At five twenty-five he saw him pull into the drive. Lucky for Miggs he had already showered, shaved, and swept the floors. He put on some garden clogs and opened the door. Sullivan was standing there with a bottle of J & B, his arms outstretched holding it like a fish.
“Diageo owns my liver,” Sullivan said.
“And Brown Forman mine,” said Miggs, whose father would leave bottles of Woodford Reserve at Miggs’s door on Sunday mornings as long as Miggs left out an empty one. Supposedly Miggs’s dad ordered personal casks of the stuff even though Pop isn’t really supposed to drink as much—now that he’s taking a new medication.
“What’s the situation?” asked Sullivan, tossing his keys on the table.
“It’s six p.m. and I’m a coffee slut,” sang Miggs from the kitchen, where he had started to get a couple of drinks ready as a small cup of coffee heated in the microwave on power level seven. Sullivan sat at a long table under a wide, open window and lit a cigarette. He was looking at a broadsheet of the Wall Street Journal that was lying open on the table, with all kinds of sharpie scrawlings and random blotches of paint on it. He wasn’t very interested in trying to read the writings but some were writ large enough he couldn’t ignore them. For instance, “I’m 26, man, I’m still young.”
“Are you, ah, drinking a lot of coffee these days?” Sullivan asked, exhaling.
“Yeah—a fair amount,” said Miggs. “I, I don’t need it right away in the morning, but I drink it in the afternoon even though it sort of just, uhh, makes me tired.” He set down a couple of Scotch and cokes.
“I went out drinkin the other night, with several people including you-know-who,” said Sullivan.
“Yeah, ah, it didn’t really go all that well. I was drunk by the end of the night, but not because we were having fun.”
Miggs was gonna have a cigarette, too. First he opened the window and started a fan he had positioned on the floor fifteen feet or so behind them, angled up in order to clear the table.
“What was the deal?”
“I don’t know, man.” A big exhale, a sip, the clink of ice cubes, the sweetness of the cola and scotch. “Tasty—. It was like, other people were there, and we hadn’t talked since the other morning and neither of us was actin right. It’s all fucked up, basically.”
“I mean, what can I say about it? It’s all fucked up.”
“I don’t know what happened.”
“But, I don’t really see any point in talking about it. I think we should just go all out tonight and have a good time.”
“That sounds good to me,” Miggs said, lighting a cigarette.
“How’s the family doing?” asked Sullivan.
Miggs shrugged his shoulders.
“How’s your dad?”
“Still drinkin the Woodford?”
“Oh, yeah. Casks of the stuff.”
“Shut up. I thought you said he was taking Lipitor so he couldn’t drink anymore.”
“No, he’s still drinking. He doesn’t care.”
“Are you still getting it?”
“I go through a bottle a month—. Do you want some? I’ve got some,” he said, moving to the front of his chair, apparently willing to go into the kitchen.
“No, no. I’m just talking here. How much of it does he drink?”
“A bunch. Too much. It has no effect on him. I mean, if you’re around him and he’s drinking it. It might as well be diet Dr. Pepper. The middle of the day. He doesn’t get drunk. He looks like he’s even in decent shape still. He started playing tennis again. He says alcohol helps his cholesterol and the last time I saw him, ah, a couple weeks ago, he was saying how he was happy that he could drink more now because of some study that came out saying how drinking black coffee protects against cirrhosis.”
“Huh. Well let’s start mixing some of that whiskey with the coffee,” said Sullivan. He raised his glass and they toasted each other a silent toast. Just the popping of the soda and the reverberation of full glasses knocking together.
“Yeah, I don’t know,” said Miggs. “It makes me feel better I guess. Since I drink enough of both. Maybe he’ll live to be eighty. I don’t know. It wouldn’t surprise me. Old bastard’ll probably outlive me.” He took another drag and stamped out his cigarette. “I wanna hear more about this night the other night,” he said. “You haven’t talked to her since then?”
“I hardly even talked to her that night. She was crying at one point. It was awful. I haven’t heard a word from her. She won’t even e-mail me.”
“You used to e-mail with her, huh?”
“Yeah. It was simple stuff. I’d just be sittin at home, she’d be at work. We’d just make small talk, banter, set up some plans to get drinks. Talk about whatever. It was good. It was good conversation. It was fun, even if it didn’t mean anything. Which I guess it didn’t.”
“Well, you don’t know that. Not yet, right?”
“I don’t know, man.”
“She got upset the other night you said?”
“Yeah. It, it wasn’t at me. It was probably at the situation more than anything. I don’t know what I’m doing right now. My life’s going nowhere.”
