Houston Greets the Start of Spring

Houston Greets the Start of Spring

Half clothed in his backyard,
his chest exposed to elements
as the gods intended it to be,
his hair flowing like a centaur’s mane,

Houston, of 44 Woodson Circle,
opens his mouth and laughs
wide and strong and loud,
his legs like the pillars of the Earth,

his loins golden and vibrant
and primed for the Dionysian
extravaganza awaiting him
in his ancestral hall behind him

where his wife grins and texts
her lover he’s drunk in the yard,
yammering on about spring.
He thinks he’ll get some later

and his children, a sad-eyed boy
and a disappointing girl, lie
in beds and dream of lives
without their father, dreams

in which he was never born,
and thus they were never born,
and their mother is free,
a green goddess in her own right.

Camp NaNoWriMo and a New Adventure

Camp NaNoWriMo is mere days away, and I’ve decided to embark on a new project. I was planning on revising Water, Bleed Away, but I’m not ready to delve back into that world yet. I believe I’ll return to it one day. In the meantime (no pun intended), I’m going to begin work on The Melancholy of Time Travel, an idea I’ve had rolling around in my head for quite some time.

In brief, the novel is the memoir of Christopher Surreau, one of the last time travelers left. The novel will be part adventure and part romance and…I don’t know what. The setting is London and spans the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th. Not exactly my area of expertise, so I’ve got some research to do. Thank the stars for the Internet, eh?

I’ll post parts of the book here, as I did with Water, Bleed Away, but the majority of Writing for Ghosts will be for short stories and poems.

Speaking of poems, I believe I’ll post one now.

Paul the Drunk (sixth and final part)

So that was the plan: get a little loaded and go to the cemetery. But things didn’t turn out that way.

When I walked up to the liquor store, my feet stopped. I looked inside and saw the clerk whose name was Randy. He was about my age and looked rough. He had a crazy, unkempt beard and black-rim glasses. He was just Hannah’s type, but Randy didn’t work here when she was drinking. I wasn’t going to mention it to her.

Randy rarely said more than a few words to me, but he didn’t need to. Since I went there all the time, he just grabbed the vodka when I walked up with the wine. Sometimes I’d tell him I wanted more or less vodka (my general habit was a pint), and he’d shrug and select a different bottle. If I wished him a good day, he’d just nod and go back to doing whatever he did behind the counter between customers.

I urged myself to go in, but I still hesitated. What the hell was going on? I wanted to drink, sure, but I wasn’t overcome with the need. Usually, the switch in my brain that tells me to stop or slow down is broken. That day, though, it seemed to be working just fine. Better than fine, actually.

Puzzled, I walked back home, got in the car, and drove across town to the cemetery.

The last time I’d been to Crestwood was two years ago when a friend of mine from high school died from leukemia. His name was Kent, and we all called him Clark Kent. He was alright, I guess. He never really drew attention; he was one of those kids who was like shadow that no one really noticed. Hannah was still drinking then, and she and I and a handful of people showed up at the graveside service, thoroughly drunk. We been hammering them back at the bar during the visitation and lost track of time.

I remember Kent’s mom, struggling through her tears, walking over to me and hissing, “Why did you even bother coming? You’re drunk! All of you are!”

“We came to give ol’ Clark Kent a good send off,” I vaguely remember saying as I slung my arm around her shoulder. Kent’s mother shoved me off and stormed away, and that’s when some other member of Kent’s family–a large dude with a neck tattoo of a snake and an expression that read don’t fuck with me–told us to leave or he’d make us leave. Drunk though we were, we didn’t want to fight, so we went to another bar and toasted Kent. And then another bar, where we toasted ourselves. And then another bar, and I don’t remember what happened after that.

As I drove into the cemetery, I wondered if I should try the liquor store one more time. I was feeling pretty jumpy and my mouth was watering, but I was already driving toward the spot where the memorial page said I could find Beth’s grave. Fuck it, I thought, if I can’t make it through this sober, then I really do need help. I pulled over to the side of the narrow road and put the car in park.

Before I got out, I took a couple of deep breaths. Before my drinking really took off, I used to meditate, and it helped a lot. I plateaued pretty quickly, though, and couldn’t make it past ten minutes because I’d usually end up thinking about Beth or drinking. Still, the breathing helped calm me a bit, and then I hopped out of the car and started walking through the graves.

