Thursday, May 21, 2015

The End

A spare winter sun leached somber gray light into the sleeping world and he looked out at a sky locked behind cold steel, waiting for the first snowflakes to fall. A fearsome blizzard was coming. The thermometer outside the window read 18 degrees. Standing in his kitchen, he could see his breath. Spots of frost decorated the inside panes.
     He lifted a bottle of Andre’ champagne, tore the gold foil from the neck, popped it open, and tossed the plastic cork on the floor for his cat to chase. She watched it spin to a stop on the linoleum, unimpressed. He took a long pull from the bottle.   
     Champagne was the only thing he could hold down these days, but after a bottle or two, his stomach would relax and accept a shot of Jagermeister, then more after that. He was off beer. It would not stay down anymore. The TV screen was spotted with dry, sticky dollops from the last time he’d tried to drink one. It came shooting from his mouth still cold and foamy. His cat had been sleeping on his lap and she leaped away and hid under the bed for an hour. She was still traumatized by the event.
     He thought to himself, Come on, get up there, get going... talking to the champagne in his belly, urging it onward and upward into his throbbing head.
     He didn’t have a job anymore. They told him that if he didn’t quit drinking and attend AA meetings, don’t bother coming to work. They were tired of dealing with his medical emergencies. They couldn’t have it, so he quit. AA? No way. No way could he sit through those creepy, depressing little conferences. It was a dismal cult. They fuck with your head, those people. He drank because he drank. If he needed a little something to help him get through this long, miserable life, well, who cares? He’d been doing it too long to give up now...
     After another long slug of champagne, he looked outside. The sky was a sagging gray tarp set to collapse and bury the world.
     Tiny flakes, not much larger than dust motes, began to drift across the window. The cat padded over to her food dish and started eating and he thought about death. He saw himself dead on the couch, alone with the cat, surrounded by the snowstorm. When she ran out of food she’d start to eat him. That’s what pets did when it took too long to discover your body. That’s gratitude for you but he figured he would do the same.
     The champagne in his stomach headed in the wrong direction and he felt a sudden emergency in his bowels. “Oh no...” He raced to the bathroom, managing to seat himself seconds before liquid shit drained out of him as if from a broken sewer pipe. He sat on the toilet, breathing heavily, eyes closed, for several minutes. When he looked back he saw there was a lot of blood in the water. He flushed it out of sight.
     His reflection in the mirror stopped him. What was this thin, wracked thing with hollow, yellow eyes and a desperate, worried expression? If they researched his life years from now, this is where the photos would stop. This is the man they would see at The End. The last man. He flipped through a photo album in his mind and watched himself mutate from a goggle-eyed newborn at the tail-end of the 60’s to this wrecked, ruined deformity at the dawn of the new century.
     He walked into the living room - a slow-motion Godzilla stumbling across a tiny Tokyo of champagne skyscrapers. Bottles everywhere. He started to count the empties but when he reached fifty he grew fatigued and made a quick estimate of the rest, arriving at a total of around two-hundred.
     The snow grew heavier. He took another gulp of champagne, finally feeling better, and watched the storm.
     His first seizure hit him three months ago, at work, taking him by surprise. He’d been making a Caesar salad, mixing romaine and Parmesan and dressing in a big silver bowl - then he was in an ambulance, unable to move. He asked the strange, shadowy faces hovering above him in the spinning red lights, “What happened?”
     “You had a seizure.”
     When he returned to work they told him that the paramedics asked him who the president was and he’d answered, “Ronald Reagan.” He had no memory of this.
     After more champagne he thought about turning on the TV or putting on music. He was tired of listening to the wind, the creaking of the heat.
     He stood there thinking for a long time before he decided the wind wasn’t so bad after all.
     He shambled into the kitchen and opened his little refrigerator to take inventory, bending down to look inside. A stick of butter, a shriveled onion, a few furry mysteries wrapped in plastic. And four more bottles of champagne. Thank god.
    When he stood straight again, he felt dizzy, weak, his head full of warm whispers and light. Ghostly wings fluttered in his peripheral vision. Closing his eyes, he stood listening to his ragged respiration for awhile. His lungs labored.
     The wind outside gathered in a howling crescendo and tight, tiny snowflakes tapped the glass like little fingernails.
     “Come in,” he said.