“Come on, now. None of that. You’ve got plenty going for you, even if she’s gone.”
Sullivan lowered his head to the table and butted his forehead on it softly. There was a very quiet thud.
“I’m sorry I brought it up,” said Miggs.
“Yeah, well, it might the last time I have anything to say about it.”
“Yeah. Well, there’s other things to talk about, right? How’s that drink?”
Sullivan picked his head back up, took his cigarette off the lip off the ashtray and placed it between his own lips for a drag.
“The drink’s good, man,” he said. He looked around, suddenly alert.
“She went shopping.”
“Does she want to come out with us?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. I’ll ask her. She doesn’t drink much these days.”
“I thought she did drink.”
“She doesn’t ever drink with me, I guess I should say,” said Miggs. “Put her around other people and she starts doin shots. Hey, I don’t know.”
“She was doin shots?”
“Oh, yeah, you shoulda seen it. We went to some guy’s Half Bottle Party—”
“A Half Bottle party!?”
“Yeah, you’ve been to one?”
“Oh, yeah. I’ve had one. Had two actually. They’re orgies of the liver. They’re a lot of fun. People bring in whole bottles because they don’t have any half bottles around. Rum, Schnapps, Tequila. We get the blender going.”
“Yeah, she was doing tequila shots. With salt and lime. One guy came up to me, he was like, ‘Man, your lady really likes to drink.’ I was like, ‘Really?’ And I look over and she’s got salt on one hand and a shot of tequila in the other. There were several spent limes on the counter. She ended up barfing that night but it was still a lotta fun.”
“Yeah, we have a lot of fun at ours. You should come to the next one.”
“Assuming I’m invited….”
“You’re invited. Right now I hereby invite you,” said Sullivan.
“When will it be?” asked Miggs.
“Oh, in February,” said Sullivan. “And there’s always plenty of booze left over.”
“I like the sound of that!” said Miggs, starting to feel the full effects of the two drinks as he got up to make them a third.
“What do you think I did wrong, man?” asked Sullivan.
“Hold on,” said Miggs from the kitchen. “I do actually have something I wanted to tell you. Let me make these first.”
“About her?” he said. He got up and came into the kitchen. He was leaning in the arch for a second before Miggs realized he was there. Miggs noticed him and did a double take, then started a bit. “Jesus.”
Miggs handed him one of the drinks.
“I think that’s a girl who was in an alcoholic’s womb,” he said, motioning toward the back deck.
They went out the back door and then sat down in some chairs out on the back deck. Miggs pulled out some cigarettes and gave one to Sullivan, who pulled out a lighter.
“What were we talking about?” asked Miggs.
“You were saying you think she’s an alchoholic.”
“No—oh, yeah, I was saying I thought she was in alcoholic’s womb. The reason is. She’s not too old, not too young, wild, impulsive, attractive and devastating. And because she smells like booze.”
“She smells like booze.”
“Yeah. I…I, ah, ran into her in the grocery store last week. There was gin on her breath. She looked…great, but she was half-drunk.”
“Yeah. I—our lifestyles never merged. She was going out a lot. So was I. But we were going to different places, she was staying at friends’ houses. I mean, I was too. I really was. I thought she was going home with random people. Man: fuck!”
In a rage of emotion Sullivan threw his drink off of the deck and into the yard.
Miggs got up and went to the railing on the deck. It had gotten too dark out. The sun was almost completely down. He couldn’t see the glass, a square-bottomed high-ball job he’d inherited from his grandfather, who coincidentally had the same initials, which were in fact on the glass: MBR.
“You’re going to get that glass. And if it’s broken you’ll owe me one ounce in gold,” said Miggs. “Because that’s what it’s worth to me.”
“It’s not broken.”
“It’d better not be.”
“Alright. It’s no big deal. You want another drink?”
It was an hour later and they were still out on the deck. Sullivan had taken a hand-crank flashlight out into the yard and found the glass. As they sat looking up into the sky, the stars were in full-effect.
“Did you read that book I gave you yet?” Miggs asked.
“No,” said Sullivan, pressing his lips together, his chin shifting to the right. “I didn’t get to it.”
“I said I’d call for it in a month.”
“I know, I know. It hasn’t been a month yet. How long has it been?”
“I don’t know. When did I give it to you?” Miggs asked rhetorically. “Probably three weeks ago.”
“Was that the last time I saw you?”
“Yeah, I think so,” said Sullivan.
“You haven’t read it though,” said Miggs.
