Waiting hurts. It slows time down, makes every miserable moment last an eternity. There’s no greater pain than the pain of quiet anticipation. The pain of remembering better days and desperately trying to get a piece of them back, in whole or in part.
There’s a sadness that inhabits every soul. That sadness is on the face of every sad sack in here. Auras of smoke orbit each patron. Soldiers in the trenches, waiting for the next bitter sting of defeat. Life’s a war no one really wants to fight, but fight they must. Failure, regret, destruction, collapse, and impending misery cover each and every destitute face that surrounds me. Humanity at its finest. Humanity at its most brutally honest. Cleansing itself in booze and smoke. Trying to wash the dirt away.
Our life stories are the same. We’ve endured the same heartbreaking moments and earth-shattering revelations. A life filled with a rich tapestry of chaos and disappointment. Of shame and glory. Of triumph and denigration. Of extremes on every end of the spectrum.
This wasn’t always the case. There was a time where I would have been an outcast in this place. A foreigner in a foreign land. I used to be a liar and used to sing a liar’s song. From the minuscule to the grandiose. Any falsehood was good enough as long as it made my drum, droll, boring life seem interesting, if even fleetingly. Anything to make me appear special. Unique. To make me extraordinary and differentiate me from the common man.
When I entered adulthood, madness no storyteller would ever dare replicate entered my life. Events that made every lie I uttered, every carefully-woven fabrication, trivial in comparison. I began to experience events and emotions I’d only seen on television screens, in fevered dreams, and lied about to any ear willing to accept fables.
Maybe I still am a liar. My younger years were so entrenched in misery that deceit was my only escape. I’m not sure I ever stopped spreading fictions. Truth is a boring mistress. An unwelcomed visitor. Beautiful lies always trump ugly truths. Lies have more palatable power than truth could ever hope to. Truth is lonely. Cold. Hollow. Empty. Lies get attention. Truth gets ignored.
There’s an odd beauty in being ignored. Of existing between minutes. Under shadows. You’re free of expectation and judgment. Time in solitude conditions you to excel at eccentric behaviour. It allows you to revel in it, to become an expert at the abnormal. A soldier in a battle against normalcy. An agent of numbness.
This bar battlefield and its defeated storytellers all rally around their own trinkets of escapism. The socially acceptable ones. Alcohol and cigarettes.
I’ve already poured three shots of liquid fire down my throat and they’ve done little to satisfy. Alcohol is an appetiser. A tease. Something best suited for frat boys and tourists. A false escape in lieu of a real one. Times like these require something illicit. Something to fill the emptiness inside. Desire burns a hole in my heart. Money burns a hole in my wallet.
I miss cigarettes. There’s nothing like the ritual of smoking. The ceremony of it. A flashy cigarette case. A flashier Zippo. Thick, white clouds of Heaven filling the lungs. Bricks lifted off the shoulders with every exhale. And when you mix smoking with alcohol your insides become a religious battleground. Heaven and Hell fighting each other in eternal combat. The end times come to pass. Welcomed armageddon. Firewater from below and blissful clouds from above.
The Kid said vaping’s better than cigarettes, but that can’t be true. Not really. Candy-coated chemical mists kissing the lungs instead of burning tobacco can’t be healthier, no matter what anyone says. Instead of a thin, elegant stick of pleasure, I have this fucking mechanical boombox I jam into my mouth. The thing’s a monstrosity, just like me.
Th’Kid should b’here by now.
The walls of this shithole are plastered with shame and disappointment. Just like home. My fellow degenerates keep to themselves. Just like I want. A place like this isn’t where people come to socialise, especially at this time of night. We come here to hide amongst the hidden. To rot amongst the rotten. To die amongst the dead.
An uninitiated person might come here and try to strike up a conversation with whoever’s closest. They’d do their best impersonation of a listener, nodding and pretending to pay attention until they themselves get to speak. To tell their story. Every person thinks their story is unique, but all stories are remarkably similar when boiled down to their basic points: dreams, hopes, wishes. All passionately glow in the beginning, then slowly sucked out, burning to the end, until nothing remains but a pile of ashes.
Fuck, I miss smokin.
“Do ya want another drink?” a shell of a bartender asks me. I can’t tell who’s more miserable: the customers or the employees. This one looks a heartbeat away from falling off the edge of disappointments unseen. Maybe she already has. Maybe this is Purgatory.
“Nother shot ah vodka,” I mutter.
