The Cruel Fates

The Cruel Fates
By Jim Benz
A man walks into an uptown wine bar,
looks around for a place to sit
but sees only a single chair available
amidst three women at a small table
in the middle of the room.
He’s had a long day selling furniture,
so he works his way through the crowd
then politely asks the women if he can join them
for a single glass of red wine.
They stare at him with probing eyes
and say nothing.
He explains how crowded the bar is,
how he’s been on his feet most of the day,
how he wants nothing more
than a good glass of Cabernet
and a friendly place to rest his feet
before catching the bus home.
He punctuates each point
of his speech with a slight,
unconscious shrug, as if to emphasize
every thought.
They still say nothing.
He arches his eyebrows and smiles
sheepishly, wondering,
“What’s up with these ladies?”
Finally, the woman directly across the table
from where he stands, takes off her glasses,
sets them on the table and looks him in the eye,
saying, “I’ll carry you in my womb, give you birth,
but I will never suckle you.”
His smile fades into a look of puzzlement.
He begins to open his mouth in reply
but the second woman, to his right,
looks him in the eye and says,
“I’ll keep you fed and clothed all the days of your life,
but I will never weep for your hardship.”
The man’s mouth hangs open until she finishes,
then it closes and he says nothing.
Before he can look at the woman to his left,
she leans forward across the table
turns her head slightly and says,
“I’ll wash your body, dress it for the grave,
but I will never mourn your passing.”
The man thinks to himself, “This is too much,”
and begins to turn away, feeling more confused
than rejected.
But before he leaves,
the first woman speaks again, saying,
“Please, join us.”
He’s completely taken by surprise.
He turns back to the table, hesitates a moment,
then pulls out a chair and sits down.
The women stare into his eyes,
examining his expression
of total discomfort.
Each of them smiles politely,
almost apologetic.
He’s nervous now, thinking to himself
how two glasses of wine would be better
than one, and better enjoyed on his feet
somewhere in a corner, somewhere
far from this table.
He tries to return their smiles,
but finds himself blushing under the scrutiny
of now friendly eyes.
A waiter comes to the table,
glances at the man, then asks the women,
“Will there be anything else?”
“Yes. Bring a bottle,” the first woman says,
“make it a Cabernet, whatever is least expensive.
And please, bring another glass.”
After a short, uncomfortable wait,
the waiter returns, bearing a bottle
and a fourth glass.
The second woman picks up the bottle
and pours wine into the new glass,
sliding it across the table to the man.
He picks it up cautiously and takes a sip.
“It’s very good,” he says, brightening
a little, but then, unexpectedly from behind,
someone bumps into the back of his chair
and he spills wine
down the front of his white shirt.
It spreads quickly,
forming a deep red blotch
across the middle of his chest.
He forgets about the three women
and pushes his chair back from the table,
throws his arms away from his body,
lowers his head and watches
the stain spread.
Beneath the shirt, his skin feels wet
and sticky.
He looks up, agitated.
The women are gone. There is no bar.
He’s standing in the middle of a dark road
watching headlights grow brighter
than anything he’s seen before. He becomes
light-blind, sensing only the long, mournful blast
of an air horn changing pitch, growing louder,
No one screams.

0 thoughts on “The Cruel Fates

  1. absolutely wonderful! I wonder about the man. . . was he sleepwalking? Is he hallucinating? Either way, I enjoyed this one all the way through. I could write for hours about it, but I have to go to work. Cheers to dreams, mysterious archetypical women, and red wine!

  2. Sucked me in like a bumble-bee to a flower-scented bug-zapper! First I thought the 3 women were an allusion to the trials of Paris then re-read the title and slapped myself…ah, the Fates. Suspenseful fiction! Makes me crave some wine and to be dined, bathed and suckled (with sincere loving, of course). Though there is no mention of the physical appearence of the women, I just somehow feel that they are beautiful beyond description…maybe I’m just day-dreaming about Monica Belluci again—they probably looked like ‘Fates worse than death’…yuk yuk..he-he-he. [cough] ahem.
    The story gets me to thinking: 1). Is the main character just a nice guy in the wrong place at the wrong time; 2). Should he have made a choice between the 3 ‘fates’?; and 3). He should have never scootched out his chair in agitation when wine poured on him accidentally. These are just my own perceptions. In a tragedy like this, it’s natural for the reader to ask: “what could he have done to save himself?” i.e. to avoid this situation. But ulteriorally, i think it’s just fate, or meant to be. WHERE ARE YOU FREEWILL?!? Is there such a thing? I function better when i believe so, but need to be reminded of it with stories like this.
    I hope this is not taken as an insult, the piece stands on its own, but it would so totally make a cool ‘Heavy Metal’ (graphic arts mag) skit. Thanks for the story Mr. Benz!

