Fiction: The Death of Nightingales
By George Gad Economou
She’d been in the bathroom for too fucking long. The fifth of Four Roses in my hand did not taste the same, it contained an acidic, metallic taste that derived from the innermost depths of my soul.
Usually, my faithful medicine could obliterate all my worries, my fears, my anxieties; with a fifth of bourbon in my hand, and another in my bloodstream, I could always face the monsters lurking in crepuscular corners. Not that time. No fucking way.
I tapped my foot on the dirt-and ash-blanketed wooden floor while dragging puffs from my fat, handrolled cigarette. Nothing worked. What took so long? I wanted to ask her how it was going, came close to barging into the bathroom, needed to do something. Staying anchored on the blue, foldout couch, drinking, smoking, and wallowing in the tenebrific uncertainty of waiting was the sole thing I could do.
Our life could change within seconds; motherfucker, how did we let it happen? The answer was too damn easy; when your daily minimum drinking quota is a 24-can case of beer and a fifth of bourbon, responsibility and clear thinking mimic the King and leave the building.
Creak said the bathroom door; the moment of truth. I sat up, my spine went rigid and my stomach got tied up into a painful knot. I swallowed down more bourbon, bracing for the news that could potentially alter the rest of my life’s trajectory. At twenty years old, there was no way to handle what might come next.
“So?” I asked when she flung herself on the couch next to me. She turned her head and faced me; no words were needed.
Her cheeks were pallid, her green eyes had lost the glisten that always caused my heart to skip a beat. Her trembling fist remained clenched around the small stick of brutal truth. I reached out and touched her free hand; she laced her fingers in mine, staring into my eyes with a dead look I’d never seen before, not even when we had shot too much junk or drank too much tequila.
“You know,” I said after clearing my throat and using bourbon to swallow down the burning lump in my throat, “I could punch you in the stomach; problem solved.”
She didn’t laugh; didn’t chortle; not even a half-smirk. “You know,” she managed to mutter, in a breathless voice that reached out to my heart like a ghostly, ghastly hand and squeezed it to a pulp, “this might be the first time I can’t appreciate your morbid, so-called sense of humor.”
“Right,” I concurred. “So, what do you want to do?”
“I don’t know.”
She raised her glance to the ceiling and rubbed her perspiring forehead after tossing the cruel stick to the coffee table. It landed right next to the plastic bag containing an 8ball of unadultered junk. She squeezed my hand harder.
“We should discuss it,” I said.
“Not tonight. Will you pass that bottle already?”
“Are you sure? I mean…” The glare she gave me left me with no choice. I gave her the bottle and, for the first time in the nine months we’d known each other, she didn’t immediately tilt it into her mouth to steal a swig that often impressed (and sometimes terrified) hardened winos and roughneck bikers.
“I don’t know,” she said, holding the bottle’s neck close to her lips. “Might make things easier.”
“You might also regret it come morning.”
“In this case, there’s only we.”
“Unless you’re planning on taking off into the night, yeah.”
“Running away does sound lucrative.”
“Again, not in the mood for your jokes.”
“Who said I’m joking?” I shambled up to my feet, my knees trembling and my stomach whirling. My heart thundered behind my ear and scalding sweat ran down my eyes. Ice cubes glided down the back of my neck and I was entering a different mist; this time, it wasn’t the delightful booze mist
It was the kind of mist that arrives only when your whole life is about to come crumbling down. I grabbed four tall cans of Royal beer. She bit the corner of her lips into a meek smile as she watched me clamber back to the couch.
“Knew you wouldn’t leave,” she said, letting out an arid giggle that hurt my ears.
“We’ll see after four beers,” I replied, popped the first pop, and chugged down the deliciously cold beer. It didn’t help. Second top popped; a good swallow. Nothing. “Damn it,” I groaned in exasperation and rolled another cigarette.
“Smoking’s just as bad, you know, for…” She swallowed the rest of the sentence and just rubbed her still-flat stomach.
“When we were growing up, people smoked everywhere, even around babies. We turned out half-decent. They probably drank, too.”
“Well, then, here it goes,” she said and took a deep breath and a short sip of bourbon. “Damn,” she smacked her lips and hung her head.
I’d never seen her this downtrodden before; the sight had my stomach clench even tighter and my heart came close to stop beating. I’d always thought I’d be the one to make her blue, that I’d do something stupid (either in drunkenness or because of my innate ability to fuck shit up) to bring tears to her normally effulgent eyes.
