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I sat in my tan 1997 Ford Aspire staring blankly at the neon red sign above the doorway of a shabby brown brick building that read “Gooskis ” the letter G blinked with faint rapidness. The night as with countless nights before left me sleepless and dull. Both symptoms of insomnia that cause hallucinations and would inevitably lead to constant masturbation and daylight awareness. But restlessness and a sense of raw numbness had me wandering the slick, cold streets in search of something other than the usual. I pulled a pill bottle out of my aged, light brown corduroy jacket, opened the top, and flung two tiny yellow tablets into my mouth, making sure they hit the very back teeth. Quickly, so as not to have the stinging sensation of pure gunpowder stay too long in my mouth, I chewed and swallowed, desperately trying to create as much saliva as possible to wash down the bitter, face cringing taste—ultra concentrated heaven. I almost regretted this action, as I knew now it would only be a half-hour before I would greet the floor with my face, but depression and a sense of needing to feel nothing rather than everything took precedence. Besides, I was aware, alert, and in control. I swung open the car door and stomped confidently towards the bar, completely secure in my presence.
I entered the bar, scanning the sparsely dotted establishment with squinting eyes, my tongue rolling around in my mouth in a side to side motion. It was one of the typical dive bars that I frequent, whose patrons couldn’t be bothered to learn the meaning of vitamin D, as sunlight is only a strange rumor there. I spotted the perfect booth in the far left corner of the place, the shadows in that area were deeper than anywhere else in the already dimly lit interior. After ordering a beer and making my way past a few people at the bar I receded into the darkness by the jukebox.
A few booths in front of me I noticed a pudgy man in a red and white lumberjack shirt, his curly black hair matted with grease and neglect. The thick, black framed eyeglasses that perched atop his curiously delicate, pink nose seemed absently thrown upon his face, as if dropped by accident from a second story window as he walked by. Outstretched before him was a checker board with no checker pieces. Across the bar were scattered three or four other bourbon marinated customers, none of whom were there for socializing. One man in particular was at least sixty and the haggard face that sucked down each freshly poured shot of whiskey didn’t show any signs of slowing down. In fact, given the specialized field in which he would be competing if drinking were an Olympic sport, this man would not hesitate when it came to the final swig of this particular competition. Stamina is everything, but he could not hold the shot glass in either hand because of the severe tremors, so he lowered his head, wrapped his mouth around the shot glass, slowly lifted his chin up, and used his throat muscles to ease the whiskey down. I drained the last of my beer and ordered two more, settling back down into my booth and lighting a cigarette.
I contemplated my own loneliness over this sight. I looked at an old man whose eyes were barely recognizable. They were there, that much was for sure. But they sat so deeply within his cavernous face that they seemed to sink into non-existence, taking their owner with them. He was no longer there—if ever he was— and I wanted to cry suddenly, but the pills took care of such sentimental feelings and lulled me into a deeper state of blissful unawareness.
I sunk deeper into my seat. This was all I needed. I waved the bartender over for another beer and felt the widening of time. The broken soldiers at the bar and the dingily dressed bartender who came and went, and came and went again, seemed all too normal to me, too comfortable. All was condensed into small sounds of small voices against smaller sounds of small footsteps, small faces smiling and frowning at other small faces, and small glasses scraping small tabletops coincided with small change dropping into small cash registers. It all felt so easy. I no longer desired a girl. I no longer desired desire. There was nothing that could jar me out of this, nothing at all.
Somebody was talking to me. “Do you want to hear it?” Hear what, I thought. “Do you want to hear it?” Hear what?
The sounds of laughter and endless, indistinguishable chatter began to come to focus as though I had been at the bottom of a swimming pool and was slowly ascending to the surface and the noises above.
“Do you want to hear her?” As my eyes steadied it became clear that someone was standing next to me and speaking. I snapped to very quickly, my chin and cheek feeling damp. I brushed my face and noticed the drool, wiping it away angrily. Anger turned to sheer humiliation when I saw who was speaking to me, a girl who seemed hellbent on intruding into my space. She had a dark, mousy look, pretty in a tragic-hilarious way and I couldn’t resist that. She smiled at me, her brunette hair thick and out of control, just partly tied up in the back as an afterthought. With a freckled face and clothes that seemed to have been pulled out of grandma’s secret armoire, she embodied a hipster, rolled into a hippie, rolled into something utterly different and strange. “Do you want to hear her?” Again, she spoke these words. I responded.
“Peggy Lee?” she said, though I was still perplexed as to why she was continuing to try and engage me.  No longer able to feel my fingertips, I let nothing stand in the way of me and my mouth.
“Fuck Peggy Lee, I wanna hear Billie,” I said, completely embarrassed about my slobbering spectacle. I heard her respond from beside me.
“I think I know your song.” I heard the machine pulling the dollar bill in, the flapping of the CD changer, and then a few moments of silence. The sound of an oboe began to slither upward in a slow, menacing fashion. My request was granted.
