2013 STORGY SHORT STORY COMPETITION SHORTLIST
INTOXICATION & DECADENCE
Angel V Joyram
Midway through my second whisky the door knocks. I ignore it, someone has the wrong compartment. Anyone choosing my company is crazy and the solitude of this small place I call home suits me fine.
Two years after moving to Colorado, I’ve not spent one night at the family residence. I repeatedly inform my mom that my job requires me to stay on site. The lie became easier to maintain than come clean about. I visit weekly to check on her and my little sister Susan, who gives me sticky four-year old embraces which make me yearn for my childhood. Mom tells me I’ve changed and I can’t hide my pain from her. She’s acutely aware of the guilt and anger still eating at me.
The tapping impatiently continues. I curse profusely, banging my tumbler on the wooden table ready to confront the obnoxious culprit, but I’m hardly being disturbed. Sleep’s peace evades me like a shadow I can’t catch, however exerted I am. When I endeavour, I remember how Isabella last regarded me with accusation and grief. I don’t have nightmares, I wish I did. They’d be easier to tolerate than the memory of her smile, or that innocence and vulnerability she had only revealed to me.
I fling the door open and am rendered speechless.
“Hey there, soldier”.
I frown, my guard instantly up. Of everyone I might have expected – Kathleen? I hadn’t seen her since leaving Illinois. My eyes travel suspiciously over her knee-length raincoat, hood up, and brown boots which stop mid-calf. She appears healthier – not so dirty.
“Shouldn’t you be out screwing or something?” I say grouchily, “-Not banging my door down at bloody midnight.”
“I sure can see your appeal”, she bites, but a teasing smile plays about her lips, “-What you meant to say was come in, but I forgive you”.
She steps past me, flashing me a mischievous grin. At the risk of being arrogant, I’d think she was flirting, but a late night in-person booty call – really? She and Isabella used to be friends – or that’s what I presumed. I secure the door resignedly behind us. Kathleen immediately kicks off her boots and removes her coat, leaving a splattering of water drops which mar the polished floor. As her hood comes down, a cascade of long black hair falls over her back and she smiles at me with fake coyness.
“You like? It’s the latest in overseas re-growth technology”.
The way she enunciates every syllable reminds me of how Isabella used to imitate accents to make me laugh. It replays like an old, fading record I never tire of.
The white flimsy garment she adorns resembles fancy nightwear rather than a dress, but what do I know? I’m usually getting women out of their clothes. The delicate translucent material doesn’t leave much to my imagination and I once more contemplate whether it’s intentional. She’s after something and my instincts prickle.
“You could use some company”, she states pitifully, taking in my surroundings.
“You don’t know the first thing about me”.
She plants herself on my bed impishly, pulling her feet up to lie on her side, and props her head up with one hand. The dress riding up her thighs is provocative but too delicate for her.
“I’ve missed your handsome face”, she tells me playfully, “I came to see if you’ve moved on”.
I sneer discreetly, what was it to her? I’d tried. Moving from girl to girl, hoping one might hold my interest but none lasted a whole night. Eager to please curvy blondes, willing to give it up for a quickie with young, devilishly attractive and eligible Joshua Connor – not my words. I snort. I couldn’t recall their names. They were distractions, ways to seek escape in giving lips, warm bodies and feminine affection. I purposely steered clear of girls resembling her.
I gulp my whisky back straight. Kathleen watches me curiously, rising to perch on the small stool at the foot of my bed. This past year, the whole sordid mess had lost appeal. I wasn’t surprised – it wasn’t effective before my epiphany. No one could replace Isabella or erase her from my thoughts. Instead of short bursts of release, lost in carnal pleasure, the sex became like bathing in mud. So I stopped. Three months without a woman to warm my bed and I missed nothing.
“Trying to give Sam a run for his money?” Kathleen quips, referring to an old neighbourhood drunk who had reportedly died choking in his own vomit.
I shoot her a stony stare. Drinking had crept up on me. I’d never been one for alcohol. Initially, it was the odd one with the guys, until I realised a few took the edge off and clouded my mind enough to fake a little happiness. I was living what back then I’d have considered a life of luxury, a life where I wasn’t worried how my widowed mother would provide our next meal or whether the roof over our heads would be there tomorrow. Only now my best friend wasn’t at my side, so sometimes I indulged myself.
