Mike Hantman lives in Fairfax, Virginia. He recently completed his MFA in Creative Writing at George Mason University and is currently teaching and writing. In his free time, Mike can be found hiking with his dog Jayne or hanging out with family and friends.
Try to Have a Life Worth Living
Leighton had faded out of the conversation taking place within this seemingly intimate and fully formed gathering of art patrons, and was now trying to discern if the cancer story that Ellen was telling was about her dog or her son. He wanted to convey the appropriate amount of sadness. The occasion seemed too formal for this to be a human cancer story. Still, the way she was emphasizing, was dragging down her words, it could be. He heard the name Skip tossed around and wondered if this could really be a human name. Timothy was almost on the verge of tears, hunching over with small red eyes- some people do get attached to animals. But Alexandra was grinning along. Could she really miss the blatant social cues as to the nature of this thing? Was she completely tuned out? Leighton drooped his eyes just slightly.
He put on a shallow sympathetic smile and held on until the story ran its course. After it had, after the dull quiet that followed, he took himself up to Ellen’s side and simply, quietly, touched her arm and accompanied this with a warm and deep smile. After that he went to make himself another drink.
He snuck into the kitchen and poured himself some scotch from the liquor cabinet, hoping no one would notice. Jim would think it was rude for Leighton to drink scotch, seeing as how it wasn’t available to their guests, but Leighton worked quietly and quickly, thinking he could pass the drink off as a Jack and Coke or some other thing. The undiscerning wouldn’t notice. He could use a good scotch.
He strode out into his living room, circled around a few of the guests, and then moved over to the spot on the wall next to the painting of red streaks overlapping green and blue spheres. He sipped his scotch and surveyed the people drinking, talking, gesturing with their hands, leaning over one another, placing the careful arm on the shoulder, the subtle glances towards the rest of the crowd, seeing who else was around, the other things they could be doing. Derrick, Fiona Weinstrum’s new boyfriend, looked at him sharply, quickly, through the crowd. He had been eye- fucking Leighton so hard and so frequently throughout the night that Leighton didn’t know what to do with it anymore.
At first this seemed like a comfortability thing- let’s show people how comfortable I am with my sexuality and your sexuality and everyone’s sexuality that I’ll throw you a glance, just to keep things even. For a brief moment, Leighton had actually entertained the possibility that there might be some legitimacy to his glares, but now it was just vanity. You’re attracted to other men right? How can you not be attracted to me? He was preposterously good looking from a catalog, more cardboard cutout than actual human, to the point where he wasn’t even attractive, just fascinating in an odd way.
He kept his spot on the wall and continued to sip on his scotch. He noticed Jenna as she sidled up to his position, a kind of excitement around her mouth, widened lips, her eyes darting from corner to corner. He smiled at her. She leaned into him and took a whiff of his scotch.
“What?” he said flatly.
“I have to take a shit,” she said.
“So take a shit.”
“I don’t want to shit up your bathroom,” she said.
“I don’t think you will,” he said.
“There’s all these people,” she said. “I don’t want to be the one to shit up the bathroom.”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” he said.
“What was pink in hue and crescent like the fertile moon?” Leighton whispered.
He was standing at the back of the room as Miranda Strousse recited her seventh poem of the night. He could barely make out her face between all the crowded heads standing in front of him.
“I think she was describing her labia,” Jenna whispered back.
“Why do older women always talk about their junk?” he whispered again, softly.
“Poets and such,” he said.
“Guys talk about their dicks,” Jenna said.
“Yeah,” Leighton whispered. “But as they get older they’re discouraged from it, or they stop. The older the woman gets, if she’s a writer or an artist, the more her privates become a topic of discussion.”
The man in front of them glanced backwards, not with a harsh look, more curious, but the effect was still dampening to the conversation. Leighton pulled back, he put his arms in front of his body and clasped his hands together, standing upright and closing his mouth. They waited a minute or two.
“Liberation,” Jenna whispered to him as she leaned over one last time to finish off the dialogue.
The last inaudible beat of Miranda’s poem was spoken and she looked up, bobbed her head slightly, and there was a light sound of applause, almost like tapping. Jim got up and thanked her, said she was great, and welcomed Jeremy Bernstein up to the front. There was more light applause. Jim stepped back into the crowd and made his way back to Leighton.
