For exactly the opposite of what I thought I would be lying across cream carpet with––carpet thick enough to bury toes in––I looked to her. Smells resembled the inactivity of rubber storage containers and Christmas decorations wrapped in trash bags. Smells of patchouli candles that Mom burned only around the holidays in an effort to remember her 1950s childhood, smells of the comforter’s fabric softener, smells of perfume tray that had been gifted from some great-aunt, lying as a carcass on the furniture with black caps tall enough to intrude into the armoire’s mirror.
She was all caramel and olive with those slim eyes that I was sure you would remember––flush with the rest of her face, spare the governing cheekbones––with a laugh that only responded to you and you alone.
The charities of that original bedroom’s air was everything aforementioned, but it soon turned to her skin and conditioner, then finally to what you both smoked on. Pungent, bitter, more harsh than Mom’s Pall Malls or Grandpa’s Montecristos, and new to my thirteen-year-old self.
When she swallowed what she wanted from the hijacked bottle, those lips popping from the golden glass, I had to convince you. Your years on me, however, were inept, and it was easy to talk you (both) into it––whatever her name might have actually been, I still cannot place. In the later years, I would wish so badly for it to come back around to me.
So I took the fifth of Wild Turkey by its pale labels from her and grazed her hand briefly with mine, accidentally, gratefully, before placing where her wettened lips ate from to lips of my own. A residue of tangerine, her summer-bloom stamp of intimate existence that I tasted her from (my first of such contact, made particularly magical by youth) touched me. I later found it helpful to slump my head sideways, my left cheek to the carpet, to better keep track of hers––those eyes that I, at a forty-third or sixtieth glance, were still as unfamiliar as they would continue to be long after you stopped bringing her around.
She looked to you and laughed that laugh. And she looked elsewhere into the bedroom, over me, as if my pubescent body was not there, waiting for you to keep talking. Another blip in your past.
Grandma on Mom’s side died the same month as the one from Dad’s, both from cancer in their stomachs, although we never knew them that well. They were in those pictures mounted in hallways separating the old kitchen from the master bathroom. Both were handsome women in their later middle ages, each widowed, and each––based on other pictures from even earlier in the century––with a sense of style that was gaudier than most others.
Mom’s side’s had bangs and almost assuredly dyed her hair, but it matched her tan skin and navy tops. She was one of those translators when she met Grandpa, apparently, while Dad’s was a consistent housewife who endured many nights of her husband returning drunk in spiraling, veering wood-paneled pickups.
But he, to me, was immortalized in black and white grain from those hallway pictures for most of my younger years, only broken when I gave it enough thought. He, in reality, was probably just a soft, melting husk when he finally died in some Salem hospital bed.
But it was not his death that finally caused the purchase of my first suit––the one that I went on to boast during all of these familial partings. That, if you somehow remember, was Dad’s funeral. And it was originally (cousin) Patrick’s old suit that I had been offered––the one with sleeves almost two inches too long and a waist that required a belt perforated at the sixth hole. That was one of the last afternoons of the 80s that I saw you––that miserable, naked decade.
You were being driven out of the funeral house’s lot in that cherry Buick by that one girl you had met at one of the downtown shows. At the time––fourteen years of floundering, of serrated learning curves and hazy life lessons––I had been more focused on Dad’s flat corpse at the front of the room, his skin caked in chalk, the tips of Aunt Linda’s fingers fussing and nibbling at his black sports coat that we all knew was not going to move on its own, and I now wish I had not been so attentive to such insignificant things.
Cheap lighters tongued its oranges along those aging definitions of her face, and I realized I had been smoking for about nine or ten months myself. My fifteenth birthday was the one where I took what I could of Mom’s Seagram’s and tripped into the corner of the television set. We had not heard from you for over a year.
1990 held the early, wet months of New England when I was at Mickey Forster’s house (on Madsney Range) more than Mom’s. He was with some girl who went by Georgi or Gigi at the time, but that burned out by early spring. Mickey got most of the pills from bottles his father had not taken before he died––most of them were good when we first started, but they waned. Five milligrams soon felt like three, ten like five. Pairing them with the cough syrup (like you used to do) helped for a bit, although giving that up meant we were suddenly able to make it past midnight.
1990 was also when I started with your old English teacher’s younger sister––Heidi––and she stuck around for a while.
She was that sandy blond that was gold in dusk light, always braiding a few strands of it on the left side, standing no taller than five foot two. I barely met her older sister––your teacher––but Heidi and Heidi’s mother were both kind. Heidi became friends with Mickey, Mickey and I got away from the pills and into the PCP (admittedly, a garbage way to try for a good time), and Heidi and I got closer.
That October was the one when Adam Moreno lost control of his Chrysler and decapitated Mariah Weber after they slid beneath that I-95 sign, and the same October when Grandma moved in while I moved out.
A little more here, a little less elsewhere.
I daydreamed and dazed and actually dreamed up mostly similar (familiar) wraiths, similar watercolor saturations, similar kaleidoscope galaxies. I vomited into the same toilet, I made love to the same girl. This birthday was even less spectacular than the previous––I had been gifted so much, I did not need a drop.
