My first song after choosing to be sober

A short story, 2019, draft.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I shimmy through a sea of arms and shoulders. Eyes watering from clouds of cologne. My angel grabs tight to my fingers, pulling us through. I am in the pub. Tonight will show me what life is like with everything in sharp focus.


Our party is already seated. The walk to our table seems straight forward. First, we need to pass the thirsty bar-stoolers, fingers tapping lazily on the bar for their next hit. The smell of wet oats and alcohol hits me. I shake my head to stay focused.


Next obstacle; stairs. Hang on to the railing and hope the next step rises to the occasion. I hope my knees can take it. Good, the ground is exactly where it should be. My angel lifts her hand and moves it side to side, gaining the attention of the beings we are meeting. She stops in front of an empty chair.


Quick! While I’m distracted, step onto the floor! I land with both feet on the same plane. So far everything is as I perceive it to be.


The table is covered in cloth and surrounded by chairs. The other patrons seem to be seated comfortably. I keep myself steady with one hand on my angel’s back, under the guise of
rubbing her wings. On closer inspection of the table, I see a plate aligned with a chair along with a rolled-up cloth. I reach out and grab it. Something inside, silverware, or so my instincts (what’s left of them) tell me.


I press a corner of the napkin between two fingers and let the other digits loose. CLANK! As I suspect, a fork, butter knife and a spoon collapse and lay still. I look around the table. The other patrons, I presume my fellow dinner mates, begin rolling their napkins on their laps. I grab the fork before pulling out the chair my ass will be occupying for the evening.


I notice the lighting. No sun. Only lamps. Again, as it should be or at least as I’ve perceived it before. Strings of bulbs on wires hang from bare wood jutting out of a concrete ceiling. The wood, slats of brown, knotted, un-sanded 2×4’s or 4×8’s or 8×16’s or 16×32’s or whatever. For a split second my arm stretches to the ceiling, my hand drops the fork and rubs against the beam. Splinters press into the skin of my fingers, bulging under the fingernails and squeezing into the palms. The chair squeaks and the splinters pull out of the hand as the arm collapses back into its socket. I take my seat.


I look around at the others seated at the table. I don’t know yet if they’re people. I haven’t even figured out if I am to be human for the evening. I search their faces for a clue, a cue to mirror their behavior, but careful not to mock.


The smell of the room seemed to be a mixture of cooking, alcohol, cigarettes, perfumes and lotions. Smells I was familiar with, the smells of death. I began to feel as if I belonged. My neck loosened and I looked around the room. Steaming dishes balanced on the extended fingers and outstretched arms of the runners. The runners wear small square hats with a wire running down to the corners of their mouths keeping them in a smile. A small trough extends from their belts and collects the drool sliding down their chins. The runners shuffle quickly from table to table nodding, taking, placing and scribbling in notebooks with final stage Parkinson ferocity.


A runner waddles up to our table, she wipes saliva from her notebook and asks, “How are we all doing this evening.” The collective response transports me to a farmyard with a herd of lowing cattle, indecipherable mumbling and grunting. We remain rather porcine, no matter the sophistication and setting of the trough. I cluck, feeling a string pull one side of my mouth upwards, or at least away from my chin.


The runner seems either satisfied or uninterested in our bovine reaction and continues, “What are we having to drink tonight? What are we having to drink tonight?” the voice lowers six octaves, “What are we having to drink tonight?” The voice now lisps. “What are we having to drink tonight?” The voice slips behind my eyes and massages some dusty grey matter. Perhaps I have been here before, perhaps this is something I know, but the voices are different. The faces different. It is the experience that is familiar. “I’ll have a water.” The feeling of familiarity stops. The runner scribbles furiously as the heads around the table call out their orders.


I watch, admiring the confidence related to their vices.


The runner shuffles off, leaving a string of drool on one of the face painted long haired beings. They call it she and they call me he. She doesn’t notice and her unassisted smile is my hint to stay quiet. Across from me the angel glows. Next to me the being is morphing. He morphs. A loose shape whose ghost I catch glimpses of with each flicker of his movements. It is, I suspect, the man’s shell. The ghost living just outside of the man’s conscience. It lags just long enough for me to catch the eye of his self. He turns to me and smiles. My subconscious smiles back and we release the grip on our Freudian handshake.


The runner returns, alcohol hoisted proudly on a silver platter, like the head of John the Baptist. The runner shuffles around the table, she sets down my water and I notice a muscle on her cheek struggling under the pull of the wire. The runner catches my eye and winks. “Are we ready to order?”
The table produces an audible lowing but the being next to me manages to force out their words, “Yes.” I point and nod at the menu. The runner’s wrist scribbles furiously, as if possessed by each order. The runner smiles and continues around the table.