Well, in some way, I did contribute to siring the situation. It was…I choked down the beer and cracked the third can. Perhaps, a blackout would help me discover what I wanted. Perhaps, Bacchus would write the solution on the wall.
“I guess, we let fate decide what’ll happen, huh?” She asked, after another sip of bourbon.
“We’ll have to discuss it, eventually. Not tonight.”
“I concur,” she nodded. “How did it happen?”
“You want me to map it out for you? You were there, you know the procedure.”
“It’s not what I meant…fuck it.”
“Fuck pretty much sums it up, yeah.”
For a long while, we sat in silence. She stole tiny nips out of the bottle and, for the first time, I couldn’t just wring it out of her grip. It was our last bottle but I couldn’t take it from her. I stuck to beer, and stole some sips of vodka that I kept around only to make White Russians for when we felt fancy.
The liquor shelf needed replenishment, we were running dangerously low on booze, but I couldn’t shake off the thought that we’d have to reconsider shelling out more than three hundred bucks on hooch when other, more expensive tribulations awaited.
As we sat there, staring outside the window at the star-studded sky blanketing the sleeping town, I couldn’t understand how we’d ever be able to make it, how we’d survive the transition into this new pathway some cruel ungodly hand (and out own stupidity) had shoved us onto. On any other night, we’d have gotten gloriously drunk, fuck, listen to some music, and pass out; we’d wake up, fight the hangover together, and we’d shoot to defeat the sickness.
Now, we’d have to clean up our act, quit the bad (as most people would call them) habits, and become serious, responsible members of society; two young people living on the fast lane, following the pathway to the Edge carved by one of the greatest and most honest writers ever to have lived, and we suddenly had to flip everything upside down, become like the people we resented and loathed.
As more beer flowed through my veins, turning my blood alcoholic enough to send vampires into dank basements to follow twelve steps, my thoughts wandered toward the possibility of boarding a plane, head to Alabama, and hide in a tiny honky tonk bar. It’d be the hard way out, because I’d have to leave Emily behind, but it might allow me to keep on living, to keep on chasing the elusive Edge.
Edge or Emily? She also had a choice to make. There was a clinic we go to, all legal and clean. A simple (physically) procedure with potentially grave mental repercussions.
If it was up to me, I knew what I’d do. It wasn’t. I might have had a say in it but that was it. I swallowed more beer. I laid my head back on the couch’s back and closed my eyes. I saw everything around me turn to rubble, all our dreams and aspirations collapsed from the dynamite some loathsome force had planted in the foundations of everything we had ever hoped for.
Finally, hooch and exhaustion caught up to me and I fell asleep/passed out. Waking up hungover did not help with digesting the new situation. After heaving, and chugging a rum/vodka/orange juice concoction (my favorite hangover cure), I returned to the couch with the second waterglass of my hangover cure, where Emily still slept, curled up like an afraid kitten.
The clinic was the only viable option. The alternative was too terrifying even to consider.
“Oh, you’re up,” she uttered in a deep, half-awake voice and lifted her head with a groan. “How are you?”
“Like every other morning. You?”
“I don’t know. It’s weird not being hungover.”
She sat up, rubbed her closed eyelids with her knuckles, and blew a kiss on my cheek. A chill traversed my spine and I sipped my drink as she shambled up to her feet and headed to the bathroom. She had lost her glow. A darkness had permeated her, transmogrifying her into something else, at least in my dazed eyes and mind.
Perhaps, it was knowing what now existed inside her; an unimaginable horror that could eviscerate our lives. A little monster that would shackle us down for the next couple of decades, annihilating our love and our lifestyle.
I couldn’t let the little motherfucker to…what if the unknown terror also was the harbinger of a different kind of happiness? I chugged down my drink and grabbed two beers from the fridge. I needed to delete the thoughts of a two-story suburban house with a picket fence and a yard filled with toys, I had to eradicate the thought of working behind a desk just to pay the bills and ensure someone else’s happiness and welfare.
My stomach whirled and my heart twitched at the thought. Some deep, alien part of me smiled. I fed it beer, and it shut the hell up.
“You know,” she said with a dry giggle as she brewed some coffee, “I think the last time I drank coffee was before I met you.”
“Soon, you’ll have to quit coffee, too,” I said as I shambled up to my feet, chugging the second tall can and grabbing another from the fridge. “We’re almost out of booze.”
