She winces; the rain streaks down the red awning and trickles past her outstretched neck. 'I was not expecting that,' she laughs, leaning into him as she struggles to catch her balance. He allows her to rest her weight on his arm, the sudden warmth of her body jolting him out of his reverie. 'Caught us off guard like that, eh?' he remarks, and when she looks up at him the openness of her smile almost brings him to a standstill.
'It's the nature of the beast, I suppose,' she offers. She straightens herself, patting down the heavy black coat belted around her waist. 'What can I say, the fury of Mother Nature and all that.'
'I'll drink to that,' he says, and they both laugh.
'Are you heading somewhere?' he asks, now that the rain is pounding harder, the drumming of water against asphalt rising to a deafening pitch.
She looks around. Her hair is soaked now, clinging to the back of her neck, damp tendrils of jet black curving away from her face. 'Why don't we head inside?' she offers, and doesn't wait for him to hold the door open. She sashays in, her boots clicking on the hardwood floor, and he follows.
The bar is barely crowded, the chairs still stacked up on most of the tables. A few patrons hover around the dart board, their frosted bottles of beer resting on the pool table. A couple sits by the window and cracks pistachio shells between their teeth. The air is warmer inside, suffused with the melancholy tunes of some song that is playing over the loudspeakers. The barman watches them come in, wiping a tumbler with languid swipes. When they pull up to the register he tips his head to one side in lieu of a hello.
She sits, crossing her legs at the ankles while she regards the wine list. She gathers the loosening chignon of her hair in the palm of a hand and pulls out a bobby pin. He watches her, trying desperately hard not to look, but the deliberate movement of her fingers, the flick of her wrist as she unpins and unravels her hair holds his gaze. 'What looks good to you?' she asks, suddenly, turning to him, and he is forced to look away.
'I'll have what you're having,' he says, and she shakes her head, smiling again. The barman leans in to listen to her order, nodding, sliding two coasters across the counter at them. 'What happened, cat got your tongue?' she jokes, and when he shrugs he hope he is nonchalant enough. But it is hard. She is almost ethereal in her existence, a stranger in a chanced encounter, caught in the rain, both of both bolting across the street, seeking the protection of the awning. He wonders where she is from, what she is doing in a sun-baked sleepy medieval town. There is a camera slung around her neck, encased in a bright red cover, and he lets his mind stray past the storm-beaten castles and the crumbling terracotta buildings that she must have ambled past. Where did you go, what did you see, he wants to ask her. Are you with someone? But he doesn't hazard these questions.
He doesn't need to. She picks up her glass, swirling the wine, steeping her head in the fragrance, and then she looks at him. 'What brings you here?' she asks.
He is flattered by her interest. 'Oh, you know,' he spreads his arms apart. 'I'm just a tourist.' But she is more insistent, drawing him out, asking him the questions that wouldn't escape his lips. She asks him where he had breakfast, whether he has been by the vineyards, what he thinks of a particular church on a certain street. 'Have you been to the historical district?' she wants to know, and when he shakes his head her mouth widens into an O. 'We have to go,' she insists. 'I'll take you.' There is no flippancy in her tone, and as he sips his wine and regards her over the rim of his glass he struggles with the possibility of it all.
They drain their glasses; she signals for refills. 'I'm surprised you've been here two weeks and we haven't run into you,' she remarks. 'It's off-season, not a lot of tourists around. And I,' she lowers her voice, nudging him in the rib with an elbow, 'would have definitely caught the sight of you.'
He is about to say something along the lines of such is life, or perhaps duck his head so that she doesn't catch the blush widening across his face, when her choice of pronoun catches him mid-sentence. We?
And then it is no longer necessary. The rain, a sudden squall to begin with, peters off. The tip-tip-tip of pearl drops streaking down the window is punctuated by the sudden whoosh of the bar's door creaking open. A young man, holding a newspaper above his head, stands at the doorway and scans the nearly empty room.
She swivels around in her chair. Her face, wonderfully open to begin with, is now breaking into an even more beautiful smile. 'There you are,' she says, her voice tinged with obvious warmth, and quickly he is forgotten as she gravitates towards the arms of another man.
(Inspired by the Damien Rice song, Cheers Darlin')
by Chuck Palahniuk
“What makes Earth feel like Hell is our expectation that it ought to feel like Heaven.”
After a few mishaps with the literary world, Chuck Palahniuk is back once again to being his old simple, philosophical and dark humoured self. Palahniuk's recent books haven't exactly made the picture in comparison to his other work, but 'Damned' shows promises of a return in form.
Damned is about a thirteen year old girl who finds herself in Hell. Madison Spencer was the spoiled child of movie stars who died of an apparent marijuana overdose and is sent to permanent residence down below. She makes friends with a jock, a punk, a cheerleader and a nerd and explores the fiery nightmare that is Hell; the only thing odd is that Madison likes Hell. Palahniuk writes in a manner that makes Hell look like a pretty decent place; he does it in such a way that he can't be said to be promoting it, rather he just spices it up a little. Demons overlook the massive population of Hell and the currency in Satan's land is candy and chocolates.
The author shows us that junk calls - the ones that interrupt dinner and asks questions about the silliest customer preferences - are actually calls made from Hell; because Satan likes disrupting family dinners. Madison appears to enjoy Hell quite a lot. With her job as a 'telemarketer' and her little group of friends, Hell becomes a great place for her. She starts to view Satan as a great hero and becomes obsessed with wanting to meet him.
Madison's parents are famous movie stars who believe only in recycling and adopting children who they send away to boarding schools. They believe that if there is a Satan, it's probably tobacco or something equally devious.
“…the road to hell is paved with publicity stunts…”
Through Madison's parents' beliefs, Palahniuk shows us that doing good things, cleaning up the world, helping people won't keep you away from hell. It's the right intention that counts.
In a nutshell, the whole concept of the book seems to lack content and doesn't seem like it can be written without stretching the plot or dragging it out. However Chuck Palahniuk somehow manages to pull it off. He takes the story, weaves it around, makes the reader fall in love with the characters and obviously makes them think.
Palahniuk's version of anything is twisted and hilarious, no matter how dark. So imagine his version of hell. In the end, this one is a great read and time well spent.
By Munawar Mobin