It was as if he’d been nailed to the mattress; with big, probably rusty, nails that had drilled through the muscles and bones. His mouth had become the resting place for some tiny reeking creatures from an infernal abyss.
His eyelids flickered and even that simplest of natural movements caused a wave of thunderous pain to traverse his numb body, setting forth a violent seizing of his musculature.
The bright sunlight penetrated the half-closed blinds and hit his bloodshot eyeballs the moment he leered toward the window—he shut his eyes and let out a heavy groan as he turned his back to the window.
As Morpheus initiated the eviction process, Peter rubbed his pulsating eyelids, dead certain his eyeballs were about to pop out of his skull; a familiar sense of dread swarmed every inch of his body. The final vague memories from the previous night were of him and Gina sitting on the porch swilling mezcal and staring at the calm lake.
What happened afterwards? Did he perform his sacred relationship duties? Did he pass out on the porch and Gina hauled his ass to the bed? Had he been a peaceful, lovable drunk, or did the werewolves of his psyche escape their prison?
After all, drinking does not a bad man make. Booze simply releases all the inner demons that are, for good reasons, locked up in the darkest corner of one’s mind and unleashes the real man behind the public mask.
He rolled back to a supine position and squinted, as the sunlight threatened to fry his eyeballs. With the corner of his eye, he caught the most magnificent sight: a half-full highball of vodka, the remnant of the drink that made him pass out.
Sitting up on his elbows was the most excruciating movement he ever had to make; bringing himself up to an upright position felt eerily similar to lifting a pickup truck.
He threw back the vodka and as the lukewarm stale drink flowed through his bloodstream, the fog engulfing his brain was faintly lifted. His hand trembled when he reached for the pack of cigarettes sitting on the nightstand. He put one in his mouth and fired it up.
Two drags were more than enough to make his stomach whirl faster than a washing machine at its crescendo and he lunged toward the bathroom, burying his head in the toilet and hurling his intestines out.
He rested the side of his face on the porcelain seat, hugging it tighter than he would have embraced some long-lost relative; he flushed, simply to remove the source of the nauseating scent, and did not dare stir.
Years of boozing had made hangovers feel like a natural state, but that didn’t prevent them from being harsh and cruel. The cure was just a room away, in the living room where the rest of the booze was. He lacked the physical strength to take the ten or so steps separating him from feeling like a demigod.
If only he could materialize stuff with his brain; to think of a bottle of Jim Beam and poof there it’d be, unsealed and ready to go down his throat. He tried; he really tried. He shut his eyes and envisioned a bottle of whiskey until his temples throbbed even worse than before.
Nope, no bottle magically appeared next to him. With a heavy sigh, he pushed himself up to his feet and staggered to the sink; the icy water hit his face, somewhat numbing the pain.
With water still dripping from his thick, unkempt beard, and avoiding at all costs meeting the mirror sitting above the sink like the world’s cruelest judge, he clambered out of the bathroom—the closed door of the bedroom, leading to the sole other room of the small cabin that functioned as both living room, kitchen, and dining room, looked like the gate of hell.
If a sign with abandon all hope, all ye who enter here written in blood stood above the door, it wouldn’t have surprised him. He drew a deep breath and opened the door, ready to reenter Hell—after all, the greatest Poet did traverse Inferno and reached Paradise, but for Peter, there would be no second and/or third volume.
His journey had begun, and would end, in Hell.
“Good morning!” Gina greeted him. She flipped her long, auburn hair, and her luscious, red lips curled in a smile that touched his soul. “How’d you sleep?”
“Like a baby drunk on whatever hellish concoctions we drank last night”, he mumbled, spitting every word out of his arid mouth.
“Yeah, we did drink quite a lot”, she giggled softly. “Want some coffee?”
“If it has vodka in it, sure.”
“Well,” she leaped to her feet—his eyes moved involuntarily to her wobbling bottom barely concealed under the long shirt she wore—and poured him a cup, “here’s your coffee.
“You can spike it yourself.”
