A short story inspired by Nick Simpsons’ photograph on Visual Verse.
* Zugzwang is a situation found in chess and other games, where one player is put at a disadvantage because he must make a move when they would prefer to pass and not to move. The fact that the player is compelled to move means that their position will become significantly weaker. A player is said to be “in zugzwang” when any possible move will worsen their position.
The sun cracks the first yellowy yoke of the days’ warmth over the facade of the Hotel du Roi, where it drips over bricks and sticks to the windows. Stephane looks through the morning glaze and surveys the bare streets below. He tries to empty his mind of the night before. Become anew. But, that process won’t happen until much later, when normality has crept unknowingly back into his life in the shape of the banal. Months from now, newspaper filled waste-baskets and envelopes with bills and hunger cravings for fresh bread will disturb his melancholy, will bring him back to Present.
The sun lifts itself higher and winks cruelly at him through the glass, causing Stephane to squint. He crushes a mouthful of complimentary peanuts between his teeth. Washes them down with a beer from the mini bar. It’s the wrong type of breakfast for the night he’s just had.
Yesterday the boulevard had been busy with people; girls with poker straight hair and poker straight legs, beautiful men with skin the colour of cappuccinos and carefully constructed beards, jumpers worn over shoulders, strolling with languid footsteps, cigarette smoke curling like steam from between parted lips. The bars had been full, wine bottles tethered to tables in buckets of ice, animated voices vibrating through the summer air like cicadas.
Last night Stephane had joked to Loic that Parisians were like dragons. Fire breathing, easily agitated, defensive, with smoke forever emanating from flared nostrils. Loic had puffed smoke defiantly through his nose towards him. Had laughed, properly, for the first time in weeks.
The first time they met was two years earlier, at a club in Le Marais. A cellar of sweat and queens dressed in appalling drag – all eyebrows and thick smears of pearlescent lipstick. Songs had blared from speakers, bodies had writhed on the black and white checkered dance-floor, men, boys, making their own rules. Loic had advanced en passant reaching him from the left, broad shouldered and clean-shaven, his knight in shining Armani.
The rest of their meetings were always at night. Always a last minute call from Loic. Always an unknown number. Champagne dinners, rushed love-making in hotels, nights spent smoking and drinking with promises of weekends away. A future. Every stolen touch, every scrape of stubble, every hot word in his ear had taken place in dark squares of shadow.
And last night. The last night. Stephane had made his move. Heart on tongue. Be mine, he’d said. Commit, he’d said. Don’t you understand? Loic said. Don’t you understand anything? I told you not to push me. Fire trailed from his nose and mouth. Scorched him with a wedding photo. A pregnant wife. A double life. You can’t compete. With that.
Loic stormed off as though he had been wronged. Shoulders stiff. Eyes fixed on ground, while Stephane watched this stranger, his stranger, retreat.
And suddenly meet
a black bonnet
in a flash of ugly white headlights.
Knocking him cold
as dusk became night.