I think cemetery’s are kind of cool, and Crestwood is one of the more beautiful ones I’ve seen. It’s almost two hundred years old, and you’ve got to have some serious money to get buried here. Beth rarely talked about her mom and dad, but I knew her dad was some type-A lawyer who’d won a bunch of cases and wanted to be a judge. I had no idea if her mother did anything. She had a brother that I met once when Beth and I–

I stopped in my tracks. Her brother, Jeremy, was no more than twenty feet in front of me, kneeling at Beth’s grave, and crying. I slowly backed away and turned down another path, and I kept walking until I reached the bottom of the hill, where the cemetery ended on a bank of the river.

Jeremy was five years younger, which made him 27. Still a kid, really, and a kid whose sister had OD’d. He must have been torn up. I thought about walking back and talking to him, but maybe he wanted to be alone. Maybe he’d be embarrassed if I saw him crying. Also, I had no idea what Beth had told him about me. When I met Jeremy that one time, he was cool, and I figured the three of us could hang out again sometime, but we never did.

By the time I walked back to Beth’s grave, he was gone. I stared down at the stone, reading Beth’s birth date and death date. There was no scripture, no poem, no nothing. Not even rest in peace or beloved daughter. What a shitty thing to do. Beth told me once that her father was an atheist, like she was, but come one…can’t you do a little something for your daughter’s headstone?

As I walked back to the car, I started wondering what it would be like for Hannah if she had to visit my grave. Would she kneel and cry like Jeremy had? Would she start drinking again and not stop until she died? Would she not give a shit and never visit my grave? First, her mom commits suicide and then her brother dies. What does that do to her chances of staying sober and having a shot at a good life?

And what role do you think you’re playing in that drama now, moron? I could hear the words as clearly as if Hannah had just spoken them.

I was so lost in thought that I didn’t notice Jeremy leaning against my car until I got my keys out and hit the unlock button. He glared up at me through his dirty bangs. He looked like he hadn’t slept in days, and when he spoke, his voice was little more than a rasp. “You should have been the one who died, not her.”

“Jeremy,” I said, but realized I had no words other than that. What could I say.

“Do you get her hooked?”

“What? God, no. Listen, I didn’t even know that Beth–”

“Did any of your so-called friends do it?” Jeremy asked, moving away from my car, his hands balled into fists.

“No, man, they all just drank,” I said, which was complete bullshit. I was the only one who just drank; the others shot up, snorted, popped pills,whatever. Drinking might have been their main squeeze, but it didn’t mean they didn’t get around.

Jeremey stood trembling before me, his arms rising and falling slightly, as he contemplated whether to attack me or not. I’d been in several fights when I was drinking and none while sober, and I tensed myself.

The moment I did, all the energy leaked out of Jeremy. His shoulders sagged as he trudged away toward his own car. I thought about calling out to him, but again, what the hell could I say?

I didn’t realize I was shaking until I got in the car. Shaking from nerves, shaking from not drinking, shaking from the shock of seeing Beth’s grave. Shaking because of my own insane life.

I sat with my hands on the wheel and the key in the ignition, wondering what to do. I could go to the liquor store …or I could do something different. I didn’t know what, and I was too scared to think about what it might be if I wasn’t drinking. But I kept seeing that picture of Beth on the memorial site. How different she looked. How had she looked before the end? Worse? The same? What the hell happened between the time we broke up and the day she died?

I felt fairly sure I could find out the answers, but I wanted to do it sober. Not for Beth, or Hannah, or anything like that, but for me. If I could get to the bottom of the mystery–it wasn’t really a mystery, but I liked thinking it was–then maybe I could move on. Then maybe I could quit drinking once and for all.

But first, at least one bottle of wine was in order.

And that’s the end of this particular story ( at least for now). It doesn’t feel terribly satisfying, though, perhaps because I suspect Paul isn’t going to get sober anytime soon. In the course of the last two paragraphs, he talked himself out of soberly retracing the steps that led to Beth’s death. 

I’m toying with the idea of picking up the story from Hannah’s point of view, but not right now. I want a break from Paul and Hannah. I have a few more story and poetry ideas knocking around in my brain pan. 

Thanks for reading.

Paul the Drunk (part 5)

I don’t know how many folks are keeping up with this story, but it keeps growing. As I said before, I have a general idea of where it’s heading, but the characters keep making unexpected choices. I’ll keep posting sections as I write them. The story is both cathartic and a little scary to write because I identify with Paul’s thinking.

“Oh, my god,” I said and felt the world tilt away for a moment. I couldn’t understand the words I was reading or comprehend the picture of  Beth. Hannah had gone to a different memorial page, and this one wasn’t on Facebook. From what my fried brain could make of it, it was a site for people who’d OD. I hardly recognized Beth. It’s not that she looked bad…just different. Very different. She’d dyed her hair red, for one thing, and she had a nose ring. She used to make fun of girls who pierced anything but their ears, calling them “super sluts.” When I told her she was being too harsh, she told me I wasn’t a girl so I didn’t get it. “Trust me,” I remember her saying, “I can spot a slut when I see one.”

