map Dialogue in Prague

by Camille Renshaw

Published in Issue No. 5 ~ October, 1996

“Pivo,” the woman in cutoffs said to the waitress.

“What did you say?” the man with golden hair asked.

“I ordered us some more beer. Is that okay?”

“Yeah, that’s good.”

The streets of Prague were full of musicians and cafés. Men and women with open guitar cases were playing American songs with coarse accents and finding solace in the evening’s cool darkness. The cafés were filling with after dinner guests and contemplative conversation. The streets would later find lust and dancing but not for hours.

Their café lay on a side street between Prague’s main avenue and the St. Charles Bridge. The Americans sat at a small CINZANO table with luggage strewn around them. They had come here every night since they met a week ago. Their train for Budapest would arrive in an hour and a half.

The waitress brought out their beers. One of the men handed her some change.

“It’s your turn,” she said to the man with glasses. “Go.”

As he laid down a straight, she stared across the street at a man singing I Want Your Sex. “I still can’t believe ya’ll disagree with me about the sex argument. It’s only logical,” she said.

“But there are holes in your logic,” the man with the golden hair said absentmindedly. “It’s your turn.”

“Repeat that again for me. I don’t think I understood you,” said the man with glasses.

The girl drank some beer and played her cards. Then she looked at them both and said, “This is like arguing with mud.”

“You brought it back up,” he said with a smiling glance at the man with the golden hair.

She stared at a group of musicians that were passing by and said, “Never mind.”

The waitress came back out of the café and pointed at their mugs. The golden hair nodded and held up one finger.

The glasses finally spoke again, saying “Tell me your idea once more.”

“It’s simple. Every time you have sex you define what sex is to you. I don’t know how to make it more clear-”

The golden hair interrupted her, “-Are you saying it affects you? Affects you like all actions or incidents do? Of course it does. You’re not saying anything important-”

“No. I think it defines sex for you. Not that your definition isn’t affected by other things too, but every single time you have sex it deeply impacts your concept of sex,” said the cut-offs.

“Wait a minute… What if you’re in a relationship with someone. What if you make love over a hundred times to this person. You’re trying to tell me that some completely ordinary, just-like-all-the-others time changed this ‘definition of sex’?” asked the golden hair with his fingers hanging in the air like imaginary quotation marks.

“It may not ‘change’ it, but the experience impacts it. It may simply reinforce ideas that you already had.”

The glasses sat quietly and paid for more beer when the waitress brought it. He looked at his watch and said, “I don’t know if I can discuss this with you. I’m sitting here drinking my beer and feeling guilty.”

“Oh, don’t feel guilty – discuss this. It’s just an argument. A competition of our wits,” said the golden hair.

“I don’t feel strange with you. I feel strange with her,” said the glasses.

“Why? I don’t want you to feel guilty. I just want to talk about this openly. I’m wondering what you think because you’re men. Because I never understand what men think about sex,” said the cut-offs.

Across the street three musicians approached the corner guitarist. They spoke in Czech with sharp tones and pointing fingers. The Americans could hear the locals but did not understand them. The quartet’s yelling slowly stopped, and the three musicians sat down, taking out their instruments with care. They closed their cases and began to play. The first song started with a saxophone solo.

“Why do you think this is so important to discuss?” asked the glasses.

“Because if we don’t realize the impact of our actions… actions that involve interaction with others… then we begin to objectify each other. We begin to know ourselves less and less. Who we have sex with, why we do it, and how make up how we think about sex. How we think about ourselves and the people with whom we’re doing it is dependent on our definition of sex… Somebody go. I’ve lost track of who’s turn it is,” said the cut-offs.

“But what you’re saying sounds like planning every kiss. Every swing of the hips. Sex is too animalistic to analyze at some level. It’s a primal instinct. Sometimes it runs its own course,” said the golden hair as he discarded.

