by Louis Gallo
I met her at the designated hour of midnight at the antiquated corner bar, The Napoleon House, a place legend has it, that supporters of the Emperor planned to deposit after they rescued him from St. Helena’s. Well, now it’s a hangout for artists, poets, musicians, hangers on, even politicians. The Ramos Gin Fizzes are pretty bad, but if you sit at a battered table in the back room you can control the old phonograph and play whatever classical record you crave. I sat up front because someone had commandeered the music and played a lot of Poulenc, Dvorak and Eric Satie.
I arrived early of course, not because I rejoiced at the idea of meeting a beautiful lesbian who planned to chew me out for abandoning her friend, but because I had nothing else to do. So I ordered a succession of vodka martinis and shot glasses of green chartreuse. I piddled with napkins, wrote a few lines in my journal, proceeded to get so drunk that nothing anyone could say would phase me, not even, we’re all dying, friend, start praying. I knew I’d feel shitty the next day but, hell, the next day was upon us, behind the curtain, a twist of the doorknob, the lifting of a veil.
So she shows up, let’s call her Sappho, I like that name, I like the original’s poetry—I burn, yeah, I burn too—and she wears a slinky, tight fitting shift I think they call them, garnet necklace and ear rings, patent leather shoes, and, naturally, I brim with desire for the unattainable—she has made a mission of denunciating men—but she’s here to dress me down for hurting her friend who, by the way, is heterosexual. She orders a glass of house Chablis because, she says, it’s cheap and she doesn’t want to get drunk, not tonight. ‘Can you go put on some Bach?’ she asks. No, I can’t. Some dork controls the music.
So she gets right to the point, calls me despicable, that her friend—let’s call her Rafaela—was really crazy about me and I just disappeared after spending an afternoon with her when we lay on the grass on the bank of one of the park lagoons, I reading Yeats to her, she listening, her hand stroking my hip. ‘Why didn’t you make love to her?’ Sappho demands to know. And on she went, castigating me mercilessly, I the mouse to her cat.
I thought about defending myself, explaining that Rafaela was so gorgeous and perfect, so supple and kind that I felt terrified, that I feared plunging into fathomless depths, that she surpassed me, a Jaguar to my Ford Pinto, that I could not bear losing her once I had succumbed . . . and, moreover, I could not read her, had no idea she craved me, I saw only the cover of that book, the pages seemed glued shut, you know, that old game, the first-mover risks all, something like god creating creation and wondering what went wrong—
But I said nothing, decided to appease Sappho, the referee declaring a KO so she could spit in my face and denounce me to the world as a low, chauvinist son-of-a-bitch once and for all—which perhaps I am. In truth I was so zonked nothing mattered—call me a hero, a coward, a narcissistic wretch, what’s the difference? Of a sudden the image of Rafaela on that bank, her pouty lips, her dazzling eyes, her soothing flesh . . . I relived it all, Sappho yapping away like some crazed insect, I tossed Yeats into the lagoon, embraced Rafaela and kissed her lips, yes, and she hugged me and we thrived, a recollection of eternity in one ambered second of the past, that vision, option, that redemption. Which is why the past is superior to the present, which is why the past justifies the future, which is why time is the river you can always step into twice.
Louis Gallo’s work has appeared or will shortly appear in Wide Awake in the Pelican State (LSU anthology), Southern Literary Review, Fiction Fix, Glimmer Train, Hollins Critic, Rattle, Southern Quarterly, Litro, New Orleans Review, Xavier Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Missouri Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, Mississippi Review, Texas Review, Baltimore Review, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, The Ledge, storySouth, Houston Literary Review, Tampa Review, Raving Dove, The Journal (Ohio), Greensboro Review, and many others. Chapbooks include The Truth Changes, The Abomination of Fascination, Status Updates and The Ten Most Important Questions. He is the founding editor of the now defunct journals, The Barataria Review and Books: A New Orleans Review. He was awarded an NEA fellowship for fiction. He teaches at Radford University in Radford, Virginia.