“She OD’d on heroin,” Hannah said. Her hands lingered on the laptop, almost pulling it away, trying to determine when I’d reached my limit. Carefully, I moved the laptop out of her hands and toward me. I scrolled down and read some of the comments. Who were these people who left messages? Screenname likes BigDog22 and Daughter_of_Mirth said things like, “Sorry to see such a bright light extinguished. You’re always in our hearts, Bethany” and “I remember the last time we talked and you helped me with all the shit I was dealing with. You’ve got your wings now, Bethany. I know you’ll soar.”

I looked up at Hannah, who was studying me intensely. “Bethany?” was all I could say.

“Bethany,” Hannah echoed. “Her full name is Bethany Anne Markham.”

I didn’t even know that. We’d been together for nearly a year, and I hadn’t even known her full name. Of course, I hadn’t asked, had I?

I shook my head, trying to clear it. I wanted a drink so bad, but I knew better than to mention that to Hannah. Instead, I decided to play the pity card a little harder. I conjured some tears–just enough to shine in my eyes–and said, “Why didn’t see come to me with this? I could have helped.”

Hannah held my gaze for a few seconds before closing her eyes and sighing. “You amazing, self-righteous prick,” she said. “This isn’t about you. She didn’t need a savior. Not you could have been one, but still. She needed help, and the last person who could have pointed her in even the remotely right direction wouldn’t have been you.”

As usual, Hannah didn’t know what she was talking about. “Of course I could have helped her,” I snapped. “I understand addiction. I’ve known plenty of people hooked on smack.”

“Yeah, and how many of them are clean now and how many are dead?”

“It doesn’t matter, she should have asked me for help!” I yelled and slammed my hand on the table.

Hannah raised an eyebrow. “Do I need to call Jeff again?”

“No, you don’t need to fucking call Jeff, you just need to leave.”

“Fine.” Hannah closed her laptop and placed it in her checkerboard pattern backpack. “I’ll just leave you here to pout and get drunk off your ass, since that’s clearly what you want. I’ll be out for the day, and I’d prefer you not call me. If I come home and you’ve trashed the place, we’re going to have a serious problem. Also, I’ll call the police.”

Hannah was bluffing, and we both knew it. She didn’t want the police here anymore than I did. Plus, she was still strangely phobic about the phone. She told me some recovering alcoholics couldn’t pick up the phone unless they were continuous pressured by their sponsors or counselors. So far, I’d only seen Hannah text Jeff. She met with her sponsor twice a week. I’d never met her; I only knew her name was Jane.

And you didn’t know the full name of the woman you loved. What did you know about her? Was the heroin thing new or an old habit that resurfaced? Was that why she got onto you for drinking? Was she an addict in hiding?

I looked up when the door shut. There was no alcohol in the house, but the liquor store was a quick walk away. I’d wander down there after a shower and get two bottles of red and pint of vodka. If I was careful and paced myself, that would last me all day and into the evening. If Hannah said she’d be out for the day, that meant most of the night, too. Sometimes, she hit three meetings, two in the morning and one a night. I bet she pulled that now because of all the shit I’ve stirred up.

But how was that my fault? I was still fucking hurt that Beth is gone. Shit, I wasn’t over the break-up, so how could I square myself with her death?

I delayed the shower and turn on my laptop. I reminded myself to thank Hannah later for setting everything up the way I like it. She’d even put in my most recent password, which made me wonder again why we even had passwords since we knew each other’s. I steeled myself and typed Beth’s (Bethany’s) name into my Facebook page. And then there she was with the same old profile picture. Her light brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail and she was flashing that beautiful smile at the camera. God, she was gorgeous. I blink away a few tears–rea,l this time–and scroll through her feed. Obviously, I’d missed her funeral, but I found out where she was buried.

So it was time for a new plan. I’d still get the two bottles of red and the vodka, but I’d kill the first bottle and drive over to Crestwood Cemetery. I didn’t know what I’d do when I arrived beside break down, but I needed to see her grave. I needed to make this real.

I showered quickly and got dressed. Just in case something weird happened, I wrote Hannah a note saying that I was going to visit  Beth’s grave. I read the note and laughed.

Nothing worrisome about a drunk going to a graveyard to visit his dead ex-girlfriend. Move on, folks, nothing to see here.