“I met a man two years ago in Atlanta. I made the mistake of sleeping with this man. This man who had been with dozens of women. The whole time I felt like he was somewhere else. He was talking to me while we were doing it. Saying things about me, our bodies. He might as well have called me by the name of some other woman. He had slept with so many other people that he had mentally slipped away from me, from my persona. I felt like we were having greasy, tasteless, fast-food sex. I never slept with him again. I knew that he had lost the capacity to be intimate with me, so I left him,” said the cut-offs.

“…Sometimes when I sleep with someone I don’t know why I am. I’m just drawn to it. But if I chose not to, I wouldn’t know why I did that either. …Stopping would not make any more sense than following my impulse,” said the glasses as he stared at his cards.

“You’re implying that the sex arena of your life is pure id. You might be this careless about what you eat or who you dine with, but this is sex. Don’t you agree that sex is the single most intimate thing you can do with someone?” asked the cut-offs as she drew a card.

“Did you consider yourself intimate with that Atlanta man?” asked the glasses.

“No, that’s why I ended it. It didn’t feel intimate at all,” said the cut-offs.

“I sometimes worry that I may not be able to find that intimacy with someone again. That fear has kept me from sleeping with anyone for over a year. All I’ve done is struggle wth whether or not to do it.” The glasses paused. Then he turned to the golden hair and asked, “Do you think sex is the most intimate thing you can do with someone else?”

“Of course, of course. I wasn’t trying to sound callous or stupid before. I was simply purporting that sex is not one dimensional. It’s not just in bed with your spouse. It’s everywhere,” said the golden hair.

The musicians stood up and played louder. They turned inward and played to each other. One of them smiled as he rested his violin. He quietly sang Czech words to the folk song.

The waitress came back to the table and smiled at the men on the corner as she picked up two of the Americans’ empty mugs. She looked down at them. The glasses looked at his watch and shook his head. She nodded and walked away.

“Maybe that’s what I’m purporting,” she said, laying down a flush.

“…That if we realized the complexity of sex or the depth of its dimensions then we would do something differently?” asked the glasses with a gulp of beer.

“Yeah. I think we all would. Our twentieth-century values would change. I’m just afraid that the dynamics that we’re talking about may be too complicated. That they are too primal to completely control or decipher-” she said.

“- Haven’t we kinda gotten off the subject? Are we still arguing the same thing really? Or did we all agree at some point?” interrupted the glasses.

“Sex is defined by everything you bring to it, do to it, and take from it. That’s what we’re saying. All that is relative to the degree you believe actual sex, actually having sex, plays a role in that definition. …But sex starts to look like all other actions once given this articulation. Every act is defined by every time you do it. The definition of weed-eating is affected by every time you weed-eat,” said the golden hair as he drew a card.

“…What we’re really arguing is a concept dependent on how important we think sex is. It’s dependent on our individual ideals. It’s dependent on how great a capacity to be intimate we have salvaged. What we have left for that moment. – Gin,” said the cutoffs as she laid down the last card.

“So all of this works cyclically, or is parallel. They each impact the other. Our definition of sex is shaped by our doing it. The degree to which we think our definition is affected depends on how much we value sex. How intimate and valuable an act it is. These values are determined from our definition of sex – ” said the glasses.

“- Hey. We need to go. The train arrives in fifteen minutes,” said the cut-offs rising from her chair.

The corner the Americans faced as they left the café was filled with people and music. Its players stood with their eyes shut as the music droned on and by-passers threw money at their feet. The Americans and their baggage fought to cross the gathering crowd. They found an opening and headed for the station.

“So I essentially can’t worry about all this. It stems from the unconscious. I can only attempt to balance my sex drive with some logic,” said the glasses.

“Struggling with it may help. Maybe various experiences added together will mature your definition of sex,” said the golden hair.

“Or maybe experience is as deceitful as innocence. Maybe it’s the struggling that affects your logic,” said the cut-offs.

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Camille Renshaw is from Nashville, TN, where she also completed her graduate work in English at Vanderbilt University. An avid hiker, she had just returned from hiking the Appalachian Trail when her first poems in Pif Magazine were published. Camille later became managing editor of Pif Magazine.