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Some Kind Of Short Fiction

I didn’t feel like sipping straight bourbon. Sunday was a day for rest, for penance. Regeneration rather than degeneration. Straight bourbon seemed sacrilegious. I poured Coke from a gargling can into a glass of ice cubes that was about half filled with bourbon, the cubes having made peace with the tranquil liquor until the Coke foamed to the mouth and I stirred them up again. I would continue my straight bourbon regimen tomorrow. I pulled my finger from the glass and licked off sweet beads of liquid, noting how similar the action was to infantile thumb-sucking. I had become the child, of high school, of college, who is simultaneously ahead of- and behind his time, mixing liquor with soda and juices and the drinks of youth to make adulthood slightly more palatable.  I took a sip from my hard soda. My tongue responded with confusion, not sure whether to react to the sweetness of soda or the severity of alcohol. The mixture caused my tongue to ravel, if that makes sense. I swished the drink around briefly, until it had coated the inner lining of my mouth, and swallowed. The first sip was zero-effect. But repetition is the addict’s strength. I took two more, broadening my mouth and inhaling the liquid in the same way I imagine a drowning victim inhales salt water. A violent, reverse purge. Great, greedy whale-like sips that relocate the habitats of lost, swimming men forever. There’s more than one way to immerse yourself in a liquid. Jesus drank from Mary’s teat long before he was baptized, didn’t he? Didn’t he? Repetition is the addict’s strength, and I realized how strong the drink was after the extended sips: the alcohol loosened my collar, although I was wearing none: elevated my feet with an unforced buoyancy as if they had been underwater all this time and were finally rising to the surface: released my upper back and shoulders from their tense imprisonment. Then it settled in my head. Stretched my eyes from the mind-narrowing union of focus, not in a tortuous, dungeon rack pull, but in a yawn and a just-out-of-bed Y extension of the arms and shoulders. My skull expanded a little bit, as if with knowledge. If people were born into a constant state of drunkenness, I wondered how frequently they would take modifiers to experience sobriety. Sobriety would be the gift, they would live for the alter. That sounded like AA church basement meeting rhetoric. We’re clean from everything except bottomless styrofoam caffeine and chained nicotine, rhetoric. I’d witnessed a few AA meetings before, sat in a half-mooned foldout chair facing the transmogrifying speaker, watched a guy who made it clear he wasn’t by any means in charge hand out coins like poker chips to the two or three people present who had managed to remain sober for a fortnight (before cashing in their chips for $3 domestics at a Chili’s at the end of the month), listened to the testimonial of a woman — a non-drinker? — who was practically pleading for assistance in dealing with her abusive son by providing the kind of melodramatic detail about his drunken forays that caused me to question her motives for attendance and scan the bulletin of the local theatre company’s acting troupe post-meeting; kept my silence like my secret. All this theater with frequent movie screen silhouette interruptions of people standing and walking to the coffee pot, which was in the same demand as a urinal at a bar. I’d had a mentor who’d said we all give ourselves away to something, alcohol, drugs, fornication, vanity, etc., and that religion was the only something that wouldn’t turn you inside out with disappointment. Perennially speaking. Because the other things we tended to give ourselves away to were either smaller than us or built-to-scale replicas. I gave myself away to alcohol in a different way from how I supplicated to religion. Alcohol was for the brain, just as coffee was for the brain. To tune it up, slow it down, turn it off completely, depending on what time of the day it was and how exhausted my brain was from overthinking. Whether it needed to be warmed up or cooled off, decisions were made by the brain, for the brain. Religion wasn’t for anything. It didn’t alter my brain. It didn’t lower my blood pressure, pick up my pug’s softserve shits in the public park. It provided no assistance. There were no guarantees of its validity, so it didn’t assuage fear of death. Religion was something I did outside of myself and my interests, probably the only thing I participated in outside of my self-interested sphere. Something like synchronized swimming. There were stories, but I didn’t find them captivating like I did the stuff of novels. Religion didn’t do anything. That sounded harsh. Maybe it was just the liquor talking. Something was always talking through me. I took another sip. The ice had cowered to half its original size at the bottom of the glass. I emptied the remaining mixture and observed my distorted reflection in the convex flask sitting in front of me, the same kind of distortion I encountered on the flush handles of urinals and upscale pen clips. Eyes wide open, as if belonging to an alien during his first encounter, my mouth enlarging to a cartoon smile with only a subtle craning of the neck. Perhaps the purpose of all reflective objects is to remind us of how our image is ever-changing, and how we, personally, are the only individuals in this world that we (again, personally) can never accurately behold, despite unwavering focus on ourselves. We may view our faces, but the image is always contained in some object. I’d seen my reflection in the human body once, but only in the recess of a deeply set pupil, and that image was tiny and convex and completely opposed to what the person was actually seeing. I think. The pupil belonged to my ex-wife. I was never entirely sure how she saw me, or that she did see me. I remembered trying to draw Imogene once. As she was, or as I saw her at least, not as she wanted herself to be. All freckles, moles, and wrinkles were included, as was a facial expression that I thought most accurately exhibited her personality. I was drunk on wine, and thus had some courage. She watched television while I sketched, the blue light illuminating one side of her face, periodically framing her head’s silhouette against the wall. I sketched with a sponsored pencil — a drug company or city council hopeful — on a piece of printer paper. Imogene glanced at it in my lap on her way to the bathroom, before I was finished. Her reaction was something like the facial expression I had sketched on the paper. It was incomplete. The drawing. I didn’t finish it until a year later when I signed the divorce papers. The artist signs not only what he creates, but also what he destroys. I set my flask on the floor and pulled a tooth-white sheet of paper from the printer’s mouth, knocking a framed family photo facedown in the process. I wanted to draw my self, quickly, without allowing myself time to conjure the image the mirror had fed me over the past fifty years. I avoided beginning with the standard hair-thin cross sketched on an oval for proper facial proportions. I believe I started with the eyes, trying to demonstrate their liquidity, and from these the rest of the face leaked onto the page. I composed it similar to how a toddler uses an Etch A Sketch — all the lines seemed to connect without gaps, fluidly. I could only imagine my face in portions, not as a whole, but If I were to move one part of my face, I felt the rest would move in accordance, as if swimming. Or rather, being carried in a current. I stared at the drawing, debating whether it was finished, and then decided with a certain artificial boldness that this kind of questioning implied completion, or at least a justified incompletion. The sound of something tearing as I grabbed the paper from my lap and stood from my chair was muffled, as if coming from speakers in a neighboring movie theater. Dissonant tones rose and fell in the background. I walked across the hall into the restroom and looked into the mirror over the sink. At my face on the paper. Back into the mirror. The image in the mirror was the same as the image on the paper. I balled the sheet and tossed it into the waste bin before walking determinedly back down the hall and through the door to the sanctuary. My pulpit waited patiently in the middle of the dais to support my frame. The organist was playing a version of Joy to the World in which all the notes bled, a wound that wouldn’t be clotted. While staring at the empty space in front of the pulpit where I would be standing in only a few seconds, I wondered which face would be delivering the night’s Christmas Eve sermon to the congregation, and which faces the congregation had chosen to stare back at me. I had no sermon in mind, nor in body. I would choose the story after I began talking. That much was clear. How did that one about the red-faced devil go? It began with a conception or an erasure.

 

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