The bartender said it to me: Drown your sorrows. It was the cliche I had been
dreading, accompanied with a grin that undermined everything I had said. My problems would not go away with an overpriced bottle of gin. When I woke up sober, my wife would be laying beside me with
arrogant eyes slanted in a scowl. My kids would be screaming and the washing machine would be making that new clunking sound.
I took the glass from him and stared into the dark frothy fluid. It was hardly a wishing well but I tried my best. 'Make her change. Make her sweet, like she used to be. Make her listen to me, and understand, and for God's sake, make her help me like she used to.'
Stacey was the typical wife in my typical life. I wish it was better- when we were young I envisioned world tours and rancid parties. It didn't happen, like it doesn't for most people. But even then, I figured my fall back plan would be a decent woman with dinner ready when I got home.A suburban dream. Not as awesome as being a rockstar, but something plausible and comforting.
I hated her now.
'Drown your sorrows.' I tilted the glass to my lips and let the alcohol slide down my tongue. It burned, but not more than my throat. I'd been screaming for hours, and the words still hadn't gotten through to her.
I finished the glass and still felt just as desperate. I left the bar soon after. My legs itched from hanging over that bar stool- I needed change, not to sit stagnant while my life fell apart around me. I needed something to happen.
Outside was no different than the bar. The air was better, my ears relieved. But the mainproblem persisted.
I'd hit her. I remember doing it, right before I left the house. Her face was red on one side from the slap, red on the other from anger. There was no way to go back from that,I knew. Even if she did forgive me, she would make me suffer it the rest of my life.
I didn't want to apologize.
A creek runs along the road, from the bar to the end of my street. I sat on the side of the road, legs dangling over the edge of grass and rocks. It was a four foot drop to the creek, a miserable little thing that only flowed fast when it had been raining. Barely more than a puddle, the creek reached a foot deep, two deep in some places.
I watched the water trickle over stones. 'Drown your sorrows.' If only I could.
My cell phone pulsed against my thigh. I wiggled it out of my pocket and onto my lap. It was from her. Twenty messages and they were all from her. Where did my friends go? My band, my buddies, my dreams?
'Where the fuck are you,' the latesttext read. I could picture her in our bedroom, throwing things while our kids cowered in their own rooms.
I sighed, and messaged her back. 'At the creek.'
'I'll be right there.'
She always did this. It was as if she wanted things to be terrible between us. Maybe she liked the making up part. The part at the end of hours of fighting, when I gave up and promised to be a better husband. I never felt repentant. I felt defeated and resigned. Stacey had become a nutcase, especially lately, and there was no way to fix things. No way to go back to the solid marriage we'd started with. I couldn't make her happy, and she'd long ago stopped trying to cheer me up.
It took her five minutes to meet up with me. I stared at thecreek the whole time, eyes drifting with the weak current. I played our fight over and over in my head and tried to figure out where it went wrong. Where I gotthe urge to strike her. I would apologize, I already knew it. I always did. And this time I had hit her.
Stacey sat beside me on the edge. She spoke with a quiver to her words, hands folded in her lap. "I was scared, when you left," she said.
"Well, that too."
I sighed again. She waited- she expected atonement. I struggled to come up with words that were original. Part of me was still praying to the half digested gin in my belly, for words that would actually heal her. "Come on."
I slid off the edge, landing on both feet in the sludge at the bottom of the creek. Stacey frowned down at me, the light of streetlamps behind her making the scowl indecipherable from confusion.
"I'm serious Stace. It's so calming."
"You weren't at the creek- you were drinking." The words were an accusation that she punctuated by crossing her arms over her chest.
I stared up at her for a moment, listening as she began her tirade again. About how I don't want to work on the marriage, I only want to dwell on the past. About my lack of affection. About my late work hours and early drinking. She stopped when I interupted her, instead of talking over me like she usually does. "The bartender told me to drown my sorrows," I told her. "And it made me think."
"About what an ass you are?"
I hesitated. "Yes. I haven't been myself lately, Stacey. Things could be so different. So much better. Not everyone lives this way, I don't know why we do."
She sat still a moment, before sliding off the edge of the creek. "What do you mean by that?"
I took her hands in mine, and when I sat in the chilled water, she sat with me. "I mean that things need to change. And I am going to start right now." I smiled at her, kissed her lips. She resisted for a moment but then sank into my embrace. I almost ruined it, with laughter. It was so simple to satisfy her, once I stopped trying. Because this was what she wanted. Every day, she wanted this epiphany from me. This promise. It didn't matter that I spent every day trying to perfect both our lives, she just wanted a grandiose speech. A romantic water scene.
I hugged her to me and lay back, into the water. She laughed, called me silly. In a nice way, like when she used to be playful.
The water was a bit deeper just behind us. I tugged the both of us up to it, and slid her head below the water. Her grip tightened on my arms, and after a few seconds of submersion her legs began to kick at mine. She tried to sit up but I kept her there, water thrashing at my torso while she fought with hers. I didn't think about the future, or about consequences;I only imagined relief. Every bitter moment we'd ever shared flowed through my mind like the water over her body. The recollectionsstrengthened my grip and I held her, until the light of my sorrows faded from her eyes.
© Copyright 2016 Samiri Shreve. All rights reserved.
Short Story / Flash Fiction
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