Trigger Warning: This story depicts strong language and self induced suffering.
She sits in a stupor, her hand dangling limp from her position on the sofa. She looks lifeless, the Vodka bottle lying empty on the floor, with a pack of cigarettes, already used and discarded. A snore permeates the room from her flaring nostrils and half open mouth – the only sign that she is still alive. It is not a pretty sight, especially now that she doesn’t have all the recommendations of youth to benefit from. She had once been beautiful. Now she was a chain smoking drunk, who refused to get better and sort her shambles of a life out. Life had played too cruel a hand when it had dealt her cards.
But as destitute as her life is now, she had once known what it was to love. Or at least to have been loved.
Her name is Julia. Vodka is her elixir now and cigarettes are her greatest solace. Her face has become blotched in many hues of red and pink. Her teeth have yellowed, rotting from the acid of liqueur and the stench of many chain-smoked cigarettes. Her eyes don’t seem to resonate on anyone or anything in particular. She does not notice the romantic comedy that is, ironically, still playing on the television. At last, many hours into the night, she burps herself awake, snorting. Her eyes flutter open, resting on the muted TV in front of her. She has all the signs of a drunk – slurred speech and incoherent thoughts show themselves to be paramount in her mind, even though she is alone at home.
As she regains her consciousness, she nudges the bottle of Vodka on the floor with her right foot, checking to see if there is any left. Her life revolves around this now: every drop of Vodka is precious liquid; every puff of cigarette is as treasured as an heirloom. As much as people find fault with her, she is loyal. She always buys the same brand of Vodka, and the same brand of packed cigarettes.
But it hadn’t always been this way. Her life hadn’t always been so tragic. There was once a time where she had been loyal to a man and he to her. But that was a long time ago. When she was in her early twenties and youth had given her pale skin a rosy tint, her hair fashionably straight and her clothes (though not by any means expensive) were at least flattering to her slight form. She was slender, a flirt and a good lay. She found men easily. But there was one man once whom had wanted more – he had wanted to stay. That doesn’t always happen; but she had been too young to know. Back then, she had wanted to test the waters. And in her heart, she still did now. This was not a woman made for matrimony.
There had been a time when she had been on the cusp of marriage to this good man. She was supposed to have had a good life. But fate had been cruel and the good life had come too soon.
Love had come too fast and she had been that little bit too young to know what good fortune she had found in him. Despite what everyone said, she could not see it. Sure, he was kind. But was this it? Was kindness enough? Was kindness love? What about desire, lust and good sex?
It was cruel to her mind that just as she entered her twenties, she should meet the man she was supposed to marry. This man was supposed to come by in her thirties, not now. Not this early in life.
First, she was supposed to fall in love with the men she lusted after, those crushes that would not work were supposed to come throughout her twenties. Then there would be some serious relationships. Then marriage would come, and children and grandchildren until death did they part. Even in death, they would have plots of land side by side for their graves, with matching tombstones and beautiful, expensive coffins. But love had come too soon and, because it was too soon, she became afraid and she threw it away.
Julia was too young then to see that love didn’t come with every man. She couldn’t recognize the signs that would have told her she had caught a good man. A man who would provide and wouldn’t cheat. A man who would be kind, who would stand by her and who wouldn’t hit. This man was not aggressive, he made a good salary at his job. He had good friends. He was fun, in a steady, marital kind of way. He would be a good husband, a good father and a good grandfather by now.
If she had been happy with him, maybe she wouldn’t have succumbed to the addiction that gives solace to many an unhappy person when their life does not go as planned. Maybe she wouldn’t be this drunk that no one wanted to know. This eyesore living in one of the small, cheap apartments in the poor district. This person who invited cruel jokes because she wouldn’t close her legs to other women’s husbands and smelt acridly of the Vodka she liberally consumed every day. Julia had once had a chance to be one of these women, married, respected and faithful. She could have lived on the other side of the fence, in a nice house, in the right district, a house with a back yard and the possibility to invite friends for barbecues or parties. Maybe she didn’t want all those things. Or maybe she never realized that the day would come when no man would offer them to her. A day when she would be used goods. Undesirable. More mistress than wife. Even then it was not every man who would like the sight of her mottled skin and calloused hands. Her nails rough and yellowed. Her teeth showing sign of neglect. Strands of limp, lifeless hair, coated in flakes of dandruff. It would take a brave or desperate man to want her now.
In the end, he (let’s call him John) didn’t wait when she told him no. They didn’t marry, become parents and grandparents together, or celebrate her fiftieth birthday with appropriate amounts of alcohol. Instead, her fiftieth had her alone in her derelict apartment, which she had not cleaned for nearly a month. The dust covering her shelves were more familiar sights now than the memory of that man who would have changed everything if she had only said yes.
She had many relationships after him, but they all proved useless. They weren’t interesting. They stole loose change from her purse. They didn’t buy her things (if even with her own money). And worst of all, thus far into a relationship with alcohol, if he did not pay for her habit and cigarette addiction, he was not a good catch in her troubled mind. These things all meant “No.”
She had never wanted to settle. She wanted the prince or the king. Not the good, kind man with an honest job. Not the man who was rich enough but not out of the middle class way. He could afford good schools, a nice apartment and food on the table. But she wanted the dream, the fantasy, the fairy tale. She had been sure that such things must exist. And maybe they did, but not for her. If she had known, maybe she would have seen that he had been good enough.
The saddest thing is that, if he saw her now, addicted to vodka and cigarettes, their effects etched on her skin, he probably would be congratulating himself at his lucky escape in getting away. He would want to be that man, the one who got away – not the one who stayed. Like so many other men who got away, he would be happy that it hadn’t worked. Even if he had been in love, her addiction to alcohol must wear at their love. That she said yes to any man, must hurt at his heart strings. Her blunt manners must erode any good feelings he had for her. In her life, men would come and go, always go.
Now she belongs to the last dregs of society, nobody wants to know her or be associated with her. When she shops for groceries, she is ignored by the men she casually slept with and their wives who pretended not to know. She is responsible for much of the alcohol bought in her neighborhood, though this is not the nice accolade it might seem. While many people like to find their silver linings in things, there are some negatives that simply cannot be made positive. She is in her early fifties and time has not been kind to her. Without children, without husbands and without a boyfriend, her closest relationship now is with her empty bottle of Vodka. She makes her way to the kitchen, her gait, unsteady and tottering, and takes yet another large bottle of Vodka from the cupboard. “This is the life,” she thinks. “This is love.”
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Hi, I have been matched with your story for the new Critique Circle and thought I would give it a go. Following is my feedback divided into what I liked and what I thought could use improvement. What I liked: The beginning really grabbed me. I got the setting and the character right away. This sense of self-loathing is clear throughout and it elicits an almost emotional response in opposition to your character. She becomes someone you like to hate. I like the frustrating quality of this story, you are constantly looking for that one momen...
First, Id like to say thanks for taking the time to give such an in depth critique. You are probably quite right that some parts were repeated one too many times. The story was actually based on the life of someone I know, so perhaps I focused too much on what her life was actually like and too little on what would make the story better. I noticed that the woman Julia is based on has constant reminders herself of what her life could have been and how it sucks, so I was trying to emulate that. There are no highs intentionally because I wan...