James and Mark walked to the neighbourhood liquor store. They bought the cheapest 26oz bottle of gin they could find. Carrying the bottle in a paper bag, they walked to the park. They spoke very little.
The park was devoid of spectacle, but it was an ideal place to drink. There, they could achieve a level of gutter-mouthed, wet-faced drunkenness without anybody giving them shit. At the park, nobody ever gave them shit.
It was a flat, grassy area with a baseball diamond. There were bleachers behind the diamond, so they had a place to sit. One side of the park was lined with chain link fence. The other side faced a residential road.
They dropped onto the bleachers. It was well past midnight, and quite dark. The baseball diamond’s redness was clear despite the blackness. James commented on this fact. Mark said nothing.
James pulled a pack of cigarettes from his jacket pocket and Mark reached for the gin; after struggling to remove it from the bag, he gave an apologetic smirk.
Mark looked old. His movement connoted impossible heaviness. His arms hung—pathetic, absurd, limp—emblems of strained manhood. His cheeks were caving in; his skull imposed on his expressions. His smiles were shadowed by expiration. He looked shapeless. Disjointed. Fading. His weight was not physical; on the contrary, he had a skeletal build.
“I’m halfway through reading this new book… maybe even less than halfway. Yeah… probably less than halfway. Anyway, I’m not even close to being finished and it has already made me aware of two things: one, the economy is fucked; two, the economy isn’t just the United States. It’s the entire world,” he said, unscrewing the bottle.
Weariness permeated his words. His voice was damaged like his face. He didn’t sound hoarse or haggard—that wasn’t it—there was a distant panic in his words, and that panic was grinding into him. Slowing him down.
James braced two cigarettes in his lips, lit them both. He handed one to Mark.
“The world is fucked?” James said.
“Yeah. Pretty much.”
“You were saying that before you started this book.”
“Okay, maybe. But this book is proof.” He took a hit from the bottle.
the first drink is meaningful / it’s poised / deliberate
“You could mould anything to match your beliefs,” James said.
They looked at each other. James snickered, then took a swig. Cheap bitterness seared his taste buds before rolling down his throat and lingering somewhere in the region of his chest.
He grimaced, then elaborated. “I’m serious. Even if this book had one brief passage about the economy—one miniscule passage—you would shape it into your own doomsday theories.”
Mark laughed. It was a clipped, irritated laugh.
“Okay, well, there is a lot of research in this book. And the evidence points to a reality that you seem unable to acknowledge. Unable, or too fucking stubborn. The reality is—”
“—the world is fucked. Yeah, I got that.”
They both laughed. Mark sucked on his cigarette. He fixed his eyes on the glowing tip, buzzed with nicotine, swallowing smoke like liquid. He took another hit of gin, gulped, spat in the red dirt. James followed suit and drank again.
Sometimes it was better to be silent. For a while, they just drank. The gin sloshed in the bottle. Occasionally they coughed or spat. Otherwise it was silent. It was a rhythmic silence interspersed with damp exhales and strained gulps.
I remember play-fighting in fields like this / I whipped him across the neck with a stick / the cracking sound made me laugh / he didn’t laugh / his skin broke / he was silent for minutes before he started crying / his blood was speckled on the end of the stick
Solitude was broken by ten ounces of gin.
“How’s that bitch? What’s her name… uhhh… Amanda?” James said.
Mark eyed him for a long moment, took a purposeful drag and another hard hit from the bottle. He looked tough at times, despite his shrunken body.
“Alicia. Don’t call her a bitch.”
“Okay, whatever. How’s Alicia?”
“Alicia’s great. She’s… great. She treats me right.”
Mark was incapable of elaborating on girlfriends. They were an assembly line. A ridiculous succession of women united by a vague idyll. They were always “great.” They always “treated him right.” And he never, never said anything about the sex.
“Does she give good head?” James said.
“Seriously man, shut up.”
Mark sounded authoritative, and not in his trademark posture. James obeyed for a few minutes. They swilled more gin, consumed more silence. After a while, James smirked. Mark looked at him and shook his head expectantly.
“Let me ask you something, Mark.”
“I’ve told you I won’t go into private details. It’s disrespectful to Alicia.”
“Yeah, I know, I know. It’s not that. It’s something else.”
James looked at him again. Mark finished his cigarette and dropped the smouldering butt. Then, eyebrows raised, he gestured toward the pack. James gave him another cig, lit it up. Mark dragged, inhaling chemicals with deliberation, sucked down the dregs of gin, wiped his mouth, tilted his head to the side and shouted “what?!” with a tone that resembled violence.
don’t pull that shit on me / you cheap motherfucker / you half-assed imitator / you fucking poser / you actor
“Well, I want to ask you about something that happened.”
“Something that happened before Alicia.”
“You remember that party we went to?”
“The one we went to together in—I don’t know—December. Years ago.”
“The one with all the drugs. You know. It was near downtown.”
“No… I don’t remember it.”
“First year of university. We had just finished our first semester.”
“Okay, yeah, I think I remember it.”
are you mocking me / don’t try that / you don’t want to pull that shit on me
James smoked for a few moments, calculating. He watched Mark’s face, hoping to see recollection. Mark stared back with infuriating vacancy.
“Alright, remember how much shit you snorted?” James said.
Mark smirked. “Yeah, I remember.”
“Okay, that’s just one example.”
“Example of what?”
“If you’ll listen, I’ll tell you.”
“Why are you being such a fucking dick, man?”
“Just let me finish. There was this other time you called me up, crying.”
“Do we need to talk about this?”
“Why? Am I making you uncomfortable?”
“No. It’s just… fuck, whatever man.”
