I’m not sure I’ve ever been comfortable as myself. Maybe that’s my own fault, or maybe it’s a result of the circumstances that made me—
I was staring at my father. I’d always heard that the dead looked peaceful, that the stress of life and the pains they suffered lifted from their faces. I saw no peace. I saw a dead man. When I rose to give my eulogy, I was standing next to a dead man. I imagined, as my speech ran on, tracing my fingers along his jawline. It had shrunk back in the last few years of his life. Or maybe I just remembered him as being stronger, larger, broader when I was a boy. Now he was small. He was on his back and bloodless and dead. I tried not to smile. The crowd wouldn’t appreciate that. They would run through me like a pack of dogs and drown in my blood, hot and black and boiling, helpless animals in fields of fresh tar. I thought about what my father’s organs must look like now. Are they in him anymore? Are they on a mantle with his other precious material goods? Are they in some landfill, just a few miles away, rotting in the sun while he lay in a cushioned coffin in an air-conditioned room? He was not even here. He was gone. He’d been gone, died in the hospital a week earlier. He died even before that. He died when they put him under and wheeled him into the operating room. He died when he heard his diagnosis twelve years before. He died when he watched me emerge from my mother. He died when his father left him as a boy. He had died over and over as he lived. I’m not sure he was ever actually alive. Now, though, here he was. Pale grimace, statue-stiff. For the first time in my life, I felt connected to him. I finished my eulogy and there was a small applause. I excused myself to the bathroom, but got in my car and drove to the nearest liquor store.
When drinking at a bar, everyone is static. Marble sculptures of normal people drifting up and down streets, standing at storefronts, locking arms, talking and laughing in vivid silence. Then I look around and notice that everyone around me is living. Their chests expand and contract like a bonfire, their skin is porous and oiled, their digits and limbs are fat with blood, they carry their stench around their shoulders and it drips down and around them. They’re standing and moving and gnashing their teeth and flapping their lips and they’re alive. Seeing the world the same as I do, eyes sunken into sockets, paddling through each day until they can grip the solid ground under their sheets and wait for the next sunrise.
So I went to the liquor store instead, stood in front of light that’s so white it’s blue and stared at the prices, gnawing on the numbers. Drinking is more expensive than it should be. People have been drinking since before recorded history. There are hieroglyphs for it. Now it’s locked up behind glass so smudged with human oils that it’s a mirror. Patterns of bottles, snaking up and over and under each other, each one exactly the same but distinguishable with its own name and colors, imposed over a sketching of my frame in India blue. The perfection in them, the uniformity that slipped under their paper labels, went over and through me, hot and wilting.
It was really very strange to me that my father was dead. I don’t mean that it was jarring, or my whole world was changed. In fact, it had changed very little. I didn’t speak much with my father while he was alive. I used to pretend he was dead, even. I’d sit at my living room table and imagine that his funeral was happening just a few hours away. He was rotting in the ground. He was a mess of meat in the shape of a man that looked an awful lot like myself. It was comforting, I’d daydream like that for an hour or more without realizing it. Whenever I was unhappy, I’d pretend my father was dead. Now that subtle joy was gone forever. He had taken it from me by dying. He had, in his final moment, stolen another piece of beauty from my life. In truth, that was the only way my life was altered by his death. He had died and now I could no longer enjoy his dying. It was over.
Outside of the liquor store, my purchase has weight. It was almost delicate inside, but now it is cinderblocks and oatmeal, thick and real, more present in the hand than the hand itself. The arm swings, it’s not my arm anymore. It starts at the beer and holds my shoulder, balancing and moving me. I’m a drunk and it’s guiding me home. It always gets me there too, lets me adjust to rooms that smell so much like me they’re foreign, and waits. I set them on the table and they watched me with the same look they had on at the store. I made a peanut butter sandwich and futzed with it as much as possible, glancing back on occasion to be sure they were still looking at me, still there. They didn’t move until I grabbed a cup and sat down and poured one and took a long pull. A third of it rushed into my gut and flowed to my fingertips and squeezed under the thin layer of skin on my face. Another pull and it was in my toes, rolling over my knees and down my shins. It cracked my exterior and sent me drifting, shrinking over the horizon. One more and it was gone, I was gone, six feet under the line at the end of the Earth. I poured the second beer.
Carl Luther Gercar is a Chicago-based writer, born and raised in Illinois. His work has appeared in Fluland, Occulum, A Void, Here Comes Everyone, and Soft Cartel. Carl is reachable via email at firstname.lastname@example.org