other smile until the sun went down. Louis can’t be sure how it all sped up so quickly. How the fire became cold and the desert so dark. It wasn’t for him to say he supposed. That he knew. Instead he sat there with his friend and the laughing girl and whoever else and they smiled and they cried, not that you could tell, because they were in the water, they had always been in the water and they would be there again. It was over now. They didn’t want it to be, but they were tired and their minds hurt and their feet hurt, and they hurt enough to want to sleep so they went to sleep.

And when Louis awoke he stared at the pool and he had his river and he laughed because he didn’t want to keep talking.