Demons — a writing exercise.

The wan­ton and some­what star­tling dis­re­gard for his liv­er began prompt­ly at 11am. It rarely devi­at­ed. The ded­i­ca­tion he applied to his self-anni­hi­la­tion was mor­bid­ly impres­sive to the aver­age onlook­er; the rit­u­al with which he went about it had an almost reli­gious fer­vor to it.

It began with the same drink: a stiff rye Man­hat­tan with very sweet vermouth—sweet enough to bor­der on unpalatable—served with­out ice and gar­nished with a sin­gle cher­ry, thrown back in pre­cise­ly two gulps. While this was being con­sumed, a glass of water, a lib­er­al­ly-poured dram of whiskey and a small bowl of well-salt­ed peanuts were laid out on the bar in front of him by the bar­keep­er, with a rev­er­ence nor­mal­ly afford­ed to the lay­ing of sac­ri­fices on an altar. Once every­thing was in posi­tion, he would place his cell­phone on the bar, face up, off to the far right of the offer­ing. When the glass­es were emp­ty and the bowl was picked clean, the curi­ous rit­u­al would repeat one more time.

Aside from the clink of the glass on the bar or the qui­et crunch of the peanuts, this por­tion was con­duct­ed in silence: at no point was a word spo­ken by either patron or bar­keep.

He had been com­ing to this lit­tle hole-in-the-wall at the west­ern edge of the city once a week for well over a decade. The pro­pri­etor knew the litur­gy well and played his role flaw­less­ly, and had instruct­ed oth­ers work­ing the bar to do the same. Once this stage was com­plete, a far less rev­er­ent, hooch-fueled assault on his sens­es would begin, unabat­ed through­out the lunch-hour and well into the after­noon, seem­ing­ly sup­ple­ment­ed with food for the sole pur­pose of draw­ing out the attack. When the end was near, he would sig­nal to the bar­tender for a small snifter of brandy, reach down and jab at the screen of his phone — and some while lat­er, his duti­ful dri­ver would appear as if by mag­ic to take his well-sauced ass home. For fif­teen years, we did this, each and every Tues­day.

The only vari­a­tion was the greet­ing I would receive when I arrived, a greet­ing entire­ly dic­tat­ed by the par­tic­u­lar demon he came to do bat­tle with that day. On some days, it was like see­ing a long-lost friend at the door; he would pull me close with tears in his eyes, eager to retell the sto­ries he had told that after­noon, in the fleet­ing moments before the alco­hol fin­ished beat­ing his sens­es into sub­mis­sion. On oth­ers days, it was clear he was on the wrong side of the con­flict: these were the tricky days. He would be pac­ing behind his barstool when I entered, mut­ter­ing occa­sion­al­ly under his breath at the trou­ble­some fiend that was clear­ly dis­in­ter­est­ed in being sedat­ed. Despite his age—and despite often being blind­ing­ly drunk—he was for­mi­da­ble. Los­ing sight of his clenched right fist would reward you with a swift, painful trip to the floor.

But, punc­tu­at­ing the sad­ness and the pain were the reflec­tive days. These were the days I would arrive and take the seat he reserved, just for me, and we would sit qui­et­ly. At a casu­al glance, one could eas­i­ly miss the resem­blance; rit­u­als aside, the way he waged war with our past had aged him on the out­side in ways I had man­aged to avoid. But up close, when you looked into the chasm behind our eyes, it was unmis­tak­able. And while it amused us to watch peo­ple try to rec­on­cile how these two men sit­ting side by each could appear so phys­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent, it was in sit­ting there, qui­et­ly in those moments, that it became clear that we were one and the same. The dif­fer­ent paths we took to this place in time would merge again: we would share a pain-filled glance, or burst into fits of tears and laugh­ter about things only we could under­stand, as we sat con­tem­plat­ing our past and future until he would tip the glass back and fin­ish that last sip of brandy. He would give me the nod, I would pay the bill and take us home.

Despite all the things we had col­lec­tive­ly lost over the years, those days let us feel whole again. On those nights, we felt as if we had earned a moment of abso­lu­tion. Our demons, although not exor­cised, were calmed: numbed into a pas­siv­i­ty that would per­haps last until morn­ing, after what we hoped was a well-deserved sleep.

 

2 Comments

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  1. For the first half of the sto­ry I thought the writer was watch­ing from afar and not par­tic­i­pat­ing, and then the fire water nation attacked and the drink­ing duo were off to the sad races.
    Great read, write more, thanks for shar­ing.

  2. Is this a tale of split per­son­al­i­ty? Like Fight Club, these two are the same per­son. That’s my take any­way.

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