“Thanks,” he took a sniff of the almond-scented steam that rose from the hot cup and enhanced it with well vodka. “Now, that’s coffee; might taste like shoe polisher, but it’s delicious shoe polisher.
“How are you doing?”
“I’m good. Didn’t drink half of what you did and still have a hangover. You must feel like Hell”.
“And look like shit, I bet. I’m used to hangovers, though”.
He didn’t dare ask about last night, about the parts that never registered in his memory. It’s never wise to let others know you blacked out. Let the sins of blackout emerge on their own—after all, they always do.
At the very least, her eyes did not withhold any sign of scorn; perhaps, the werewolves had stayed in their cages.
His tobacco pouch and rest of paraphernalia sat on the coffee table, surrounded by spilled tobacco and scattered ash—the results of failed attempts to roll up cigarettes while inebriated.
He rolled a cigarette and for a moment just looked at it, wondering if a drag would send him rushing to the bathroom. The desire for a smoke was stronger than the fear of hurling whatever had been left of his intestines.
He dragged deep and long, and his stomach stayed calm. He had another hefty sip of spiked coffee and leaned back on the couch, almost ignoring Gina sitting right next to him with her legs crossed high.
He squinted when she turned the TV on; how long had they stayed in the cabin? It was hers (well, her parents’) and after only two dates, they decided to spend a few days together in the middle of goddamn nowhere.
Nothing but dense woods surrounded them. The nearest drugstore was a thirty-minute drive—as was the nearest liquor store. They had to drive at least an hour to reach a bar.
They’d gone to the liquor store… three days ago? Four? Peter had completely lost track of time; it’s what happens during a bender, good boozehounds like Peter learn to live with it—and when you’ve got nothing to live for, time loses its meaning.
It was the first time since they’d first arrived in the cabin, potentially even a week ago, that they watched TV and had any sort of connection to the outside world.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the anchorman said in a faintly quivering voice that made Peter arch his eyebrow, “since this morning, the country is on lockdown due to the novel coronavirus epidemic.
“All citizens are to stay home. The only reason people can go outside is for essential work and to buy necessary groceries”.
Gina and Peter exchanged a quick befuddled glance; when they’d decided to leave for the cabin, life had been as it always was. It was in other parts of the world quarantine had been imposed, where everything had been put on lockdown and people were forced to stay home.
And, as it always goes, we only pay attention to danger when it knocks on our door; when it goes for our neighbor, we just whistle and look the other way.
“Does this mean we can’t go back?” She asked, her lower lip trembling.
“I’ve no idea”, he shrugged and ran his fingers through his long hair. They both stopped and listened to the anchorman listing the new measures.
“Well, at least we can go home”, Gina said with a faint hopeful twitch of her lips.
“Not sure I want to”, he sighed and gulped down the last remaining spiked coffee. “Besides, they said you need to have official documentation about where you live; I don’t have that.
“I’m, give or take, illegally here. Sure, I’m a European citizen, so I can stay in the country, but I don’t have a residence or work permit. I don’t have an official address in Athens”.
“Really?” Her eyes bulged.
“Yeah…never thought it’d become this vital”.
“Well, I… don’t have a reason to go back”, she shrugged her shoulders, and her wide smile warmed his heart. “Might actually be better, and safer, to stay here”.
“Don’t you have anyone back home to worry about?”
“My parents will be fine, I think. You?”
“Kinda in the same boat. It might help my frame of mind if I don’t get quarantined with them… my father, anyway”.
“Bad relationship, huh?”
“Clash of personalities… or, perhaps, the same personality with different ways of expression. At any rate, I’ve been living with them for a year now, as I try to figure shit out, and… yeah, it definitely made me regret ever coming back to Greece”.
“Why did you come back?”
“I’ve no fucking idea”, he groaned. With that, he got up and went to fetch another bottle of vodka from the freezer. He put the bottle and two lowballs on the coffee table and poured till the glasses could hold no more. “I guess, I grew tired of Denmark; for the most part, I grew tired of all the memories…memories from both good and bad times.
“Though, how I define good and bad might be different than most would”.
“Meaning? Does it have something to do with…hum, your addictions?”