“She’s one of my favorites, too,” the girl said, making herself comfortable across from me in the booth. I was thrown out of my comfort zone. Her forwardness made me uneasy, but it was that very aggressive attitude that turned me on. I quickly sucked down my beer and stood to get another, a little blurry in my step. I saw her sitting empty handed so I bought her a vodka tonic, thinking that if she were a drinker then at the very least this would not be opposed.
“Here ya go. If you sit with me you gotta drink with me,” I said, setting it down before her. She didn’t waste time, picking up the glass that bubbled with life and taking a nice, long drink. After she set it back down, she leaned back in her seat and propped her head on the back of the booth. I was still trying to get a grasp on what she was about and what she wanted. Her skin was pale and she had the tiniest stud in her nose. She wore little makeup, but wore it casually with faint eyeliner and a base for her complexion. I could taste the peaches from the lip gloss sparkling on her lips.
“What are you about, anyway?” she asked, her eyes half closed and staring directly at me. “I mean, why’d you pass out?” I saw her eyes trail to the table, where next to my beer was the pill bottle. I quickly retrieved it and shoved it into my coat, my face hot with guilt. In a defensive, sarcasm drenched way, I did my best to deflect the issue, turning with near rage on this stranger. “And you are? I don’t believe I invited you to my table.”  She sat up with her elbows on the table, her face more in line with mine. A smile broadened her narrow jaw and a sparkle lit her brown, curious eyes.
“Hey, man, I’m sorry. None of my business. It just looked like you could use some company.” She got up to leave.
“Listen,” I began, standing up and leaning across the table, “I didn’t mean that. Look, I’m sorry. I just didn’t expect anyone to …”
“Talk to you?” she interrupted. Her face showed that she seemed truly hurt and that she was only being friendly when she sat with me. “To be honest,” she continued, “I had no intention of coming in here, but I needed change for the laundromat across the street.” She still looked hurt, so I sat back down with nothing but sorry pouring from my eyes. With my pathetic look, she seemed to loosen up. Sitting back down, a little smile recovered her face. She looked down at her drink for what seemed like a minute, picked it up, and took another gulp, setting it back down and holding it with both hands. She continued looking down at the glass, as if she was thinking deeply upon something that would soon escape from her lips in the form of a question or comment towards me.
“Thanks for playing Billie,” I began, trying to make amends with the stranger. Her face brightened and she seemed to relax, leaning back and raising her arm in the air, grabbing the back of her curly, dense hair and leaning her head against that same arm. She looked intoxicating to me in that very moment, though the sting of loneliness and the haze in which I passed each day played their part in my inebriation for sure. Either way, I began to open up to the moment, enjoying the idea that a woman was there with me, whether she talked to me or not was irrelevant.
“My pleasure. Maybe sometime when I’m passed out in some bar you can wake me up and play me Peggy Lee,” she said, smiling.
“You got it.”
We sat a few moments more before she spoke again. “These things will be the death of you,” she said, tapping the package of cigarettes on the table. I rolled my eyes, expecting a self-righteous lecture on the evils of tobacco. I slid the cigarettes to the side and responded, “Is this gonna turn into a big thing?” She grinned and leaned back into the table, folding her arms over each other. Her voice was slightly raspy and deep.
“Not at all. I smoke from time to time. I don’t mean tobacco will kill you, just mean things in general.” Not quite following, I lowered my eyes and gave her a look of puzzlement, which she instantly picked up on as her facial expression turned, mockingly mimicking my own. She continued. “You know, all these things, dude—I mean, how long do you suffer over something as pointless as ...” she stuttered a few times, searching around the bar to find an example, and when said example was cornered, she pressed on, “… a light bulb? I mean, you tell me if a bulb goes out in your house you tear your hair out trying to find the right one at the store, right? That is, if you can’t find it at one store it sets you off on a frustrating journey over something so meaningless. Who needs it?” Her dark eyes and inviting smile all but begged for a response. The spinning in my head calmed, the beer having taken the edge off the worst of the pill daze. What intrigued me was her forthrightness and complete unmasking of herself to a total stranger. A few moments of silence and a drunken smile later, I spoke.
“I take it you’re a Buddhist?” She shot a sarcastic glance at me, drained her drink, and shoved the glass she had placed on the table at me. “I take it you’re not?” I said, annoyed at some secret faux pas that I was unaware I had made. She laughed.
“No, not that. I’m not anything. I’m just … you know, Buddha is cool, and the teachings are amazing … it’s just that, you know, I prefer to have my own philosophy.  Like the Buddha, I don’t believe in attachments. These are things, you know, they just don’t mean anything.”
“Why do they have to?” I replied. She shook her head, excused herself to the bar, bought a drink, and nestled herself comfortably back into her little nook. She continued as if she hadn’t been gone.
“They don’t, but the fact that they don’t is the precise reason that frustration and angst spent on these things is beyond insane.”
“You have a point. I know I spend way too much energy on things. It’s the dilemma of our generation, I suppose.” She looked at me for a moment, a mischievous grin consuming her face.