Tai Chi at the Waffle House

On the way back from Jekyll Island on St. Patrick’s Day, my family and I stopped for dinner at the Waffle House. After we finished and were about to pile back into the car, my four-year-old began dancing in the parking lot, and his moves looked an awful lot like tai chi. The image stayed with me, and last night when I saw an AA fellow wearing a shirt that said “I’m Having an Out-of-Money Experience,” I knew I had a poem.

Tai Chi at the Waffle House

Saint Patrick’s Day aside,
It isn’t something Daphne
and her three kids expected

to see in the Waffle House parking lot
as the sun dripped like butter
against the sloping interstate:

a man, wearing a shirt that read
“I’m Having an Out-of-Money Experience,”
eyes closed as he moved with the grace

of a deer, his arms rising and falling
with the rhythm reserved only
for the drunken and deeply in-touch

(sometimes, but not often, both).

“Go on, get inside,” Daphne muttered,
but her brood craned their necks
to catch more glimpses of the man

and Daphne wished the waitresses
would close the blinds, but they were
equally as enthralled with the site.

Hashbrowns remained unscattered
and coffee cups went neglected as the man
stilled his motions at last, bowed to air,

and walked off into the grass, his destination
a mystery to all watching, for none had seen
him before and none would never see him again.

Paul the Drunk (part 4)

I really need a better title for this.

When I came to this time, I was lying on the floor beside the sofa, and I didn’t feel like complete shit. In fact, I felt pretty good. I wasn’t entirely sure why I was on the floor, but I hadn’t regained consciousness all bloody in my tub. When I tried to get up, I found that legs didn’t work exactly right. I looked down; my shoe laces were tied together.

“It never occurred to you to take your shoes off,” Hannah said. I looked over at her sitting at the kitchen table, clicking away on a new laptop. “This is Margaret, by the way, and she’s totally mine. She’s staying with me in my backpack. I got you one, too, and put it you room.”

I slipped my shoes off and began working on the double-knots. I scanned my memory, which seemed mostly intact, but I didn’t remember going out with Hannah and buying laptops. I remembered killing the fifth and then trying to make it out the door…and then Hannah and some guy were suddenly in my face and making me sit back down. Everything was blank after that.

“I took your credit card, and Jeff and I went and got the laptops,” Hannah explained.

I bristled. Not about the credit card, which Hannah had used plenty of times before,, but at that smelly ass-hat Jeff being in the apartment. “I hope he didn’t stay,” I muttered and made my way into the kitchen for a cup of coffee.

“Not for long,” Hannah said, “just enough to make sure you weren’t going to rip the place apart again or go out and get more to drink. The shoelace thing was his idea. He said his roommate had done that to him before he got sober.”

“Well, aren’t I the lucky one?”

“Yes, you are, goddammit!” Hannah said, spinning around in her chair. “For fuck’s sake, Paul, you still have a chance to pull this out of the ditch. You have me, for one thing, and I’m still sober, despite you trying to undermine me every chance you get. It’s like you don’t even want me to succeed.”

I sighed. “Hannah, it’s just that–”

“Whatever, you can’t take my sobriety, and I know that. This is my life, but you’re a part of it, and you need to get help. Especially now, considering what happened to Beth.”

My insides turned to ice. Hannah knew how Beth had died? Or did she mean in the general sense that since Beth was dead, I’d pull out all the stops and drink until I died? Either case was bad, and I didn’t want to know. I wanted to pretend that Beth was still living her life. Without me, granted, but still alive, damn it. Maybe she’d met someone nice who could do all the things for her that I never could.

“Paul? Are you sure you want to hear this?” Hannah asked.

I wasn’t, but I needed to. I carried my coffee cup back into the living room and sat across from Hannah. “Okay,” I said.

Hannah clicked away for a few seconds on her laptop and then spun it around so I could see it. “Oh, my god,” I said and felt the world tilt away for a moment….

How Good to Dream

This rather odd poem came from a freewriting session yesterday and isn’t based on literal truth…but as I’ve said before, there is literal Truth and Story Truth (or, in this case, Poetry Truth).

How Good to Dream

“We were good together,” you whisper
in a dream, and I remind you
that only in dreams is that true.

With that, the sky’s composition
changes, twirls and swirls
like ice cream in a bowl

that’s a turtle shell on a pink beach
that’s a woman’s leg attached to a bear
eating a cake that God isn’t sure He made.

“Go ahead, blame it on God,” you say,
resurfacing from the murky water
and standing by my house

which is also not my house.
“I don’t blame God,” I say,
and since it’s true,

the dream shifts agains,
and this time you’re naked
on the streets of London

and I’m boarding
with a horse in France.
“Come fetch me,” you telegram.