“Okay. So, you called me up, crying. You were drunk off your ass, sitting in your room. You had been slobbering on your pillow all day, listening to some post-punk crap, just crying and crying and crying. You remember that? After whatsertits? Uhhh… Jenna?”
“Janine.” His voice was toneless.
“Right, Janine. Yeah, you plugged yourself with all that cheap-ass bourbon. And then after Avalyn dumped you, you spent three months smoking pot, smoking—you know—whatever you could get your hands on.”
“I didn’t smoke anything except for pot.”
“We both know that isn’t true, but, in any case—”
“I didn’t smoke anything except for pot.”
“Yeah, well, your eyes looked like they were going to drip out of your face.”
“What the fuck are you getting at?”
The gin made their skin prickle. James felt his head throb.
not drunk yet
“Do you see a pattern here? Don’t you feel like a hypocrite?”
“A hypocrite? What the fuck are you saying?”
Alcohol began torching James’s senses. His guts churned. Guilt worked into his pattern of thought, but only for a moment. Then he just felt sick and pissed off.
“You start dating Amanda –”
“Right, Alicia. And, you know, you’re back to this act—or whatever this is. Some girl lands in your bed and suddenly the drugs go down the toilet; you wipe your eyes and you man up.”
“She makes me feel better.”
“That’s not it, Mark. I’m trying to get you to see a pattern here.”
“Alicia is different.”
“Yes. She makes me feel great.”
“That’s what you said. But, see, this is the thing… Amanda is Janine. And Janine is Avalyn, and on and on and on. There’s no difference. Different hair colors, sure. But that’s about it. That’s what I’m trying to get you to see.”
Mark looked physically wounded. His face was contorted. Smoke gushed from his nostrils. He shook his head. He looked at James, pleading. With effort, he took hold of himself.
“You don’t even know Alicia.”
“Yeah, well, this isn’t about her. She’s impermanent. She’s an idea I’m referring to. It doesn’t matter that I don’t know her.”
Mark looked beaten. “Can’t we just argue about that fucking book or something?”
I don’t give a fuck about your stupid books / they’re all the same
“I think you shouldn’t lie to yourself so much. That’s all.”
Solitude set in again. Drunken solitude, which wasn’t really solitude at all. Mark quickly finished his cigarette, demanded another. He had nothing to say.
“Let’s walk back to your house,” James said.
Mark smoked while they walked. His wounds were visible now. His skin was a mosaic of blotches, his eyes shone. His uniquely permanent turmoil was close to the surface. It seemed like he might start blubbering right there on the sidewalk, dripping tears all over the cement.
clean yourself up
“The sooner you see these things, the better you’re going to feel,” James said, after minutes of silence.
“Whatever, man. Shut the fuck up,” he slurred.
you’re the kid trying liquor for the first time / the one locked in the bathroom / dripping tears and vomit everywhere / the kid who makes me find another bathroom / you can’t go somewhere else to puke and cry / you can’t handle your alcohol / you’re a child
“Just recognize it. That’s all I’m saying.”
“Okay, so then… what do you do? What gives you the right?”
Mark walked unsteadily, thoughts processing all over his contorted face. They intersected each other, formulating and deflating. They glazed his eyes, pried his mouth open and forced it shut again.
“What do you do? When’s the last time you even had a girlfriend?”
“I get all the pussy I want.”
“That’s not what I asked. When’s the last time you had a real girlfriend? Like a… like a… you know, relationship? Something fucking real?”
James hated this breed of gin-soaked self-righteousness.
“I don’t do well in traditional relationships. You know that. I’ve cheated on every girlfriend I’ve ever had. For now, I prefer to sleep around.”
honesty is comfort
“So what makes that right? What makes you so fucking right all the time? What is it? Tell me. I’d love to know. Really.”
“I don’t think I’m right, Mark. I’m just me. That’s all. That’s what makes me different from you.”
“What? I’m not me? Is that what you’re saying?”
He laughed, flung his gin-sticky hands to the heavens. Defiant. Belligerent.
you live in a world without concepts / everything isn’t absolute / everything isn’t tangible
“You’re not the person you think you are,” James said.
“Who do I think I am? Tell me! Please, tell me!”
“For Christ’s sake Mark, listen to me—”
“Go ahead, tell me!”
“You’re not the person you’re trying to convince yourself you are.”
“Convince myself! That’s it! I’m fucking convincing myself! Thank you, James! You always have the fucking answers!”
“Listen to me. You’re lying every time you go to some family barbecue with this girl, wearing one of your fucking button-up shirts. You were lying to me when you said you were going to quit drinking. I think tonight is proof of that. Not that I give a shit. I like it when you drink. But you need to accept the truth: this puritanical shit is a lie. You’re lying.”
While James spoke, he began to walk quickly. He took dramatic strides, made dramatic gestures, his voice raised. He realized then how drunk he really was. He also realized that Mark had fallen behind. He was stooped beside a fence. His hand was rested against it, the rest of his body tilted to the ground. He lurched spasmodically, gagged, then vomited. Puke spattered his tight designer jeans.
“Fuck,” he gurgled, a wet string dangling from his lips.
James walked back and put his hand on Mark’s shoulder.
Mark jolted. “Keep your fucking hands off me.”
He was unsteady on his feet, but James could see the rage he’d extracted.
Mark was crazed by something James had only seen once or twice before. That damp, battered face was channelling something James didn’t want to confront.
“I’m sorry,” James said.
Guilt rose in his throat. It tasted a lot like gin. He swallowed.
Mark said nothing. He spat the remainder of his sickness on the road and continued walking.
James followed him.