"Christmas Lights" Part Three

(Photo used by permision from the talented Tabitha Kingma at 723 Photography)

            A hundred hands seem to wrap themselves around my ankles as I walk toward the pub. My heart—no, my gut—feels heavy. I know I shouldn’t be doing this. I know and believe there’s a God above watching me and not liking what He’s seeing.
            You don’t know what it’s like.
            That’s the voice of the coward deep inside, the weak and worthless fool who thinks he can actually bargain with his maker. Who thinks he’s ready to fall back into this nightmare. Who thinks he can try to rationalize being a complete and utter moron.
            For a second, I stand outside the door. But then it seems to open itself. I don’t believe The Prince of Darkness is opening it for me. I see my hand and know what I’m doing and know how dark my heart can be. I don’t need any demon guiding my way. I can do it for my misguided old self.
            I love you Dad.
            Molly’s words ring in my head.
            Kill yourself if that’s what you want to do.
            Rick’s words rack my heart.
            I believe in you.
            Danny’s words rip my soul.
            I still remember everything they told me that one morning. Their words had finally awakened my quarantined heart. It had been the start of the change. I’ve been sober ever since.
            Yet I still find myself sitting down on the barstool. I still find myself waiting to order, waiting to undo all I’ve built. Waiting to light that fuse and spread that fire that burns every inch of my woesome self.
            I have to and nobody understands and when they find me at the end of this binge they’ll understand and they’ll get it because they’ll know why.
            For a second I think I’m out of breath. Then I realize I’m not even breathing.
            I don’t plan on sitting at the bar too long. No. That’s just too dangerous. Because the way I feel is too raw and too rabid. I fear I might jump behind the wood and start opening bottles and just sucking them dry. That’s how I feel. The anger is bubbling and I don’t want to make small talk and I don’t want to be too close to all that booze. I just want to get my drink and then find a table for two looking out at the window and front door and I want to drink and forget about this first drink and about the kids and about Linda and about Christmas and about God sending His only son to die for me. I especially want to forget that last fact because I just want to drink. Give me a Ho Ho Ho but don’t give me a Merry Christmas.
            “Happy holidays,” the round bartender says as he stands before me.
            I’m thankful it’s nobody I know. But of course I don’t know anybody. I haven’t been in here for years.
            “My name is Clarence and I’m your guardian angel and you know something, Arthur, you really have had a wonderful life. If, of course, you subtract all those awful years of drinking.”
            The guy blinks and smiles and waits.
            “You need some time?” the bartender asks.
            I shake my head. Of course he didn’t call himself Clarence and say all that. I’m just feeling loopy and nervous.
            “Give me a pint of your best beer,” I say. “You pick. And give me a shot of Jameson.”
            I know beer won’t be fast enough, so a little whisky will help.
            “That sorta Christmas, huh?” The bartender laughs as he pours a dark stout. “Trouble with the missus?”
            For a moment, I look at my wedding band. “There’d sure be trouble if she caught me in this place.”
            The screen on the corner captures my eye. I think I’m so tense and focused that I didn’t hear the song playing in the pub when I first entered. Elvis is singing “Blue Christmas”. Of course.
            “Snowing yet?”  the bartender asks, his sideburns thick enough to make Elvis proud.
            “Might be by the time you close. Which is hopefully really late.”
            “I got all night pal.”
            I don’t need all night. Just a good chunk of it will do.
            There’s nobody else in here. I take my beer and shot to a lonely table away from mutton-chops and Elvis singing above him. I put them on the table and then look at them as if they’re glowing hot steel, impossible to touch.
            I blink.
            Next thing I know I’m on a flight headed to Vegas.
            I blink again.
            Then I’m curled up in a muddy ditch unable to move.
            I close my eyes, then carefully open them. The drinks are still there, waiting and wondering when I’m going to get to them. My imagination is overactive as always.
