Esprit d'Escalier

October 4, 2010
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Smooth and slimy, the voice flows over like a fountain. Deep. Relaxing. Almost invisible.

“It’s funny how you never really think about the ones that you've got,” The Man on the bar stool next to mine noted, “But how The One That Got Away always stick to your memory.”

I thought this over for less than a second, and washed it away with what was left in my small glass. He’d been talking, to me I assume, for almost 20 minutes. Nothing he’s said has really been put together, though. Nothing has connected. Either that, or I’m not paying attention. I don’t know.

“And they say you’ll always hurt the ones you love-” he starts. I interject. “Did they ever say it works both ways?”

There is a pause. He looks up. He seems surprised that someone was listening.

I explain myself. "It’s a gamble. All about whoever gets there first."

“Is that how you see it?”

“Yeah, I guess it is.”

“Hmm.”

He lifts a dark bottle up to his lips, pours the drink into his mouth, and lets the bottle fall back down. He does it somehow with a drunken grace.

The Man doesn’t really stand out. As he blends in with the rest of the bar I wonder why he seems so familiar, but I can’t figure it out. I place him in his late fifties. He looks worn out, though. Experienced might be a better term, but most would say worn out. Everything seems worn out on him. His jacket. His hair not so subtly graying. His expressions. His tired eyes kept with wrinkles. His words. But there’s still something about him that tells he’s not just wasting his days around, waiting to die. It says he’s got something to live for. Or he’s looking for it still.

"I suppose-" He looks up, starting to talk and catches me studying him. Stopped, I apologize and ask him to continue. “I suppose you’re right,” His words pour "It is a toss up. When you really care about somebody, you give them your soul."

I chuckled and looked at my empty glass. “And you give them power.”

“Ah,” He sighed, amused "And what they do with is totally up to them. They could cut you up. They could take you apart," He punctuates his words by tapping the table, leaning into his words "Brick. By. Brick. You can only find truth and beauty when you expose yourself and risk the pain.”

He looks at me. I look at him. He shows a sly smile and I see a small gap in his front teeth. He turns and breaks the eye contact to look off into his bottle, swishing it around and humming a soft song to himself. I start to look around the room, and I don’t really notice anybody else. The crowd started dwindling little by little just a while ago, right before The Man sat down next to me and started talking. I haven’t even seen the bartender in a while.

My thoughts are interrupted by The Man stirring up more words out of his fountain.

“Sometimes though,” He “people still search for the answer, even when they know it’s too late.”

"How so? I’m not following."

"Take an example. Someone insults you at a restaurant, and with everyone around, you dig for a come back. That perfect answer. But under the pressure, you say something foolish and trite. Nobody is impressed. You lose. The moment passes. But you can’t let it go, and as soon as you leave, your brain finally stumbles upon that crushing response. And finding it is so sour you can taste it all the way down you throat." He takes a drink, and resumes in the same breath. "The french have a phrase for that. Something about a staircase."

"Right. Stairs." I acknowledge, staring into my empty glass as if it would help me follow what he just said.

A moment passes as he is ever occupied with his bottle.

“So who did you give the knife to?” He asks.

“Knife? Oh. Well, it’s Nobody, now.”

“The One That Got Away?”

“Yeah, I guess you could say that.”

“Yeah,” He laughs under his breath “I guess I could.”

“But was it worth it?” His voice sounded a little different. Clearer.

“I’m not sure.”

“Still looking for your answer?”

"Not exactly. It’s more the question that I’ve lost."

“Well, don’t let yourself fool you.” He says.

I look down at the bar top, interpreting his words. Interpreting my glass. Still empty.

He stars off on another rambling, but his voice fades out of my hearing. The fountain slowly stills to a trickle. His words are being thrown into empty space, with nobody their to catch them. They float away, but I don’t think he minds. I look over to him, and he’s talking into his bottle now. He seems content. I bring my hands to my face and rub my eyes.

When I open them, it’s suddenly dark.
There is a small blinking light coming off from the edge of the darkness, but it illuminates nothing.
I almost speak a question aloud, but I stop myself because I know the answer.
There was no tired-eyed man with the fountain voice and his bottle.
There was no empty glass. No crowd, no bartender, no bar.
I was not omitted. I was never there.

There was only a dark and quiet room, with only one person.
The dark was familiar, and the quiet was comforting.
And the only person was me.


There was only me.
And The One Who Got Away.





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