“How did you…shit”, he spat in exasperation and swilled the vodka, its iciness adding some flavor to the most flavorless kind of hooch. “Got all talkative while I was drunk, didn’t I?”
“Yeah”, she nodded, and for a moment a dark film fell over her eyes. “You mentioned something about junk…that’s heroin, right? and, something about a dead girlfriend, and…”
He cursed under his breath, let out a dry chuckle, and refilled his glass. He rolled up a cigarette and lit it, all in slow, methodical, seconds-earning movements. “At any rate, yeah, it’s true. Usually, I tell people it’s just fiction, that I start talking about the stories and novels I write like they’re real, but…
“What’s the fucking point, right? But, that’s my point; those times, when Emily was alive, and we did do junk, and other drugs, and boozed weeks away…those were the damn good times.
“As were the times I sat alone in the dark, drinking everything to oblivion—my life, my dreams, the armada of rejection slips…at the time, I thought I wanted out, perhaps because I thought…no idea what I thought.
“I do wish I’d stayed.”
He shrugged, downed some vodka, and focused solely on puffing on his cigarette. He knew honesty would get him nothing but heartbreak; he’d been alive for thirty years, and not once had honesty proven to be useful, no matter what inspirational so-called writers might claim.
“Right”, she cleared her throat, letting her gaze float across the room.
He glanced about, too, at the wooden walls and simple furniture of the small cabin that was to be their home, or at the very least their shelter, for an undefined amount of time. He drowned a deep sigh with vodka and clambered up to his feet, his hangover effectively having been murdered.
The small shelf in the corner contained two bottles of whiskey, one bottle of vodka, and one bottle of gin; and in the refrigerator were three six-packs of beer and some tonic and soda cans. Nowhere near enough to last them through the lockdown; hell, hardly enough to last them for more than three days even if they rationed stingingly.
“We should go grocery shopping”, she said as if she’d read his mind. “I don’t think we have enough food to last us for a good long while”.
“Yeah”, he nodded—he’d completely forgotten about food. After all, during periods of crisis, it’s the important stuff we worry about; didn’t W.C. Fields, after all, buy seventy-two bottles of gin once Pearl Harbor was attacked, in order to survive what he thought would be a short war?
“We’ll stop by the liquor store, too,” she added with a wink.
It was those small moments they’d had during their brief courtship that had given him some hope things would be different; those small, to most insignificant, moments that reminded him of someone else.
He had another half-full lowball of vodka, just to muster up the necessary strength to get dressed. The drive to the nearest village was long, the road curvy, yet scenic. While she drove, he smoked and stared out of the window, watching the dense woods, and taking in the quietness.
It was a place he could easily see himself living at for the rest of his life; away from the bright lights of any big city, away from densely populated streets. Away from modern civilization, away from the demands of said civilization.
The peace of mind evaporated the moment they reached the village, and the supermarket; every single resident of the village had gathered there. The aisles were overcrowded with old people, all of whom hoarded up canned food, cleaning products, and, for some reason, toilet paper.
Gina took care of the edibles, filling up her shopping cart with frozen meals, frozen vegetables, packs of pasta, cans of pasta sauce (of various flavors), and some fresh vegetables and fruits. Peter took care of the important stuff: he ignored the scornful, and rather befuddled, glares the other customers threw his way when he grabbed six bottles of bourbon, six bottles of vodka, six bottles of tequila, six bottles of gin, two bottles of vermouth, ten 24-can cases of beer, and fourteen 3-liter wine boxes (six white, six red, two rose).
The line was way too long, starting three aisles away from the cashier, but to wait was all they could do. The vodka swimming in his bloodstream brought to the tip of his tongue all the comments and actions that social conscience dictated not only as wrong but despicable. When an old lady tried to squeeze her way to the front of the line, he almost yelled at her.
A simple touch from Gina made him swallow down the comments that twirled in the back of his mouth, ready to be fired like cannonballs.
When a couple stood way too close to him, the man’s breath landing on the back of his neck, Peter couldn’t help it. He coughed as loudly and violently as he could—after all, coughing was one of the new disease’s primary symptoms.
