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.
Heâ€™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 heâ€™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
They still say nothing.
He arches his eyebrows and smiles
â€œWhatâ€™s up with these ladies?â€
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, â€œIâ€™ll carry you in my womb, give you birth,
but I will never suckle you.â€
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,
â€œIâ€™ll keep you fed and clothed all the days of your life,
but I will never weep for your hardship.â€
The manâ€™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,
â€œIâ€™ll wash your body, dress it for the grave,
but I will never mourn your passing.â€
The man thinks to himself, â€œThis is too much,â€
and begins to turn away, feeling more confused
But before he leaves,
the first woman speaks again, saying,
â€œPlease, join us.â€
Heâ€™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,
Heâ€™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,
â€œWill there be anything else?â€
â€œYes. Bring a bottle,â€ the first woman says,
â€œmake it a Cabernet, whatever is least expensive.
And please, bring another glass.â€
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.
â€œItâ€™s very good,â€ 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
He looks up, agitated.
The women are gone. There is no bar.
Heâ€™s standing in the middle of a dark road
watching headlights grow brighter
than anything heâ€™s seen before. He becomes
light-blind, sensing only the long, mournful blast
of an air horn changing pitch, growing louder,
No one screams.
The Cruel Fates