“Are you gonna go up?” Jim said quietly to Leighton over the poets opening words, pinching his arm.
“I’m not sure,” he replied.
“You could read that one about the trees,” Jim said.
“Maybe,” Leighton said.
The two stood next to each other silently.
“I think we’re almost out of beer,” Leighton whispered to Jim.
“We’re fine,” he whispered back.
“I might make a quick run.”
“To where?” Jim asked.
“Just the Korean market down the street,” Leighton said.
“Japanese,” Leighton said.
“Then what?” Jim said back, still keeping his voice low and firm.
“I don’t know,” Leighton said. “Korean beer.”
“Do you think people will drink it?”
“It’ll be fine I’m sure,” Leighton said.
“Just try to be back before we get to Hilda. I think you should read that one about the trees,” Jim said.
Leighton smiled at him and nodded.
Sarah stood on the yellow braille bumps at the edge of the platform. She closed her eyes, she opened them, she looked for the car, for the small beams of light that would appear from the tunnel, far down the tracks. She edged herself closer and closer to the side of the platform, breathed heavily, looked down at the rails. She could hear the car coming, hear the rumblings, the engine, feel the force of its movement. She closed her eyes and tried to picture something peaceful, some sort of peace. She felt the wind rush through her hair, the gravity of the train as it sped by. She was almost in tears. When she felt it stop, she opened her eyes and looked into the car crammed with people, she stepped in.
Leighton admired the dim lighting in these kinds of places. It’s remarkable how much of a feel, how much energy the simple ornaments of one’s surroundings can have, what it can tell you. This was no doubt, in part, why people moved here, because in between hot spots and yoga studios there were sandwiched things like Korean groceries with musky aromas and sad lights. It was humbling in a way, grounding- brought one back to earth from whatever intangible sense they pursued in their cultured lives.
He surveyed the beers, unable to pick one out that seemed foreign enough, sophisticated, cultured enough for his guests. OB, Cass, and Cafri all had low- end qualities to them, to their names and their packaging. Jespi had a certain feel to it, the bottles were interesting and the name had a ring, a foreignness, an exotic quality, but he couldn’t tell if this was superficial, would come off as gimmicky. Leighton searched for the word to describe this- he knew there was a perfect one, but it escaped him, as words had done with further frequency as of late.
He stepped outside of the store and looked across the street at Sables, a nice and somewhat overpriced bar that he had been to a few times. More dim lighting, but with tinges of neon and slick wood paneling, a different feel altogether.
“You don’t like the painting?” the woman said to him, smiling, self-assured.
“It reminds me too much of nothing,” Leighton said, sipping his scotch.
He had made himself comfortable at Sables and struck up a conversation with a young woman with curly blonde hair and a small black dress who smiled too much. Carroll, he thought her name was.
“I like it,” she said, looking back at the canvassed red and white circles mounted behind the bar.
“Well it’s pleasant enough,” Leighton said. “But that’s the problem, it’s just pleasant, it’s not…” Leighton brushed his hand back through his hair and took another sip.
“It’s like a Pollack or something- pleasant vacancy to crowd around.”
“You don’t like Pollack?” she asked him.
“Not so much that,” he said. “But art today, so much of art, is just, it’s a representation of art but it isn’t, well, it isn’t there. It’s circles and squares with no real meaning that represent culture, they represent an affinity, affinity for art, but nothing artistic in itself.”
“I think it’s pretty,” she said. “It’s just nice I think.”
“It is that,” Leighton said, toasting the painting with his glass.
“But,” he began again. “I mean, look at Gauguin, or Van Gogh, or even Picasso for all his theoretical bullshit. There’s something beyond form there, beyond statement, it’s something, well I don’t know, tangible, or quintessential, or curious, maybe not that, but essential maybe.” He sat, his arms folded across each other, gripping his glass with his left hand, waiting for something to click in his mind.
“Well you definitely have an opinion,” she said. He smiled at her.
“So what do you do?
“I’m a poet,” he said, his head stumbling around as he sipped.