Bartender walks off and by some small miracle manages to avoid stepping on my tail. Usually, dimly-lit places like this invite every blithering idiot passerby to try to crush it. To clomp their clammy fucking tentpoles down on it. You’d think a large, green, scaly snake-of-a-thing would warrant some level of caution, even in the dark.
The shot arrives fast and it disappears even faster. It’s gone before the bartender is. She’s seen this sort of desperate impatience before. She’s lived it. And she knows better than to ask if I want another. I’m here for something more potent. More powerful. It’s written on every inch of my face.
I hit my electronic cigarette while circling shot glass rim with my dilapidated claw. Today’s “healthy alternative to smoking” flavour, likely concocted in the back of some dingy warehouse, is blueberry pie. It’s the closest thing to food I’ve had all day. My hunger can’t be satisfied with something as trivial as food. I can’t be filled with vitamins and nutrients. Not today.
I exhale a huge cloud of healthy alternative and third-hand cigarette smoke. Every able body in here is smoking like there’s no tomorrow. Bartender, too. Puffing like madmen and madwomen. Trains stuck in a tunnel, spitting out burning coal, waiting to start back up again. Choking the planet with their exhaled exhaust.
“Sorry I’m late,” says the voice. The voice is Nirvana. The voice is freedom. The voice is release from this painful waiting. Hearing him speak is enough to quell the angriest of monsters. Soothing and endearing. He is the Beast whisperer.
“Traffic was a bitch,” he offers as he sits next to me at the lopsided table, pulling the chair out with his one hand. His voice so soft and so full of life, despite recent hardships.
I grunt out, “It’s fine,” and slam a crude wad of dollar bills on the table. Like it belongs there. Like it’s always belonged there. “I’m honestly surprised yer still dealin.”
He nervously scoops it up, eyes darting from side-to-side ensuring no one else saw the money. His paranoia is a newly acquired burden. I should remind him not to worry. I should remind him this isn’t the first drug deal to happen between these decrepit walls today and it definitely won’t be the last. I should, but I don’t.
“I’m surprised you called me,” the Kid says with all the confidence of a mouse.
He slides the money into his pocket and moves to another pocket to fish for my bag of happiness. He hands it to me under the table. My talon briefly grazes his palm as I retrieve my prize. A trembling wave of disgust mixed with intrigue shoot throughout his entire body. Familiarity and regret remind him.
My tail whips in a moment of joy. The goods are in hand. Peace is a simple pinprick away. My scales pucker and retract, like mouths begging for bottles. Like chewing gum.
“How’ve you been?”
“Better than th’alternative.”
The Kid smiles. “That’s good, I guess.”
He hesitates. There are things he wants to say to me. Needs to say to me, but instead, he offers, “They say it might actually snow tomorrow.”
“Okay,” I say with as much disinterest I can muster.
I hate small talk. I hate that people feel the need to fill silence with meaningless words and bullshit questions. Conversations about the weather are for unimaginative puppets who need the comfort only the sound of their own voice can provide. Let the silence shout out. Welcome it with open arms. It can be your friend if you allow it.
We share a glorious moment of uncertain silence. The Kid’s eyes caress the bar. He sees drunks, nothing more. No soldiers. No warriors. Just drunks.
His eyes return to meet mine. The two pairs battle each other for a minuteless eternity. The Kid’s full of the inquisitiveness and amazement that only youth allows. Mine full of emptiness and remorse.
“Wut’s on yer mind, junior?”
I chuckle at his rapid and defiant reply.
The earnest words, “I worry about you,” fall out of his mouth.
The Kid’s interest in me has never been entirely professional. I still see it in those Romeo and Juliet eyes. No good can come reexploring that avenue. Not now. Not ever.
“Ya shouldn’t waste yer time worryin bout ah thin like me.”
“It’s just that,” he pauses, ransacking his mind for what he thinks are the correct words. “This is the first time I’ve heard from you in months and…”
“Thins got complicated,” I interrupt. “I needed time t’sort some thins out. T’clear muh head. Now it’s clear and needs t’b’refilled.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
My patience runs thin as I spit out, “Wut d’ya mean, then?” His reluctance is keeping me from my appointment. From my reawakening.
“I mean, things with you got weird after… you know… Then you left and disappeared. I thought something bad might’ve happened to you, like what happened…”
He trails off to silence. Words escape him. The vocabulary is there, but he knows disappointment awaits at the end of the right sentence. The trick is to choose the wrong sentence and make it sound like the right one in order to produce the reaction he so desires.
If I dun say somethin soon, I’ll b’here all night.