In a jiff, the line grew shorter; no one spoke up, but several rather horrified glances came his way. Gina sighed and rolled her eyes but did not complain when their waiting time got significantly shorter.
The cashier gave them a glance filled with bedazzlement and some horror. There was no comment like “are you having a party?”, no comment at all regarding the amount of hooch they’d bought. Peter would not have replied to any such comment, anyway.
If they were gonna stay inside for a long while, they might just as well do it in fucking style. And without booze, quarantine would be pure inhumane torture.
“Saw how they all looked at us?” Gina giggled, rather nervously, as they placed their groceries in the trunk.
“Fuck’em”, he said hoarsely. “Only bad thing is that this haul kinda dried up my wallet”.
“I got some money in the bank, we’ll make it”.
“Yeah, not sure I like the idea of being dependent on anyone”.
“You paid for everything today; I owe you”.
“Well, I had to pay for the booze. I’m the one that’s gonna drink most of it”.
“True; but we’re both gonna eat from the food you paid for. And, if these past few days have been any indication, I eat way more than you.”
“And yet, you’re far slimmer than I.”
“I work out; your only workout is lifting bottles and beer glasses.”
“To each their own.”
The drive back to the cabin appeared longer than it had when they drove to the supermarket; perhaps, because he could hear the bottles clanking in the trunk after every steep turn and his liver twitched, begging for a drink.
The cabin was a sight for sore eyes; however, he couldn’t just pour himself a nice, tall, cold, strong drink.
First, they had to put everything in place; something that Gina did meticulously while Peter tried to act as if he actively tried to help while doing the bare minimum. The only part Peter took upon himself was to stock the corner shelf that had turned into a small bar.
He lined up all the bottles, put appropriate glasses in the shelf’s corner, and stuffed two of the beer cases, and three boxes of wine, in the refrigerator.
And, finally, he poured a tall gin and tonic, throwing in a slice of lemon; he took it to the porch and before he could finish rolling up a cigarette Gina appeared and sat on the other lounge chair, a tall glass of tequila and pink grapefruit juice in hand.
“Well, now I think we can easily stay in quarantine for a while, huh?” She giggled and took a long sip, which wetted her full lips.
“Yep”, he concurred and with one gulp drained half of the highball.
It was a glorious swig; the morning vodka had had a sole purpose: to defeat the barbarous hangover. On the other hand, this gin and tonic was a drink whose only purpose was to relax him. After all, they’d conducted their grocery shopping, they had everything they needed to survive for a week, perhaps a bit more, and there was absolutely nothing else they had to do.
Nothing better than a drink that you can enjoy, having no reason to rush because last call looms, or because you need to be someplace else, or for some other insipid reason. He puffed on his cigarette and had a shorter sip, trying to prolong the drink’s life for a little while longer.
It was a rookie mistake not to bring the bottle and a few cans of tonic to the porch, but he had been parched and all too eager to have a drink that he forgot the basic rules of serious boozing.
Unable to prolong the inevitable, he clambered back to his feet with a groan and rushed inside the cabin, ignoring Gina’s wondering glance that followed him.
“No reason to go back inside whenever we want a refill,” he explained when he returned to the porch carrying the gin and tequila, as well as some tonics and pink grapefruit juice. “Too much hassle that can easily be avoided”.
“So, the plans to sit here and drink?”
“What else is there to do?” He shrugged—she sighed and nodded in agreement.
After all, their original plan had been to spend a few days away from everyone; there was no internet connection in the cabin, nor a computer. Their phones had no signal, and their only connection to the outside world was the television—had Gina not turned it on earlier, they would have never known the country had gone on lockdown.
It was Peter’s paradise; the world had nothing to offer him, nor he to the world. The one thing he regretted was not being able to check his emails. He’d sent several queries to agents and publishers, and he knew that with his damn luck it was only now he couldn’t reply promptly someone would respond positively.