“Maybe, it’s a sign.”
“Yeah, a sign I need to go grocery shopping.”
“No plans on quitting, huh?”
“I’m afraid we’ll have to consider it, but…”
“How many beers have we left?”
“Four tall cans, without counting this one.”
“Okay, enough for us to discuss things before you go spend a boatload of money.”
“Fine,” I sighed in resignation. I always listened to her (well, almost always), and there was no way I could refuse a simple request at the time. For obvious reasons.
She poured coffee in a mug and we sat on the couch. Seeing her nipping on steaming coffee felt otherworldly. As if we’d been shoved into some parallel preternatural universe. I squinted and peered about, hoping to discover the remnants of a rift I could use to go back to whence we came and where things still made sense.
Her face had grown even paler; she made ghosts appear vivid. Sweat peppered her forehead and she held the mug with both hands, the vicious tremors of her muscles causing her to spill drops on her naked, milky thighs. I knew sickness when I saw it. It was getting to me, too, but booze kept the worst symptoms at bay. Soon, I’d be a seizing mess, too, craving the medicine that transferred me to flaming meadows chasing dragons.
Be strong, I scolded myself. I had no reason not to shoot, other than it would make her jealous and increase her hunger. Down the hatch more beer went but its refreshing coolness hardly sufficed to murder the powerful urges awakening in me.
I stretched my legs, groaning as the joints produced thunderous crack sounds and the muscles turned numb and shaky. I bit down my lips, till the fuzzy taste of beer turned into a purely metallic taste, and kept changing the hand with which I held the tall can as I clenched my fists that had been overcome with tremors.
Using my t-shirt, I wiped the sweat off my face and eyes but more sweat ran down my skin, burning my throbbing eyeballs. Not even swallowing down the beer helped elevate the pain rising in every muscle of my body; my bones pulsated, my heart palpitated at an unnatural pace, and my breathing turned rapid and short.
Quickly, I dissipated into the blurriness, unable to stand, let alone get up or walk around; my back arched and I put my hands over my stomach that had begun whirling and aching like octopi condemned to death were sent to the chair in my intestines.
“Sorry, baby,” I whispered in a quavering, barely audible voice. “I gotta…I need to…”
“I know,” she said with a sorrowful smile, watching me rip the plastic bag open and cut a tiny slice, which I put in the dirty spoon sitting on the coffee table, in between the scattered novels of Asimov, Lovecraft, and Poe. “I…not for me, not…”
I bit my lips down, unable even to taste copper over the aridness of my mouth, when she laid down on the couch in the fetal position, wrapping her arms around her knees. Her shaking quaked the whole damn couch.
As I lit the lighter under the spoon, the tiny brown chunk began melting, slowly; the first bubbles appeared and some thin sheaths of blue smoke rose from the spoon. The first sniff burned my nostrils and the smoke crawled around my withering brain, sparking fires in the synapses.
Once it’d melted, I drew the magic liquid into the syringe and shot right on the protruding vein on my left hand. Sweet fucking Jesus and holy motherfucking Bacchus, the synapses that up until moments ago sent nothing but messages of pain and torment across my body now produced delicious dopamine that removed the pain and the trembling, leaving behind a sensational euphoria. So close to catching the big, great dragon, the majestic king of the flaming meadows soared over my head, his guffaws blaring throughout the world and causing trees to rattle and houses to collapse. Here I am, you motherfucker, I silently screamed, let me hop onto your back so we can fly the fuck away, come on, just another inch, stay just there, you big cackling motherfucker…the nirvana as always eluded me, the effervescent emotions of the first shot were never to be regained.
It’s the promise of the brown dragon, letting you pet him the first time you encounter him and never again. Nevermore, quoth the raven; the brilliant opium-addicted alcoholic poet of the dark knew what he was talking about even when he raved in madness next to flickering candles.
Something kept on pounding me on the thigh, quaking my numb body. The mocking dragon, “come catch me, here I am, come on, so close, you’re so close.” I reached out, almost ready to grab his tail, to hop onto his scaly back and soar across the world, visit places forgotten by man and time.
“Hey, are you okay?” Her half-dead voice resounded in my throbbing ears and my eyelids fluttered. With a gasp, I turned to face her. “You okay, love?” She asked again, moaning as she forcefully sat up on her elbow.