            Elvis gets off the stage and he’s followed by Bing Crosby. I guess we have a selection of Christmas hits playing.
            Just as I wrap my hand around the cold beer, the door I’m facing opens and in comes Linda. She’s not the fire-breathing dragon who showed up years ago when I missed Molly’s birthday. Instead, she looks sad and tired. She gives the bartender her friendly smile as she walks up to my table. I don’t take my eyes off her, even as she sits down in the chair across from me.
            “What are you doing?” she asks.
            I still have my hand around the beer.
            “Preparing to get drunk.”
            “I see you ordered for both of us.”
            This is funny. This whole thing is just hilarious.
            “The day I see you take a shot of whiskey is the day I know the Mayans were right.”
            “We already made it past the end of the world.”
            I laugh and shake my head. “Speak for yourself.”
            For a moment I wonder if the bartender is going to come over and ask her if she wants something, but then I know better. Of course he won’t. He’s not crazy.
            I’m already in enough trouble just being here. And I haven’t had one sip yet.
            “Was Christmas Day that bad?” Linda asks in her quiet and calm way.
            “You didn’t see Rick and Molly going after each other.”
            “I saw plenty,” she says. “I saw you getting angry.”
            “They don’t listen to a thing I tell them.”
            “Do you really think they should? Look at you. You haven’t changed a bit.”
            “Is this supposed to be a pep talk?”
            Her eyes go down for a moment. For a second, I wonder if I’ve already been here for two hours. Maybe I’m bombed and maybe Elvis really isn’t singing and maybe Linda isn’t really here. It’s just me and mutton-chops and Mr. Jameson.
            Then I feel her hand touch mine. Her hand shows her age—it shows our age—yet it still feels soft and warm. I miss that touch. It hasn’t come for a while.
            “You’re still so angry. Don’t be.”
            I shake my head and grit my teeth. She doesn’t understand—how could she? She’s not in my shoes. She just doesn’t get it and never has.
            “I feel like I’m going to bust open in million different little holes.”
            “And drinking is going to what? How is it going to help patch up those holes?”
            “It’s not,” I admit, talking more with her than usual. Maybe it’s because I’m here and I’ve been caught.
            I really want to drain that shot to give me more courage.
            “You can go ahead and drink it,” Linda says to me, her blue eyes lit up by the sparkles of the Christmas lights around the window. “You don’t have to stop because I’m here.”
            I feel like I suddenly can’t move. I glance back at the bar and the bartender seems to be drinking himself. Whitney Houston is on the television singing “Do You Hear What I Hear”.
            “This has been a brutal year,” I tell Linda. “Capped by an awful December.”
            “So this is how you what? Celebrate? Cope?”
            “This is how I breathe, Linda. You will never understand.”
            She shakes her head. “Don’t make this about me. Our three children and their families are all back at Rick’s, waiting and wondering.”
            “No, it’s not good. It’s never been good.”
            “I’ll let them all down again. They’re used to it. They’ll understand.”
            “But you won’t,” Linda says. “They might understand but deep down inside, you won’t. This isn’t a rest stop. You can’t just drive back out and get on the highway that’s your life. You know what this means. You know how dangerous this is. This is a cliff you’re facing. You’re about to take your foot off the brake.”
            I laugh and shake my head. “Why all this road and car analogy? It doesn’t sound a thing like you.”
            “Because I know that’s your language. I know you sold cars for over three decades.”
            “That’s what made me drink in the first place.”
            “You’re broken like the rest of us,” Linda says. “You just tried to fill in those broken places in your own way.”
            I shake my head and close my eyes.
            I’ve had enough.
            I don’t want to hear this and don’t want to see her and don’t want to keep up this whole game and charade.
            “I can go if you really want me to,” she says in a barely audible voice.
            I open my eyes and this time I reach over to touch her hand. “No. Don’t leave. Just—just stay. For a few more minutes.”
            She smiles. “I guess they can wait.”

            (Go here to read "Christmas Lights" Part Four)

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