He sits in the canvas chair, his feet set on the balustrade before him, his legs naked to the thigh. In his hand, the glass tumbler of wine. This he raises to his mouth and drinks, the red liquid welling at the joints of his lips before passing into mouth, down his gullet. He lowers the tumbler and sets the back of one hand to his mouth, wiping almost imperceptibly before dropping his arm and contorting his body, cat-like, to retrieve the pack of cigarettes that sits just below the chair.
“I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what,” He says, leaning his head to the soft-faced man sitting in the chair to his left. “Only thing better than a post-dinner cigarette is when that cigarette follows a dinner you make your damn self.” He shucks up a cigarette and removes it with his lips. A green plastic lighter is produced, the cigarette lit.
Behind him, through the peeling wood of the bowed doorframe, down a hallway hung with wallpaper smudged, past the bric-a-brac of a dilapidated kitchen, in the sink, are piled the pots and pans and plates and utensils of a just-consumed meal. Green noodles sit folded back on themselves. Slivers of breaded but uneaten chicken float in opaque water. A lone fly dips its wings in the white cream that is congealing in the lip of the top plate. And, below this, the ants, scheme their ascent.
“Yes, man.” The first man says, holding up the cigarette for his own inspection. “Retiring to the porch, glass of red wine in hand, a savory Marlboro Red: one of those simple indulgences. Never ceases to amazing me, amaze me how I like the simple things.” He draws on the cigarette and swirls the wine in its tumbler with a circular motion of his hand. “The smoke makes the food settle, the wine makes the body do the same, and taking the time, time to enjoy these vices, it settles the mind in a way few other vices do.” He has raised the tumbler as he’d said this and is inspecting what legs have formed during the swirling.
The second man has said nothing since the meal was eaten and he says nothing now. He only sits, his knees up on the seat of the chair in a strange balancing act, his eyes searching past where the porch lights fall on the yellowed grass before the house and at the outer dark beyond.
“To me,” The first man continues. “The Food itself has never been of paramount importance. I don’t consider myself in any way a connoisseur but, I will tell you, vices. What is it they say, the viceth maketh the maneth?”
“Who says this?”
“Who says this about vices?”
“No, I mean, like a saying.”
“A saying.” The second man has looked at the first and now he looks back, bewilderedly, into the darkness.
“As I was saying. What was I saying? Vices.” He drinks. “Want ‘ary?”
“Yerp.” The second man holds out his right arm to its length without looking. The first man places the tumbler in the waving fingers.
“My Mother. Yes, she cooked for my father, sister, and me almost every night. She liked to cook. Family dinners. Maybe she just liked the family dinners. But either way, she cook ‘em. And we ate ‘em. It was my father though, that’s who I take after. He liked the dinner drink and the cigar after. Well.” He tilts the cigarette in the light as if it might change form. “I take after him in spirit.”
“Where’s he now?”
The second man repeats the question. He is looking back now at the first man, intently, his eyes doing a frantic shimmy in their sockets, his face frozen and grim.
The first man takes back the tumbler and drinks. “Never mind you that.”
“He’s gone, isn’t he?”
“Never mind you that. Here, let me tell you, those Styrofoam eggs. Well, the eggs weren’t Styrofoam but…”
“How else would they come?”
“How else do eggs come, ‘cept in Styrofoam.”
“Well.” The first man squints one his shut and cocks his head then continues as if no question was posed. “My mother loved eggs. Breakfast. Dinner and breakfast, both. That cracking of the shells, cracking and dumping those unborn innards into the white bowl. Always gave me the freaks. Did it give you the freaks?”
“Or she’d make a little bath out of ‘em and drip some chicken breasts in that, then dip that into the breading, fry it all up. Freaky, isn’t it? Imagine your breasts getting fried in some baby’s innards.”
“I don’t have breasts.”
“Sure you do.”
“Everyone has breasts.”
“I’m not, no woman.”
“But you have ‘em. Whatchamacallit, pectorals. Doesn’t matter..”
“If you’re gunna talk nonsense, hand over dat wine.”
“You’re an idiot.”
“No.” The second man receives the tumbler again and taps at its base with one finger. Covering the finger is a fine, crusted layer of the cream, which leaves a smudge on the glass. He drinks then hands the tumbler back without noticing his finger’s transgression.
“Godtam,” the first man lowers his legs and raises the smudge to his face. “No hand washing at all for you?”
“I washed before we ate. What am I gunna wash for now? Wait.” The second man freezes and his head drops about a half a foot down his neck so that his back rises into a drastic hunch. “Shit. Did you? Shit.”
There is a hatchet that the second man has been holding in his off hand. The grip of his dirty hands around its handle has been loose, casual, as if it were a child’s toy, but not it tightens and he raises it up and curses again before hurling it off into the night. There is a second hatchet cradled in his lap and third at the base of his chair and he snatches these two up as well and holds them aloft for just a moment before hurling these too, out through the porch lights and into the shadow. After each throw, he emits a strange ha, ha then rises into a crouch atop his chair and teeters there.
“Godtam.” The first man has reached out the tumbler to his friend as if increasing its proximity to him will calm him but it evidently doesn’t work because the second man gives a little grunt and hops from chair to balustrade then leaps down into the dust and grass below. He cocks his head once towards the night before taking off at a lope in the direction of his hatchets. The wall of darkness that rises at the termination of the porch light seemed to ripple as it accepted each of the hatchets and it seems to ripple again and more greatly as the second man passes through it, as if it were a physical membrane with its own weight and mass.
The first man sets the tumbler gently onto the misleveled boards of the porch. The cigarette has gone out and he lights it again.
“As I was saying,” he says now to the empty chair, the empty night. “The solitude of the porch is a welcome contrast to the bustle of a dinnermaking. Everything tasted goody. Job well done. Now, I take my leave and time alone. Enjoy the cigarette.” He raises it. “My wine.” He lifts that up again and raises it nightward. “All.”
He smokes and drinks and looks out at the darkness before him, which has settled back now into its calm weightlessness.
“Yessir. I’ll just set my feet up on this little fence.” He props his legs again on the balustrade. “And have me a sigh and a memory and smoke my cigarette down to the filter.”