This story is by H. A. Nickerson and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Pale sunlight sprinkled between the window blinds, diffused through the glass of rum in her hand, and danced across her bed as she lifted the drink to her lips. Rum filled her mouth and she swallowed hard, gulping it down, enjoying and then immediately hating the aftertaste. There were few things she enjoyed anymore, but a warm belly and a warm bed were comforts she couldn’t deny. Food would fill her stomach easily enough, but rum was quicker.
She had hoped to spend today drinking wine and watching nature documentaries, but the internet was out and she’d finished the wine earlier that week. Normally she’d just pop by the convenience store on the corner, but…
A quick glance to the window showed that she wasn’t going anywhere. Snow had piled up a few feet the night before, blanketing the roads and yards in an effort to bring some natural beauty to her suburban block.
Jamie could hear the neighborhood kids yelling outside, sledding down a hill across the street. The shouts reminded her of mornings watching cartoons and eating colorful cereal, playing in the snow until her face grew raw from the cold. She could almost feel the frost against her cheeks.
Her phone buzzed, showing a new message from her mother. Sighing, she took another sip from her glass. She knew what it would say without reading it, and she wasn’t in the mood to talk about therapy again. Jamie had stopped going weeks ago, to her mother’s disapproval, after choosing more entertaining ways to medicate herself. None of the conversations ever left her feeling better, anyway. The heaviness just stayed, pressing into her chest like a stone.
The pressure only decreased during the occasional rowdy night out, when the right amount of alcohol plus the right song on the dance floor led to pulsing moments of clarity. With blue and green lights spinning overhead, the bar patrons would chant song lyrics as prayers and partake in communion as led by DJ Cool Jamz. This strawberry margarita is my blood, poured out on the dance floor as a fragrant, sticky offering. These cheese fries are my body, broken and shared with all who gather around the table. They’re not all for you, Becky. Do shots in remembrance of what you’d like to forget.
Then the dopamine and endorphins would wear off, and her life would fit back into its organized boxes. Work. Friends. Food. Alcohol. Work. Family. Food. More work. More alcohol.
She glanced back to her drink, seeing only a thin line of rum remaining in the glass. She could have mixed it with juice, to fight off scurvy, but that would require getting up, and the bottle of rum was already here, next to the bed.
The cat meandered in through the bedroom door. Jamie usually left it open a crack, hoping the cat would join her in bed. Today, however, the old cat ignored her as it crept under her desk, hunting a cricket. It was always chasing stray pens and bugs around the house, somehow able to forget the age on its bones during the hunt.
Perhaps that’s what she missed most: a sense of drive or purpose. She’d had that, before. Her eyes settled on her desk, piled with unfinished work and dried out pens. Her current job was never intended to be a career, but an easy job to keep while working on her own projects. Now, however, she could barely handle showing up at work regularly, and the idea of drawing anything made her sick.
She was so lost, she half-expected to see her face plastered on the back of a milk carton. Did people still do that? Did that ever help?
Jamie raised her glass in the air, as if to toast the garbage that she’d become. If she was going to spend today throwing a pity party, she might as well provide the drinks.
Most days, drinking made everything hurt less, numbing her to that grating sound that only she could hear. But today, drinking and sulking in bed while her roommates baked cookies in the kitchen, posting #freshouttheoven and #delicious and whatever other mildly suggestive hashtags that paired with selfies and half-eaten cookies because aren’t we all just attention seeking children trying to connect with others so that together we can feel a bit less insignificant, she could tell that her pirate juice wasn’t working.
She absentmindedly stared at her cat before taking another sip. It was stalking the cricket, choosing the proper moment to linger in its blind spot before pouncing and trapping its prey. Then, to her amusement, the cat would let it go, allowing the game to continue. On the next pounce, Jamie noticed the cat tilt sideways and slide up the wall. Except that the floor was now the wall. Was her bookshelf always sideways? The desk definitely wasn’t supposed to be upside down like that.
Her head began to feel heavy. She tried focusing on the cat, making it look even fuzzier than normal. Maybe if she stood up…
Nope. The room immediately started spinning and Jamie’s head sank back into the pillow. Damn, she was drunk. Glancing back at the bottle, she noticed that it looked…half empty?
She smiled, despite herself. All alcoholics looked at the glass half empty.
Ignoring the question in the back of her muddled mind, wondering if alcoholic was the right word, she closed her eyes to focus on the thumping in her brain. She took a deep breath as unsolicited memories played across her mind, crashing over her like waves.
“Hey. You should come out with us tonight.”
Her hands gripping clean, starched white sheets.
“I can’t keep putting myself out there if you’re going to keep running.”
Bare feet in the warm, summer dirt.
Blue aquarium fish swam in and out of pink, ceramic reefs.
“Do you think starfish can feel anything?”
Cayenne pepper and salt lined the rim of her glass.
“So sorry about this. I just need a ride home.”
Blonde hair bouncing, bouncing, bouncing.
“I need to tell you something.”