“No,” I cable back
on some unlit afternoon.
“Then send clothes,” you reply,

but I doom you
to eternal nakedness
but only temporary shame.

I wake and think the pillow an enemy,
but the fight soon leaves me.
The memory of the dream

is like a second skin
I’m loathe to shed,
so I enter the day

alert to all things–
the hatted man smoking a pipe,
sending wreaths of smoke

into the Spanish moss,
the high-heeled woman
destined to make some fellow’s night,

the comfortable couple
who traded passion
for leisure.

How good to dream,
I think.
How good to live.

Paul the Drunk (part 3)

I have a little better idea of where this is going, but a lot of things are still up in the air. Nonetheless, I’m determined to finish the draft by Tuesday:

When I emerged from the bathroom–somewhat more steady, but not really prepared to face the devastation–Hannah was already tidying up. Wait, no, that’s too polite a word to describe the task she’d undertaken. Picking up the pieces is more accurately. She did so with the same grim resolution with which she tackled most unpleasant tasks, and I was definitely at the top of the unpleasant task list. Though before she’d bailed me out, cleaned me up, half-carried me to a cab, and otherwise saw to it that I didn’t kill myself, she’d never had to deal with this. I’d trashed not only my stuff, but hers, as well. Our stuff. I looked at the laptop, sitting crookedly against the wall. It looked like some poor, split-open creature, its mechanical guts strewn about.

“Well, that’s not good,” I quipped as I picked my way through the mess to the laptop. Hannah used it more than I did, so I knew she was pissed. “It’s okay, everything’s backed up in the cloud.”

“That isn’t the point,” Hannah said. She wouldn’t meet my gaze; she just kept shoving things into a giant black garbage bag. “I loved that laptop. I bonded with it. You don’t realize how important that is, though you should, since you’re a fucking writer and everything.”

She was right, I didn’t get how she could bond with inanimate objects. I don’t share her OCD traits. She named the laptop (Henry), her iPod (Keith) and the microwave (Sarah). I watched her for a few more minutes, noticing that she wouldn’t go anywhere near the laptop. I’d spared the microwave, and her iPod was always in her front left pocket, just as her phone was always in her back hip pocket. “I’ll replace it today,” I promised. “Same brand and everything, but with more memory. And I really did save everything of yours.”

Hannah finally glanced up. God, she looked tired. I felt a momentary pang of shame at what I’d put her through, but I quickly shoved that into the same dark corner of my mind where the fact that Beth was…anyway, I went on, “I know your passwords, so when I say I backed everything up, I mean it.”

“Jesus, you cracked my passwords?” Hannah flared, gripping a broken coffee mug. For a second, I thought she was going to hurl it at me.

“I didn’t read anything,” I said,  telling the truth. I had no interest in my sister’s rambling thoughts and feelings, since I knew they’d either be about drinking, getting sober, or broken relationships. It was definitely a case of the fucking pot calling the kettle black when it came to love; Hannah had a string of one-night stands and bad relationships that made my list look almost tame. She’d never been together as long as Beth and I had been, and I know that stung her, too. Now that she was sober, she’d committed herself to staying away from men for at least a year, at which point she’d re-evaluate. She said she said seen too many AA romances start and implode to try anything so stupid. Still, I knew she was lonely. Shit, so was I, especially now that Beth was–

“Make sure you get the laptop today, then,” Hannah said. “And quit just standing there and help me.”

We worked in virtual silence until the place looked relatively normal. I couldn’t believe our landlord, a skinny man named Horace, hadn’t come pounding on the door, demanding to know what the hell had happened last night. Maybe no one complained; maybe no one gave a fuck.

“Look, Paul,” Hannah said, flopping on the sofa, “I know this is going to be hard.”

“What?” I said, ignoring the obvious subject. I was quite good at it.

Hannah closed her eyes and seemed to be summoning patience. “I’ll find out what happened, okay? I don’t want you poking around and getting yourself involved. You’ll just drink more, if that’s even possible. Just stay off Facebook. For that matter, stay off the street. I don’t know what you got up to last night, but I don’t imagine it was good.”

I nodded. I realized I needed to eat something, but the idea of food turned my already sour stomach. My aches and pains were returning, too, which meant it was time to drink again. I just had to wait for Hannah to leave.

