2013 STORGY SSC SHORTLISTDAY 8 – CHINESE ALGEBRA BY C. T. KINGSTON

cropped-storgy2.jpg

2013 STORGY SHORT STORY COMPETITION SHORTLIST

DAY 8

*

CHINESE ALGEBRA

bottlesd

by C. T. Kingston

My name is Dionysus and I’m an alcoholic.

I’ve been sober … um … like three weeks and three days now? I think that’s the score … To be honest I can’t remember much of last night.

I’m kidding! Jesus, keep your hair on, it was a joke. We’re not allowed to have a sense of humour in here, or what?

OK, I’ll keep it “appropriate” Sorry. Sorry bout that, I didn’t mean to offend people. I know it’s hard. Harder than fuckin Chinese algebra. What? How is that racist?! It’s an expression, a common expression, you never heard that? Hey, Chinese algebra is fuckin hard. You ever tried to do algebra in Chinese? No? Then you shut up. Racist.

Sorry, sure, the swearing. I’ll cut it out. And the shouting, yeah, I’ll keep it down. My bad.

You know there’s a winemaking class next door? Did you all know that? I didn’t. Just saw the sign when I came in today cos they had to switch rooms. I nearly turned right instead a left, believe me!

No, but I didn’t, and that’s a victory, you’re right. I’m taking it one day at a time. Thanks for reminding me, yeah. I just mentioned it cos it seemed kinda funny. Who would programme that, you know? AA in one room, ooh, let’s put a winemaking class right opposite on the same night! Like they’re laughing at us, right? Daring us or something?

Seriously, am I the only person thinks that’s weird? Ok, whatever, moving on. Yeah, three and a half weeks sober. Snaps for me.

How am I feeling? Um.

Well, I’m feeling … OK. I mean, I don’t have the DTs no more, and that’s definitely a good thing, but then I didn’t have the DTs when I was drinking and I felt a hell of a lot better than I do now. I know it’s an illusion caused by alcohol, yeah, but I kind of liked the illusion. I’m … OK is the best I can say about how I feel right now, to be totally honest.

Things is, it’s not like they say it is, you know? It just ain’t. You hear all this shit from people who’ve gone dry, like quitting the booze is the fast track to fuckin eternal life, (not that that’s my problem) and they’re all like, oh I have so much energy now, and my skin’s started to glow, and I have a permanent boner that’s harder than Chinese algebra and all that bullshit. (Yeah, sorry about the algebra thing, I couldn’t not, you know?)

But it’s just not like that – not for me anyhow. You know something? I miss drinking. Sue me. I’m telling it like it is. Not drinking fuckin sucks, man! I miss it! I’ve been drinking since I can remember, it’s like losing a limb or some shit. How can I not miss it? Answer me that, how can I pretend like I don’t give a shit when my fuckin leg’s been cut off?

What exactly do I miss? That’s a trick question, right? I miss the alcohol. I miss wine and beer and whisky and lager and ale and vodka and gin and tequila and rum and champagne and fuckin liqueur chocolates, can you believe we can’t have them, and white wine sauce on my fish, can you believe that? Like I’m gonna get blasted on fuckin fish sauce. I miss it real bad, all of it. The dive bars and the Irish pubs and the wine bars and the cocktail bars. The beer gardens and the beer tents and the keg parties and the cocktail parties and the wine and cheese parties. Do you know how much a part of life booze is?

Yeah, stupid question, I’m sorry. I guess we all do, right? That’s why it’s so hard to quit. But booze – I am not exaggerating here – booze was my life. It was my raison d’etre. It was my whole fuckin purpose and that is a very difficult thing to abandon, my friends, especially after doing it as long as I have.

Thing is, you say you understand, you say you do, and yet I have a nasty feeling (over and above the natural paranoia of sobriety, I mean) that in fact you bunch of ex-soaks and quitaholics sitting in a badly-painted community hall on a Wednesday night do not have the slightest fuckin clue.

I told you my name upfront, right? I did mention that. Dionysus? No? Not ringin any bells?

Sure, you can call me Donny if it’s easier. Why the fuck not, I been called plenty of things in my time. Eleutherios, Sabazios, Enorches, Bacchus … still nothing, huh? No such thing as a classical education no more, I guess.

No, I never wanted to quit drinking, where’d you get that idea? Who the fuck wants to quit? I was … not bullied into it so much, but pressure was brought to bear.

The usual. My mom, my dad, my wife. My dad – well, he was a pretty wild guy in his youth, screwing and partying all over, drinkin it by the amphora, stickin it in anything that moved, so he couldn’t exactly take the moral high ground with me, if you know what I mean. (I got six half-brothers and sisters. Six, all by different moms! Beat that!)

But, you know, he sat me down, man to man. Said that in the past it was all very well, chaos and drunkenness and orgies, maenads and satyrs and sacrifices and party, party, party, but now we all had to live in the real world, and that world doesn’t regard alcohol the same way any more. I wanted to punch the old hypocrite, believe me, but I held back. I thought hey, you know what, my old man’s right. I can’t keep on going the way I been going because fuck, look around Dionysus, wake up and smell the coffee, the coffee, you know, not the wine, the ouzo or whatever the fuck else – the world has moved on, buddy, and if you don’t change your ways you’ll be left behind.