Three men walk into the room carrying instruments. One a drummer, one a bass guitarist and one a pianist. The lull of voices, clink of glasses, steps of runners, coughing, laughing, and chewing continue around the room. The three men walk past me. I turn my head and pull my upper body around to look, bracing myself with one hand on the chair.


The pianist carefully pulls out a seat tucked under the piano. He sits and peels back the upper lip of the piano, revealing yellow and black teeth. The pianist scratches his beard, losing his fingers in the red and grey mat. White flakes drift onto his lap. Having escaped his beard, his fingers now press together, crushing each other with audible “pops” and “cracks”. Then the pianist flicks the pianos teeth.


The chatter in the room continues; the runners take orders and carry edibles on platters. The sounds of laughter, eating and drinking fill the room. The guitarist sits on a chair designed to furnish potluck halls and meeting rooms of whatever Anonymous. He flips the latch of his case and unsheathes a white bass guitar. A glint makes my eyes jump to a spot on its edge.


It leads my eye down aluminum strings to a spot where the bassist places his hand. He begins thumping the fat belly of the guitar.


I look up to see the bassist’s face and catch the end of his glance. Either his eyes are rolled back in his head or he is blind. He looks down at a little black box with the whites of his eyes and inserts a card. A deep hum and vibrating buzz creep into my ears and for a moment, meld with my own neural connections. As the guitarist begins to strum faster, I look over at the drummer.


I hear the taps of the snare lock as he pulls a hand free from under the drum. His left foot presses the peddle into the flesh of the biggest drum. He picks up sticks with his right hand and runs his thumb along the edge of a cymbal. His hand jerks back and he sucks it, closing his eyes. I crane my neck to see what happened. He pulls his thumb away from his mouth and puts a drumstick in each hand. He starts tapping on the overstretched skins below him. Red trickles down the neck of the rightmost drumstick.
The mouths around the room continue expelling their contents. The runners move from table to table, smiling and drooling. Glasses and silverware clink, clank and chip dishes. I turn my back to the musicians. My angel smiles and begins eating. I look down and notice my own food below me. I reach for a utensil but stop short. The dissonant, sometimes melodic growling of the bass guitar jerks my head back towards the three men and their instruments.


The growl is met with the screams and howls of the piano. But it is the steady panting and pawing of the drums that paralyzes me. It rips away my attention and leaves me with just enough breath to continue using my eyes. I no longer feel my body against the chair. Am I beginning to float?


A hot brand sizzles in my back, twists me around and sends my eyes spinning in all directions, looking for the person who said my name. I stifle rage. I know how unsightly raw emotion can be to those without drink. I pull the square box from my pocket. I place it on my head and extend the two wires that end with small hooks, sharp hooks. I stretch the corners of my mouth up to each hook and hang them there. The pain cranks open a valve and the rage steams out. With what I know to be a smile on my face, I reply, “Yes, what was that?”


“What do you do?” I tap the box on my head, the wires pull my lips up and dig their hooks in deeper. “I work in a place doing things.”


“Oh, really, that’s neat. Do you like it?”


“Yes, very much. What do you do?” I tap the box on my head, my right eye is beginning to water. While they reply, I dab the tear away with the back of my finger.


“I work in a place doing things. I like it.” I nod and look around at the others catching lines from the script. “He said something, she didn’t like it, they got mad and now I’ll tell you my opinion.”


“Well, I was born, then I learned, now I spend time doing something.”


“I had my eyes open and saw a picture of a man telling me to buy food here, so I told other people what the man told me and now we’re here.”


The beast with three bodies paws and snorts behind me, drowning out the sets of clacking teeth in front of me. I catch the face of my angel smiling. Out of habit I glance at the top of her head already knowing that she does not need a box to pull her mouth away from her chin. Her smile indicates that all is normal.


The beast screeches behind me. I turn. The bass guitar roars and stamps at the ground, pounding its blunt hooves in through the sides of my head. Each flick of the finger against the steel strings threatens to rip open my rib cage. The drums boom and thud against my chest. Each attacking wave threatens to steal the beating of my heart and replace it with its own. Or still my heart forever.


Through the roaring and the pounding, the pianist keeps my hair at attention. His vibrations travel under my skin, leaving bumps up and down the lengths of my arms and legs.


The corners of the pianist’s mouth begin pulling up, wrinkling his eyes and changing the shape of his beard. My eyes catch a drop of red splashing next to the pianist’s foot.


The pianist’s hands contort, twist and convulse. Some element is being exorcised from those hands. They bounce off of the piano’s teeth. Another drop of red splashes onto the floor, this time adding to the percussive flurry banging my ear drums. A third drop falls and before the slow-motion crown of liquid impact can rest, a fourth red drop breaks it.