With each passing day, elongated hour and empty night, the absence of Isabella’s presence spread, invading me like a parasite, draining me of sensations, relentlessly twisting its point into my heart. I threw myself into anything that might deaden that hollow ache, fill those never-ending seconds with purpose to stop receding into loneliness that stretched out like an endless chasm, smothered in regrets.
“What do you do for entertainment, soldier, aside from… fucking?”
The word hangs like a tempting invitation, the kind that taking up would inevitably be a mistake.
“What’s it to you?” I retort grittily. “If you’re after a heart to heart, you’ve wasted your time”.
She laughs aloud.
“Sense of humour, I can work with that”.
I roll my eyes and fix another drink. Seeing Kathleen only made Isabella’s memory as vivid as blood splattering over white cotton.
“You’re not good with words like him”, she announces cuttingly.
I snap my head towards her, catching her satisfied expression. Drinking a million bottles wouldn’t stop the soreness of Isabella being his. What was additionally insufferable is that in the rational, logical part of me, I can’t even hate him. Daniel Monroe, regular good guy, with the only girl I would ever love. I envy him. I couldn’t take back that fateful accident and bring Nathan back. Isabella’s grief for her brother had consumed her and finished us. The suffocating, inescapable blame weighed me down like a ship whose anchor had ploughed into a quicksand sea bed. So I left. Returning seemed as pointless as an immortality potion to a rotting corpse.
“Don’t compare us”, I snap. “We have nothing to talk about”.
“I haven’t come here to talk, soldier”, she replies smoothly.
“I’m not in the mood for games, Kathleen. What do you want?”
She’s unfazed, “-You”.
I study her pensively and think of Eve encountering the serpent. Another few drinks and she could almost be Isabella. I’d restrained myself long enough to what avail, why not? It hardly mattered. I’d lost Isabella. She probably didn’t want to remember my name. My self-loathing strangles me like a boa constructor around its prey. Kathleen comes nearer and takes my chin between her finger and thumb, forcing my face to hers.
“I don’t want to own you”.
“You could never own me”.
She shakes her head.
“I bet, you’re already owned”.
Her flippant comment carries the weight and precision of an executioner’s axe. I move away.
“I saw them last week”, Kathleen announces suddenly.
Her tone lacks malice but my discomfort only grows. Isabella rebuilding with him everything I had wrecked was unbearable. He’d been her saviour. I don’t feel the burning liquid roaring down my throat or its bitter aftertaste. I’m past caring what Kathleen thinks. Love was for losers.
“How is she?” I venture facetiously.
“Tired”, she returns, “Sort of lost I suppose, but I heard that he’s going to marry her soon”.
Having stupidly assumed nothing else could breach my barriers so woundingly, Kathleen’s words fall without warning like an abrupt nuclear bomb, wiping out every resistance I was attempting.
She takes advantage, her voice lowering to a rasping whisper.
“He told me a secret, soldier”.
She holds out for an agonising few seconds before dropping it with sugar.
“-They want a baby”.
My mind fills with images of Isabella in white walking up the aisle to him, her stomach swelling with his child; with her raven hair and his blue eyes. Overcome with helplessness and frustration, I launch my empty glass against the wall with tremendous force. Shards of glass splinter across the room like an exploding firework. Like the last thing I remember from the accident when I hit my head so hard I blacked out. In an instant I have Kathleen against the wall. I feel desperate and out of control, like an addict in need of a fix.
“Are you trying to get a rise out of me?” I snarl.
Kathleen’s pupils darken, feeding from my channelled fury. I don’t intimidate her. It’s admirable, she’s got guts. Like Isabella. Brazenly she places a hand between my legs, smirking.
“Seems I’ve succeeded, soldier”, she taunts.
She’s all searching lips and determined desire as she slides down my body and quickly rids me of my belt, loosening my pants. I feel the pull of her mouth and lean forward, hands against the wall. I let her go on but it’s not Kathleen I’m imagining. My temper and envy churn together inside like an unforgiving tornado, raging to release. Her teeth graze me. I breathe in sharply, caught up in the sensations.
“Damn you”, I groan after a few minutes, yanking her up.
