This story is by Kayla Rose Arbogast and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Vodka. Bottom shelf cheap shit kind. It makes just the left side of my face grimace as I take another huge swig straight from the bottle. With its size, it’s more like a jug. I was always a whiskey guy myself but vodka was my wife’s liquor of choice. Tonight I just want to feel close to her in some way.
I can still remember the night I first met her. That was back when my friend Tommy and his wife had just been dating for a year or so. I was meeting up with them at this bar near where I lived at the time. It was kind of like an arcade bar but they had a stage where local bands would play sometimes. So, it was the big hangout spot for everyone in town back then.
The whole point of that night was Tommy trying to set up some kind of blind date for me. His wife Judith had this friend (whose name I can’t even try to remember) that they really wanted to hook me up with. Being me, I got confused about which night where we were doing this. I ended up getting there like fours late after several unanswered texts from Tommy. The girl had already left, but I could still share a few beers with my friends and have a nice night out. Fuck it.
It was after a couple of rounds of skeeball that I went over to the bar to get another Dos Equis. That’s when I first saw her. She was leaned against the bar waiting for her drink. Shoulder length, dyed black hair cut into bangs. Soft, grey-blue eyes. A black mini skirt and fishnets paired with a t-shirt of The Maxx. I was probably staring at her too noticeably because she turned and looked over at me. When we accidentally locked eyes she smiled and said “Hello”.
“Oh, hey,” I said. She turned to face me and pushed one side of her hair behind an ear. “I’m Emily,” she said to me. “I’m, uh, James,” I said. The bartender gave me my beer and gave her her vodka tonic. “Hey, uh, I’m here with my buddy and his wife if you wanna hang out with us,” I told her, nervously but confidently. “Oh, okay, yeah, “ she said “I just found my favorite song on this jukebox. Sorry, that’s not that interesting, I was just excited. I come here alone, is that weird?”
“No, that’s not weird,” I said “This is a fun place. I’d probably come here more but I don’t really get out all that much.” She took a pause as she followed me back over to Tommy and Judith by the skeeball machines.
I can feel the tears building up in my skull as I think about this. I hate how foggy my memories get. I remember how she looked that day, or maybe my memory is a more mythologized version of it. In my memory, she was the most breathtaking thing I’ve ever seen. I know when the jukebox started up, it played what would eventually become our song. I remember her squealing in excitement. I always thought it was so fucking precious how she got when she was really into something.
The first time we ever spent the night together, I stayed up long after she fell asleep. I just watched her sleep. I’ll never get over the way her face looked, completely relaxed, completely at peace. After watching her for some time I couldn’t resist but to get close to her, softly kiss her forehead and put my arm around her. She reacted in her sleep by putting her arms around me and pulling herself closer to me. She nuzzled her face into my chest. I fell asleep soon after that and it was the first time I’ve ever slept soundly through the night in my entire life.
I take another swig of vodka. I can remember all of the times she’d talk about what our kids would be like. How many little personality quirks or mental disorders they’d inherit from us. Whose eyes they would have. She always said she’d want to have a daughter named Melanie and a son named Jacob. She couldn’t have known that that was a future she’d never be able to have. She had no fucking idea what this universe had in store for her.
The last time I saw her in the hospital it was long after she stopped being her. She couldn’t even open her eyes, let alone recognize who was in the room with her. She was pissing her life out through tubes. She’d been like this for months. At the time, it was hard to think about who she’d been. It was hard to think about anything. I never wanted to let her go but I knew she was already gone. There was no saving the hairless, deteriorating shadow of my other half.
It wasn’t all that long after my last hospital visit that we buried her. The service was just a small little get-together. Just me and her immediate family. We all said our final goodbyes to the only human being who is ever going to actually understand me. I can say with all honestly that I can’t remember the funeral much.
I take another massive swig from my vodka, it’s about empty now. Yeah, I guess you can probably figure out why I can’t remember much of the past year. After I lost her, I just stayed sedated. There’s nothing I care about anymore. There’s nothing left for me here.
I walk over to my old speakers and hook the aux up to my phone. I haven’t listened to this song since before she got sick, but I need to. I need to feel her presence as much as I can tonight. I miss her so fucking much.
The first beats of Tiffany’s 1987 hit start as I sit down on the edge of my bed and finish my vodka. I throw the bottle on the ground and just sit with myself, taking in the song. Her favorite song. I can’t help but break down in sobs. But I have one last thing I have to do, I need to focus. I grab the bag that was on my bed and ruffle through it.
It’s something I bought earlier today, the first time I’d been out in a while. I pull it out and put it up to my lips. I close my eyes softly but tightly. The last things I ever experience are the memories of my Emily, our song, and the cold, metallic taste of a Glock 19.