Waking up, eyes red and aching…again. Headache of a million mourning brain cells. How many they’re mourning for is anyone’s guess. Stomach full of rancid acid, gurgling objections in a myriad of tones and rhythms.
I climb from my bed on unsteady feet…again. The floor seems uneven and made of cold iron. I look for my slippers before remembering that I don’t own a pair, then slip my feet into a pair of tattered sneakers for the walk to the bathroom. Staggering, more lop-sided than usual, I notice that I’ve stepped on the tongue of the left shoe, so it isn’t on properly. I kick it off and tumble into the bathroom.
Aim’s off…again. Foul-smelling urine, like a gin barrel long left to rot, drizzles onto my bare foot, then grows enthusiastic and splashes the upraised lid, the seat, the basin. I shake off and wash my hands. Too early to think about reaching down to clean my foot, so I wipe it casually against a damp towel on the floor and hope I remember not to dry off with it later.
I turn around, and there she is…again.
“Good mornin’,” she says, a smile trying and failing. So it was that kind of night, eh?
She isn’t ugly, but she isn’t my type, either.
She’s too big, too loud. I don’t want to say fat and obnoxious, but what is it they say about the shoe that fits? I always forget her name, at first. I’ll remember it eventually, but sometimes it takes me a while…sometimes it takes me so long that she’ll just tell it to me again.
“How’s it going?” I ask her.
“I feel like shit,” she says.
“I don’t remember anything after the first bottle,” I tell her, shuffling out to the kitchen. It’s true, technically. What I don’t need to tell her is that I finished the first bottle long before I met up with her wherever it was that I met up with her.
“Coffee’s made,” she says, following me out to the kitchen.
“You’re awesome,” I tell her, but really, I don’t like that she’s getting so comfortable in my apartment. How many times has she been over? I don’t even know. Enough that she knows where the coffee filters are, and frankly, that’s too often.
“I was just thinking about running down to the place next door and getting a bagel or something. You want anything?”
“Nah. Probably wouldn’t stay down.”
“I’ll be back. That okay?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“What’s that, ‘I guess?’ You want me to come back or not?” Hurt and pissed off, and I’m too fuckin’ hung over to deal with that.
“Look, I’m all shitty-feeling. You wanna come back, come back—I’m just saying that I won’t be the best of company.”
“So you don’t want to go to the park this afternoon?”
“Probably not up to it,” I tell her, wondering where she would get the idea that I would want to go to the park.
“I told you you wouldn’t last night…when you asked me over and over to go to the park with you this afternoon.”
“My perception was obviously off last night. Going to the park probably seemed like a good idea just like consuming massive quantities of booze seemed like a good idea. The day after, things look a little different.”
She glares at me, and it takes me a second to realize what I just said. I try to think of a way to recover without sounding like even more of a rude asshole, but by then, she’s out the door, heading down the stairs. Shit.
I wait until she reaches the bottom landing, three floors down. She pauses before opening the door that leads to the street, and I wonder if she’s listening to see if I’ll come after her. She should know better.
The door slams shut, and I close my apartment door and head back to the bathroom to puke. There’s piss all over the place though, so I decide to hold it back a little longer.
I wander into the little square of hardwood floor that the landlord calls a living room. There’s enough room for a TV and a small couch, but since I have neither, that’s where I keep my computer. I sit down at the desk and turn on the monitor. The word processing program is up and running, just like I knew it would be.
I scroll through the pages, not sober enough at the moment to do any real reading. Several different documents open, each containing pages and pages of writing. Some of it is so garbled that I can’t even make out what words I was attempting to write, other parts are completely free of typographical errors. Sixty-eight pages, all written last night, all written in a drunken haze so thick that I probably won’t ever be able to see through it.
Can’t say I’m surprised.
My cell phone beeps, indicating a text message. I flip open the screen and read, “y r u sch n asshole?” From her, of course. Nice how the only word she bothered to spell out was “asshole.” Can’t say I don’t deserve it, though.
I reply to her message: “Lots of practice.”
I lurch my way back to the bedroom, and just as I drop to the bed, I hear my phone beep again. I don’t bother to get up and read it—I already know what it’s going to say. We play this game a lot. Someday it’ll end. She’s sick of playing it and so am I. I’d be lying if I said I wanted it to end, though.
I close my eyes, hoping that I’ll be asleep before the urge to puke gets much stronger.
“You got that short for Hendricks yet?”
“Emailed it this morning,” I say.
“Yeah,” I tell him. His name is Bernard Grossman, but his clients just call him Bernie. I don’t think I’d go so far as to call him my friend, but we get along pretty well, and he has been with me longer than most people in my life. As far as an agent goes, I couldn’t ask for much better. He lets me do things my way until my way isn’t working anymore, and then he refuses to take my bullshit.