Defiantly we hold one another’s gaze, fighting out a battle of wills like two leaders of a war to the death, but she’s found a chink in my carefully assembled armour. She unbuttons my shirt, my wrath matched by her lust, and I’m sucked into the momentum of her want. Her red acid mouth hovers alluringly. I’m heady as her breath tantalises me, her tongue coming out to brush my lip before she takes it between her teeth. I move to kiss her, but she shoves me back, reaching up to brush her straps over her shoulders. The material glides effortlessly off, noiselessly pooling around her feet.
How mesmerising would Isabella be like this; ready to be mine until we were one as we were in so many other ways back then. Isabella completed me. Without her I was merely fragmented pieces that couldn’t be remade whole.
Kathleen thinks she’s in control and I need this selfish indulgence. She pushes me onto the bed, pulling my clothes off before straddling me. The heat of her body covers me as she throws her hair back, regarding me sardonically. She’s not naive and I despise my weakness. I can’t stand that she doesn’t mind I’m using her. We’re using each other. My fingers expertly turn her into an insatiable melting mass as she writhes around, craving gratification. I flip her off, pinning her beneath me.
“Weren’t expecting that, were you?”
She smiles but I grab her wrists tighter.
“Let’s get one thing straight”.
She raises her eyebrows at me amusedly.
“This isn’t going your way, okay?”
She glances up, not seeking gentleness or love, just the primal meeting of two bodies with one shared need. I liked the uncomplicatedness. I couldn’t give her those things had I wanted to. Kathleen rests her head on my pillow, dark locks streaming out in a silken halo and I burn inside. I reach for my bedside drawer. I used to want children.
“Don’t worry about that”, Kathleen says flatly.
“What?” I reply off-guard, distracted.
“I can’t have any”.
“It’s not that I’m worried about”, I counter dryly, methodically preparing.
I want this aloneness to leave me, forget myself in lust and get away from my constant dissatisfaction. I finish quickly, ignorant to her fulfilment, before wordlessly going to shower. When I return, she’s wrapped in my sheets, smoking, looking at me as if trying to read my mind. I’m disappointed and annoyed. It was cheap, meaningless and regrettable. I give a short cynical snigger, replenish a glass and take a mouthful.
Kathleen watches me steadily. “It’s rude not to offer. It’s the least I deserve”.
My pride isn’t dented and I oblige. I’m impressed as she knocks back the contents unflinchingly and gestures for a refill.
It should say that on my headstone – ‘He was sorry’.
“Forget it, soldier. We’re not so different”.
We sit in silence – me mulling over the finality of Mrs. Isabella Monroe and Kathleen chain-smoking until the room is filled with a thin sheen of cloudy smoke through which we don’t even try to look at one another.
“Better than having nobody to hurt over”, Kathleen says eventually.
Had I been willing to be insightful or considerate, or even able to engage sensitively, I’d have understood she was reaching out. Instead I shrug and raise my glass in a scornful salute.
“To Isabella Monroe”, I say with forced sincerity but I’m under the influence now so it comes out a drunken, bitter yell, “-and her blue-eyed babies”.
Before Kathleen’s glass can clink against mine, my door knocks again. I moan exasperatedly, waving my hand dismissively in the air.
“I’ll get rid of them”, she offers, pulling my discarded shirt on around her.
I decide I don’t like it; it seems too personal and inappropriate.
“Fuck off!” I yell, more through annoyance at Kathleen than at the unwelcome visitor.
Kathleen grins obliviously.
“Have another drink, handsome”.
I don’t need to be told twice and storm tipsily to the cupboard. Not bothering with the glass, I open the bottle and raise it to my lips.
“Isabella Monroe!” I shout again, hating the name, hating that she wasn’t mine and how much it hurt. My world feels as black as the night outside and as damaged as a burnt out shell.
“Hey, soldier?” calls Kathleen.
There’s a trace of an edge in her voice and the back of my neck prickles. I hear footsteps behind me and the scent of faint jasmine reaches my nose. It’s just as I remembered but I can’t trust my reliance in my senses, dulled with cheap whisky. I’m scared to endure the cruel disappointment that it may be a figment of my imagination. The footfall halts and a surreal feeling passes through me. Anticipation engulfs me like a harsh taunt.
Slowly I turn, and there she is, here standing in front of me – more beautiful than any of my reminiscing had given justice to. Through my inebriated haze, I see the heartbreak I’ve carried in her expression. We lock eyes for a long moment. When I finally hear her voice, it’s laced with intertwined ice and fire.
“It’s Isabella Devereux, actually”.
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