“Yeah, I’m fine, I’m…fine,” I muttered, rubbing my pulsating forehead. “Are you…you look like…”
“Shit?” She chortled dryly. “I know. I…I’ll make it. I might need a couple of days, though.”
“Cold turkey doesn’t work that fast.”
“We’re still on the brink of destruction, love. Our sickness is merely a bad hangover. We haven’t yet reached the point of no return.”
“Are you sure? Because you’re…fuck, you’re burning up,” I exclaimed after putting my hand on her forehead.
“Your hands are just too icy,” she retorted with a forced chuckle. “Can you get me some water, love?”
“Yes, of course.” I clambered up to my feet, still overwhelmed with the vision of the dragon, of how close I’d come to catch the fucker, almost as close as the first time I shot, and opened the fridge. Grabbed two plastic bottles of water and the remaining tall cans of beer.
Time for grocery shopping, no matter what my condition. Going sober on both junk and booze was simply not possible; I feared it would not kill me, it’d simply be a long tenure of constant torments designed never to let you die.
“Thanks, love,” she said and gulped down half the bottle of water, before resting her head back down on the couch.
“Feeling better?” I asked after drinking some water myself; finally, my throat did not feel like a nuclear wasteland.
“Not really. You?”
“Nope,” I shook my head and cracked the first can open. The first swig, that emptied half of it, brought some life back to my throat and rejuvenated my body. Hardly enough, though, to let me think clearly and confront the monster sitting between us.
“You should hide the rest, keep it for a real rough day.”
“Maybe, you’re right.” I agreed with the heaviest of hearts. How could I refuse more attempts to catch the elusive dragon? On the other hand, we remained in the initial phase where stopping is not necessarily lethal; we could still have some junk lying around without shaking with the desire to shoot it all.
I stuffed it in the closet, under a pile of underwear, along with the box of needles and the spoon. Perhaps, we’d need them soon; at the same time, there was a good chance we’d keep them there for a couple of decades. What a dreadful prospect; it had my hands trembling. At least, I knew where they were.
“Can you stay alone for a while?” I asked, terrified of leaving her alone but unable to bear the sight of my depleted booze shelf in the bookcase.
“I think so,” she nodded, sniffling her nose. “I’ll survive,” she tried to reassure me, failing miserably. “Just…don’t be late, okay?”
“No worries. I’ll get us something to eat, too.”
“I doubt I can eat anything; without puking it right back out anyway.”
“Nonetheless, I’ll get something.”
As I walked to the supermarket, puffing on a cigarette, I thought of how easy it’d be to get on a bus, head downtown to the train station, and from there to Copenhagen and the airport. I had my debit card with me; not a lot of money in the bank but enough for a one-way ticket to elsewhere.
I entered the supermarket, bypassed the old people inspecting the fresh fruits and vegetables, the younger people browsing the ready-to-eat frozen meals, and made my way to the far-end corner, where the booze was. Taking into consideration I had to carry what I bought for fifteen minutes, I tried to go easy.
Got four six-packs of Royal beer, two bottles of bourbon, one bottle of tequila, and two 3-liter boxes of white wine. Right before I got to the register, I remembered I had promised to get something edible; grabbed some dried-up tortellini with a cheese filling that only required to be boiled for ten minutes. Quick and efficient.
After I paid up and stuffed the booze in two bags, I clambered away; my arms started throbbing and I still had a long way to go. As the heavy bags dragged my shoulders down, while the bottles clanked, I calculated what the money I just had spent on booze would buy if the baby arrived.
Diapers, baby food, toys, other necessities; no way I’d be able to sustain my boozing. I had booze and still some money in the bank. Could hop onto a bus, head south to the borders.
From Germany, I could vanish into the world. By then, I’d be drunk enough not to care about consequences and implications. At some point, I’d wake up hungover like I’d been through the end of the world in a mysterious place where no one would know me. It’d be paradise.
It could be Ketchum, Idaho, next to Hem’s grave; or California, pouring green beer on Buk’s grave; maybe Paris—it was closer, too—sharing whiskey with Morrison’s spirit. Ultimately, I went home.
Momentarily, I gawked at the door, my legs twitching with the desire to back away while I feared what I might encounter.
“How are you feeling?” I asked as I peeked into the single room of the apartment through the doorway connecting it with the narrow kitchen.
“Like shit,” she mumbled from the couch, hardly able to lift her head. “Feared you’d leave.”