In a distant, foggy memory I can hear clinking glass, silverware scraping on ceramic, idle chatter and clacking teeth. The beast in front of me abducts my senses and possesses my body. I convulse back and forth in time with its movements.


I close my eyes, but darkness does not greet me. My mind splayed and folded, projects out onto the skin of my closed eyes. The stuff of dreams, ideas and memories pool together, and the beast pushes me into the deep end. I rock back and forth in furious rhythm while my head sways side to side.


The box on my head tilts backwards and pulls my cheeks up to my ears leaving my mouth wide. Deep red lines curve up the sides of my cheeks. Red drips from the corners of my mouth. I watch it pool around my feet and soak into my lap.


The pianist seems to enjoy his plight. Blood from his hands ooze from the piano’s teeth and waterfalls down to the floor. As the musicians grow uglier and closer to death, the music they play grows sweeter. More mesmerizing. The musicians cling to their instruments, or try as much as possible to hang on while their bodies deteriorate.


Blood makes its way from where the musicians play to the steps I earlier descended. No one else seems to notice. The runners splash through the rising stream. Blood soaks up their pant legs and the occasional chunk of gore sticks to their uniforms.


A patron at the bar slumps off his stool and falls face first into the now raging river. Blood drips from his hands and off of his eyelids. He slaps one bloody hand on the bar stool and the other grips the edge of the bar. He sits up and reaches for his drink. As he drinks, blood from his hand falls down the glass and collects around his lips. In the corners, the blood mixes with the alcohol in his mouth. He doesn’t seem to notice.


Staring at the intoxicated barfly, I notice a ringing in my ears, the same ringing that occurs when one speaks out loud and hears the echoes of his own words in his mind but nothing banging on his eardrums.


The blood now up to my neck I stand up and turn to see the musicians slumped over their instruments, nearly submerged. The diners around me continue their droning, utensils and glasses now pinging like radar from a submarine. A few of the listeners attempt to clap but the amount of blood in the room only allows for splashy, muffled thuds that sent red flecks on their faces.


Cool and calm the entire evening, my eyes begin darting around the room. Every one of my senses are plugged into the buzzing amp of the bass guitar. I wade through the blood toward the barfly; I know the way out is just beyond him. Pulling myself in his direction, I catch a glimpse of the light from fluorescent streetlamps peeking through the windows. My foot slams against something hard. I lose my balance and am instantly submerged in the blood.


My arms flail frantically, my hands create whirlpools of blood as they grab at nothing. A hand touches my back, and another grabs my hand. Panic leaves and my feet touch solid ground. I emerge, wiping blood from my face and turning to look at my rescuer. It is my angel who parts the red sea and seems untouched by the clotting blood. Her hand still grips mine; we move to the door; the blood seems to have drained.


We pass the barfly, now covered in a brownish cracking paste, still guzzling his beer. Cold air blasts me and I turn to see my angel pushing the door open. I blink and my senses return. I can hear myself breathing. I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol, instead I swam in the bloodbath.

My last confession

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman
1,407 words

I must be falling. My suit jacket is bunched up under my arms and flapping around my head. A strip of polka dots slaps around my face. My calves and white cotton socks exposed. Shoe laces whip my shins. The wind changes pitch as it passes through the circle I’ve formed with my lips.

Forgive me father for I have sinned; it is…

     The air is getting colder. I look down and see flecks of shine coming and going on a canvas of blue. The ocean coming up to greet me. I make out, almost directly below me, the Golden Gate bridge.

I pray I hit it so the story ends.

The bridge whistles past and out of instinct I point my toes to the water and press my arms to my sides. The air rushes into my lungs just before water rushes in my nose and past my ears. My eyes are shut but less and less light makes it through my eyelids. I put my arms out to slow the dive.

     I open my eyes. All around are people. Some swim gracefully above, others motionless and fall past me. I see a man in shorts and a polo pushing past a motionless woman in pearls and an apron. Her hair wrapped around her face, pointing her way to the surface. People were everywhere, submerged, floating and swimming, looking around confused.

I look down. A mass of behemoth black shadows swirls below me. I look up. Pants, belts, socks, skirts, blouses, bras, thongs, ties, jackets, shoes falling toward me. People kicking and thrashing toward the light. I see people at the top burst through the surface and take a breath of air. My chest starts to burn with envy. Naked bodies fall toward me.

I need oxygen.

O’ my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee…

     I started to push up as if there were solid objects below my feet and hands. I am heavy with wet clothes. A woman removes her shoes and fights upward. I pull at the water to fight up. I kick off my own bloating leather soles and pull off my socks. A loose tie wraps around my neck as I push upward. I tear it off and begin removing the rest of my clothing, always gyrating upwards toward the light. The burning in my lungs starts to feel like the image of a film reel being eaten up by a flame. I’m feverishly kicking like a frog while my hands tug away at the belt. I pushed off my pants. The shirt doesn’t tear quickly enough. I look down and begin to panic.