Heidi got pregnant somewhere near the middle of 1992 when neither of us knew it. It was terminated by September while my armpits leaked on fake leather of the waiting room chair, dizzy, cotton-mouthed, trying to find a way to sit so I did not get sick. The door on the left opened for her and her red eyes and dry face. She slept when we returned to her mother’s place, woke for soup around nine, then slept more. Mickey parked up the road around eleven or twelve, my spindly body slipping out beneath suburban streetlights to meet him, and he presented the balled foil with other contaminants in a baggie.
I looked hard to it in his hands, eventually choking out something about how you had shot a bit before you left.
Mickey said it was nothing deeper than tripling down on the pills or our occasional encounters with morphine, and I watched him slide that needle into the webbing of his toes after preparing it. He reclined into the driver’s seat, struggling to pull the keys from the ignition, engulfing us in the silence of his slowing breath. It was not that night that I realized why you did what you had done, but rather the night after that––the first time I truly felt it.
I rolled out of Mickey’s sedan and vomited into the grass median beside the concrete of Sandoval Avenue’s sidewalks, fulfilled, reaching a better understanding of you, forgiving (at the time) absolutely everything you had ever done.
(Mom’s death, as you know.)
Heidi and I saw you in late 1994. You had lost about twenty pounds or so––no more than me––and wore a Carhartt with the long sleeves. Heidi hugged you, I hugged you, you felt thin. You said the same to me, and Heidi, chuckling, fought back a few tears through the lingering smiles of those introductions––I still do not know exactly why, but maybe I had already dipped as deep as I would for a better part of ’95.
The diner’s bell rang to notify the small staff of our presence. Heidi chose the booth in the eastern corner and ordered Pepsi when the waitress came. I cleared my voice, looking to your throat, its flesh and stubble beneath your cleft chin, grappling with your hollowness.
And you spoke as though you picked up a bit from Boston. “How was it?”
I nodded politely. “Fine. Good. It was good.”
“Lot of people there?”
I shrugged. “Sure.”
“Lot of flowers?”
You looked to the table. “That’s good,” you said. “I wanted… I couldn’t make it, but I tried.”
“I know,” I said.
Slowly, you accepted it with a nod. You ordered a burger when the waitress returned, ate most of it, and spoke of shores you had allegedly spent your time at that were only a few hours south of us. At the time, I was angered at such a close distance––it should have been thirty hours. You should have been in some anemic rehab facility in western Arizona or Washington rather than some girl’s condo where you two birthed and raised the kid through his first eighteen months.
It would have been too easy to visit.
I kept that mindset and those grudges for a while.
Heidi, God bless her, passed her GED.
She began at some marketing company off Tamarack with only a dollar an hour more than what serving had paid, but her mother was happy. I worried of her using such a step in the right direction as an incentive to push me toward answering for my own failures of high school, but, as the months continued, she still proved too kind for such malice.
I shot in her basement and slumped into those cloth sofa cushions, my head collapsing slowly to the side. The punctures between toes made walking painful, but it kept the arms clean. Mickey would meet me at Heidi’s most week nights until his second DUI, when, progressively, I saw him less. He had gotten some position doing construction (pouring) at Cutler Bay from his cousin’s husband, and I have no idea how long that lasted.
(And Grandma’s death, which you also know.)
21 - 22
I struck Heidi in June of 1996 for what I really did consider justifiable, and sobering up for the eleven months at Cedar Junction amended many things, but it did not change the craving. I stepped through the doorway beside the gate on some charcoal, late morning of May (the seventh, maybe) to your new sedan on the asphalt. We hugged. You had gained some of the weight back as muscle, as had I.
You told me of Heidi and whatever his name was moving back down to Charleston.
The previous night had been one where I––still terrorized at the idea of relapse after those many lengthy, clean, arid months––slipped too deep. I woke on the living room carpet where the woman who would later be your fiancé found my wet skin, dragged me to the bathroom after getting a good pulse, and positioned my mass beneath the shower. You returned at noon, and I heard your low voice reply to hers for minutes.
The light of the kitchen swelled behind my forehead.
Your face was blank from the table. “Can you sit?”
“It’s about all I’ve been doing.” Slowly, I joined you.
But your expression stayed flat. “Rachel thought you died.”
“I did too,” I said.
“You think she should’ve called an ambulance?” you asked softly.
“Should she have? What would you have done?”
“Not called one,” I answered. “And I’m fine now, obviously.”
“She was worried about what would happen after she called, and after you woke up in the hospital.”
I shook my head. “What––”
“Do you understand?” you asked. “Because that wouldn’t’ve even crossed my mind. I would’ve called immediately so you would’ve had a slight chance of making it out.”
“But I did make it out. I’m fine.”
“No––if you woke up in a hospital, then maybe you would’ve gotten tossed into rehab, or back in jail, or anywhere else but back here. That would’ve been your only chance. But Rachel didn’t get it.”
“I’ve just been chipping,” I said. “I’m not looking to kill myself by jumping back in so hard.”
“Then what would you call last night?”
