This is a re-write of a story I wrote last fall.
It’s late when I get on my bike to ride home.
My eyes are bleary and dry. If I pause for the slightest moment, I can feel the rotation of the earth. Some might attribute this to a handful of mixed drinks and a half-pack of smoked cigarettes. I decide that the late hour is the real culprit.
I was sitting in the bar for a long time, trying to listen to my friends’ conversations. All of my concentration was required to formulate appropriate responses to their statements and anecdotes. Encouraging smiles. Concerned frowns. Occasional moderate rolling of the eyes. I gave the desired opinions after asking the expected questions.
I know I should have left a long time ago. But drink after drink after another drink, I was still sitting at the table, masking frustration with forced giggling. You wandered around behind my eyes, checking the corners for hidden gifts. Some nerve was mysteriously struck. Maybe someone mentioned your name. Or there was another boy in the bar with a tiny resemblance to you. Just as likely, I might have been thinking about you all day without realizing it.
I should despise you. You are not allowed to despise me. I think about calling you to tell you this. Time difference and good manners be damned. Obviously you have no qualms about calling me in the middle of the night to spread vitriol. ”I’m just calling to tell you that I can never speak to you again because you are a bad person.” This might have made a better voicemail.
I have to stop to put on the jacket wadded in the bottom of my bag. It is much colder than I thought it would be when I got dressed tonight. Fall is coming soon.
Time has passed much faster than I would like.
I once bought a potion to save you from yourself.
One day I was sitting at my desk, worrying about the words you whispered in your sleep.
“Loneliness” and “desperation.”
“Destroy” and “poison.”
I probably should have been working on an informative spreadsheet. But one cannot piece together formulas and keyboard shortcuts while envisioning the tragic demise of one’s romantic partner.
I rummaged under my desk for the usually useless telephone book. I turned to the “Potions and Curatives” section of the Yellow Pages. There was only one listing. Rather inconveniently, this establishment maintained what my mom likes to call “bankers’ hours.” I would have to go now. I feigned digestive distress for my co-workers, discarding my mask of agony only after turning the key in my car’s ignition.
The store was located in a new, unexplored part of the city. The proprietor was a woman with long white hair and a wide assortment of turquoise jewelry. I told her about you, how I was worried that you were your own worst enemy. I listed the symptoms: late night crying, a tendency toward feverish declarations of doom, and virtually ceaseless consumption of dueling chemicals. I did not mention your excessively frequent hand washing.
She had just the solution. She said that you would have to drink a dose every day for the next week. Colorless, odorless, and miraculous! It was expensive, but I reasoned that saving your mind and liver was worth sacrificing a few nights out and a new pair of shoes.
I had a feeling you would be opposed to this plan. Not because you doubted the power of magic, but I knew you did not believe that your self-destruction could be anything less than unavoidable. Or at least, you would never admit otherwise to me. Therefore, sneakiness was required. I poured a teaspoon of potion into anything I thought you might drink. Milk, orange juice, a bottle of bourbon. I added a particularly hefty dose to your pink water bottle.
Nothing was improving as far as I could see.
You said foolish things without an iota of self-consciousness. ”I am destined to live a short life.”
A handful of unknown orange capsules disappeared into the back of your mouth.
Your telephone indicated many late night phone calls to virtual strangers.
You turned a new bar of soap into a mere sliver within hours. Your fingerprints were disappearing.
Further examination indicated that you had not consumed any liquids in the past few days. It was a wonder that you were not turning to dust. You wore your shirt backwards. Your set of house keys disappeared in the middle of the night. I came home from work one night to discover that you had thrown away the entire contents of the refrigerator. You offered no logical explanation.
I squelched my urge to scream at you. I could not betray my plan. This was your only hope.
The next day, I left work early to buy another bottle of the potion. My credit card was utilized. The woman sympathetically threw in a few candles that might help me sleep.
No mistakes could be made. I certainly could not afford a third bottle of magic. Fortunately, you have always been a deep sleeper. After you fell asleep, I stuck a dropper through your slightly parted lips. I closed your mouth to prevent wasting even the tiniest drop. You sighed peacefully before rolling over on to your left side.
This continued for six days. I saw no change in you. In fact, you were drunker, weepier, and angrier than usual. Your hands tremored without pause. Your wallet fell down a storm drain and you forgot the password for your voicemail.
I reasoned that the prescription called for a full seven days of doses. Results would be apparent after the full course of treatment.
On the seventh day, you did not come home. You did not call me. I was frantic! For one, you had never disappeared like this. In the era of cell phones, dropping off the radar requires a herculean effort. Furthermore, today was the day! The last bit of potion before your amazing transformation!
I called and called. I left crazed messages. I dialed your phone every two minutes for an hour. No answer. My thoughts were filled with the worst, bloodiest scenarios. Freak accidents and hospital beds and John Does. I laid in my bed awake all night, shaking with fear and anger.
The next morning you called to say, “I can never speak to you again.”
Of course, many events have transpired since that day and now. Awkward meetings, frenzied fumblings, excruciating conversations wherein we pretend we do not care about one another. You hate yourself more than ever. In fact, you may be the only person you despise more than me.
And now I am biking down the hill, the home stretch.
I want to call you on the phone.
I long to destroy your evening. Vanquish any good mood.
I imagine that I will scream only nonsensical obscenities and declarations as long as I can before you hang up. You will spend the rest of the evening sleeplessly coping with the sting of my words. You will be so sorry.
Oh, the satisfaction of no longer taking the high road! The path of the better person is always filled with headaches and stomach pain. Haunted dreams and fear of flying.
I will carry my bike in the house. Dental hygiene and face-washing. Feed the cats and lock the doors. I will turn off my phone just before I crawl into bed.
Somewhere along the line, without realizing the implications, I accepted the role of The Better Person. My contract lasts indefinitely.
There is a stone ahead in the street.
I can see myself hitting it, my body flying over the handlebars with the most exquisite grace.
I am lying in the gravel staring into oblivion.
You emerge from the shadows to help me up, wiping the blood off my brow with the tenderest touch.
I will be so glad to see you.