“Really?” her eyes widened.
“Well,” he said. “If you can call yourself…” he stopped. “I’m more of an editor really, I work for a magazine.”
“Oh,” she said. “That sounds nice.”
“It is,” he said, sipping his scotch. “It is.”
Leighton looked at the small, olive-skinned girl a few stools down. She was sulking, her head tilted down, staring at an empty beer. She had a sense of weight to her. He hopped over a few stools.
“Let me buy your next?” he asked, a casual smile accompanied by a sense of inebriation, a charming- out-of placeness.
“Oh, thanks,” she said, feigning a smile that still came off as a frown. “I’m Ok though.”
“Come on,” he said. “I’m not trying to hit on you or anything, you just look like you could use some company.”
“Really, I’m fine.”
Leighton raised his hand and signaled the bartender.
“Another, um, what’re you drinking?”
“I don’t really care,” she said.
“How bout a Yuengling?”
She continued to look down.
“A Yuengling for um…” He looked over to her, his eyebrows raised. She remained stoic. Finally, after an uncomfortable wait, she glanced over at him.
“Sarah,” she said.
“A Yuengling for Sarah,” he said merrily.
The two waited in silence as the bartender brought over her beer, placed it on the bar over a red napkin, and left silently.
“Cheers,” Leighton said, raising his scotch. She tilted the tip of the bottle ever so slightly, to which he gave a fully exaggerated thrust of his glass into hers, a loud clink, and then a large wave of his arm that feigned a ricochet. He took a large sip.
“So what do you do then, um?”
“Right, I knew that. What do you do Sarah?”
“What do I do?”
He shrugged. “These sort of things have to start off somewhere, and there’s something to the basics of conversation, y’know, they’re necessary for a reason, don’t you think?”
“I guess,” she said.
“So then how about it.”
She placed her hand on her forehead and massaged it slightly.
“It doesn’t have to be a grandiose thing,” he said. “Not even your occupation or whatever, just something.”
She took a small sip of her beer.
“I’ve been telling people that I’m a poet,” he said, leaning into her space.
“I go to school,” she said.
“American,” she said.
“Oh that’s what, near Maryland.”
She took another sip.
“I thought you looked young,” he said. “Are you even old enough to be in here?” he said with a grin. “It’s Ok, I won’t tell. So, um, what do you study up at old AU?”
“I’m in communications,” she said.
“Ironic,” he said lightly. There was no reaction.
“So what?” he went on. “Like newspaper, commercials, media?”
“I was into film for a while,” she said.
“For a while?”
“Just like, film class and stuff. I guess I’m still in them.”
“Well sometimes things kind of run out I guess.”
She was quiet again.
“You see any good ones?” he said. “Any good films?”
“We did a lot of surrealist stuff,” she said.
“What, like Bunuel, Fellini?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
“You like em?”
“No one does,” she said. “There’s like, one girl in our class.”
“ I can see that,” he said. “Those films can be a bit… messy perhaps, or maybe, well you know.”
After this came abrupt silence. Leighton drummed his fingers on the bar and whistled quietly, looking around the place.
“Jenna?” he said, recognizing his friend walking across the room.
“What are you doing here?” she said as she stepped cautiously towards the bar.
“Probably the same thing as you,” he said.
“I had to go to the bathroom,” she said.
“God, you’ve been holding it in all this time?”
“Why are you down here?” she asked.
“I don’t know, who knows?” he said with an impish smile. “Here, take a seat, have a drink with us.”
Jenna slowly took a seat next to Leighton.
“This is, um, Sarah,” he said, gesturing to her. Sarah looked over without a smile or greeting of any kind, then returned to herself. Jenna nodded slightly.
“Sarah was just telling me about her school,” Leighton said. “She’s an Eagle, I think, is that what they have over at American?”
“I think so,” Sarah said quietly.
“She thinks so,” Leighton said.
“You’re in college?” Jenna asked.
“So what are you doing all by yourself on a weekend?” Jenna asked,with a sympathetic tilt of her head towards the girl.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Oh come on,” Leighton said. “What brings you all the way down here to U Street? Are you meeting someone?”
“I just kind of wandered down,” she said.
“A long way to wander,” Leighton said.
