My Life On Rye: Olde English

Written by
Nathaniel Kressen

Olde English



40 of malt liquor in hand, I realize my apartment no longer belongs to me. I’ve scarcely touched the fridge in a month. The floor’s gathered dust. Outside, the world’s gone dark. I haven’t so much as risen to hit the light switch.

The drinking today started in the Bronx. A post-client call libation. Conor and I started out well enough but ended up arguing personal philosophies. Economics and dating, in particular. He believes in chasing all of the risk and all of the reward. Should one endeavor fall through, a man has ten more lined up. Spoken like someone who’s never truly been flattened, he said that danger is not only the spice of life, it’s the lifeblood.

“No one goes to bed with a spreadsheet,” he said, turning to order us another round in the dive bar he found.

Sipping down the last of my medicinal gin and tonic, I searched for a single piece of real world evidence to debunk his theory. Our clients are all overleveraged and the market is rewarding them. I was true to my wife for twenty years, look at me now.

At some point, I excused myself to the restroom and dry heaved over the toilet. Nothing came up.

Conor took the company car back, I insisted on taking the subway. Something about proving a point. I was drunk enough that the drunk couldn’t stop. I slipped inside a deli with bulletproof glass, chose my poison, brown-bagged it onto the 4 train. Sipped as we all flew down.


Olde English tastes the way a bar smells Sunday morning. Pungent. Sweet. Rough. Demands stale cigarettes as a chaser.

All that to say, it gets the fucking job done. There’s no telling how long I’ve been sitting against this wall, watching the room weave and sway.

There must be something in this apartment to undercut Conor’s argument.  

My free hand brushes against something fuzzy on the floor beside me. Thankfully, not a rat, but the small stuffed toy Kitty bought Spud when she thought she would never see him again. Doggie boy chewed the platypus beyond recognition, thoroughly enough to tear the stuffing out. Now it’s cockeyed. Empty. I run my thumb over its bill. Still soft to the touch.

With effort I rise and stumble through vacant rooms. God I love the release of drunk.

For years, each and every one of my days was defined by walks with Spud. We would idle and discover and explore. He would pause to sniff some object liberated by the rain and I would gaze about my city. Without him, there is no easy refuge, no compelling reason for movement. Just Time — unflinching and feeble as ever.

I land myself in the kitchen and splash water onto my face. Drip all over my shirt. Another sip. Bubbles are funny things.

I will not blackout. I will stay with this groaning lift.

My body protests otherwise, dragging me to the bedroom. There, on the foot of the bed, is my mother’s quilt. Navy, crimson, and cream. She whistled when she sewed. She sung in a deadly alto. When she and my father split, they asked who I wanted to live with. I can’t fathom it now, putting a six-year-old in that position.


I will go back to that motel where my mother and I moved our stuff, awaking to find her side of the bed empty that first night, the front door open, putting on my new light-up sneakers, stepping outside, walking past the loudest vending machine I’d ever heard and a light that never stopped flickering, turning the corner, seeing a figure at the back of the parking lot, near-pissing myself as I walked closer, trucks on the turnpike, sorrowful skinny trees, my mother still as a statue, in her nightgown, watching the lights go by.

There is more to her than that moment.

Bathroom. More water onto my face. Groan like I ran five miles. Soaked shirt to match.

This person in the mirror stares back at me as though wrinkles amount to wisdom.

“Fuck you. You know nothing.”

Deep breath. Focus back. I am supposed to be proving a point. Objects with their own agendas must be ignored.

Bedside. Nothing but my phone and a stupid, little lamp. Pocket the phone. Move on.

Living room. Stripped to the bone. Off-white walls. Contemporary, yuppie fixtures. This is what we worked for?

I’ve done nothing to replace the old possessions she took, save the bean bag chair as a stand-in for our couch. It sits like a dump in the middle of the living room.

In the movies, when a man misses his woman, the audience gets a gratuitous flashback to some sexy moment. That’s Hollywood at play, not love. Kitty and I christened our apartment right there on the floor, but that’s not the image I have glancing around the meager leavings of our home. It’s of her watching an old school Looney Tunes episode, snorting cereal milk out of her nose.

