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.