Ember

I’m on my second finger when I feel the medication finally begin to balance out. It comes over me as I knock back the last splash of whiskey. I can feel myself again, blooming out of the hole that sat inside me for the past few weeks. My heartbeat increases and my arms tingle. It’s sensation as well as relief; there is no time in my life more dangerous than when I am not feeling anything at all.

She comes into the kitchen, sipping water, and I can feel my personality slip away. This is how it goes when the meds start to stabilize. The real me inside wakes up in spurts, his eyes fluttering open until he dozes off again. The emptiness returns, but it’s not so bad now that I know I am at least floating to the surface. In a day I’ll feel like myself full-time again.

“Should you be doing that?” she asks me, and I give her a confused look until she nods to the empty glass in my hand. The bottle of Canadian Club sits open on the table.

“Well I’m not doing it anymore,” I tell her, setting the glass down. I recork the bottle and look back over to her. She’s leaning in the doorway, staring at the floor. She’s crossing her arms, hugging the half-full glass.

“Something bothering you?”

She gives a small shrug. I can barely make out a pout on her face. “I’ll be alright,” she murmurs.

“What’s going on?”

She looks up, takes a deep breath, and leans her head against her shoulder. “You-know-who called.”

“He still challenging the prenup?”

She answers by not answering. “I’m sorry,” I tell her, and she looks up at me. Now it’s her turn to look confused.

“Why?”

“What do you mean ‘why?’ He’s being a bastard and he’s hurting you.”

“But it’s not your fault.”

“You know that’s an expression of sympathy, right? Not an actual apology for causing your ex’s behavior.”

She sighs again. “Is it necessary to be a douchebag right now?”

“It’s not. So, y’know…bear that in mind.”

“Whatever.” She crosses the kitchen and refills her glass. I turn to her, think about saying something, but nothing comes to mind before she walks by and heads outside to smoke. This whole time, she’s only looked at me with her nose wrinkled and her brows furrowed.

I uncork the bottle and pour another couple fingers, then sit in the easy chair to sip. After about ten minutes she comes back inside, smelling of cigarette smoke. The scent makes her self-conscious, but I’ve always found it provocative. She takes a look at the empty drink in my hand, but doesn’t look at me. She passes, setting her empty glass on the table, and disappears down the hall. I hear the door of the bedroom close. I get up, step outside. I can still smell the faint scent of smoke where she stood. Her lighter and cigarettes are still on the railing. I take one, light it, and take a deep breath. The air is cool and damp from the rain an hour ago. The night smells of sweet leaves and mist.

When I’m done with my drink and my smoke I head in and make my way to the bedroom. When I walk in she’s in the half-bath, tweezing her eyebrows. I make my way to her and kiss her neck, but she jerks away.

“Watch it!” she snarls, and I step back as though she were an angry cat.

“The hell’s the matter with you?” I ask her.

“Can you just give me some goddamn space? Jesus!”

“Alright. Fine.” I hold up my hands in surrender and make my way to the bed.

“Jesus,” she mutters, “do you have to be such a fucking pushover right now?”

“Just cuz you’re pushin’ doesn’t mean I’m knocked over.” I unbutton my shirt. “I get you’re upset, alright? It’s fine.”

“It’s not fine!” She slams the tweezers down. “Why do you always say that? You don’t have any idea how fucking hard this can be.”

“You’re right,” I agree, “I don’t. I’m sorry.”

“Stop fucking saying you’re sorry!”

I toss my shirt over a chair. “Fine. Whatever. I’m going to sleep.”

“Fine. Whatever,” she mocks. She turns back to the sink and picks the tweezers back up, then slams them back down and grabs her toothbrush before shutting the door. I stand by the bed, looking to the shirt I tossed over a chair. After a moment I reach out, take it, put it back on

When she steps back out I’m pulling my shoes back on. “Where are you going?” The annoyance is layered in her voice like shellac.

“Out. Away. Whichever.” I get up, grab a hoodie.

“Jesus. Now you’re mad too.”

“No. I’m not.” I slip the hoodie on. “But you did win my contempt, so…congratulations, I guess.”

I step out into the hall, then feel her hand on my shoulder. “Hey, wait.” And now there is softness in her voice, forced into place as though with a pry bar.

I turn to her, suddenly very tired. I must look ragged, because she seems a little shocked. It’s the first time tonight she’s taken the time to look me in my eyes.

“Moment’s over,” I tell her. “I’ll be back.”

I walk out onto the porch, and take another cigarette. I’ll have to buy her more when I come back home. I smoke it halfway before tossing it onto the wet leaves. I stand there, watching it burn to the filter. When I get to my car the rain comes down in a drizzle. The embers of the cigarette hiss as the orange light fades.

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