My Life On Rye: Baileys

Written by
Nathaniel Kressen


Spud yips and twitches in his sleep, chasing rabbits. I watch the digital numbers as Friday succumbs to Saturday.

Thanks to societal advancement, light and therefore shadows exist even in the wee hours. They take on the shape of lambs, stumbling across my ceiling. Cars are muted. Voices loud. I spill out of bed when thoughts become too much.

Spud wakes with a start then totters after. I scratch his head. We slump into a makeshift pile on the bean bag chair I’ve bought, his head resting against my leg.

“Spud, Spud,” I say, pulling on his ears. “I love you, too, Potato-Boy.”

Perhaps it’s the early morning clarity. Perhaps it’s the slat of sharp light celebrating under the front door, from which we cannot pry our eyes. Whatever the reason, only now does it occur to me how odd it was to purchase a bean bag chair as replacement furniture. First step toward normalcy, and I chose this? College students know better. My wife certainly did, talking me out of one at the time. “If you’re going to live in a place, really live there.”

Maybe this is my way of saying fuck you to her? Or, perhaps, fuck off? No. I am not ready for that. She will come home and she see this bean bag chair where our couch once rested and she will laugh kindly. She will picture Spud and me as we are now. Cuddled. Waiting. Vigilant and full of hope. The three of us are a family.

A garbage truck clatters past. The dog rises and I notice him limping. He shakes as though we’ve been through a storm and lies with his nose pushed against the door.

Spud could be a detective. Often, he leaps and barks while one of us is still a block away. Is it smell? Is it schedule? Is it psychic connection? His kisses are warm, sloppy, and insistent but they have never revealed that mystery.

Streetlights bleed to day. Spud looks up at me. There is no sleeping now. I loop his harness on and we slink out of the door.

More or less, the sidewalk is ours. Fewer drunks than expected. I blame the neighborhood. It is not a part of the city that beckons young upstarts. It is an area ruled by pre-war architecture, groceries, and public transportation. These things are desirable, I remind myself. Living among fire is exhausting. One cannot dwell in constant motion. We chose this neighborhood for its hot bath qualities. We are at a state in our lives and in our marriage where rest is a thing to be valued. Work is exhausting. Home is a place to turn off together.

We walk north, then east, jigsawing between blocks. If she would answer my calls, we could talk. I don’t know what she wants from me. Spud pulls us forward. The sunlight catches his red-blonde fur as the bakeries yield to delis, then bodegas. Storefronts open. People emerge. Couples everywhere, out for jogs, chatting as they fly. And can it be? A liquor store open. I tie doggy boy to a No Standing sign and slip inside. The cashier buzzes me through a bulletproof door. I am confronted by wine alone. All my friends reside inside the room with the register. I buzz back out and search beyond the cashier’s sagging shoulders. Vodka. Whiskey. Tequila. What’s the least damning spirit at this hour? “I’ll take that mini bottle of Baileys,” I say.

Quick trip to the corner. One fifty buys me coffee that used to be a dollar. I order a sausage, egg, and cheese that smells up the store as it sizzles. I browse the coolers and tip my mini bottle over the cup. The Baileys disappears in a cloud.

Spud’s near manic when I return. I crouch beside him and unwrap his treat. The sandwich is gone in two bites. He sniffs the tin foil paper then lies spread-eagle to lick it clean. I scritch between his ears and blow across the surface of my coffee.

Across the street, so it happens, is his vet office. Shortly, they will open. Animals will arrive sick and wounded then return to the world restored.

The day’s traffic starts. People rushing frantically. Cars honking at red lights. Why does no one value their weekends? Why does no one rest?

“Hi, Spud!” calls a familiar voice. The vet’s office manager Ginger sets a small paper bag on the ground to scoop his face in her hands. He leans into it, the mush. “Morning, Mr. Buckle.”

“Might want to watch your breakfast,” I say.

“He is such a sweetheart.”

“Usually, he’s an asshole. You all just have a way.”

“I don’t believe it for a second,” she says, rising. “Were you on the schedule today and I just forgot?”

So much for small talk. “No, but um. We were out for our walk this morning and I noticed a limp.”

“And the doc hasn’t seen it?”

“It just happened.”

“Here, walk him back and forth for me.” The dog prances for her. With his shaggy fur and that walk, he’s often mistaken for a girl. “I’m not seeing anything.”

“It’s subtle,” I say.

“Well, I’m sure Dr. Pierce can take a look at it.”

“What time does she get in?”

Ginger looks at me quizzically. “Today’s her day off.”

“Right. Saturday.” I knock my fist against my head. “Tough night sleeping.”

“I should get inside. Let the doctor know if you want to schedule something. Bye, Spud!”

She’s waiting at the curb when something makes me ask, “Say, is Dr. Fuller in today?”

“Not until this afternoon.”

“I thought they traded off?”

“We have a new associate,” she says, letting an express bus go by before power-walking across the avenue.



This piece appears as part of a serialized fiction experiment by Nathaniel Kressen for At Large magazine. New installments will be published weekly, each based around a different liquor.
Nathaniel Kressen is the author of two novels — Dahlia Cassandra (named Best of 2016 Fiction by Entropy & Luna Luna Magazine) and Concrete Fever (Bestseller, Strand Book Store) — as well as the co-founder of Second Skin Books and the leader of the Greenpoint Writers Group.