“How old are you?” she asked, obviously bewildered by my comment. Having experience with people mistaking me for much younger than I am, and not believing me when I tell them the truth, I became defensive, but not harsh.
“What does that matter?”
“Well, it’s just that you look so …” I finished her thought.
“No, drunk. Close though.” We both laughed. She went on. “I knew there was a laugh in you. You need to lighten up.”
“That’s what my last girlfriend said. But, you know, I’m all for living a simple life. But I don’t think it would suit me well, your lifestyle. I’m too much of a cynic.”
She replied. “It’s not just about simplicity. It’s about just existing, you know?”
“I agree. But to exist is not always a happy state. Sometimes, for some, it is never a happy state. See that guy over there?” I pointed to the middle of the bar where the old man sat, his hands quaking as he clasped his beer, nearly shaking it all out of the bottle. I peered at her from the corner of my eyes, expecting to find some kind of horror in her expression. What I saw instead was a soft, almost peaceful look in her smiling face.
“Happy, unhappy, it’s all the same. People who say they’re truly happy may believe that, but no one has a scale to measure such claims. There’s no standard by which to compare. We’re all just winging it. To that man, this is the happiest time of his life. No matter what lead to him coming here night after night, this is what he looks forward to.”
“Alcohol is his attachment then, which, in your belief, would cause him suffering. Right?”
“I never claimed to have a belief. You pinned that on me. I merely stated that people would be better off without clinging to any one thing, rather than experiencing these things for what they are and moving on. And by the way, I never claimed you can be attachment free. We are human, after all.”
“Awfully kind of you to notice,” I responded with my usual saltiness. She laughed and we clinked our glasses. We talked for a few hours more. She got a little intoxicated and I got a lot drunk. We spoke of many things, conversing intimately as though we had been in a relationship for a long time. At no point did either of us stop to wonder why it was all going so smoothly. I was just happy to be in the company of a woman, and I would have been content with only that.
Closing time came and we made our way out of the bar. The air smelled sweet and the snap of springtime seemed to bring more warmth into the air than earlier in the night. She asked if she could stop over for a bit to continue the conversation, so I drove her to my apartment, neither of us realizing she had left her laundry.
Time passed by into the wee hours of the morning. More drinks and more conversation. I had not had such a wonderful, fulfilling time with someone in so long that I had almost forgotten how truly unique and exciting it could be. I showed her my record collection and she showed me some scars on her belly from various surgeries. We listened to music. She liked it all, and I liked her.
We were both on the floor, feeling loose and just enjoying each other’s company. I leaned over in between songs and kissed her. She closed her eyes softly and drew me back to her lips before I could retreat. As the heavy kissing progressed and the groping intensified, the heat of passion turned into a furnace threatening to burn the entire façade down. “Let’s go to your bed,” she whispered with inebriated excitement.
Our throbbing madness created a whirlwind of delirium, causing us to surrender to the moment beneath the sheets. Both of us felt as though we could not get enough and could not get close enough. I could not go deep enough.
The early morning sun peeped inside the window of my bedroom and would not let me be. I sat up, my mouth dry and my head surprisingly not shattered to bits. I looked down at her gentle, sleeping body. A very faint snore emitted from her nose now and again. I smiled. I hadn’t felt that good in ages. Maybe it was time to lighten up. I knew she was right, and it was nothing I hadn’t felt or known before. I was rapidly growing bitter at only twenty-nine. “Leave bitterness to the pills,” I thought.
I quietly dressed and slipped outside into the chill of the morning to go to the supermarket, not even worrying about my coat. I felt rejuvenated, and the air just thrilled my already delirious head. I almost felt shame, realizing how nakedly I’d expressed myself the night before. But then, I remembered she had been just as candid. She didn’t appear to be embarrassed in the slightest. I envied that.
At the check out line, I placed all the proper items on the conveyer belt: good, dense, whole wheat bread; a thick, moist ham steak; a carton of free range eggs; a tin of coffee and some orange juice. I had problems with breakfast in those days, my belly having been drilled through more than an oil field. But I could already hear and smell every bit of the food cooking, the crackling of the eggs, the sizzling of the ham, and the sweet, nutty aroma of the bread. I rushed back to my apartment and swung the door open.
She was not in my bed or in my apartment. I searched for a note. I found nothing. Perplexed, I sat down at the edge of the bed, thinking perhaps she stepped out for a moment. But reality cracked me in the face with its closed fist. I looked over at my coat. It was on the floor. I picked it up, rummaged through the pockets, but could not find the pill bottle. My nostrils flared in anger. My jaw tightened and my face burned red. And then I chuckled, wondering how foolish I would look to someone watching right now. “Fucking junky!” I cried out, throwing myself onto the bed and laughing hysterically.?

Comments (3)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Way above calibur. Nice!

Eric Lawson
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This was excellent! I loved it, I loved it, I loved it!

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Thank you. I'm glad you liked it. I like the enthusiasm.

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