He also laid a bunch of guilt on me because my aunt Hestia made room for me in the family business, she kind of resigned so I could get promoted, and the undertone was, basically, that if I didn’t shape up I’d have to ship out and that, you know, is like the last thing I need, especially with Ariadne riding me day and night.

So yeah, a little pressure. From every direction except one. That’s what hurts most, you know. That’s who I miss most too. I feel like I betrayed him. Fuck that, I did betray him. Let’s not beat about the fuckin bush here. I screwed him over, my best friend. I lied to him, through my teeth, in his face and I feel like shit about it. We never had any secrets from each other, me and Silenus. I know he’s a drunk, sure I do, but he’s my buddy too, and I miss him.

I never told him I was comin here, you know. Not that I thought he wouldn’t support me – though yeah, OK, that would be a long shot. I never told him because I felt like that meant I wasn’t supporting him any more. You’ve all had drinking buddies, right? Right. Those guys, you know, that’s a special kind of relationship. You seen each other at your worst and lowest and craziest and you still don’t run away screaming. What the fuck’s that about, right? But you know, it’s a bond. You can always rely on your buddy. Your buddy’s always there for you. He’ll always stand you a drink, give you a place to crash, make bail for you … well, you know the score. Some people got lotsa drinking buddies. Hell, I used to be one of them. But you know, the world turns and times change and all of a sudden it’s orange juice at weddings and you only got one buddy who drinks left, let alone one drinking buddy.

He was more my dad than my dad, Silenus. He’s kinda like … you seen photos of Charles Bukowski, the poet? (Boy, was he some fun). Silenus, he looks a little like Chuck. Better looking, obviously; he has that whole silver fox thing going on; not too much of a beer belly either, more of a late-period Elvis kinda heaviness; a great guy. Like, you know, that guy in Shakespeare, Sir John Falstaff. No? I forgot, the education system here … Loyalest friend in the world, I mean. A really stand-up motherfuckin guy. He’d sell his kidney for a pal, not that anyone would want it, and I was his friend – his only friend who still drank any more, and I couldn’t do that to him.

What did I do? I lied is what I fuckin did. Like a coward. Like a little bitch. I spun him some bullshit about avoiding hangovers by switching from beer to clear spirits, and I just drank nothing but soda water or Coke. I had an arrangement with the landlord at the Bunch of Grapes our favourite dive: he filled an old vodka bottle with water and he’d pour from that whenever I asked for a double vodka tonic, vodka coke, on the rocks or whatever. I’d sit there drinking, Silenus with his red wine or Bud or whatever, me with my watered-down water, and I’d pretend to get drunk. Nearly convinced myself a few times. We’d go out on the town, hit the bars, me always on the vodka-orange, vodka-lime, vodka-ginger. I’d give the barman a wad of cash then whisper when Silenus’s back was turned to keep them coming, but hold the vodka for mine.

Sure, I felt like shit. You don’t lie to a friend and feel OK about it, not if you’re any kind of a man. But then nor do you lie to a friend if you’re not a little coward pussy bitch like me.

I’m sorry, you’re right. That kind of language is misogynistic. I guess I’m more of a coward dick asshole anyway.

When did he realise? Oh, after a few weeks, the worst way: I didn’t tell him, he found out. I thought I could get away with it, I really did. Hide the shakes and the sweats, hold myself back, grit my teeth and sit through the twenty-four-hour drunks, the mad benders we went on every other night. It wasn’t the not drinking that really fucked with my head, those weeks: it was the not telling him.

It was morning, just about. Six am, seven, maybe. We were back at the Grapes, walked all the way down from 110th Street. Man, did my feet hurt. We kept bangin on the door till Zorba opened up; we knew he lived above the shop, we knew if we made enough noise he’d let us in, and give us a hair of the dog, let us sleep on the couches till he opened for real around 11.

No, Zorba wasn’t his real name. We just called him that cos he was a Greek.

So he comes down, he sees it’s us, he opens up. Wine for Silenus, vodka rocks for me. I swear I never drank so much water in my life. My skin got real clear that month. Anyway, I’m sipping away like it’s the real deal, ask Zorba for a top-up, big boozing man that I was. He slops a shot into my glass when Silenus grabs the bottle off him.

“I could do with some mouthwash,” he says, and winks at me. I just stare in horror as I see what he’s gonna do. He raises the bottle to his lips. He sucks on the speed-pour tube. He musta swallowed about a half-pint of pure chilled Poland Spring. His eyes bulge. He starts to cough. He splutters it out, all over the bar. Water, nothing but water.

He looks at me. He knows, but he doesn’t know why. Why I quit, why I lied. He don’t know me no more. I’ll never forget that look he gave me. I miss him. I miss him like hell.

You know what’s the worst thing about not drinking? The boredom. That’s how I’m feeling. That’s the word I wanted before. I’m sober, I’m sad, I’m lonely as fuck, sure, but most of all I am bored. Bored out my fuckin skull, staring down the barrel of juice and soda for the rest of my goddam life. And don’t pretend you don’t all feel that way too, cos I know for a fact you do. Bored, bored bored.

One day at time, I know. It’s hard though. Man is it hard. But I’m tryin. I’m tryin. One drink at a time.

*

 Please ‘like’ our Facebook page and invite friends and family to explore the wonderful writing of our contributors and shortlisted competition entrants.

Your support continues to inspire.

*

Advertisements