“Ya know destroys people? Not drugs or sex or television or violence. It’s memories. Gettin lost in th’past. Memories’re ah curse. They creep in on ya like ah torrid lover in th’night, remindin ya wut ya’ve lost. Wut ya’ve destroyed. Wut mistakes ya’ve made. And wut could’ve b’n.”
Those star-crossed lover eyes hang on my every word.
“Television clouds th’memories. Puts em on hold. Fills yer head with new filtered, top-quality, produced-fer-th’masses memories. Ya dun’ve t’live through th’sufferin and pain of yer own life anymore. Turn on th’idiot box. Watch people gettin paid t’fake reality fer yer amusement. Watch em dance and sin songs while ya sit and decay. Watch enough of th’shit and ya start t’b’able t’remember wut happened in Seinfeld’s day better than yer own.”
Hope slowly seeps out from young dealer sitting across from me.
“Sex makes th’memories disappear but only in th’height of climax. Fer one brief moment when yer entire body’s transformed t’warm, pulsatin energy, yer happy. Yer alive. Nothin in th’world, in th’world of memories, can touch ya. None of it matters in that glorious instant of orgasm. Then when ya wipe up th’gushes of love, those fuckin memories seep their grimy way back in, extinguishin th’warmth and completeness ya achieved. Yer ah formless essence, emptyin yer body, now jus empty.”
My words disappoint him.
“Violence’s inexcusable’s ah release. Hurtin nother person cause yer hurtin’s ah pathetic, evil way t’live. Hurtin someone physically or emotionally, accidentally or on purpose, only spreads those painful memories round. It never squelches them. Passes th’buck t’people who dun deserve it. And violence always comes back t’haunt ya, specially when ya least expect it. Usually with bloody consequences.”
My words age him.
“But drugs… drugs dull those memories and f’yer lucky, can make those memories disappear completely. No matter wut th’drug. No matter wut th’high. Yer there. Free. Free from th’body yer cursed with. Free from th’job ya hate. Free from obligations and worries. Free from memories. Everythin has ah plastic protective sheen over it. Everythin’s warm and glows. Yer alive. Fer th’first time since childhood, th’world’s ah perfect, awe-inspirin place again. Yer ah god, walkin amongst th’peasants. Ya can d’no wrong. Memories’re tainted, specially by time, but godliness…”
I’m staring at a dartboard on an adjacent wall. Its hypnotic centre mesmerises. Spellbinds.
“But drugs wear off,” the Kid adds. “So, eventually you’re back to square one.”
The dartboard stares back at me. Unflinching. Unforgiving. Staring deep into the black heart of my soul with its single, judgmental eye.
“Back t’centre,” I murmur.
The dartboard blinks suddenly with stucco wall eyelids.
I find myself blinking back to reality.
The singular emotionless dartboard eye continues to stare at me. Mocking me. If I dove deep enough into it, I would hear its laughter. Macabre chuckles bellowing out from the very depths of Hell.
“Are you okay?”
I stand. The time to end this has come. I’ve suffered enough.
“Yeah. I gotta go.”
“Wait,” he begs.
“Are you… is it because of what happened? Is that why you’re avoiding me? Is that what you’re trying to escape from?”
The audacity of these questions. The ignorance behind them. He’ll know soon enough. If he continues pursuing me, he’ll one day become the worst thing he could possibly become. One day, he’ll be me. Covered in scales. Pulling his tail back from unobservant feet. Haunted. Quiet. Empty.
“I’m tryin… I’m gunna try fer th’kingdom f’I can. It’d b’best f’ya didn’t follow me down this rabbit hole.”
I turn my back to him in every way a person can. The Kid takes a deep, frustrated breath, filling his lungs with secondhand smoke. Secondhand worries. Secondhand pains.
I pass the dartboard en route to the bathroom where destiny awaits. A single, solitary tear falls from it as I vanish into the blessed darkness beyond the doorway.
I secure myself in the stall. The smell of rancid shit and piss would be overwhelming to the layperson but to me, it’s barely an offence. Business is at hand. Freedom awaits.
My newly acquired goods fit in my talon exquisitely and fly up one pudgy snout. Then the other. My nose is tickled. My brain is primed. Time for the main course.
Trusty, rusty spoon is found and I cook up a little taste for the needle. My scales begin popping. Opening. Yawning. Separating. Coming apart, ready to be fed. And fed they are. The needle works its way through a small crack between scales and with one glorious push, memories rush out of my body. The juice massages my mind into blissful comfort. No more feeling. No more worries. No more memories.