by E. S., Bethel, CT
The hot, stagnant air filled the dilapidated old club. It had seen many people pass through its doors. The cool Tuni-sian nights inspired many steamy romances but in turn, many loves were lost to the Arabian allure of life. Why should Max be any different? He sat at the bar under the sway of the mosquito nets.
Before long the old bar keeper would kick out the local peasants for stealing money for drinks that they had not bought. Not wanting to see that scene, Max left his money beside the glass and made his way to the door.
Outside he saw the clear stars burning bright and the moon casting a glow on the gray sands. Over the mountains in the distance Max could see the slow, creeping clouds that had formed during the night but which would lose their strength in the sun's midday heat.
Max walked down the street pushing his way through peddlers. All the shops had closed and the only people in the streets were the natives, recalling tales of the foolish tourist from the outside world.
Max reached the door of his flat and was about to enter when he found a letter lying face down on the step. He looked at it amusingly because there was no mail service in this part of Tunisia since the beginning of the war. Picking it up Max looked at it, but he could not read it because of the blurry-eyed effect of the scotch.Without turning on a light, Max made his way to the bedroom. He climbed into bed, the moonlight shimmering on his face.
The next morning a hot wind blew the curtains into motion. It was only 10 o'clock and already the temperature had soared. He awoke feeling his heart pounding away the ravages of the night before. The street bustled with the noise of impatient tourists waiting for the locals to remove their livestock from the road.
Max pulled himself from the strong bond he felt with his bed. In the sunshine he could see the cramped little apartment that did his wealth an injustice. He could have had the poshest apartment but he felt there was no need. Without his true love, there was no need to make his life comfortable. Ever since she had left there was that constant throbbing pain that drummed out every sense of reality. What was there to do but waste away in the desert, alone, with half a bottle of scotch? He bathed and put on clothes.
As he left the apartment he saw the mysterious letter sitting on the table. Not having the time to read it, he slipped it into his pocket. Following his same routine, Max went to the cafe and stopped to buy a paper. At the club he would read about Hitler's march across Europe. He crossed the street and entered the club, nodding hello to the bar keeper and signaling for a scotch. Max sat at wobbly table, opened the paper and began to read of the countless dead and the latest war strategies.
Bored with the paper, Max reached for the letter and examined it with an investigator's eye. Who was it from? There was no return address and since it was typed, there was no way of guessing the writer. But he did know who it could be from.
It was Elsa. She had left him two months ago. She put him under her spell of her sultry singing and sensuous figure. She sang nightly in the club to entertain the throngs of tourists when they had nothing better to do. He fell instantly in love with her, and she with him. They spent hours traveling to the beach to bask in the warmth of the sun, and embrace among the waves. They would spend their nights cuddled underneath the heavens, sprinkled with tiny lights.
But soon a conflict tore them apart. The war had heightened in intensity. Hitler's reign over Europe had begun to grow, first Czechoslovakia, then Austria. Reading the propaganda, Elsa was distraught at the poverty and conditions of her fellow countrymen. In a whirlwind, she decided to go home to help in any way she could. Like a bad romance novel, Elsa left him with only a note and the lingering scent of her perfume.
Max was devastated. He locked himself in his apartment and stared at the streets below, unable to eat or think of anything but her. Slowly his heart grew hardened by her cruelty. He repeated to himself over and over again that she is not worth it; she did not mean a thing. If he said it enough times, there was actually a chance he might believe it.
Slowly, Max ventured out of his apartment and went to the club to discover the meaning of "drowning your sorrows." Max sat there day after day, night after night, the hours running together. But over the past few weeks, his heart had began to mend and his mind came alive. He even once found himself whistling an old song that he had heard many times at the club. But this letter represented the broken dream of a lost love.
He wondered what it said. Had she been killed during the war as a field nurse? Visions of the bloody war fields and tanks driving through the pits of mud filled his mind. But in that image he saw his tender flower bandaging the wounds of the sick. In a flash of light her soft lovely petals were destroyed by a mortar shell. The thought made him shiver, and in turn brought him back to his original dilemma. He looked at the letter again and his mind traveled to another possibility. What if she wanted him back? Maybe her misguided notion of saving the world had faded, and she now wanted to return to the love she once knew. But why should he go through that nightmare again? Maybe tomorrow she would want to be an army sergeant. Living with the uncertainty was too great a worry. He could not deal with it.
In one quick action he ripped the letter into small shreds, walked out of the dark club into the bright sunshine and threw the scraps into the wind letting the desert reclaim the love it gave birth to.
Max headed back to the apartment to pack his things. He needed a change of scenery. He had heard Paris was nice in September.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.