Rachel is going to call tonight.
This is a big deal. I will have to be on my game. There must be charm, exuberance, a certain joie de vivre, as the French say. I don’t know what this means, I’ve just heard they say it, and it sounds good in my head. Something to shoot for.
Nothing like a little alcohol to get the conversational juices flowing is a line I overheard an adult once say with a big grin to another adult on a Boy Scout campout, his boot propped on the rock ring of a fire pit, sole beginning to smoke a bit at the toe. It was morning, and the liquid sloshing at the rim of his steel Sierra cup was steaming in the cold mountain air. He said it was coffee, so I had no reason to think it wasn’t. I’m not saying it wasn’t. I’m just saying.
Above the sink in the kitchen is where they keep the liquor, my parents. My mother and step-father. Vodka, whiskey, gin. All the bottles are open. She is out back with the garden hose, watering the hostas. I see her through the blinds, cigarette hanging from her mouth. He is in the orange recliner, watching the six o’clock news. Shirtless, pantless. Nothing but thin white boxers. A glass of scotch propped on the armrest.
Surely they won’t miss a sip or two.
Slowly, quietly, I open the cabinet. Carefully, I extract a bottle, making sure not to clink the others. With trembling hands, I unscrew the cap. I don’t want to get caught.
It burns. Wow does it burn.
Knees on the countertop next to the sink, I return the whiskey and grab the one that says vodka. Carefully unscrew, sip, burn, gasp, wow, replace. Close cabinet, hop down from sink. Feeling great, accomplished. Stealthy. Manly.
She said they may be going out, Rachel did, and I should come. She’ll call, let me know. Maybe I can meet them. We talked about this briefly at school today, in French class. I sit behind her, poke her shoulder, exchange notes. I think there’s a chance we may get back together. I’m working on it, anyway, have a strategy. It involves charm, exuberance, a certain joie de vivre.
It’s 6:30. The news is winding down with the feel-good story of the day. Now comes the miserable half-hour of second-rate game shows filling the time before the prime time begins. It’s Friday night, nothing good on. The good shows are on weekdays. Friday night tv is lame, for old fogies and losers who stay home on weekends.
Rachel should have called by now.
Back in the kitchen. Mom still in the yard. Step-dad still in the orange recliner, still in his underwear, still nursing his scotch.
I sneak up onto the counter and try the gin. Holy shit. I won’t try gin again for a long time, and when I do, it won’t have gotten any better.
Down off the counter, into the fridge. There are several open wine bottles, corks stuck in upside down. I sample one, the dark red bottle with the dark red stain on the cork. These are much easier to get to, and much easier going down. Why are there so many? I don’t know, but it works for me. Sips dispersed over lots of bottles are less likely to be missed than a lot of sips from one bottle.
The bottle clinks another as I return it to the tray in the door. I freeze. No stirring from the man in front of the tv. No suspicions aroused, far as I can tell. I close the fridge quietly, no thwop of suction from the seal. No sir.
It’s 7:30. She should have called by now. Shoes are on, keys in pocket. Things are happening, people gathering. Anyone going out is out already, or knows where they are going, at least. Rachel has not called.
Sitting on the edge of my bed, I stare at the phone. It should ring. Now.
Why is the phone not ringing?
I take off my shoes, head to the kitchen.
I carefully, oh so quietly pull out the bottle of white. This one is like candy compared to what’s come before. The sips are getting bigger, bolder.
By 8:30, I’ve given up on her calling. I’m not going out, not seeing her. We’re not getting back together, I’m a loser, I’m home, it’s Friday night. Side two of Led Zeppelin III goes on the record player. “Gallows Pole” builds to a climax that massages my anger, “Tangerine” slows things down, makes them bleed. “That’s the Way” sounds like depression feels. I realize I like feeling this way. Hurting feels good. Comfortable.
Heading back to the kitchen, my belt loop catches on the bedroom door handle, snaps it right off. I stop, confused, pick it up, try to snap it back on but fail. I try again, can’t figure out what’s happening. Why won’t this door knob snap back on? Why is it in my hand to begin with? Fuck it. It goes in my pocket to deal with later. The hallway shifts under my feet, a hanging picture frame crashes into my shoulder.
At the fridge, the door swings open, welcomes me back, and the rattle of the bottles in the door seems like good music, no big deal. Grab a bottle, take a swig, put it back, shut the door, and there, standing there with his empty glass, is the man in his underwear.
His eyes drop to the door knob sticking out of my pocket, then rise to mine. He furrows his brows, quizzical. ”Can I help you, son?”
I think I might have said I’m not your son. I might have shouted it, pretty loud.
This is the follow-up to Hope Calls,and is Part 7 in a series of “flash-memoir” posts that stand alone, more or less, but also link together to tell a longer story. Part 1 is here, and if you’re in the mood, might I suggest Parts 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. All quite tasty.