“He’s gonna be pissed you put it off this long.”
“Once he reads it, he’ll see why it took so long.” Theoretically, I’ve been working on the aforementioned short story for the past month. It was one of the many pieces I was able to translate from my drunken typing bender two nights before, written in a fraction of a night.
“That good, huh?”
“One of the few times I managed to impress myself.” That part is true. In the old days, before writing was a job, it was much less work, and much more pleasure. The ideas used to come to me almost constantly, seemingly out of nowhere. A little fine-tuning, and they were usually read-worthy.
Then I got a little famous, I got to where I could make a living doing it, quit my nine-to-five, and the words got a little harder to find. But when I find them, they’re impressive.
The bad part is, it usually takes her to help me find them. I haven’t heard from her since she left, but it isn’t like I expected to. She’ll usually stay pissed at me for a couple of weeks—sometimes longer, sometimes not so long. And then she’ll call, or I’ll call. Or sometimes we’ll just happen to see each other. If I’m drunk enough, I’ll take her home.
We’ll screw, and then I’m up out of bed, at my computer, writing. She used to think it was funny. She used to joke about being my muse. She’d fall asleep to the sound of my fingers dancing over the keys, the bottle clanking against the shot glass as I poured myself drink after drink, and then I’d pass out at my desk, waking up the next morning just in time to see her leaving. It didn’t take her long to get fed up with that arrangement, though. She started complaining about being a “booty call.” She started bitching about how it didn’t even count as a one-night stand, since I had never spent the entire night with her.
She wanted something of a relationship, was the problem. I didn’t, and that’s what made it a problem. The thing is, she really is my muse. Seconds after I come, my head is filled with ideas. So fast that I can barely contain them, and I’m lucky if I get even half of them typed out over the remainder of the night.
And they aren’t just ideas—they’re good ideas. Three novels, man, pumped out in under a year, two of them just waiting until the publisher is ready for another one. That’s not even taking into account the short stories in various magazines and anthologies.
Weeks pass, and I still don’t hear from her. I start going out, going to the places where I usually see her, but it’s no good. I’ve got a deadline, but she’s nowhere to be found. She isn’t answering my texts.
Time to take things into my own hands.
She’s sitting at the bar, and for a moment, I think she’s waiting there for me, whether she knows it or not. But then he’s beside her, holding two drinks. He seems familiar, but I can’t place his face. I’ve already started making my way towards her, and I decide that it won’t hurt to say hi, to remind her that I still exist. She sees me and flashes me a half-smile that I can’t interpret.
“How’s it going?” I ask her.
“Good. Really good.” She takes a sip of her drink. The guy on the other side of her looks at me, but I don’t guess she’s ready to introduce us yet. “You?”
“Been all right.”
“Good for you. This is Matt,” she says, indicating the guy. “Matt, this is Timothy.”
“Just Tim,” I say, reaching to shake his hand.
“Nice to meet you,” he says. “I’m a big fan of your work.”
“Thanks,” I say, a little surprised. I’m not really big enough to have fans yet, but I suppose it makes sense that he knows about me—she has probably mentioned me to him. Then I recognize him. The Times just did a piece about the most talented up-and-coming writers in the city, and he was number one. Came out of nowhere, writing the socks off the critics, everyone thinks he’s amazing.
“If you’ll pardon me for just a moment,” he says, and makes his way to the bathroom at the back of the bar.
“Seems like a nice guy,” I tell her.
“Nicer than some. Saw that piece you wrote for Fowley’s. Not bad.”
“Not bad, not the best.”
“No, not the best.” She takes a sip of her drink. “So how’d you do it?”
I look at her, and I suddenly realize that she knows. Realize that she has always known. When she joked around about being my muse, she wasn’t really joking at all.
“I think you know how I did it.”
She smirks. “Good luck with that.”
There isn’t anything left to say, so I leave the bar, sober and alone.
I wonder how long I’ll be able to do it. I think about the last time, when I was trying to make the deadline for Fowley’s. Standing in the shower with my dick in my hand, my eyes clenched shut, thinking about her. Visualizing every dimple, every curve, every movement, using my imagination to recreate one of our various encounters. Busting my nut and getting a glimmering of an idea, rushing out of the shower, still dripping wet with most of a hard-on, typing as fast as possible, not wanting to lose the idea.
But even that won’t last forever, I could read that much in her smirk. That smirk: knowing, taunting, condescending. I think about it all the way home.
And because I have a deadline to meet, I continue to think about it until I’m out of the shower.