Hannah read my mind, as she often did, and said, “I know you’re going to drink when I’m gone, Paul, but…just lay off a bit. Take it easy today. Wait for me to come back and I’ll drive you so we can get the new laptop. I’ll start thinking of a name.” She smiled a little bit, and I smiled back. Still, I couldn’t wait for her to get the fuck out.

After she left, I grabbed a fifth of vodka and I was once more off to the races.

Paul the Drunk (Part 2)

When we last left our hero, he had blacked out. Cue the second part of our tale….

I was stuck somewhere between reality and a nightmare. I couldn’t move my legs or my left arm, and my right arm ached horribly. Half of my mind registered that I was in a bathtub–which looked vaguely like mine–and the other half was filled with whispers and darkness. Shadowy figures surrounded the bathtub, pointing at me. I knew they were going to kill me at any second, and I went I felt  a cold hand on my shoulder, I let out a raw, ragged scream that sounded like it belonged to someone else entirely. Mostly awake, I thought This is it, I’ve lost my mind, there’s no going back, I’ve finally ruined everything I–

“Christ, Paul, let go!” Hannah yelled, pulling back from me and landing square on her ass. Through blurred vision, I saw she was crying. I realized I was crying, too. I tried to wipe my eyes, noticing again only my right arm worked.

“Hannah, I think I’m paralyzed,” I said.

Hannah crawled forward and scooted me up into a semi-sitting position in the tub. I groaned as pins and needles filled my torso and left arm. “Unless I broke your spine when I dumped you in here last night,” she said, sniffing back tears, “I think you’re going to be okay. Well, maybe not okay, you look like warmed-over shit. But at least you’re not paralyzed.”

I was afraid to move anymore because I hurt everywhere, and I was afraid to meet my sister’s gaze. I remembered nothing about last night except breaking the laptop. And trashing the apartment. And didn’t I cut my hand? I looked down at my left hand that had mostly returned to life; Hannah had bandaged it. I wiggled my fingers and winced at the pain in my palm.

“At first, I thought somehow had broken in,” Hannah said quietly, “and then I realized you had done all of it. You weren’t here, of course. Three hours, Paul. That’s how long it took for me to find you. I didn’t know if you’d been hit by a car or mugged or fallen down a fucking manhole.”

“I’m sorry,” I mumbled, half-meaning it. I’d blacked out before, of course, but I’d never ended up this bad off before. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know, but I asked, “Where was I?”

Hannah sighed. “Outside Beth’s apartment complex. You were crying your eyes out, and you’d lost your shirt somewhere along the way. Your hand was bleeding pretty bad, and you smelled like shit. You’re never allowed to complain about Jeff again, do you understand?”

“Noted,” I said, and then it hit me all over again: Beth was dead. I told Hannah, who didn’t say anything for a long time.

“And how do you know this?” she asked.

I told her about Beth’s FB memoriam page, and Beth dug out her phone from her hip pocket. She clicked around for a few second and then paused, leaning into her phone’s screen. I kept bugging her to go back to eye doctor and update her contact subscription, but she stubbornly refused. “Wow,” she finally said. “That’s…that’s something. Huh.”

“God, could you must a little more compassion?” I said.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, Paul. I’m sorry that the flaming bitch that wrecked your life is dead. How horrible for all parties concerned. There, is that better?”

I didn’t have the strength to argue with her, and I wondered if I had the strength to even get out of the tub. I placed my hands on the tub’s edge and slowly got to my feet. I caught a whiff of myself and wondered if I shouldn’t just trash my clothes and clean myself. The idea of water and soap hitting my skin was appealing but it also sounded painful. When I’d completely stood up, I looked in the mirror, squinting my eyes so I wouldn’t have to see the damage right off the bat. After a few seconds, I took a deep breath and opened my eyes fully.

I let the breath out in relief. I’d looked worse. Except for my blood-shot eyes, dirty face, and mangled hair, I almost looked normal. I laughed despite myself.

“Oh, hell no,” Hannah said. “You don’t get to put me through what you did last night and then fucking laugh about it. You aren’t okay. You are the goddamn opposite of okay, Paul. You don’t get to shrug this one off, whether or not Beth is dead, which really sucks. I get that. You tore our place apart and you blacked out again. One day, I’m going to got out and not be able to find you. One day…”

She trailed off as the tears started again. As she hurried out of the bathroom, I shucked my clothes and ran the water. The image of Beth’s face floated into my mind, but I shoved it aside. I couldn’t deal with her death, my sister, and the disaster of apartment that waited just outside the door.

For now, I just pretended that the hot water could wash all the bad away.