     The shadows seem closer and the light farther away. Something touches my foot and instinct kicks in. I look straight up, now completely naked and cup my hands for full force. I’m beginning to exhale in short bursts that grow longer with each snort. I’ll run out of air soon and then, out of habit, inhalation will take over.

I am sorry for these sins and all the sins of my whole life…

     Next to me, a man grips the legs of the person above, trying to pull himself up. He exposes the man’s ass and they both fall further down. They reach for me while their mouths fill with water and sink to the swirling black masses.

A woman below me reaches for my leg. I kick at her hand, but she grabs my ankle. A bubble of air leaps out of my throat but the muscles tighten their grip on my body, and I pull both of us forward. 

     I won’t make it to the top with her extra weight. The burning in my chest has been replaced by spasms. My lungs pounding in their cage. I begin to sputter. Whatever air is left in my lungs turns to bubbles in the water. The light is just a few strokes above me. I look down and see a man grabbing at the woman hanging on to me. I kick at her hand, she lets go, now fighting off her own leech. I push forward and in another two strokes, the light blinds my eyes.

Thank you, father.

The light disappears.

#

In an abandoned house off the 215 freeway I go to confess my sins. The minister sits behind a plaster wall from 4:00 pm to 4:52 pm. He enters through a hole in the outside wall because the front door is boarded up. Sitting in the master bathroom, he takes confessions through a glory hole. 

I walked in with the dead eyes of a junkie, unsticking my eyelids from the caked cocaine and running eyeliner. Another day wasted. Given up to the night before. I had time to confess before Father Ibsen spent the rest of his night suckling at any booze he could find, nursing his own demons. I stooped to put my face by the hole. Parting my dry lips with my tongue, I recited the script.

“Father forgive me for I have sinned again.  I know not what I did but I know a blue-eyed, red-haired devil in fishnet stockings made me do it.”

A lighter clinked and hissed. Tobacco hit my nose. Smoke poured through the hole and made my eyes well up. His words curled through the haze.

“Tell me son, what have you done that you say the devil made you do?”

My eyes tried to focus. I listened to my breathing and my mind clarified for a moment. Guilt has a queer way of turning me into a saint. The few moments in between coming to and my next blackout I find myself curling into a ball and begging my inner child for forgiveness. My ego quenches the thirst, but my self flushes it into oblivion. However, feelings don’t mean facts, so I answer honestly.

“I don’t know but the evidence keeps piling up behind me.”  Father Ibsen passes the cigarette through the glory hole, filter ripped off. I extend two yellow fingers to accept. 

“Son, in my terrifying experience the demons don’t scratch, tear, bite, claw, scream or yell, rip, shred or gnash their teeth. No, they brush your hand, touch you lightly on your thigh and whisper in your ear. They’ll give you sweet words and pour confidence down your throat, inject self-esteem into your veins and breathe life into your nose. It’s a slow seduction.”

I took a long pull from the cigarette. With no filter, the smoke punched a hacking cough out of my lungs. I choked it down to hear the rest of Father Ibsen’s sermon.

“They make you think you are doing all the work. That you make the decisions and take charge of your destruction. So that by the time you feel the scratching, tearing, biting, clawing, screaming, yelling, ripping, shredding, and gnashing of teeth you think it’s the demons but it’s really the angels giving all they have to try and pull you back. While the demons lay back, pissing and blowing snot bubbles all over themselves with laughter at the violent struggles of their boy scout doppelgängers.”

Father Ibsen stuck two fingers back through the hole. I handed him the cigarette and he continued.

 “That is the devil’s greatest pride. She twists her forked whiskey-soaked tongue around yours until you can’t tell the difference and when you think you know, she has you.  Her trick is making you think all the rules and regulations will save you, but the fortress is really a prison.”

The words were ironic coming from the fiery, vodka drenched breath spurting out of the hole. He chuckled and finished his impromptu sermon to the choir.

“So, it makes me laugh, son, until tears stream and sides ache, when I hear one of my children say, ‘the devil made me do it’ because son, aren’t we just the devil?”

His final words sounded like an admiring mother mildly scolding her mischievous child.  I heard his chair creak as he stood up. He passed his collar through the fuck hole, spotted and stained with sweat and semen, and spoke the last words I ever heard from his mouth. “Time for this devil to change costumes. But you should sit on this side of the wall. Hearing the insanities of the other, keeps one’s own in check. Their ain’t no glory on this side of the hole, any stone age queen will tell you the same.”

end

Rating: 1 out of 5.