If the lockdown lasted long enough, he could miss the only chance he’d ever get to get published—he found comfort in knowing that whether because his writing wasn’t marketable enough, or simply because he was a shitty writer, chances of getting a positive response were infinitesimal.
“You don’t feel the need to do anything?” She broke the silence, as she sipped on her second drink—Peter had just poured his fourth and the gin, that withheld too many memories and sometimes awoke the most dangerous of the werewolves residing in his brain, swirled in his brain.
“I’m doing something”, he raised his glass, then tilted it in his mouth, letting the refreshing drink glide down his throat, and a faint fuzzy sensation flooded his mouth. “Besides, this is what I’ve always wanted to do, you know?
“Back when I was young, I thought I’d make enough out of my writing to buy me such a cabin in some remote woods, having enough money to buy booze and live in isolation.
“But, whether because I don’t have it as a writer, or because what I write is not marketable, or also because I’m a hermit that despises social media, I’ll never make it. So…I’m just enjoying us being here, even if it’s for longer than we had planned.
“Besides, what do you feel like doing?”
“I don’t know”, she shrugged. “It’s just…I don’t know”.
“You’re feeling restless because it’s suddenly forbidden to do a lot of stuff. Just until yesterday, we sat here and drank without feeling like we needed to do something; we didn’t even discuss visiting any bars in the larger towns in the vicinity”.
“Yeah, you might have a point”.
“Of course I do. You’ll see, now that people can’t just go out of their houses whenever they feel like it, most will want to go outside; even though up until yesterday they were content with staying inside and playing on their phones and computers.
“It’s all about telling someone ‘you can’t do something’. Having the illusion of free will is all that’s required to keep people content. It’s why dictatorships almost always fail; they strip away the illusion of freedom.
“Democracy’s a much easier way to control people—throw in a few populists promises and you’re golden, till a new populist politician promising golden-egg-laying geese comes forth”.
“You do have a bleak view of the world, huh?”
“You haven’t seen nothing yet”, he chuckled to conceal how dead-on her comment was. “But we’ve seen it in some countries already; people saying ‘oh, it’s nothing, we worry too much about it’, and after a few days of them going out like normal, the number of ill people grew exponentially, overcrowding their health systems.
“It doesn’t take much for that new virus to spread, and most countries do not have the healthcare system to handle a few thousand ill people—which makes sense, too. Hospitals haven’t been equipped with enough ER beds and equipment to handle a pandemic.
“Sadly, stupidity doesn’t need to spread; it’s already got a good hold of the population”.
“I guess, we’re pretty safe here, huh?”
“As long as people don’t start showing up with camping tents and shit, yeah”.
“You think they will?”
“Wouldn’t surprise me. I mean if the virus needs human contact to spread…what’s safer than the middle of nowhere? It’s what I’ve always thought when I watched zombie movies and shows, you know? End of the world movies and all; those that will survive the first wave are the ones living in remote areas.
“They’ll have time to prepare, following the news of the shitty situation in the big cities, and stocking up on food, guns, meds…it’s all about time and place. I mean, every single great hero of those movies and shows would be dead if they took one wrong step, one wrong turn.
“Sure, the plot saves their ass, but in reality…they’d join the hordes of the staggering dead in no time”.
“Why do I have a feeling you wouldn’t mind if we are living the end of the world?”
“Cause I wouldn’t. Not really, anyway. Look, I’ve got almost nothing to live for, you know? And I’m self-aware enough to know that either I’d be one of the first to die, or one of the first to start raiding stores and being a villain.
“I’d sure as fuck wouldn’t be the archetype selfless hero”.
“As long as you had something to drink you wouldn’t care, right?”
“Precisely”, the corner of his lips reached his earlobes, and he lifted his glass. The toast required a hefty sip and hence he swigged it down, immediately refilling it, without changing the slice of lemon that had begun to disintegrate.
Another wave of warmth traversed his body after a good swig of the fresh drink that washed away all of his lingering thoughts and worries; there was always something (or someone) missing, no matter how ideal a situation might look from the outside.
