SNHU Undergrad Prose Winner from the 2010 issue
Le Petit Mort
Before I ever found this place, someone had etched “rock bottom” into the bathroom mirror. I’m tracing the letters with my hand when a glass smashes somewhere out in the bar and a woman laughs. Her voice is deep and raspy yet still feminine. She sounds like a career smoker. I wash my hands and look back up at the mirror.
I’m flying high on a mixture of Provigil and Adderall. I need to be up tonight on the off chance that she calls. Last I saw her she was in the grips of catatonic despair, watching reruns of The Price is Right with glassy eyes. By now she should be on the manic rebound which is why I’m buzzing with medication. I heard somewhere that it’s important to empathize with your significant other. If the pills don’t cut it, I’ve still got a vial of low grade coke tucked away in my coat.
It’s a short walk back to the bar. Charlie is sharing his newly formed theories about sex and death with some dangerously drunk women in the corner. They’re all deep into a solid drunk, all glassy eyes and blank expressions. Most of the bar is, in fact. Wayne, the old man with vocal opinions about socialism, is looking at his hand like he’s never seen it before. He’s one more drink away from oblivion.
Charlie put a gun to his head last week and pulled the trigger. The gun was old and neglected, and of course it jammed, but Charlie took this as some kind of sign. He’s been playing the mad prophet ever since, but I humor him. Charlie’s up to nineteen suicide attempts now.
The guy who sold me the pills claps me on the shoulder.
“Better living through chemistry, man!” he says, and it sounds rehearsed. I excuse myself before he can tell me about his brother’s ska band.
What I need is a drink. I forget what my beer is called. It’s some faggy microbrew one of the kids from the art school told me was “complex”. I take a gulp and detect beer, with subtle notes of beer and just a hint of beer in the finish. Very fucking complex. I order a shot of bottom-shelf bourbon and throw it back with a grimace. My throat has endured enough liquor for the night and it clenches up in protest. It’s toxic, it’s venom, but it’s my venom.
Back when I lived in Chicago my roommate used to groan the same thing every morning.
“God-motherfucking-dammit, why do I drink?”
It took me a while, but eventually I knew how to answer.
Charlie tugs on my sleeve, and I have to fight him off as he tries to hug me. He’s sloppy drunk by now, practically giving off fumes. The bastard has me cornered, and I’ll have to endure a speech.
“It’s too simple,” he says as he signals the barmaid for another shot.
“Everyone’s always wondering about the meaning of it all but it’s been right next to us all along! We crave death. It’s our ideal state. Why do you think we come here every night? Smoking, drinking, shooting, snorting, we’re just playing chicken with the great beyond. Why do you think we fuck? Le petit mort, man, the little death. For that one fleeting moment, you see the face of god himself. People fear death. I don’t. There is nothing in the world more comforting than knowing the benevolent eyes of god are on you at all times, ready to claim you at any moment.”
The phone chirps and saves me from Charlie. The screen lights up, and it’s her, but I’m still relieved in a way. It’s a text, just three words.
I need you.
This wouldn’t be as ominous coming from anyone else. I pay my tab and don’t bother saying goodbye to Charlie. I doubt he’d care anyway.
It’s freezing out, and the sky’s clear. I’m shivering even more when I get into my piece-of-shit car. The heat’s been out for almost a year, and it’s cold like a tomb. I light up a cigarette hoping that will bring some sort of warmth. The radio comes on and the Beatles are singing “Something”. It used to be Jenny’s favorite song. We’d dated for a couple of months until one day she lost her shit and called me at four in the morning asking if I’d help her kill her parents. Goddamn, I loved her so much it hurt. I hear she’s in a cult out in California now, waiting for Jesus’ flying saucer or whatever it is those dumb shits do.
My phone chirps again. Just one word this time.
Fuck me, I am not doing this as close to sober as I am now. I start to tap out a bump of coke on the back of my hand, but I stop. A bump? Really? I know better than that. I cut up a rail the size of my hand and send it rocketing into my brain.
The drive seems to take months. My nerves have gone to hell, and I’m aching for another hit. I steer with my knees and do a bump off my hand. Just a pick-me-up, a little something to get me the rest of the way. I’m already wanting another as I pull up to her apartment.
“Tittyfucking Christ, what the hell did you do?”
She’s sitting on the couch rocking back and forth, and those familiar red ribbons are notched down her arm. I’ve been here before, and I’m going to finish my fucking cigarette before I go through the routine. The first time she cut into herself it scared the unholy shit out of me. Now it just pisses me off. My sympathy only goes so far. She’s either oblivious or ignoring me, mumbling something over and over to herself as she rocks. I flick the cigarette off the porch and step in.
There’s blood everywhere. I’m wondering if she nicked any important veins as I walk to the bathroom to get some gauze. Once inside I do a small line off the sink. The blade in question is on the counter, a serrated steak knife. I made her promise to quit doing this shit a while ago. It was less out of sympathy as much as inconvenience. These nightly drives were really starting to cut into my schedule. I’m strongly considering leaving right now. A man shouldn’t have to endure this sort of shit.
“I’m okay, I’m okay, I’m okay,” she’s saying. “I’m okay now.”
She wraps up her arm, and I slump back on her couch. I cannot deal with this shit anymore. I cut up a line, and she gives me an imploring look. She’s never done it with me, ever as far as I can tell. I’m too tired to consider the consequences of giving cocaine to a manic-depressive, so I set one out for her too. I’m rolling the dollar bill when she makes a grab for the vial. There’s at least three grams in there and she knows it.
“Stop,” I want to scream. “I can’t take this anymore. Is it that bad? Am I that bad? Can’t you stay alive for my sake?”
Instead I say, “You stupid cunt, I paid good money for that shit!”
I backhand her and snatch the vial before she can get it open. She collapses into a mess of tears as I move to the door. This is where she calls me a bastard, throws something, threatens to call the cops, but she doesn’t. She just sits there sobbing. I have my hand on the doorknob but I can’t turn it. I just want to leave, to head back to the bar and crack jokes with Charlie about crazy women. I want to get drunk, put $200.00 up my nose and go to the titty bar, but I don’t. I sit back down on the couch and hold her.
She isn’t speaking, just shuddering with every fresh sob. I don’t have anything to say. I don’t know what I’m doing in the first place. I hold her tighter, and she slowly melts into me. In an hour she’s asleep. Her face finally relaxes and she seems almost peaceful.
I wish I could walk away. I wish I could forget her and find someone simple, a girl with minimal personality and a distinct lack of morals in the bedroom. God knows I’ve tried but I can’t do it. A year ago she said those three words to me.
“I love you.”
I said them back, mostly by reflex, and after a while I was surprised to find that we both meant it. She would do anything for me, forgive anything. She’s stayed with me through all the overdoses and arrests and three day benders and I will always come when she calls me. She loves me in the truest sense of the word, completely and unconditionally. She’s the one bridge I can’t bring myself to burn. When I go out night after night and die a thousand little deaths, she’s the one thing that keeps me here.
It’s three in the morning. I’ve never stayed this late at her place. Even the roads are silent now and after a while the only sound is her breathing. I put my head back and close my eyes. I think I’ll stay with her a little while longer, hidden from the benevolent eyes of god.