“No,” answered Sullivan, taking at first just a sip before deciding to just go ahead and finish the drink, there wasn’t much left.
“Well, that’s fine,” said Miggs. “Let me tell you this though. Let me tell you this. I think no other poet, no other book has captured in words the things we care about like that one. You and me, you know. It’s prose poetry. There’s inside jokes about baseball, references to Star Trek. Darmok & Gilhad, at Tenagra. You ‘member that?”
“Yeah. Great episode.”
“One of the best. But, ah,” continued Miggs, “I don’t think he’s really written much else. I think he’s living in Hawaii, doing what I don’t know.”
Sullivan nodded absently, picked up his glass, shook it. The ice cubes made some knocking sounds. He stood up to fish his cigarettes out of his pocket.
“You care if I get another drink?” he asked.
“Do I care?” said Miggs, reaching out to snag a cigarette for himself. “You brought the bottle, didn’t you?”
“I did, I did,” answered Sullivan. “That gets me somewhere I guess, right?”
“Sure it does. Here at least. Someone should write a country & western song about that. Someone bringing his own bottle and the host denying him drinks from it.”
“I don’t know. I think I’m starting to get a little drunk,” said Miggs. “I’m just saying, some places you show up with a bottle, it gets stashed. Maybe that’s moreso wine.”
He told Sullivan to stay put, smoke his smoke, and let him (Miggs) fix these next two drinks. Miggs wasn’t completely done with his but he figured he could drain it while he was getting the next two ready.
Sullivan sat and smoked. At one point he got up and went back out into the yard, shedding his flip-flops and feeling the cool of the grass between his toes.
“This’d be a good place to do some acid sometime,” he said, maybe to himself, softly. Miggs was still inside stirring drinks so he didn’t hear him anyway.
Sullivan sat back down, reminiscing on his own. Miggs came out and set the drinks down before them on a small glass table, placing a coaster under each drink.
“I know you don’t like people giving you stuff to read,” Miggs said.
“I never said that,” Sullivan said in reproach.
“Yeah, you did,” Miggs said, confidently but not forcefully. “You said it once. I remember when you said it. We were at the place I had, oh, two before this one. We were having drinks, sitting at this very same table.” He reached out and patted it. Trusty table. He continued, “You said something like, ‘Do people think I’m an idiot? That I can’t find good books myself? What? I don’t have a list of books on my own—a queue, if you will—’”
“I never said ‘queue,’ or ‘if you will,’” Sullivan interjected.
They both laughed a bit.
“I don’t really remember saying that,” said Sullivan, “But I’ll take your word for it. I could have said it. I have had that thought before. It’s one of those times when I can’t be sure if I said it or if I just thought it. Like when something happens and you’re not sure if it really happened or if it only happened in a dream.”
“I know that feeling,” said Miggs. “Sort of akin to déjà vu. But anyway, I haven’t recommended anything to you in awhile. I’m trying to keep my recommendations to a minimum. But, really, take as much time as you want with it. Maybe a year from now I’ll want it back. At some point I’ll want to read it again. That’d be the only reason I’d ask for it back.”
Sullivan was driving Miggs’s soon-to-be ex-wife’s car. Sullivan didn’t know. They were pulling away from a White Castles parking lot, where Sullivan had parked after taking them through the restaurant’s drive through. The smell of Castles had enveloped the car. Both of them had eaten several small burgers and a host of crinkly fries. Now they were back on the road.
They passed through a residential area where a big woman was trying to get into her car, parked alongside the road.
“I love watching fat people get in and out of cars,” Sullivan said.
“Yeah?” said Miggs, chuckling easily.
“Yeah, cause it takes ‘em like five minutes. It’s such a struggle for ‘em,” Sullivan said, looking over at Miggs. “And you know it’s the only exercise they get.”
Now Miggs was really laughing. His eyes closed. Laughing so hard he was getting tears in his eyes. Laughing so hard hs suddenly lowered the window and threw up.
“Oh, god,” said Sullivan. “Are you sure you wanna do this? I shouldn’t even be driving.”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Miggs, wiping his mouth. “I just gotta get some of this out of my system now. I’ll be fine in a little bit.”
“Did you clear the car?”
Miggs stuck his head out the window, his shaggy hair blowing in the breeze. When he saw some of his vomit along the back end of the car, he ralphed again.
“Not entirely,” he said, pulling himself back into the car where he slumped into his seat with a thump, rubbing his temples with his right hand, the thumb to one, the middle and ring finger to another. “You gotta stop your boozin’, man.”