“I––I don’t know. Unintentional.”
“No one chips,” you emphasized. “You say you chip to get off of it, but, at the end of the day, you’re still just shooting. And Rachel didn’t know me when I was as bad as you, so she wasn’t thinking in the same way I was.”
“Hey––I’m appreciative of what Rachel––”
“That’s not what this is about,” you said. “This is about you not wanting to get better.”
“I am better,” I replied. “I got off when I was––”
“What? In prison?”
“And now you’re right back to where you were.”
I shook my head. “Jesus Christ, man.”
“I can’t be having you here anymore,” you told me. “I’m sorry.”
“Fine––I’ll get a place,” I said.
“You have no money. You don’t have a car––where are you gonna go?”
Again, I shook my head. “It’s fine.”
“Hey––you’re the one kicking me out.”
“Christ––Jaime’s, probably. I can stay with him until I can find a place.”
“You don’t know anybody outside of your dealer,” you replied, “and I don’t know if that’s who ‘Jaime’ is or not, but dealers don’t let you crash.”
I stood. “You act like you know every little thing about my life––every little detail––just because you would shoot up every now and then with Tony and Russ and those other guys, but it’s different now,” I said. “I’m different than you.”
“You’re exactly like we were. Worse, maybe.”
“And you know what?” you continued. “Russ died in January. That’s where chipping gets you.”
“I’m leaving,” I said. “You did it––congratulations. I’ll take off. I wouldn’t wanna make Rachel clean up a little puke again, God forbid.”
“I meant that I can’t have you around in general,” you replied.
I paused at the mouth of the hallway. “What?”
“I can’t be around any of that any more, and I wish it was different for you, but it’s not.”
“You’re serious?” I asked.
“I’ve got too much in my life now to even be close to someone that might make me slip up.”
“And you think that’s me? You think I’m gonna be the one that’s gonna push you off the wagon?”
“I’m sorry,” you repeated.
Nodding, I continued for the bedroom, although I stopped once more. “You didn’t even come back earlier when Rachel called you,” I said. “It was five hours after she found me.”
“I couldn’t get anyone to cover––I was in the crane. I didn’t get her message until I got back down.”
I chuckled. “And now this,” I said. “You know, you always love the high road until it requires you to actually do something. Anything when I was younger––any rides I needed, any of the times I needed you to bail me out of whatever… Mom’s funeral, Grandma’s funeral… Linda’s surgery… you know exactly when to disappear, and when to come back.”
“You think I didn’t wanna be at either of those funerals?”
“I think people that generally do want to show up to a funeral for a parent or grandparent will––yeah.”
But you quieted. “Just get your stuff,” you soon said. “I’ll take you somewhere, so long as it’s to rehab.”
You nodded. “Then find a ride.”
It was one of those docks off Plymouth that was open to the public. A mammoth of intertwining wood that changing surfaces of deep blues and foam consumed, a runway into nothing but colored horizons when the days were nice.
I chose one of the four benches on the far end, the wooden boards before the railing still littered by seeds or whatever the older gentlemen fed to the gulls. The peaches and violets of a leaving sun trailed up, choked out by the dimming blue directly above me, and the wind picked up. The coat I wore was new––it stopped most of the wind, spare what licked at my face. We had been there at some point. I think I was seven, and you fourteen or fifteen. We stood at those railings, looking out, mostly quiet, the Atlantic’s extremities coming toward us before pulling back.
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Great story, it definitely deserved to be on the shortlist! If you don't mind, can you please come and check out my story? It would mean a lot!
I like how you structured the story and the contemporary vibe of your narrative. It was difficult to catch the rhythm of your prose, but it had a decent flow once I did. Your use of details at times really adds to the piece, making it effortless for me to picture things in my head. Other times, I feel like you go a little overboard and paragraphs become too wordy. Still, it's obvious you put a lot of thought and work into this story. Congrats on being shortlisted, especially on your first submission :)
I appreciate you reading it, Michael, and for the feedback! And you're right, IMO––I went for a prose that was pretty wordy to try and represent someone going through the stages of addiction. Again, feedback from other writers means a lot. Cheers!
Hi Calvin, This story gave me the chills. It was beautifully written and deserves to be published somewhere. I especially like the specificity as the story unfolds. One suggestion, and maybe it's there but I missed it, is to give a hint at the beginning for who the protag is telling the story to. I kept thinking it was a girl/lover until I caught on to the family deaths. And then I thought it was a sister. The point being, for this reader, it was an unnecessary distraction to a deeply personal and moving story. I look forward to your next s...
Thank you! And yeah––probably a good call lol. I opened on the brother's love interest and went on to discuss him in more detail to (initially) imply that the brother was the one losing control as opposed to the protagonist. Again, thanks so much for feedback!
Amazing story, amazing shortlist.
Thanks so much for reading, and for the comment. I'm glad you enjoyed it!
That was an amazing book! Catolg intense a bunch of dialog and and reminds of a book ive read before... AMAZING JOB!! I really wnt to read more storys from you... Also please follow and like my storys please my storys are usally funny, thanks.