My life on rye: Laphroaig

Written by
Nathaniel Kressen
11.30.17
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Laphroaig, Part 2

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The speakeasy’s layout affords customers privacy from one another but a clear view of the bartender. Watching him measure and stir and sample our drinks from the end of a straw, one would think that the weight of the world were on his shoulders.

Twenty minutes later, I take my first sip. Nail polish and citrus. Wonderful indeed.

“How is it?” asks Fiona.

“Mhmm,” I answer.

Nursing this modern culinary masterpiece, I start to question my plan to take her home and fuck all the sadness out of me. More sadness is sure to follow and the walls of my apartment have been judging me.

And yet, Fiona has sexualized the art of gnawing the flesh from her olives.

“So what is it with you and music?” she asks. “No offense, but you’re fairly clean cut, and then you come out with this ultra-dark material. Even the covers you choose.”

“They’re not that dark.”

“They’re pretty dark.” She drinks, the level in her glass holds steady. “Well?”

“I’m drawn to them.”

“Why?”

“Story, I guess. Something real.”

“What’s real about it?”

I tilt the glass toward my face. “Not exactly date conversation.”

“Uh, this is exactly the type of thing people should talk about on dates.”

“Depression?”

“Sure, if that’s what’s going on with you. Are you depressed?”

“I don’t think so,” I say.

“Then fuck depression,” she says. “Who brings up depression on a date?”

“Bad daters?”

“Bad daters, that’s right. Let’s steer clear of them.”

I start to wonder if she’s actually drinking anything when she sips.

She swirls her long-stemmed drink. “I believe you were talking my ear off about your music?”

I hate-swallow my nail polish. “I don’t know. Maybe everybody feels like something’s missing, or like they forgot some answer to a test, but nobody I know talks about it.”

“That’s because you’re a straight white dude who probably surrounds himself with other straight white dudes.”

“Okay…”

“Shit,” she says. “Were you not aware?”

“I wasn’t,” I say.

“I’m so sorry for your privilege.”

“It’s a lot to bear.”

“I bet.”

“Fuck it,” I say, leaning in. “Let’s talk about that for a second.”

“Your white male privilege?”

“I mean, it pisses me off sometimes. Like, what right do I have to be upset about anything? Pretty much everyone else on the face of the planet has a harder go of it than I do.”

“Yep.”

“But at the same time, doesn’t that negate the fact that I’m still a person who goes through things?”

“Bro woes.” She fake-sips. “Maybe hold back on that whole whoa-is-me routine when you’re out in public. At least until they find a cure for your straight-white-male disability.”

I smile in spite of myself.

“Please, continue,” she says. “I’ll tell you when you say something condescending.”

The glass is my anchor. I say, “Even before my wife left, there was just this, melancholy. Not depression. Just. This thing that colors everything. It makes you want to sleepwalk through life until that missing answer presents itself.”

“You sure you’re not depressed?”

“Pretty sure.”

“Okay, then. I don’t buy it,” she says. “I mean, everyone feels some level of that but I’ve met 20 year olds who have convinced themselves it’s all over and 70 year olds who wake up every day excited. The adventure exists, man. No matter if you’re stricken with your disability or not. And kudos, by the way. You lasted way longer than I thought you would before bringing her up.”

“Her?”

“Your wife.”

“I did bring her up, didn’t I?”

“I notice you’re still wearing your ring.” We sip in tandem. “It’s alright,” she says. “You already spent an hour talking about depression so the date’s basically over.”

“I ruined it.”

“You did. You really did.”

I swill the last of my drink, she’s still near the brim. “It’s been a long time since I’ve talked this open with anyone. A long time.”

“Masks serve no one,” she says. “No matter if you’re optimistic or not, our time on earth is limited. Make a plan, work your shit out, and find stuff along the way that makes you happy. No bullshit allowed.”

“You remind me of her,” I say, before emptying my glass. “At least early on.”

“Early on?” She sighs. “Well, for that, I am truly honored and deeply sorry.”

I meet her eyes.

“You seem like somebody with a pretty open heart. You’re just out of practice, is all.”

I order a second, then a third cocktail before she finishes her drink. I pay the tab and we rise from our booth. She asks if I live closeby.

The room tilts and for a moment I see my wife sitting across the room. Why would she be wearing the necklace I gave her? Why would she be following me?

“You alright?” asks Fiona. “I thought you had infinite tolerance.”

I rub my eyes, and, like magic, I’m back in a room full of strangers. “I think I should call it a night.”

She looks confused but recovers quickly, playfully punching me in the ribs. “What’s the matter? You have a first date rule?”

“Look at you,” I say. “Look at me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t tell me our age difference doesn’t matter.”

“You are pretty old,” she says, “but how else am I supposed to get in your will?” She steps closer and her lips pause inches from mine. From the scent of her breath, her drink tasted better.

All of me is now screaming just to go for it. Lean in and kiss her good and long and take her home and throw her on the bed and climb so deep inside that nothing real exists anymore. Just the rocking back and forth. Just the imminent explosion and the nirvana that follows.

“Another time,” I say.

I hold her coat but she puts it on herself. We mount the steps outside.

“Can I pay for your cab?” I ask.

“I’ll take the subway,” she says, pulling shut her coat.

“With those heels?”

“I’m tough.” She runs out of buttons to button, glances up the block, then looks at me. “Is it something I said?”

“No.”

“I really didn’t mean to —”

“You didn’t, I just… I’m not really sure what I’m doing here. I should be getting her back.”

“You said she moved out.”

“We’ve been together twenty years.” I shove my hands into my pockets. “It doesn’t just end.”

A cab honks at us, Fiona waves it off.

“I still expect her to be there when I wake up,” I say. “I sleep on the same side of the bed. I haven’t bought any real furniture because, in my heart, I know she’s coming back.”

“You’re not over her yet, I get it.”

“It’s not that.” I swallow. “We’ve been through too much.”

Fiona smiles sadly, steps closer, and leaves an imprint of her lips on my cheek. “Thank you for a wonderful night,” she says. “I hope I never hear from you again.”

She jaywalks across the cobblestone street — the lamplights in this part of the city make everything look like a movie.

I walk two avenues in the wrong direction, discover the river, then hail a cab for myself. I open the window and brave the cold until I’m shaking.

 

 

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.