It’s why he never believed in happily ever after, in the bullshit happy endings some publishers had said would make his work far more publishable—the audience needs to root for your characters and see them reach their goals and enjoy the fruits of their labor, one editor had said. Give me a happy ending, and your book will sell.
He had refused; it was unrealistic for the novel to have a happy ending. It’d cause the entire damn thing to collapse. Hence, the editor wished him good luck with his future endeavors and that was it. Happy endings; where are they in the real world?
He drank again, this time to eviscerate the horrid thoughts—after all, not all writers strive for happy endings, not all writers employ deux ex machinas to give their tales endings that will satisfy insipid readers. Euripides did it first and was called out for it back in his time—oh, yes, those Ancient Greeks truly were fucking brilliant, they hated the idea of gods showing up from out of nowhere to give a nice and satisfying conclusion to a story.
Modern-day publishers and readers prefer Euripides’ way—it’s probably why several of his plays survived all the way into the 21st century, while many other playwrights were erased from history.
“What are you thinking?” Her voice brought him out of his mental stroll through the ancient streets of Athens where he guzzled wine and talked rhymes with Timo Creon.
He mentioned his happy-ending conversation with the editor, and his refusal to believe in them.
“I don’t know”, she shrugged. “I do like my happy endings, you know? Watching a tv-show for several seasons only for the main characters to end up dead, or miserable? What’s the point?”
“It’s an important lesson about life; and highly realistic. Everybody dies; everybody’s miserable in their own way and for their own reasons.
“Maybe, the filthy rich are a different species than the rest of us, like Fitzgerald said, but they, too, have their problems—problems the rest of us wish we had, but to them…they are problems.”
“I like maintaining a brighter outlook on life, that’s all.”
“As is your right.”
And what would obliterate their blossoming relationship during these hard times of the lockdown became crystal clear, more clear even than the water of the unpolluted lake; when they stayed in the cabin only to escape the world for a few days, it was all fun and games. They drank, had sex, shared some laughs.
At the time, they could leave whenever they decided; now, things were different. They were forced to stay together for an undefined amount of time, and that meant they couldn’t spend the quarantine (that could last for a long fucking time) in the same lovebird rhythm.
Talks would occur, exchange of opinions…clashes of personalities. Peter drowned a deep sigh with a hefty swig and inside the half-empty highball he encountered the need to control the pace of his drinking. It didn’t take much for the drink to unlock the cages of the terrible monsters living in his brain—only when he was happy was, he a pleasant drunk, and happy was a very temporary and rare state of mind.
Many a great drunkard of the past had the same problem: Jim Morrison would, after twenty or so drinks, grow violent and erratic; Dylan Thomas would, deep into his cups, assault, and bite everyone around him. And there are certainly hundreds of thousands of unknown drunkards that become violent when inebriated and already in a foul mood. In poets, it’s an eccentricity, one which fuels the written word and makes it more powerful and heart-gripping.
In non-artists, and failed artists, it’s a horrible character flaw that drives most people away. It had certainly cost Peter friendships and relationships—though, for the most part, those relationships were not worth the effort to maintain anyway.
He wasn’t the bestselling author that people wanted to hang out with for his money and fame; he was a struggling wordsmith that would never get anywhere but inside an anonymous grave.
Gina’s eyes said she didn’t care about his lack of fame, money, and prospect; on the other hand, would they maintain their glow once she saw him get mean drunk, once he turned into an insane, rabid dog?
He took a short nip from his drink; he’d have to go back to proper pacing. No more guzzling drinks: instead, he’d drink with a steady, proper pace to keep a pleasant buzz from morn till night, without losing complete control over his actions and words.
Would it be possible? Probably not. He had always fancied himself a half-marathon drinker, able to keep at it for several hours, but once the buzz got good, he just swallowed drink after drink, sprinting not to the finish line but toward a quick blackout.
Almost on its own, his elbow bent, and he brought the brim of the glass back to his lips; one sniff of the gin and tonic was enough to make him tilt the glass and knock half of it back. Fuck rhythm, fuck pace, fuck everything. He refilled the highball, mostly with gin and just a splash of tonic, and drank.