“I took the metro.”
“Well yeah,” Leighton said. “But there’s still the question. Why are you wandering all the way down here, y’know? What brings a young individual like yourself down to this bar on this evening? Of all the places and things to be doing.”
“I guess…” She pulled her elbows back from the bar and curled her fingers into the wood paneling. Leighton looked at her with anticipation.
“You guess what dear,” Jenna said.
“ I was thinking about killing myself,” she said.
Leighton’s expression turned blank. Jenna leaned in and put her hand on her chest.
“Really,” Leighton said, softly, squinting his eyes, trying to discern if this was some kind of verbal jab or joke, an unwarranted counterstrike against him.
“Oh honey you shouldn’t…” Jenna said.
“It’s not really,” Sarah began. “I mean I was just thinking.” She sighed. “ I don’t know why I told you that, I’m sorry.”
“Shit,” Leighton said again before taking a large gulp of his scotch and dropping the glass back onto the bar.
“I’m sorry,” Sarah said. “ I should…”
She looked around the bar, pressed her hands down on the wood and began to arch herself out of her stool.
“Now wait,” Leighton said. “ Ok look, I know this isn’t the type of conversation that, well, look, that you mean to have, but it’s there now, so we can at least, I mean it’s out there so now the least you can do is let it…”
She looked at Leighton with puzzled eyes.
“I mean we can keep things moving can’t we? And maybe…” Leighton pressed the back of his hand his mouth, a contemplative look on his face.
“You shouldn’t do something like that honey,” Jenna said. “There’s reasons to live. Life can be so full if you want it to.”
“Now hold on Jen,” Leighton said. “I know where you’re coming from but, Sarah back me up on this, I don’t think sentimentality is the right thing here. It just rolls off in cases like this. I think we need to address the issue, the thing at hand here, and probably just, y’know… Sarah am I right here? You don’t want to hear about flowers and true love and birthday parties do you?”
“Not really,” Sarah said.
“Ok then,” Leighton said. “Now let’s tackle- and no offense here, I know this must be painful for you and all, so no offense- but you, well you’re young and all, and you probably have some terribly foolish reason for wanting to do this. Or thinking about it.”
“I don’t know,” Sarah said.
“Well?” Leighton finished off his scotch.
Sarah sat quietly, stoically, as if she was looking into herself, bargaining with her reasons and qualms over what she could say, why this was now happening and what could possibly come of it.
“Well I guess it’s…”
She paused as Leighton moved his head towards the bartender. He put his hand up and gestured for another scotch. He turned back to Sarah. She looked down.
“Go on,” Leighton said.
“ It’s just, I mean it’s hard to explain really,” she said. “It’s just a grayness. Like things don’t matter anymore, and I just don’t really see the point in things. It’s like I’m waiting for this release or something, I’m always bored and I feel fed up and I just want things to be differen,t but they don’t change, so maybe they should just end.”
The bartender brought Leighton his new scotch, removing the old glass. Leighton leaned back and took a sip. A few moments passed.
“I have to say that’s not as foolish as I thought it might be,” he said. “I mean you have some legitimacy there. I thought your boyfriend dumped you or you didn’t get good grades or something. You know kids can be so stupid about things, but there’s some maturity in that, you have something I think.”
Jenna sat beside Leighton, a worried look in her eyes. Still she didn’t intervene, she simply sat,hooked on the situation, some sense of hope floating around her. Sarah was looking down again.
“Not that you should in anyway kill yourself, but I think you might have a point there, but it’s not... I mean it’ll unfold you know?”
“Have you thought about seeing a psychiatrist?” Jenna asked. “Maybe getting on some medication or something?”
Sarah shook her head.
“Maybe you should,” Jenna said.
“It’s a good point,” Leighton said. “And yes I think that is a good place to go from here, but still, I think we need to deal with the situation in this context, here in this bar. We need to get you there I think. Or maybe get you to getting there.” Leighton went on. “ What’s life like for you? What’s your life like that this is happening?”
“It’s Ok,” Sarah said.
“Come on now,” Leighton said.
“Really honey,” Jenna said. “You can open up if you want to.”