“I gotta stop my boozin?” Sullivan said, his eyes widening, looking over at Miggs. “You gotta stop your boozin.”
“Yeah, maybe you’re right,” he said.
“I mean, look at us. This is sort of pathetic. I should not be driving and you are just fucking drunk. Sloppy drunk. Barfing on your wife’s car?”
“I didn’t say that. I’m drunk. What now?”
“Ah…. OK. I was talking about…those White Castles? They should not have been that good. How good those were tells me that something is wrong with my body, I know. I’m hurting in a very damp way, like an overwatered plant. And I sure as hell don’t need to be told it.”
“This is too much right now,” said Miggs, his eyes closed now for a couple of minutes, his aching head keeping him from sleep, or something like sleep.
“What’s too much?” asked Sullivan.
“This conversation. Let’s go somewhere and get a drink.”
“This train isn’t going anywhere. We’re like the id and the superego in search of just the regular, plain-old ego. And you started this conversation, budrow.”
In the background a siren. Miggs tensed. It was getting louder, closer. The Doppler Effect. Doppler was a drunk, he thought. Had to’ve been. Sullivan pulled them off the road and took them into a parking lot in the city’s jewel of a park that they city was trying to sell. Miggs was trying to get standing. A cop car raced by on the main road. Miggs was relieved as Doppler took the sound away. Sullivan seemed not to have noticed.
“I just always feel like I need something, man,” said Miggs when the car stopped. “Like I’m not quite complete, a puzzle missing a piece or two, and I can fill it in if I just do fill-in-the-blank.”
“I know that feeling,” said Sullivan. “But you’ve got to face the fact that, at some point, there’s not gonna be anything else. No coffee, no cigarettes, no television, no booze, no pills, no pot. Just us in the canyon, protecting our bones from the scavengers. Vultures, buzzards, and whatever else makes it out that far. ‘Holy shit, I can’t believe they have this here!’ That’s what nature says when it finds you there, on the floor of the canyon. In a cavern. Begging for a beer and a cigarette. And, ‘Do you have any grass?’ Then, the only drug is time, and it never kicks in. You can’t combine it with anything. It doesn’t mix. It’s somehow ecophobic. Time eventually kills us all, except the universe, of course, which is still outrunning it, dropping dark matter like tumors along the way. Each second of time is one second bigger the universe has gotten. Is that thirty seconds or a rock in your hand? A chunk of moon is a minute, Jupiter’s moons a decade. Pluto a memory forgotten, except when it’s closer than Neptune.”
Miggs had opened his eyes somewhere in there, watching the wind blow through the treetops, illuminated by an almost-full moon. He thought he saw something in the wind, in the treetops. He imagined himself up there blowing around, abandoned to the wind.
“Nothing there, though, huh?” he said to Sullivan.
“No, nothing there,” said Sullivan. “You either make it or you don’t. Nothing to rely on. No excuse that gets you out of being dead.”
“I sort of hoped that when you came over we weren’t gonna drink anything,” said Miggs.
“What were we gonna do?” asked Sullivan.
“I don’t know. Drink coffee and smoke cigarettes.”
“But then I brought that bottle.”
“So why didn’t you say anything?”
“What was I gonna say?” asked Miggs.
“I don’t know. You coulda been straightforward, or diplomatic. You coulda said, ‘Wow, nice bottle. It’s gonna look great in my pantry.’”
“I could have, but I wouldn’t have done that,” said Miggs. “Seriously though. I’ve thought about quitting. You?”
“No. Not now. I don’t have enough money. I’d have to go to Betty Ford or somewhere. I can’t afford one of those places.”
“There’s places that’ll put you up for free. I think,” said Miggs.
“Have you done it?”
“No. I—isn’t there a story about guys in some rehab house in the mountains. I don’t think they had to pay,” he said.
“That’s what you’re basing your belief on?” asked Sullivan.
“I don’t have any reason to doubt it,” said Miggs.
“I guess. But who else is in a place like that? A bunch of derelicts I’d think. Dead-beat dads.”
“Maybe. Maybe that’s constructive though. Derelicts.”
“Fuck, man. I don’t wanna talk about this anymore. What time is it?” said Sullivan.
“Christ that’s late,” said Sullivan. “Here’s what I’m thinking. Let’s go back to my place. I gotta nice bottle-a cognac. We’ll grab that, drive out to the bluffs, sip on it, smoke some smokes, watch the sunrise. Maybe see some color in the clouds.”
“That sounds alright,” said Miggs. “You driving?”
“Yeah, I’m driving,” he said. “Buckle up and don’t puke. We’re about to out-run time.”