“How about some food?” She said and rubbed her stomach that mimicked a lion cub.
“Can’t say I am hungry”, he shrugged. “Drinking always does that to me. I might start munching on whatever I can find late at night, but for now…”
“Fair enough. Nonetheless, I am gonna fix us some sandwiches”.
“Need help?” He asked, and every fiber of his body begged for her to say ‘no’.
A sigh of relief escaped his lips when she did say the coveted “no”, though he managed to withhold the sigh till she had gone inside.
“Heard that!” She shouted from within and he choked on his laughter. Tiny moments like this were the ones that had kept the werewolves and demons locked inside their cages during the past few days.
He lit a cigarette and blew the first plume of blue smoke toward the bright sky, staring at the calm waters upon which the reddening light of the setting sun reflected. It felt like he’d traveled back in time, back to a time and place he also had stayed in a similar lake house.
It’d been in a different country and some circumstances were different; and, naturally, he was with someone else. Back then, acid, junk, and ice had contributed immensely to a different kind of insanity, the kind that made that lake home to a ghoul whale that spurted fountains of fire and sent the alien police for the criminally sane on his, and Emily’s, trail. They had drunk the alien policemen under the table and partied all weekend long in a binge that would forever remain blurry.
It was those days he missed dearly, and the memory of those days he feared would lead him into impersonating Dylan Thomas at his drunkest, and meanest.
“Feel free to help yourself to it,” she said with a wide, warm smile—and an all too meaningful wink—when she returned to the porch with a large plate, whereupon a mountain of sandwiches stood.
“Sure, thanks; that was fast.”
“I’m good with sandwiches,” she giggled. “Cooking…not that much”.
“Well”, he sighed and drained his highball, “I suppose I can take care of that”.
“You did brag about your cooking skills”.
“Did I?” He peered down at his glass as he poured more gin over some fresh ice-cubes and a new slice of lemon. “Do tend to brag when drunk”.
“How are you sober?”
“Nobody knows”, he shrugged. “Just gloomier”, he added, shuddering under her glare. “And silent. And melancholy…yeah, not a sight to behold”.
“Uh-hum”, she nodded and wolfed down one of the sandwiches. “Is that why you drink?”
“There are plenty of reasons; quite frankly, booze has kept me alive. It helps me appreciate the good things in life and keeps me away from rooftops and rail tracks”.
“Meaning?” The way her eyes bulged told Peter he had not mentioned his suicidal tendencies during the previous days’ imbibing.
With a sigh, which he chased with another swig, he leaned back on the lounge chair and said: “It’s not important; depression is rather common amongst artists, both great and awful. I’ve got my medicine, I’m fine”.
She didn’t retort; in her eyes glowed the burning desire to come up with arguments against drinking, against the self-destructive path he was on. Nothing came out of her mouth; after all, she hadn’t known him for long and, had it not been for the extraordinary conditions of the pandemic, their relationship might not have lasted for more than a month. She gulped down her drink and poured herself a refill.
“Are you sure you don’t want a sandwich?” She asked, after a few minutes of silence; if there was one thing she could not stand, one thing that made her physically ill and quivering with anxiety, were prolonged silences.
“I’m sure”, he said sharply. The one thing he loved the most was silence; nothing better than just sitting with a cold, sweating highball while staring at the horizon.
The sun descended toward the mountaintops, turning into a red ball of fire that reflected on the blue water, keeping them warm despite the dropping air temperature.
Out there in the middle of nowhere, there was no need for artificial lights during the night; the stars and the (half) moon were more than enough. Besides, what’s better than blowing greenish plumes of smoke to the smirking moon while the perfect silence is interrupted only by the occasional breeze rustling the stoic trees?
The only thing missing was some music; without a computer, he couldn’t introduce her to Hank Williams and George Jones. Besides, sad country music might have mentally sent him back to other times, turning him all melancholy and ready to invade Hell like another Orpheus.
He sniffled and staggered up to his feet, leaning rather heavily on the railway. “I’m good, I’m good,” he mumbled back to her worried inquiry and clambered inside the cabin.