  3. I very much liked this story. right away i thought, there goes jim talking about “three’s” again. i may be mistaken, but i think you like to set people into groups of three. well, you write from your life, so i guess its more accurate to say that things tend to happen to you with groups of three. of course, we Celts believe in the power of the triad. 🙂 ANYWAY, the whole outline of this story is captivating. i noticed that the unpoetic, non lyrical narration is in stark contrast to the voices of the three women. my sensibilities would ask for more flowing verse. especially with the very first sentence, which sounds like the opening of a joke. “a man walks into a bar…” BUT it is just that unpoetic feel that is his LIFE. which is the essence of the man’s moments here in the wine bar. (i could even go as far as implying parallels of “life-joke” but i won’t) then, i wonder about why the three become more friendly to him. is this also the nature of existence? that ‘fate’ is indifferent to us until we engage it? is that where agency /free will comes in? there were many opportunities for the man to turn away from the women. my idea of ‘fate’ is more along the lines that my creator (and yes, i do believe in God. just take a look around; there is an abundance of evidence of HIS existence) knows exactly how my life will go. now, some people think life could be drawn out as a straight line from beginning to end, with all events and minutes and seconds of that life symbolized as points on the line and that there is no changing that straight line or avoiding those points. AND if God, or ‘fate’ or ‘whatever’ KNOWS exactly how its all gonna go down, then obviously there is no escape from permanency and lack of agency. that is not how i see it. there is a difference between pre-determination and fore-ordination. picture if you will a point. a dot. that is our beginning moment. (not birth necessarily) then picture MANY lines coming out of that dot. based on choices, actions, other people’s choices and actions, circumstances, etc. our life takes one of those lines. then connected to THAT line is another dot. another point in our life. and that dot has a zillion lines coming from it. again, which line is taken depends on many things. and on to the next dot with a kajillion lines coming from it. and so on. this is how life progresses and how agency /freewill is maintained. yes, my creator knows the outcome for every single line that is coming off every single dot, but that knowledge is not acted upon in any way that interferes with my agency. not to get all existential, but there it is. this is obviously where jim’s poem takes me.

  4. Interesting comments. I’ve always thought of “fate” as just the roll of the dice – neither all-controlling, nor pre-ordained. Only what happens.
    I do like the number three and use it quite a bit. And I did want to contrast the small amount of poetic language with the more mundane narrative language, as a means of developing character. Monica Belluci, on the other hand, hadn’t ocurred to me (though she plays an interesting victim of fate, and people, in Malèna) though I did have an image of the first fate pictured in my mind: she looked a lot like Janeane Garofalo. Not that it matters much.
    The inspiration for this poem came about after reading James Tate’s “Memoir of the Hawk”, from which I got the idea to write about a mundane situation, with a strange element imposed on the scenario, then treat it as matter-of-factly as possible. Like Tate (except he does it much better and far more humorously.) That same day, I’d also come across a reference to the Greek personification of three fates (who arbitrarily control the birth, life and death of every person) and thought it might be interesting to place them in a modern setting, interacting with an unsuspecting character. The ideas came together first with a bit of dialogue for each fate (to establish their identities) and then the story grew around that. I had no idea where it would end up until it was finished. Much like fate.
    In many ways, the whole point of the poem was only to try and establish strong characters through dialogue and minimal description, and then to try and make a captivating narrative as well. So any implied meanings were secondary. Which means I incorporated stuff as it occurred to me while writing and never gave much thought to a grand idea or any kind of philosophizing. But as things arose, I exploited them to give a pseudo-depth to the poem. Because I’m a poetry whore. But I liked the outcome. Except for the ending, which seemed too heavy and contrived. But, “oh well.” It was the second round of action for each of the fates and I though Death should exemplify herself with a big surreal bang. So, no sleep-walkers either. Just a poet trying to find a way to end his poem.
    Also, I think any poem about fate should include a waiter – waiting on fate. I hope he got a good tip.

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