I drag the bean bag chair toward the door. Months of stagnation end now.

The elevator receives me. I press the top button. Bring the bottle to my lips.

I used to feel loss. Danger. Now, all I feel is tired.

Ding: Rooftop. The night’s a wash of pale yellow. The wind is wet and cold.

Executioner that I am, I pierce the bean bag chair with my mailbox key, expand the hole using my fingers, and rip it all the way down the seam. Tilt the fucking thing over the ledge and plastic beans rain down onto the sidewalk.

Echo, echo, echo across the dark apartments opposite. Spill now onto the street, rich neighborhood be damned, no one is immune, nothing is sacred, expectation is a falsehood and we owe the world nothing. Conor was right. Shit, fuck, or don’t. Create, or don’t. We’re all net zero, vessels without a message, animals in straight jackets.

Bag exhausted, I slug from the bottle. Olde English. Quite the concept. An original language where words only hold one meaning. The world, a Willie Nelson song — precise, unequivocal, true. I could never reach that simplicity. I was forever chasing, forever anxious or else numb by choice.

Ask any man what makes him happy, what he lives for, who he serves, and you will get a pack of lies. Believe nothing. Manhood in our cyber age is little more than a euphemism for cock.

A lone taxi turns onto the street, searching for a fare. I slide the wedding band from my finger, hold it up to one eye, and frame the driver’s unsuccessful bid down the block.

Insert half-baked metaphor here, about how anything in the world can be framed by marriage, so long as one is willing to exclude the rest.

This white gold band is supposed to represent eternity, commitment, etcetera. Strange, that it should fit so nicely onto the neck of the bottle.

The warmer the malt liquor, the more welcoming it becomes. It’s a haphazard embrace but it’s honest. Fuck gin. Fuck whiskey. Fuck any spirit promising solace. This is a new chapter. I am a new man. I have money and a clean slate. Most men would die for this.

Kitty proposed to me with a scavenger hunt. The final clue led me to an open field where she’d sprawled a blanket under infinite stars. She said, “I can’t imagine sharing my life with anyone but you.” Leave it to Kitty, love of my life, to turn down my six proposals only to stage the most romantic gesture of them all.

We got married on her family’s property — my father, missing in action. We lived there for a time. Sleeping in her childhood room. Commuting into the city. Her first job, working an emergency vet hospital. Mine, pushing numbers. Our first apartment was a rat hole in an enviable part of the city. We worked tirelessly. We saved. Quality of life improved and the transition was too subtle to notice. We stopped our adventures. No time or energy, with all we wanted to accomplish.

I roll onto my side. I don’t remember lying down. The sky is pissing on me. Standing takes time. My stomach feels every inch that separates me from the street below. I shove my phone into my pocket. Stop. Retract. Check for recent calls. Sure enough: 5 a.m., outgoing to my lawyer. Did we talk? Did I leave a voicemail? There’s only so much damage I could have done in a minute fifteen seconds.

Where is my ring? There was the taxi, then the bottle. My brain beats against my skull.

Make a sweep of the roof, come up empty, lean over the ledge, vomit into my mouth.

Stairs are made to kill. Twice on the way down, they try to buck me. By the grace of God, I’m spit out onto the street, unscathed.

The bean bag’s billowy shell is caught among the trees. The bottle’s label lies among shattered glass. I drop one knee to the concrete, pierce skin and fabric alike, search for precious metal, blink when my balance starts to buckle. I cannot rise until I find it.



This piece appears as part of a serialized fiction experiment by Nathaniel Kressen for At Large magazine. New installments are 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. He was commissioned by At Large magazine to publish his third novel in serialization now available, with new chapters publishing weekly titled My Life on Rye. And, as one half of the wife-and-husband team Grackle + Pigeon, he’ll be publishing a tome for modern living this fall Blanket Fort: Growing Up Is Optional (William Morrow). You can find his work at