“Thought about it,” I said after putting the beer in the fridge and filling a lowball to the rim with bourbon. “Want more water?” I pointed at the empty plastic bottle lying on the coffee table.
“No, I’m good…well, I’m not, but if I drink any more water, I’ll throw up, and I don’t have the strength to get up.”
Without a word, I sat on the couch, had a long sip of bourbon, and started massaging her calf when she laid her legs on my lap. She still trembled, and on occasion would kick her legs in a violent spasm; there was nothing I could do to make it stop, help her feel better.
Just twenty-four hours ago, life had been vastly different; just the day before, we had sat on the same couch, both having chased the dragon, with no symptoms of the sickness overwhelming our bodies, and nursed our love with bourbon and beer.
We had discussed taking another roadtrip—I wouldn’t drive, we concurred, especially if I was high on acid—and maybe even travel aboard, drinking some foreign city dry.
Fleetingly, the subject of us officially moving in together had come up; perhaps, it was the Four Roses coursing through our bloodstream but the idea had sounded lucrative. It was before she realized something was amiss and that the math didn’t add up. A quick trot down the drugstore, and the purchase of a goddamned stick of cruel truth, later, had more than sufficed to napalm our present and future.
I nursed my bourbon, trying, despite my thirst and normal pace, to sparse them so I wouldn’t end up draining the bottle. While getting perfectly drunk was all I needed, it was also the one thing I could not afford; I had to maintain some clarity of mind, strike a balance between soft intoxication to keep the sickness away without entering a state of heightened agitation.
Turning the TV on was a way to bring some noise into the air. A benefit of the dorm apartment was the cable package coming with the rent; I flipped to the National Geographic channel, thinking some documentary might make for a better distraction than a dumb comedy show or the news.
“What’s this?” She asked, in a heavy voice that came straight from a future grave, and sat up.
“No idea,” I shrugged my shoulders right before throwing my arm around her quivering waist when she laid her head on my shoulder. I planted a kiss on her icy forehead while the show began: Drugs Inc.
While interesting, we failed to pay it proper attention; it did have us both rub our necks as hunger rose within us but it also made us wonder why they couldn’t depict the middle reality of drug use we lived in. We weren’t downtrodden junkies, per se; she had a menial job, I had some money in the bank, and we only hung out in shooting galleries and dark alleys when we needed to score more of our favorite medicines or when we craved the company of those understanding the art of dragon chasing.
“How are you feeling?” I asked while following the reporter and cameraman trudging around some foreign skid row, searching for addicts eager to share their stories. No doubt the producers picked those best fitting their anti-drug agenda.
“I’ve seen better days. How come the bottle’s still half-full?”
“Where did that smidgen of optimism come from?”
“What, the half-full? I don’t know.” Her pallid lips curled up in a smile that almost reminded me of her former effulgent self. “Staying sober for my sake?”
“Yeah, I guess. Want some water?”
When she nodded, I shambled up to my feet, helping her rest her head on the back of the couch, and grabbed two plastic bottles of water and two cans of beer from the fridge. We both had a sip of water, and I chased it down with some bourbon right before popping the first top.
“How about a sip of beer for the lady?”
“No, but I could sure use it.”
After a tiny nip of beer, she smacked her lips and let out a deep sigh; some tiny sparks of life came alit in her eyes. “Feel any better?”
“It’ll take a boatload of beer to make me feel better.”
“So, what do you want to do?”
“Right now? Gawk at the TV until I fall asleep.”
“Yeah…not what I meant.”
“I know,” she rebuked and planted a soft, algid kiss on my cheek. “I’m not sure I can talk about it yet…did spend most of the day thinking about it but…”
“Take your time.”
“Have you thought about it?”
“Sure. But other than the urge of running away, I’ll just support your decision.”
“Since when did you become so sensitive?”
“It’s sobriety’s fault; that’s why I drink, to murder the thoughtful part of me that keeps ruining my life.”
“Yeah, well, we might be in for a very long dry period.”
“You’re just trying to convince me to sneak out in the middle of the night.”
“Well…maybe, it’d make things easier.”
“I don’t know,” she resigned with a sigh and curled up against me. Her softly trembling hand landed on my chest, right above my palpitating heart; for a moment, she almost hugged my heart, proffering it warmth and comfort not even booze could offer.