Paul the Drunk (part 1)

I don’t even have a working title for this except for the one above. No matter what I write these days (poems being the exception), alcohol figures in quite prominently. I suppose that’s to be expected. At least I’m writing consistently. I read recently that when Raymond Carver got sober, he didn’t write for a year because he thought it just wasn’t worth it. Luckily, he got back into the swing of things after that. 

So here’s the first part of a story that I aim to finish by next week. If you’re up for it, read on. If not, that’s okay, too. It does me good to post it. Please forgive typos and mistakes (I did my best to catch them). As always, comments are welcomed:

When I opened my laptop and was greeted by a meeting reminder I’d set six months ago, I groaned and buried my head in my arms. Hannah emerged from the kitchen with a fresh cup of coffee and advice…always with advice.

“You should have deleted that bitch from your contacts when you broke up,” she said.

“Thanks for the tip,” I said, knowing my voice was muffled and Hannah wouldn’t catch everything. That drove her crazy, which is exactly why I did it. Hannah refused to be ruffled that morning, though; she was having one of her Good Sober Days. Granted, it was better than a Bad Sober Day, but I just wasn’t in the mood for her.

“Delete her now, you jackass,” she said.

“I thought they taught you in AA not to give advice and always say, ‘You know, just speaking for me, I would do this.’”

“Yeah, I don’t follow all the rules, especially when it comes to you and your fucked-up love life.” Hannah perched on the sofa across from me, her legs tucked under herself. She always made herself seem as small as possible when she was sitting, which wasn’t hard since she was barely five feet. I’m nearly six three. Together, we looked as mismatched as can be, and no one ever pegs us as related, let alone brother and sister.

“How did you know it was something about Beth?” I asked.

Hannah sipped her coffee carefully. “Because the only time you groan is when she comes up in conversation, you remember something, or you stumble across shit about her on your computer.”

Fair enough. It had been nearly half-a-year since I broke it off with Beth, and I still missed her. Well, no, that’s not true—I missed the idea of her and the idea of us. We had a quick and dirty fling, and we made all sorts of extravagant promises to each other. We’d move to another city; I’d quit teaching at the university and split my time between her and writing. We’d drink gallons of wine and fuck and change the face of the world with our romance and undying love.

She was twenty-nine and never married (which Hannah said was clear proof that she was either a lesbian or there was something deeply wrong with her). I was a 41-year-old divorced, washed-up writer somehow still milking the last drops of fame and notoriety from my one book that did well, a dark memoir about my mother’s suicide and its effect on me and my sister. I published short stories and poems here and there in respectable journals, but just enough so my department head could justify my continued employment at the college. God knows I wasn’t kept on for my superb teaching skills.

I published that book at the tender age of twenty-right and had been hailed (prematurely, as it turns out) as a literary wunderkind; Paul Seville was certainly going places, the critics said, and I believed them. I moved to New York from Louisville, Kentucky and palled around with the literati, going to parties and drinking way too much. No one cared because they all drank an obscene amount, too.

Drunk and high on my own press, I wrote my follow-up book, a weird literary fable about a wolf and parrot (don’t ask, and really, don’t bother reading it, either) called Knock Four Times. When my agent Vincent saw it, he called me and asked, “What the hell is this, Paul? How do you expect me to sell it?” I told him to trust me, and stupidly, he did. The book was a complete critical and commercial flop. All my writer friends moved on from me; they stopped inviting me to dinner parties. When I saw them on the street, they made uncomfortable small-talk and walked away. I was a virtual pariah. So I did what I do best: I drank and continued to write.

Vince stuck with me during those dark years. Aside from Hannah, he’s the only one who did, but even Vince had his limits. When my third book, a bungled attempt at a mystery called Calling From Next Door, did worse than my second book, Vince said he had to let me go.

“Just don’t pull a Hemmingway, all right?” he said from New York. I had long since moved back to Louisville and taken poor, drunk Hannah in with me. We were such a pathetic dup.

“Yeah, Vince, I’ll make sure I don’t,” I said and hung up. I was thirty-four when we had that conversation. I’m forty-two now,  and I haven’t spoken to him since. I look up up sometimes on the Internet and see he represents some good people. I could drop him an email, but what would be the point?

“…so I figure if you go with me tonight, we can just swing by his place when we’re done with the meeting,” Hannah was saying.

I looked up from the laptop. How long had I zoned out? Hannah was done with her coffee and getting up for a refill. Had she been talking the entire time? God, it was hard to pay attention without a drink in my hand, but I told Hannah I was going to clean up. Not for good, of course, let’s not get crazy. I just want to get my liver enzymes down to a decent level before I pick up the bottle again. My doctor was kind of freaked out the last time I went in. Hannah thinks I might be ready to accept help, and I’m happy to let her  think that.

