It was only later, after the plates of our elaborate meal had been cleared, and twice more drink delivered by the exquisite Danda, that Arbotis began his tale. My host waited until she, with natural luminous grace, concluded the fire and sugar ritual bound to his libation, then he snatched it up. He immediately called for another round and proceeded to toast at undue length my own cold gin and gin with what he claimed was his life’s first Absinthe. I believed him then as you do now.

Before I could drink he went on, paying tribute to our limited but illustrious past, giving copious thanks for our fortune in surviving. He cheered my seeming inability to be angry and testified to some private reference. Danda had long since left; I progressed from empathy, toward myself for the drink in my hand having to wait so long on its destiny, to deeming what had now become a ramble a sign my host was wasting time.

Mid-describing his marvel at the miracle that this particular tumbler of gin should find me here and now out of everywhere everytime, he noticed my annoyance before I knew I wore it. Without a seam, with all the grace that must have won him the college nickname Usual Aplomb, he transitioned into a final toast.

“And to you, dear fellow, my profound gratitude at your presence. May you be the same tomorrow as you are today.” We raised our glasses.

I set mine down half full next to his drained at the moment the precious hand of Danda consigned a fresh gin beside it. I went numb… did we brush? Questions of the validity of static electricity and fine tawny hairs crossed my mind. Far away, Arbotis laughed. The sound barely reached me through the rushing. Though only a second passed, perhaps much less, Danda’s hand had seemed to linger — not obvious, but enough to make me question its intentions. Stop this thinking, part of me thought to itself. We both know this isn’t right. Not with Wendy Mae awaiting your letter of last night on its way as of the morning. And yet… Danda.

And yet, what of Danda? You don’t even know it happened, I admonished myself. I had to admit I was right. I could only choose to believe.

But also I admit to you now, in those moments did I blink and swallow like a possessed. It was there and then I decided, yet again, that if Danda were to smile at me, then I would go with her.

Arbotis seemed to have grown restless. I gave little notice to his furtive glances and tiny rasps, attributing his mood to the legion of empty vessels our table had the evening seen. My thoughts were with my eyes, and they were on Danda, moving around the table like a smoke panther. She set another tall glass of the odd emerald liquid before Arbotis. Upon it she leveled a metal screen, and onto it arranged a cube of sugar, and thusly performed the dragon ritual… yet the process didn’t matter, I watched only her, and that intently, as desperately desiring her smile as I feared it.

Arbotis spoke to her. Her mouth turned toward me and formed words… her eyes looked at mine. I heard nothing; the room had gone silent but for a deafening rush of unseen air, thin fluids about and through me.

Keeping her gaze on me she straightened. Her erotic hip bumped Arbotis. She turned toward the smokey haze and slinked into the roiling sea of hard drinkers and pirates. I stared after her like an animal until sound returned, the raucous din of exotic swearing and clinking glasses. In this familiar crossing of the debauched, the dismayed, the destroyers and the destroyed, I among them unsure what I had seen.

When I looked at Arbotis, he was already speaking.

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