Blood, Whiskey, Glass

Funny thing is, ‘alcoholic’ was a slang term.

You’re normally not one to quibble. You’re no bloody grammar professor. That’s not you, never has been. But one has to know certain things in your line of work. Proper things, like proper names. It’s the proper names that hold the magic. And tonight, of all nights, you’ve got to work hard to remember them.

You wipe the bar down with a dirty cloth, reverently. There’s no one else in the bar, and that’s as it should be. The door is securely locked. You’ve checked it twice already. Now you check it again for luck.

‘Alcohol’ was ‘al-ghul’ in Arabic, an old borrowed word that wormed its way into English. It literally means ‘spirit’, which makes you smile on the inside. And somewhere, somehow, it also split off and became ‘ghoul’. There’s baggage attached to that word, and magic too. But it’s not the proper word for the occasion.

The bench is covered in old whiskey glasses, each of them filled to a certain height with cheap bourbon, all of them carefully arranged in a very specific pattern. The bourbon’s not for you. It’s only window dressing, really. You won’t be drinking from any old glass tonight. You need a powerful vessel for a ritual like this. A good, strong vessel is important; something big enough to hold the spirits and not spill a drop. Good thing you brought your own. Careful, ever so careful, you reach down and lift the cloth bundle onto the bench.

‘Alcoholic’ was a slang term. I learnt from one of the rehab places near me that the proper word was ‘dipsomaniac’. That’s what the earliest primitive psychologists called alcohol addiction. Dipsomaniac. But it isn’t madness, really. More like an uncontrollable urge, like you’re being lifted out of your body by unseen forces, out of your own control. At the mercy of the spirits.

Gently you unwrap the bundle, revealing a glass and a bottle. Just one glass and one bottle. The glass is the glass Jim Morrison drank from in Paris the night he died of a heroin overdose. The bottle is the last unopened bottle from the last shipment of Templeton Rye that Al Capone ever smuggled into Chicago.

Almost carelessly, you uncork the bottle. The burning scent comes rushing out, strong and lovely as ever, and of course it’s still good, you’ve known the bottle was good from the moment you laid eyes on it at auction. Your left hand shakes a little as you pour the spirit into Morrison’s glass. You use your right hand to steady it.

There’s a chip in the glass, and only you know why. Morrison knocked it over in 1971 as he struggled drunkenly for the phone, for help, for anyone, his brain hemorrhaging from the effects of the pure uncut heroin he’d snorted thinking it was coke. His grasping hand knocked the table and the glass fell a few feet to the floor of the apartment, and it lay next to him for several hours after he’d slipped away.

You could never adequately explain just why and how you know this. You were born in 1979, and you’ve never been to Paris. You’ve never been anywhere far from this bloody town and the poor, pathetic human scum who inhabit it. Recently, it feels as though you never stray too far from this pub, this very pub that you’re standing in. This moldy, ancient-smelling, faux-Victorian, faux-fireplace, ugly, dark little pub has been the centre of every major event in your life. You met your wife here. You proposed to her here on bended knee. You got drunk together here after the wedding. She met Eddie here.

Eddie the quality assurance analyst. Eddie who always wears scarves indoors. Eddie who doesn’t drink, sorry, just a lemonade for him. Never trust a man who doesn’t drink.

Eddie who’s fucking your wife.

You lift Morrison’s glass to your lips and you drink in the scent of Capone’s Templeton. You let it wet your lips, and your lips tingle. You shiver involuntarily. You whisper Eddie’s full name, and then you swallow the spirit down in one gulp.

No burn. No fire in the belly. It’s as if you’re drinking ordinary water.

But there’s that out-of-body feeling again, the mania, the losing control. Now Morrison’s glass feels electric in your hand, and you’re pouring another drink. The carefully arranged glasses of cheap bourbon seem to resonate around you, a pattern of bright white spots, like light refracted through the bottom of an empty liquor bottle. You can feel the magic starting to begin. Hungry, purposeful, you whisper Eddie’s name a second time and drink. Now pour again and repeat. Say the name and drink. Become a part of something larger than yourself, the vessel for the spirit.

A short time later, on the other side of town, the paramedics find Eddie who doesn’t drink. By the time they arrive it is far too late for a stomach pump or an ambulance. Strange that they never find a bottle. Just another one of life’s little mysteries.

Before you lock up, you push in the chairs, clear the bar and wipe down the bench. You smash the Templeton and the Morrison into tiny pieces and sweep them into the rubbish bin. They’re only glasses and bottles. You go home and slip quietly into bed beside your wife. It’s been a long, exhausting day. Your lips still tingle faintly as you drift off into sleep. You dream of Paris.

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Xander Bennett rearranges words for fun and profit. Read a preview of his new book at www.cagescomic.com.

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