The knife sliced into his steak. Blood pooled on the cold plate.
“I can’t believe this.”
“What else am I supposed to do?”
The front door slammed.
A picture frame fell.
Glass shattered across the floor.
You never saw the mess you left behind.
Jamie curled up in her drunken stupor, allowing the tears to well up and run down her cheeks, rather than choking them down. Bleeding herself dry while she was thoroughly sauced.
After enough time passed, her breathing slowed and her chest grew warm. She closed her eyes, wanting to nap rather than staying awake with her thoughts.
The warm glow suddenly became a roaring flame in her chest.
The familiar taste of bile reached the back of her tongue.
She rolled over to the edge of the bed, tears now dried onto her cheeks, and fell to the floor. Her sea legs weren’t cooperating, but she had to reach the bathroom before everything came up.
She crawled, focusing on the sound of her breathing. A mouthful of bile came up. She swallowed. It would be soon now.
One more step. Don’t think. Crawl. Swallow. Crawl.
Cat why are you in my way oh god I’m not going to make it why do I do this every time
After speaking confession with her porcelain priest, Jamie sat on the bathroom floor, remembering how often she’d been in this position. It seemed a bit too early in the week for drunk crying and vomiting. She blamed the weather. If the internet had been up and running, she would have been making fabulous commentary between clips of penguins being eaten by sea lions. Instead, she was here. Again.
She loved being a jovial drunk, slurring her speech and making jokes from the corner like a court jester who’d gotten into the king’s wine. Being a cartwheeling drunk was also fun, but it usually resulted in someone carrying her home with scrapes and bruises to diagnose the next morning. Some nights would lead to bonding drunkenness, which included sing-alongs, adventure, and well-meaning promises of friendship. No matter what type of drunk she was, however, her night would always end as the contemplative drunk, sitting in the kitchen at 3am, staring at a cereal box. Lately, her contemplations had been crossing into Hemingway drunk: day-drinking rum, reading fishing catalogues, meditating on cynicism, and researching handgun prices.
She sighed. This was exhausting.
Her head still spun, but she pushed herself up, feeling slightly more sober. At least now she could walk.
She glanced back at her glass. The rum swam seductively around the bottom, inviting her back, whispering promises to replace bad feelings with better ones.
She had already opened Pandora’s box, and those bad feelings weren’t going away. At least, not today.
She lifted the glass to her lips and took the last sip. Then, grabbing the bottle, she walked back to the bathroom. She swished the rum around in her mouth to rinse out the lingering taste of bile, spit her “mouthwash” into the sink, and poured her remaining alcohol down the sink.
Jamie reached down and chose a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt from the pile on her floor. She pulled on one sock. Then the other. Grabbing her phone and credit card, she staggered downstairs.
Both roommates looked up from their baking as Jamie entered the kitchen, snowboots in hand. As she sat down at the table, she was met with looks mixed with guilt and concern. So they’d heard her vomiting. Great.
“Are you feeling okay?”
Jamie nodded, pulling on her boots.
“Anyone need anything from the store?”
“You’re going out? In this? The roads still haven’t been paved.”
“Well, not driving. I figured I’d walk to the corner store.”
“Oh…okay. Do you want us to go with you?”
Jamie shook her head.
“Baking soda, if they have any. Thanks.”
Jamie nodded, pulling her jacket on, and walked out the door. Leaving the cat and the bed and the warmth wasn’t ideal, but she needed something to settle her stomach.
Her feet shuffled through slush and ice as she passed one group of children, sliding on the ice in the street. Some were yelling out of fear of scraping their knees, while others, in spite of it.
The cold air bit at her hands until she slid them into her jacket pockets. The pockets were warm and deep, lined with red flannel that hugged her knuckles. Without knowing it, she took a deep breath and noticed that the pressure in her chest seemed lighter, somehow.
Her phone buzzed again, reminding her of the unopened texts from her mother. She continued walking forward as she took out her phone and began reading.
Apparently there had been a few missed messages today.
Mom: Hi Jammie-pie. I ran into Dr. Windenthal today at church. She told me that you still haven’t contacted her office. Why not? She’s a dear friend. Give her a call tomorrow, please. Love you.
Tinder Date with Beard: Hey *wink*
Tinder Date with Beard: *picture of penis*
Tinder Date with Beard: Just kidding haha Figured I’d remind you of what you’re missing
Tinder Date with Beard: Okay Bitch bye
Sister: Have you seen Jack’s Facebook???
Sister: Hey so I love you and I’m sorry that people suck. Jack’s new gf looks like a fat cow already so I’m sure the pregnancy will make her look even worse. He’s so dumb to lose you so don’t even worry about it. You will rise above!!
Jamie walked up to the cash register, holding three bottles of wine and a fishing catalogue. The cashier smiled at her. “So, what’s the occasion?”
She swiped her card without answering. Being sober was expensive.
You wowed me dear friend. That’s some imagination you have. You brought out the mother-empathy in me.
Best of luck darling.