With the TV playing, some other documentaries came on but I hardly followed them, we fell asleep in a tight embrace. Upon waking up, we weren’t hungover nor truly sick. Just dry-mouthed, shivering from cold sweat, and with a faint trembling taking over our arms and legs.
When she got up, with some color back on her cheeks and some liveliness in her movements, to make coffee, I remained flabbergasted. It was bizarre—if not outright wrong—watching her have coffee and orange juice for breakfast, instead of a shot of junk and bourbon on the rocks.
Even though I did not have a crippling hangover—which in and of itself was weird as fuck—I fixed my favorite hangover cure. While she sat on the couch, holding the mug of steaming coffee with both hands, she glanced at me with jealousy when I took the first alcoholic hit of the day.
It was why I had hidden the remaining junk; if I was to shoot junk (or even just burn and inhale it) next to her, the hunger that would ravish her soul would be too much to overcome.
“We shouldn’t delay the conversation, you know,” she said, her voice still deep and hoarse. Some more time to think about the whole damn thing would have been appreciated.
“What do you want to do?”
“No clue. Do you have any ideas?”
For a while, we just kept throwing the hot potato at each other, both unwilling to voice an opinion first. I fixed a second strong vodka and rum mix and she made more coffee.
“Look,” I said after pouring more booze into my bloodstream that opened the faucet of truth, “I just think it’s unfair to the…baby, if we bring it into the world. I mean, we’re nowhere near ready for this kind of responsibility. And I doubt I can stay clean for seven or eight months, until it’s born—let alone for eighteen years, if we decide not to give it up for adoption.”
“The clean part? It’s what I thought yesterday while I lay here suffering from withdrawal. I mean, all I wanted was to start swilling beer or to shoot until I passed out. One day was hard, and today is not much easier, watching you drink while I stick to coffee and juice. Not sure I can do it for seven and something months; it’s the more accurate I can get, by the way. Taking it one day at a time and all that shit but…yeah, every dry day’s gonna be hell.”
“So…have you thought of the alternative? Granted, it’s not easy or…you know, it can have some physical repercussions, from what I’ve read anyway, but…in our case, it might be for the best.”
“You think I should do it?”
“I think you should think about it. It’s up to you; I mean, you’re the one that’ll get the operation, or procedure, or whatever the fuck it’s called.”
“What if we don’t go through with it? If we keep the baby? What do we do then?”
“I…well, we can contact an adoption agency or something, figure out how we can…find some foster parents. We might have to hide our lifestyle, though, forget to mention several habits of ours. Not only are half our habits illegal, most people would probably not relish the thought of adopting a baby hooked on junk before it’s born.”
“This is what rock and a hard place means, huh?”
“I guess.” A long sip from my drink did not beget any new answers to the many unuttered questions.
We couldn’t bring ourselves further to discuss the subject that day; nor in the following days. We both struggled in our forced half-sobriety; she would only have one beer per day, which she’d nurse until it got all warm and awful, and I did my utmost not to fall into my usual drinking pace to avoid tempting her.
Ultimately, our whole insistence on discussing it, which we never truly had to do, was merely us postponing what we knew was the sole course of action. Deep down, the thought that what we were gonna do was murder haunted us but we called the clinic and booked an appointment. In two days, things would be over; the abrupt change would be corrected and we’d return to our former life.
We knew we were doing the right thing; it was the only thing that made sense. The way we’d chosen to live did not allow for parenthood, for assuming the responsibility of a helpless newborn. If we had been thirty, things might have been different. At twenty, we had just begun exploring the world and various substances, we still had a long way to go before we could even contemplate leaving everything behind.
For two days, we remained lost in speeding trains of thought, using booze to drown the guilt. We could cancel the appointment until the last moment, no one would blame us for backing out; we didn’t even consider it, other than fleetingly.
“How are you feeling?” I asked while I sipped on my coffee. In a few hours, we’d have to be at the clinic. I had agreed to stay sober until after the procedure. Once we returned home, we’d get petrified drunk and press the reset button, burying the ordeal deep in the blackout forest.
“Numb,” she replied with a distant voice, holding the rim of her glass, containing just orange juice. Her empty gaze remained fixated on the window, as she gawked beyond the blue sky blanketing us and into the umbra of the universal abyss. She didn’t utter another word; I lit a cigarette and chased the smoke down with more stale, acrylic coffee.