“What meeting is that, then?” I asked.

Hannah glared at me. “I knew you weren’t listening. Were you thinking about Beth again?”

“Just tell me what you were talking about.”

“The AA meeting tonight, and then going over to Jeff’s place after. I think you’ll really like him. He’d make a great–”

“Sponsor, I know,” I cut in. “I’ve already met Jeff, and I think he’s a freak. Now who’s the one with the memory problem?”

Hannah looked nonplussed, and I couldn’t help but smile. She was so damn cocky these days about her sobriety, it was good to see her off her game. “Are you sure?” she asked hesitantly.

“Yes, I’m sure. Crazy hair, glasses too big for his face? Smells a bit like a garbage can?”

“He can’t help that,” Hannah shot back. “He has a condition.”

“I don’t care what he has, I don’t want to talk to him, go to his place which I imagine smells like him times a hundred, and I sure as hell don’t want to work the fucking steps with him.” Or anyone, I added, but there was no need to be overly cruel. My normal level of sarcasm and mean-spiritedness served me just fine that morning.

Hannah stood up, sloshing her coffee on her pants in the process. “Great, look what you made me do,” she snapped.

“Me? I’m not one without decent coordination. Even drunk, I’ve got it more together than you do.”

Okay, that was over-the-line, and I knew it the moment the words left my mouth. Hannah’s expression went from indignant to hurt, and I knew she would cry at any moment. I hated when anyone cried, but especially my sister. She wasn’t a normal crier, either, if there’s even such a thing. When Hannah cried, it was like her soul was being ripped from her body. She’s always been like that. It used to unnerve me when we were kids. I’d be in the living room and Hannah would be in her room and she’s start that animal-like wailing. The most troubling aspect was that she sounded like a grown woman making those terrible noises; I didn’t realize that until women cried at our mother’s funeral, and they sounded eerily like Hannah.

Before the tears fell, though, Hannah went to the kitchen to get paper towels which she used to ineffectually blot at the stain on her jeans. “Fuck it,” she said finally and dumped her coffee down the drain. “I’m leaving, and I don’t expect you to come to the meeting tonight. In fact, I’d rather you not.”

“Works for me.”

“You’re such a selfish bastard,” my sister said, grabbed her purse, and slammed the door on the way out of my apartment.

I ignored her words, as usual, and turned my attention back to the laptop and specifically the date on the calendar. Today was Beth’s 30th birthday. We’d talked about taking a trip to the Blue Ridge mountains to celebrate. The plans never solidified because we broke up, but I’d left the reminder in my calendar.

Against my better judgement, I went to Beth’s Facebook page. She didn’t block me the relationship ended, which surprised me at first, but I figured it didn’t matter since she’d made it pretty clear that she didn’t want anything to do with me ever again. She dumped me because of my drinking, just as it was with my marriage. When I made some lame-ass comment about getting sober for her, she slapped me and said, “I don’t care if you don’t touch a drop for the rest of your fucking life, do not contact me in the future. Ever.”

“Roger that,” I remember saying and then weaving my way down the street toward another bar for yet another drink. The night was young, and I had drinks and drinks to go before I slept. When I came to the next day, I wondered if we’d really broken up. I tried to text her, but she’d blocked my number.

But not Facebook, I thought as I typed in her name. Her account was private, but at least I could see if she’d changed her profile picture or–

My fingers froze about the keys.

Her page had been turned into a memorium. She was dead.

I slammed the laptop shut so hard that I cracked it, but I didn’t care. Suddenly I couldn’t breathe, and I knew there was only one solution. I tore through the apartment for my hidden stashes of alcohol. I’d made a big show to Hannah about dumping stuff last week, but I always had something on reserve for emergencies. I found a pint of vodka hidden at the bottom of a closet under an old bookbag. Without thinking, I unscrewed the top and drank down half of it without pausing.

I felt the familiar warmth spread through me, and my thoughts stopped racing. It was the right thing to do; otherwise, I’d go into shock. Yes, that was quite likely. Every time I thought about Beth and tried to get my head around the fact that she was dead, I took another shot. That meant the bottle was gone in no time, and I had to go out and get more.

So that’s what I did. When I returned to the apartment, I opened the laptop again, but it wouldn’t turn on; I’d done more than just crack the exterior. I flung the laptop against the wall. That wasn’t enough, so I set up destroying the rest of the apartment, too.

The last thing I remember was cutting my hand on a broken drinking glass and collapsing on the kitchen floor. Then the blackness took over.