The Way Out is Through.
In the beginning, we remained under the covers, rolling between the sheets, showered in diffused amber sunlight.
In the end, static from the car radio stole my attention. Once again, I was preoccupied with something more important. I fidgeted with the knobs and she yelled, but of course, her words were lost on me. Fed up, I punched the plastic interface and wailing feedback blared through the speakers. The wheel drifted and we slid seamlessly. Oncoming headlights filled the car with a blinding incandescence, but by the time I even cared to notice it was already too late.
My eyelids twitched. The morning sunlight shrunk my pupils, and the world around me slowly came into focus. I was home. Home and hung-over, having passed out in front of my typewriter again. The bottle laid next to me, headless and drained. I peeled my face from my desk, shielding my eyes from the light while massaging my inflated skull.
Damn. It'd been two weeks and I still couldn't get that dream out of my head. It was more like a nightmare; her screams still reverberated.
I slapped myself to life and willed the courage to stand, stumbling my way into the bathroom. I splashed cold water on my face and rinsed with mouthwash to cleanse myself of the night, to move on, to forget. I was able to mask the liquor, but her taste still remained; her memory, it seemed, was permanent.
I didn't want to dwell, or maybe I just didn’t care enough to understand, but once again I was preoccupied with more important things, like the fact that I hadn't written anything worth a good goddamn since my grandiose self-imposed write-or-die shut-in. I was supposed to write the great American novel. I was supposed to become something, a somebody, a big, bright, beautiful, shining star, but instead I'd been plagued with crippling writer's block and haunted by a repeating nightmare.
Oh, and let us not forget that the well was now dry as of last night. There was no more booze to speak of, but that was okay, I would be fine; who needed it anyway? Only hacks use liquid courage. This would be a good thing for me; I was planning to cut back as it were.
The real bad news, however, was that I was down to my last can of tuna fish. After today I would have nothing left in my cabinets and cupboards except coffee, salt, and breadcrumbs, and nothing in the refrigerator except condiments. I would have to become very resourceful if I hoped to continue eating.
You know, I sometimes wonder if I could go on without it, if I could rid my body of its biological need for food. What’s that old cliché, "Mind over matter," right? I actually remember once reading a story about a kid who did just that, and like a drug, he quit cold turkey. After a few weeks he ended up in the hospital yanking out his feeding tube before finally dropping dead on the cold tile floor. Pity. I would’ve done better. But enough of that. I get so easily sidetracked, spending too much time wondering and daydreaming and not nearly enough time working. Right now what I needed was a good old fashion fire under my ass.
I walked into my neglected kitchen (add it to my tab) and opened a cabinet containing the aforementioned tuna, one cylinder of breadcrumbs, and one crumbled foil bag of coffee—Coffee: the sweet, sweet nectar of life. I reached in, and with fingertips, I softly picked up the bag of grounds, being careful not to crush the sensitive foil as I set it upon the counter. I grabbed the coffee pot, rinsed it out, and filled it with cold tap. I added a new pristine white filter and replaced the glass pot, all the while keeping my eyes glued on the crumpled, deformed foil. Resting my hands on the counter, I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I whispered to myself: “This is no longer an empty bag, rather it is supple and fragrant.” I steadied my nose above the opening of the bag and took a savoring whiff. I continued, “The potent smell of hazelnut will flood my senses with overwhelming euphoria.” The palms of my hands began to sweat and I licked my perpetually dry lips. I opened my eyes and stared at the label of the bag, "La Colombe." My favorite. I outstretched my hands and rounded its perimeter. Breathing through my mouth, I cautiously peeled the foil, counting down from three, each number feeling a mile away from the last.
“Three…Two…One—" BOOM BOOM BOOM. A pounding from my front door shot fear and panic up my spine, causing my hands to clench, crushing the hollow bag. Goddamnit; it was empty all along. I should have known better.
BOOM BOOM BOOM.
"All right, I fucking hear you!" I wanted to say, but I kept my mouth shut. I was on the fringe of hysteria, and if I lost my cool I was liable to say or do just about anything.
BOOM BOOM BOOM.
I repeated this month's mantra to myself, my assigned, "words of greatness," as my psychiatrist liked to call them: “Innocuous. Invisible. Immaculate,” I said, fixing my gaze on the door. “Innocuous. Invisible. Immaculate.”
I slowly came back to my senses. In control, I figured maybe if I quietly approached I could sneak a peek at whoever or whatever might be lurking on the other side. I tiptoed to the peephole and peered through. The undesirable happened to be none other than my rotund landlord, Francis Garland. He was steaming, red in the face and wiping his shiny bald head with a rag while muttering to himself. Again he pounded against my door, nearly bending the wood this time. Jesus, his mitts were as big as lunchboxes.
“Anybody home?” He called. “It’s already the 10th of the month!”
Shit. I was late on rent again, yet another unchecked item on my endless to-do list. It’s funny the things you tend to neglect when you’re, when you’re…well, when you’re preoccupied.