Nothing to do but wait. As the minutes went by, the air of the apartment turned denser, encapsulating and asphyxiating us. All I needed was some bourbon, preferably neat and in a waterglass.
Patience was demanded; after all, my role in all this was to wait. What she had to go through was more taxing and grueling. The simple fact I wanted to stay sober for her, to be there and help her however I could, sufficed to remind me of the significance of the nine months we’d been together.
We’d often spend time in silence, just sitting next to each other, both of us lost in different thoughts, and more often than not meandering about in an alcohol- and drug-fueled mist, but it had never been awkward. We never felt the need to talk to cement our connection. This time, it was different; the silence suffocated us, as we had things we wished to articulate but could not find the voice to do so.
As it always happens, time did pass; when the moment to leave the apartment arrived, I wished for more time, maybe actually to discuss things with her. No time. We had run out of it.
With cruel sobriety tormenting my body, my hands trembling and my heart palpitating, I got dressed, and we ambled to the bus stop. Usually, going to the bus stop meant we were heading to our favorite dive bar to booze a night away, relying on our trained lizard brains to get us home with all our stuff, and limbs, still attached to us.
After a silent bus ride, and a short stroll down the small streets of the small town, we reached the clinic; a small, red-brick-walled building, identical to those around it, yet emanating an ominous aura. Perhaps, it was because of what was going on inside, the flood of teenage and unwanted pregnancies being terminated within its confines.
Despite my being stone-cold sober—for the first time in more than a year—I still blacked out a little; maybe, my brain refused to register all the details from that visit to protect me, as if a part of my subconscious had glimpsed into the crepuscular future.
A doctor approached us, sporting a comforting smile that went straight into my knotted stomach. Some quick explanations about the procedure were given and she told us we could still talk about it. We both shook our heads.
In spite of various second thoughts and doubts, we knew this was the only thing to do.
“It’s gonna be alright,” she whispered in my ear and planted a brief kiss on my lips. “Love you.”
Before I could reply, she followed the doctor deeper into the clinic, leaving me alone in the pristine, effulgent foyer. The receptionist gave me a faint smile and pointed at some white couches in the corner.
I walked outside and lit a cigarette. Wouldn’t take long, it’s what the doctor had said. As I exhaled a plume of blue smoke up at the darkening sky, I questioned the great beyond about the whole ordeal.
We were doing the right thing, yes. No matter what, the baby would stand no chance with us as its parents. It was still early on in the pregnancy, too; doubtful the fetus had consciousness or anything; just a mass of cells slowly growing and only beginning to become specialized and form organs and muscles.
The clinic was legal and everything was done by the book; no dangerous illegal procedures, no shady rooms that haven’t been cleaned in ages. Emily would come out of that clinic unscathed, physically.
I used the dying cigarette to light a fresh one, dragging long puffs that failed to slow down my racing mind. All I needed was a big, stiff drink, something so strong that would make me pass out after a single swig.
When the receptionist tapped on the window, I tossed the cigarette in the tall metal ashtray and went inside, clenching and unclenching my trembling fists. I had no idea what to expect, I dreaded what I might hear or encounter.
Emily shambled out to the foyer, her face even more pallid than when she suffered from withdrawal. All traces of life had dissipated from her eyes; she was nothing but a husk barely walking and breathing.
“I’m fine,” she groaned and rested her head on my shoulder the moment I wrapped my arm around her waist.
She quivered in my hold and we clambered away from the clinic. Our way back home was even more silent than before; we simply held hands while the bus took us away from the downtown area and to the northern suburb where my apartment was.
Perhaps, she wanted to be alone but I couldn’t bear the thought of letting her go to her apartment. Had no idea what I could do to help her but I just wanted to be close to her.
The moment we entered my apartment, she grabbed the bottle of bourbon standing on the kitchen counter and took it to the couch. I settled for beer, taking six tall cans from the fridge. Drained the first one right there in the kitchen and popped the second top as I took the five steps separating me from the couch.
“How are you feeling?” I asked, unable to bear the asphyxiating silence ensheathing us.
“Like shit,” she said with a groan, and choked down a hefty swig out of the bottle.
“What happened? I mean, what was the…”
“Considering what it is, it wasn’t very complicated or painful,” she answered the question I failed to articulate in full. “They did mention that the psychological effects can be more lasting and impactful than the physical.”
“We did the right thing,” I said, uncertain of whether I was trying to comfort her or me.