     He thought about hitting the liquor store before the storm raised the stakes but they’d taken his driver’s license away and the closest store was two miles north. The thought of getting trapped in the apartment without reserves scared him but, hell, the store wouldn’t be open for another three hours anyway. He had time to think about it. Time to prepare himself if his need became urgent. He finished the first bottle of champagne, grabbed the next.
     Thank god he still had the pills. Oxazepam, 30mg.
     When he got out of jail he’d quit drinking. Cold turkey. His hands started shaking so badly he couldn’t tie his shoes or sign his name. He couldn’t talk without stuttering and sometimes he lost the power of speech altogether. He remembered trying to form words and everything coming out garbled: “N-nga... N-nyuh... N-ya...” like some microcephalic cretin struggling to be understood. Terrible. Embarrassing. His mind was a pile of string. He showed up at work barely able to get three words out at a time and they ordered him back to the hospital. Five days of DTs and withdrawal but he went home with a bottle of Oxazepam. “Alcohol in a pill,” the doctor told him. “Use them sparingly.” He still had around twenty left. They would see him through if things got bad.
     He popped the cork on the second bottle and took a
long deep swallow. For a few seconds he was afraid he was going to throw-up but after a while his stomach accepted it and a calm warmth filled his head. He put the bottle down then leaned into the window to watch the weather.
     Wind gusted through the loose panes and minute snowflakes launched up at him from the ill-fitted sill. The architecture of the apartment seemed to have been hammered together in haste and he knew there would be small snow-drifts on the floor before the storm was done. He didn’t have to pay for heat so he accepted these things with a shrug.
     His nose grew warm and wet and spots of blood spattered the windowsill. Shit. He’d been getting nose-bleeds a lot lately. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and bunched it against his nose, standing upright to combat the yank of gravity.
     He looked at the calendar, wondered if the month needed changing.
     His cat sat on the back of the couch, staring at him. He stared back until she looked away. He wondered what she thought of all this.
     When his nose stopped bleeding he grabbed the bottle and dropped onto the couch. The cat jumped clear. He found the remote between the cushions, turned on the TV. The storm had knocked out the cable and all he got was hissing static and snow. He shut it off.
     His stomach felt stronger now, he managed to put down the rest of the bottle with four long swallows. He grabbed bottle number three, then headed into the wrecked bedroom to look for his pills. He kicked around the clothes and empty bottles on the floor, searched the tangled blankets on the bed until he found them. He shook the bottle, holding it up to the light. Less than twenty but more than ten. It would have to do. He didn’t want to walk four miles in the storm. Not today. He returned to the living room.
     He uncorked the bottle, tossed two pills into his mouth, and drank them down.
     The phone rang. He waited for the machine to pick up, then covered his ears.
     “Well,” he said, finally feeling drunk. “So this is what it’s come to.” He laughed, wondering what he’d meant by that and laughed again. “Fuck.”
     The second seizure had also hit him at work. His knife went flying. He bit off a chunk of his tongue. Another ambulance, more confusion. This time nobody from work picked him up; the hospital had to call him a cab.
     The next day the ultimatum came down: Get help and stop drinking or get out. So he got out.
     But that was all behind him now.
     He closed his eyes and listened to the storm; to the wind and snow lashing against the windows. He felt his cat jump up beside him and he reached out to stroke her neck, triggering soft purrs.
     They sat like that, man and cat, for a long time.
     He dreamed about snow and felt the cold around him.   
     When he opened his eyes, the windows and door were open and the wind had carried the storm into the apartment. The snow was so bright and clean it looked blue. Almost a foot had accumulated across the carpet. His feet were buried. Smooth, wind-sculpted drifts sat upon the furniture. Why had he opened the windows? What drunken madness had he subjected himself to this time? He looked around for a nearby bottle but everything was buried. Erased. He coughed and blood poured from his mouth and dropped steaming craters into the snow on his lap. He remembered as a kid, going outside after a winter storm and filling a bowl with fresh snow, pouring maple syrup over it. So sweet.
     He noticed he wasn’t cold anymore.
     After a couple of hours, when the cat realized there was no more heat coming from the man’s body, she left the living room and crawled under the bed.

The End
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