Zwischenzug by Paul Rotter

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


Some nights after a long day, I skip dinner and escape to the screened patio with a glass of whiskey in hand. For a while I’ll watch the sun sink below the tree line, listen to the birds chirp as they flitter toward their nests, and bask in the scent of homegrown basil but ignore the potted herb garden in need of watering. Years ago the bourbon would have furrowed my brow and caused my esophagus to constrict in resistance, but now it graces my palate like the final rays of sunset, providing a cordial warmth before the inevitable darkness.

It’s on nights like these that I will think of my father: his pessimism so bold and profound that it dug hills and valleys into the olive skin of his face. Only his bright hazel eyes, speckled with experience, give away the hope that he never dares to speak. Satisfaction is a thing he knows better than to expect for himself now. As for me, my reckless ambition defies his cold reason. I finish my drink and wonder if he sees himself in me. Will my trajectory break his gravity? I shudder at the knowledge that there are worse fates than becoming my father.

As the sun dips below the horizon I can’t help thinking about the other set of eyes waiting to see what I will become. My girlfriend complains that I never write about her; insists that if I truly loved her, my passion would manifest as words on a page so inspired that tears would slide through the forest of facial hair concealing my cheeks. I don’t know what to tell her. There is no translation for the silent gaze Minnaloushe the cat gives the moon.

On some nights I pour myself another bourbon, then a third, before settling beside the chess board I built last summer. I begin a solitary match and allow the waxing intoxication to handicap my logic. Pushing the clay pieces across stone tiles I notice the faults in my workmanship; a slightly crooked tile, a seam of grout wider than the rest. It reminds me of how, centuries ago, Navajo women would purposefully weave “errors” within the intricate designs of the blankets they created, ensuring modesty. They believed that a blanket void of imperfections would incite retribution from the gods. In my stupor I laugh at this because I’m in no such danger, and at least they had an excuse for not living up to their potential. When I’m sober I’ll regret this sentiment and arrive at the conclusion that some people are wise enough to accept the constraints of an enigmatic and implacable existence.

On nights when the stars are barely visible beyond wisps of gray that could as easily be ghosts of past selves as they could be cigarette smoke or clouds, I pass out in a lawn chair. My phone, having slipped from my pocket an hour earlier, buzzes in the grass. I’m too faded to notice, but it’s my girlfriend calling to ask how much I’ve had to drink and when will I stop spiraling into a manic depression after every job interview that doesn’t go my way? She tries for me, she really does, but there is no courageous way for me to explain that a mirror and a crystal ball aren’t so different, and I can’t see myself in either.

If it has gone this far I’ll be there ‘til morning, shifting now and then against the cheap plastic and eventually falling to rest peaceably on the ground, devoid of dreams. When the sun rises I will resume my role of meeting expectations and fulfilling obligations, but for the night I am aloof, floating blissfully on that imperceptible line between freedom and disaster.

paul-rotterPaul Rotter was born in southeastern Pa. He earned a B.A. in English from the University of Central Florida where he was a Finalist for Outstanding Literary Nonfiction Writer. He currently writes for an Investor Relations firm in Maitland, Fla. Paul can be found at



STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Dominick

  3 comments for “Zwischenzug by Paul Rotter

    • Dominick – the attribution is added to the live page; thanks for letting us know that it wasn’t showing up on the page. Fixed now! Great shot; it complemented this story so well. Thank you for making your work available for others to use through Creative Commons. -DT, editor

Share a Comment