“I know,” she nodded and hung her head. “I just…it still feels…yeah.” She drowned her sigh with another long swig. “We still have the 8ball, right?”
“It’s not exactly an 8ball anymore; misses a tiny chunk, but, yes, it’s still here.”
“Let’s burn the spoon, then.”
“Are you certain? I mean, we did manage a few days without it, it’s…”
“I need to forget. And whiskey’s not working anymore.”
The tiny plastic bag containing a brown chunk of broken dreams and great dragons was still under my underwear. A great hunger burned within me once I held it between my fingers. I set the bag, and the paraphernalia, on the coffee table, right on top of my copy of Hell’s Angels.
“You sure?” I asked, arching my eyebrow at her hasty movements as she ripped the plastic bag open and cut a big piece.
“No. But I need it; crave it.”
The words should have worried me. I should have slapped the spoon out of her quivering, pale fingers, I should have wrung the lighter away from her. As the first thin blue sheaths of smoke rose from the spoon, and a soft crackling sound accompanied the emergence of bubbles on the spoon, I inhaled some of the vapor and laid back on the couch.
Only through the corner of my eye did I watch her draw the melted junk into the syringe. She tapped on the needle and stretched her left arm, tapping her finger on the inside of her elbow.
I licked my lips when the spike went in her vein and she threw her head back with a deep moan of otherworldly pleasure. She sniffled, closed her eyes, and gave me the needle and the spoon.
No hesitation whatsoever. I blew a kiss on her pale, cold forehead and took my shot, too. When I lay back on the couch, she rested her head on my shoulder. My eyelids fluttered, my heart raced, and I returned to the flaming meadows of broken dreams. I caught a glimpse of another version of myself trotting around along with Emily and a small child.
Giggles, laughter, words of love and passion; a life in a bizarre place where mistakes become reality, where undesirable moments become the right pathway.
I was gone for a long time. When I stopped nodding on and off, when my heavy eyelids could once more stay open for more than a few seconds, and cold sweat soaked my body, I sat up, accidentally knocking her head off my shoulder. Limply, she leaned forth.
Ignoring it at first, I went to the bathroom to take a piss; had to sit down, afraid that urination would weaken my body further and cause me to pass out. After drinking some water, I grabbed one of the beer cans standing on the coffee table and choked it down.
Emily had not moved. Her face had grown even paler. I touched her forehead, and almost leaped back from the iciness of her skin. Still lost in the haze of junk, I put my finger behind her ear; at first, I attributed the lack of pulse to my own ineptitude.
I stuck my ear right under her nose; nothing. I put my head on her chest; nothing. No pulse, no heaving of the chest, nothing. Nothing. I started shaking her up, begging her to wake up, to stop playing games. We had no Narcan, we never thought we’d need it.
Call an ambulance, said the rational part of my mind. I swilled down another beer, took the paraphernalia down to the dumpster, and dialed the emergency number.
After a while, two men came, taking away my great love; “she’s dead, sir. I’m really sorry,” one of them said. “You can come by tomorrow, we can help you with the arrangements for the funeral. Again, I’m really sorry.”
I just watched them set her lifeless body on the stretcher. Down the stairs they went, and I just stood under the doorway, gawking as they put her in the back of the ambulance and drove away.
If I hadn’t thrown the remaining junk away, in fear of the police arriving, I’d have tried to OD, too. I swilled the remaining bourbon, relishing how the bottle’s neck tasted like her.
Once the bottle was empty, I hurled it at the wall, smirking at the rainfall of glass falling on the floor, and cracked a bottle of tequila. As my head spun faster, I prayed either to black out and wake up a few days ago, so I could do things all over again, or for my liver to explode.
My liver processed all the booze I poured on it, letting out a simple message: no matter what you try, motherfucker, I’ll survive, and so will you. You’ve got a long way to go, drink all you want, I’ll keep on failing you by working better than nature intended me to.
George Gad Economou resides in Greece and holds a Master’s degree in Philosophy of Science and supports his writing by doing freelance jobs whenever he can get them. He has published a novella, Letters to S. (Storylandia) and a poetry collection, Bourbon Bottles and Broken Beds (Adelaide Books) and his drunken words have also appeared in various literary magazines and outlets, such as Spillwords Press, Ariel Chart, Fixator Press, Piker’s Press, The Edge of Humanity Magazine, The Rye Whiskey Review, and Modern Drunkard Magazine.