After a quick visit to the bathroom, where he had to hold on to the wall with both hands, he grabbed a few cans of beer from the refrigerator and a bottle of bourbon.
Without uttering a word, he shoved the beers in the bucket of ice that now only contained one can of tonic, and tossed a couple of ice cubes in the lowballs.
“Bourbon on the rocks, no better medicine for the soul,” he said as he offered her one.
“I’ve been having tequila, I don’t like mixing liquor, I…”
“It may seem like an amateur move,” he concurred, leaving the glass on the glass table and lighting a cigarette, “but it’s all about pace; beer is for slowing down, for sobering up a bit.”
“You’ve been doing this for a while, huh?” The smirk she tried to forge was as dishonest as they come.
“Had my first real drink at fourteen; a gin and tonic at some dive in downtown Athens. Never stopped since”.
“They served you gin and tonics at fourteen?”
“It was a pretty laid-back place. It’s shut down now; been closed for a long while. I think, in the end, today adolescents don’t have the same opportunities.
“It’s a crying shame, too; it’s easier for a teenager to get dope than a glass of beer or a tall cocktail. After all, it’s better to feed teenagers mind-numbing drugs than let them have a drink and have some fun”.
“I’ve seen you smoke pot”.
“I never claimed to be against drugs. I dig them, but for what they are. Mind-altering substances that, if used properly, can manipulate emotions and thoughts. Pot relaxes you; blow enervates you. It’s all about using them responsibly, knowing what you’re trying to accomplish, and not letting them control you.
“But, nothing beats hooch!” He swigged the bourbon and immediately poured more over the ice cubes that had no time to melt. He cracked a beer can and took a hefty gulp, smacking his lips. “Bourbon and beer; a pairing made in Heaven”.
“I’m still trying to figure out if you’re an alcoholic, you know. I just…”
“Don’t dwell on it; I am. But I’m not the disease-ridden alcoholic that needs help, like the ones they show on TV and in movies nowadays. I just enjoy drinking, getting intoxicated, and cherish the freedom of mind that comes with it.
“Sure, on occasion I may go berserk, howl at the moon, utter harsh truths better left unspoken…it’s all part of the game. It’s part of what makes boozing great, and why most great artists were drunks; nothing more powerful than the truth, and no better way to let the truth out than by having a few drinks”.
“That’s strong”, she said amidst a coughing fit, after a short sip of bourbon. “I feel bad, you know. I mean, here we are, all safe and sound, fully stocked, while many people have to worry about…well, everything”.
“It’s the roll of the dice”, he shrugged. “If we hadn’t decided upon taking this short trip, we’d be stuck in Athens, too. At the same time, some would say we’re the unlucky ones, being out here without much to do”.
“I think it’s beginning to get to me”, she said after she’d drained her bourbon. “Shall we go to bed?”
“I think I’ll sit here for a little while longer, if that’s alright with you…”
“Of course”, she smiled a genuine and warm smile. While their tongues touched and danced, he thought of going to bed with her. Then, she entered the cabin, and he had a nip of bourbon.
He topped his drink and cracked another beer. The moon and the stars brightened up the dark, clean, unpolluted sky and it was almost all that he’d ever wanted. The bourbon took him back to some other time, to another lake house in another country—so distant that it might have been a lucid acid dream.
The lockdown was the problem; they weren’t there voluntarily. They’d come out there on their own volition, but they would only leave when the government, and medical experts, allowed it.
How long would it last? Weeks, at best. Months, at worst.
Would they have topics to talk about? Things to do? Would they become two strangers sharing a roof due to extraordinary conditions?
The bourbon stated the simplest of truths: their story would not have a fairytale ending.
He lit a cigarette and sighed the first sheath of blue smoke out—there was enough booze to last him for a good while and he smiled back at the moon.
George Gad Economou holds a Master’s degree in Philosophy of Science from Aarhus University and currently resides in Athens, Greece, freelancing his way to a new place. His stories have been published, predominantly, in the literary platform Jumbelbook and his novella, Letters to S., has been published in Storylandia Issue 30.