“Little prick,” I heard him say under his breath. He took a folded piece of paper--probably an eviction notice--and a roll of scotch tape out of his coat pocket, sticking the paper onto my door. He boomed one final time. “Deadbeat!” He said, waddling away, wheezing as he called the elevator.
The coast was soon clear. I could've opened the door and grabbed the notice, but I had to be cautious. Francis was a grade-A grease ball; surely one of his lackey goons would be posted by my door, waiting for me to slip up and show my face. Better to be safe than sorry, I thought. So long as that notice remained untouched, I could say I never saw it. “Sorry, Francis, don’t know what you’re talking about,” I would say. Out of sight, out of mind.
I felt lightheaded, struck by a small dizzy-spell; these were becoming more frequent as of late. I took the hint and trudged back into the kitchen for the Starkist smorgasbord. I drained the metallic juice and plopped the treated pink puck onto a plate. I scoured the fridge for any curious flourishes or final touches, settling on a dollop of expired spicy mustard. Bon appetite. I slowly forked my last meal while longingly staring at the pathetic crushed foil bag on the counter-top. A cup of coffee would’ve been the perfect compliment, a good friend on a lonely night, a reminder that there is indeed a God.
Somewhere in the background of my fantasy, I heard the drop of a keychain and then the unmistakable sound of steel teeth chewing through a lock. It was Francis, it had to be; the fucking whale was trying to force himself and his pathetic agenda into my apartment, force himself into my world, into my safe haven.
Well not today, you fuck.
I sprinted to the door, practically throwing myself against it to keep it shut. I looked through the peephole, eagerly darting from side to side, but to my surprise I saw nothing, no Francis, nor anyone else. Much like the sad and sorry bag of coffee, the hallway was also empty. God was dead.
Angry and fed up with his constant teasing, I boomed my fist against the door. “Show yourself!” I yelled, half-heartedly, waiting with tense knuckles, but nothing stirred; nothing dared stir. For my sake, at least.
As I turned to walk away I noticed between my feet a small folded piece of paper. Son-of-a-bitch must’ve tricked me, I thought, diverted my attention somehow and slipped it beneath my door. The sneaky fuck. “Coward,” I said, picking up the paper and unfolding it.
It was a crumpled piece of white computer paper, and written in the center with what looked like smeared oily red lipstick were the words, “Wake Up.”
I scoffed and tore the note to shreds, staining my hands red in the process. Wake up. Some nerve. I was awake, thank you very much. I was more awake than ever before. Self-aware, I could see myself from outside, floating just beyond my physical form. I could see everything I wished for, everything I had become, and everything I had left to die in the past. I was conscious of it all, the last time I had a good meal, the last time I had a stiff drink, and the last time I had a proper fuck; all now fleeting luxuries from another time, another life.
Suddenly, I was struck with brilliant inspiration. I rushed into my kitchen, opened the cabinet beneath the sink, and dumped out the neon orange Homer bucket containing my tools. I settled on hammer and a box of nails. Then I tore my bookshelves from the wall, scattering Miller, Bukowski and the rest of the American degenerates all over the floor. Haphazardly, I hammered the shelves across the doorway, protecting me and securing my stay, furthering my isolation.
“Yeah, motherfucker,” I said. “Try and get me now."
I wiped my face with my shirt; I had worked up a pretty good sweat, and was feeling dizzy again. I needed to cool down before I passed out. My apartment was a relic from the 20's and didn’t possess any semblance of a ventilation system, let alone central air, so my only hope was to open a window and pray for a good cross-breeze. Thankfully, fall had just begun, so the temperature was dropping and the air outside was crisp, or at least I hoped it would be.
I walked to the living room window overlooking the streets below. I moved the latch and pushed up on the wooden frame, but it didn’t budge; ancient building, sometimes this happened. I tried again, pushing harder, but still nothing.
"Great, just one more thing I need to worry about," I said, moving on to the next one. I unlatched it and pushed the frame. Nothing. The wave of panic crested behind me. I rushed to my bedroom to try those windows. Same story. What the fuck? I inspected the wood; no glue or nails or screws keeping the windows closed. “This is impossible,” I said, pushing again through grit teeth, but to no avail; the windows were wedged for good.
“Bull-fucking-shit!” I said, storming into the living room, kicking up books and tipping a lamp as I reached for my three-pound marble ashtray my father had given me for my birthday a few years ago. A daily reminder of the very thing that would eventually kill him. It was the last remaining piece of him in my life, but not for long.
I squared up with the window, wound my arm, and pitched it, hoping to shatter the glass and spray dazzling shards through the air ready to rain upon unsuspecting pedestrians.
Only it didn't break. The window remained, impossibly intact, without even a chip or a scratch. I stood incredulous and dumbfounded as the ashtray bounced off of the glass and rebounded toward me, striking my face with such bone crushing vengeance that I was lifted off my feet and sent flying through the air.
I was out cold before my ass even hit the floor. Curtains. Good night and good luck.