moving bodies and light

Roman said chaos makes everything work and that it is the thing that makes everything happen and connects everything to everything else….”

by mathew szymanowski

We were sitting in the town square with the cobblestones, under the umbrellas with beer logos on them, and there we were drinking Czech beer and smoking French cigarettes. This was in Prague. The ashtray was made of thick colored glass and was empty before we sat down. No matter how much we smoked the ashtray never got close to overflowing, had never more than two butts in it, because the waitress would make sure of this. Roman tipped her something good, enough that as she was walking away, counting the Crowns, she stopped and pivoted back to us and in accented English said thank you. Roman only nodded. Later he said what he tipped her was probably what she made in a few days as a waitress.

“Tourists come here and get fucked up and blow cash like its nothing, and it probably isn’t because they’re secure with their American salary and paid vacations and time share. And this girl is working for tips to pay for her laundry and food the next day, and if she’s nice, if she gets us a clean ashtray enough times, beer enough times, smiles, we could be those guys that make her life better for a moment.” He said this and looked out into the square before taking a swig of beer.

I was drunk and had to concentrate on one thing at a time so that my head was not spinning. I was maybe fifteen but some thought I looked twenty.

“You don’t know a lot of stuff.” Somehow this conversation started with him talking about how our folks didn’t look like they were married when we ate lunch at some Italian café earlier that day on the other side of the square. He said they barely even looked at each other, that all we talked about was what other tourist things we could see the next day.

I noticed I hadn’t said anything for a while and was staring at the ashtray and the reflected lights from the lanterns.

“I heard them fight. You never did.”

“I know about it.” I said.

“You didn’t hear any of it.”

When the waitress came up Roman would smile and watch her move across the patio back inside the doors, smoking his cigarette. It was late and most of the restaurant had the tables put away, chairs stacked, ready to close, and I remember that after a while everyone left and there was only this waitress working and us sitting.

The church was the largest building in the square. It looked old but renovated. The clock was out of sight from where we were sitting. Roman said the bell was only a recording, that they no longer have real bells in old squares. A couple was sitting on the steps of the opening gates to the church. They might have been sleeping. They might have been drunk.

Roman said chaos makes everything work and that it is the thing that makes everything happen and connects everything to everything else. He said all the good and all the shit and everything comes together with chaos and we are only witnessing all this without any influence over it.

His eyes were solid black and his jaw was twitching side to side in between words and sentences. He had gone to the bathroom at three times, each time taking longer than normal. We finished the French cigarettes. He flicked the last butt in the square, though the ashtray was empty.

Down an alley at some corner store we bought the same French cigarettes and then followed the bass that was the only prominent motion that night. It was late and the only people around walked quickly with their heads down. We walked down a stone staircase to a club in an underground cave, where it was stuffy and music was loud, where people were sweating, dancing, screaming. We ordered a few drinks and because they were cheap we drank them quickly and ordered more right away. Roman flirted with the bartender who looked like a porn star in heels. He made sure to tip her well and reciprocated a smile when she noticed the bills.

We sat at a wooden table in the stone corner and talked about the girls dancing. Roman said he’s never found a girl to keep because they’re all so messed in the head. The girl from the restaurant would never come to a place like this, he said. She wasn’t that kind of girl. That much I heard but he kept talking. I wasn’t sure what he was saying because it was loud, and still I lifted my glass and we said cheers. Now the spinning lights and music seemed louder and I could hear nothing else. We downed more drinks and I danced and smoked cigarettes and kept bumping into girls, getting smoke and sweat in my eyes. A few girls had boots that reached to their knees and small skirts that showed their skinny, sweaty thighs. A few would smile at me before I would start dancing towards them and then they would turn away.

“Go talk to her.” Roman pointed with his smoke to the one who looked like she was about to fall over. This was a joke. She also smiled at me, or only in my direction, and when I started to talk to her she didn’t understand English and kept staring through me. She looked about thirty. Her eyes had been rolling in her head. Some guy in a suit pulled her aside after I was dancing with her and this guy bought her a drink she could not hold by herself. He helped put the glass to her mouth. We nearly finished the cigarettes, sitting in the corner for the rest of the time there, watching people come in and out, dance and drink.

Roman and I walked the streets. He said the world was shifting in power. He said everything moves westward in history but the problem was that everyone left behind had to be convinced that everything was in order and that nothing was changing. People are scared of change, he said.

We bought gyros from a corner store where what looked like the whole family was present. They were watching some American show on a TV hanging in the corner. They were dark skinned. The little girl who must have been five kept staring at us while drinking from straw in a big paper cup. As we waited, as the dark kid cut away at the spinning, hanging meat, a pretty girl came in with a young looking guy who had on white Adidas and a baseball cap. Roman said it was the waitress from the restaurant. We walked by the two and I looked at the girl and noticed she had heavy makeup on and she looked away and moved closer to the guy she was with who was ordering a gyros, not noticing us. I saw no resemblance.

A group of guys in leather jackets were smoking down the street. Roman said not to talk to people at night or when you’re drunk – if they know you’re drunk they will mess with you. We walked by them and one of the guys with a paper bag in his hand pointed, said if we want girls for the night we could go not far down the street and take a few turns. They must have been able to tell we weren’t from here. Neither Roman nor I paid him attention. Across the street going in the direction where the guy had pointed was the girl and the guy from the gyros store. Roman said she probably had a long way to go – its too expensive to live near the center on waiters pay. The girl was leaning on the guy, holding him while he ate his gyros. They disappeared around the next corner. We kept smoking and eating and walking. The bass from the club or maybe it was something else kept vibrating in my head and on my chest but I didn’t ask Roman if he could feel it. He was staring up ahead like the girl and guy were still in site. He took a bite from the gyros before taking a drag. He did this repeatedly for a while, fast bites and deep drags. It was like this for a few blocks, walking on the round rock street between the buildings turning to follow streets that looked the same. Then he turned to me.

“Your face is shaking.”

“Can I make it stop?”

“It’ll go away by itself.”

Originally published:
Issue Forty-Nine
August 2007
(illustrations: dee sunshine)

Matt Szymanowski is a writer and director based in Los Angeles and Warsaw. His debut feature film, “The Purple Onion” (2015), available on iTunes and Amazon Prime, won the Best Feature Drama-Comedy at the Indie Gathering International Film Festival. Matt wrote and self published the novel “Cupertino,” available on Amazon. A MacDowell Colony fellow, he studied film and theatre directing at the Polish National Film School in Poland and has a BA in Humanities from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

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