“No really,” Sarah said. “It’s not that my life is that bad, I mean not bad bad. I have friends and I go to parties sometimes and I can have fun. But it’s just this thing where it’s like, I just don’t think anything matters anymore. I just don’t want to face one more day of this … ”
“Do you date at all?” Jenna asked. “Do you have a boyfriend or anything?”
“Yeah,” Sarah said, taking a sip of her beer, her shoulders flexing and then finally loosening just a bit, a modest swing in her being, a sense, finally, if only slightly, of having a presence.
“I went out with this guy for a month or two,” she said. “It was fine.”
“What do you mean fine?” Jenna asked.
“He was a jerk,” she said. “But he was, I don’t know, he was fine, but we never really connected.. He was nice sometimes….”
“But that’s something,” Jenna said. “That’s reason enough to keep going, small things like that.”
“But that’s kind of the thing,” Sarah said. “I sit in class and my mind wanders and I look at the other people, and it’s just the same old, same old shit. I thought things would be different here. I feel more and more useless and I get the idea that I could disappear and it would be fine. Like tonight, I just kept thinking about ending things, like I could just throw myself in front of a train and that would be it. Fine, y’know?”
There was another pause, Jenna pursed her lips thoughtfully. Leighton spoke up.
“This is kind of another thing, but, first off you shouldn’t throw yourself in front of a train.”
“Agreed,” Jenna said.
“I mean that’s a horrible way to do it,” Leighton said. “Do you know that train conductors, there’s a thing with them, they feel tremendous guilt when they see a body fly into the car.They practically explode all over the windshield. It’s really a horrible thing to do to someone. And then it messes up a ton of people’s commute.”
Sarah looked at him, wide - eyed.
“If you’re gonna do it find some pills or a bathtub or something quiet at least. Not that the people who clean those tubs are whatever, but they have services for that at least, and I mean, do they even have bathtubs at college?”
“Lee!” Jenna said in a harsh whisper.
“You shouldn’t do any of it, I’m just saying if you do…”
Jenna smacked him on the shoulder.
“Sorry, sorry,” Leighton said. “But I’m making a point here.”
He sat back and let his eyes wander. He stumbled then readjusted himself on the stool.
“Well, what is it?” Jenna asked.
“It’s about the train,” Leighton said.
“Maybe you should just drop that,” Jenna said.
“No, It’s Ok,” Sarah said. “I’ve never actually thought of that.”
“Well there you go,” Leighton said. The two women looked up at him.
“There what goes,” Jenna said.
“My point….” he said. “She’s not…” He turned over to Sarah. “You’re not really thinking are you?”
Leighton stayed quiet. He took in Sarah’s appearance again, for a moment. This time he noticed something that he had sensed before, but that now felt stronger, different, almost threatening. It was the calmness in her, the almost smug indifference that was hiding something else. Something about her began to haunt him, a vague presence that masked some deep current of emotional distress. This other thing that couldn’t breathe, that was, maybe, he speculated briefly, clawing its way out from her depths, and in that pain the search for release. But this was all presumption he realized. It was a stab at something - ultimately it seemed to be too well- hidden for any real judgment.
He looked back towards himself, towards the center of the bar and his almost empty glass.
“I had another point,” he said. “Just listen to me for a second here and I’ll get to it, but hold on.”
He put his hand up and signaled the bartender for another scotch, then drank the last remaining drops from the bottom of his current glass. He composed himself, his arms bent at his sides, his hands grasping the side of the bar. He took a breath and then looked back towards Sarah.
“ Let me ask you,” he said. “And just follow me for a second. Just tell me do you like poetry? Is there any poem you like? And something real – there’s a whole other thing I could get into –“
“Not really.” Sara tore a small pieceoff of the label and was tearing that into smaller pieces.
“Well, do you know what my favorite poem is?”
She shook her head calmly, keeping her eyes sterile and unfocused.
“Right, why would you? It’s this little thing from this woman I met a few years ago who’s barely been published, who I’ve tried to get, well, people don’t get her so much, but it’s just this little thing that most people have never read and never will, but of all the stuff that’s out there, it’s my favorite.”
“Ok,” she said.
“Are you talking about Ruth?” Jenna asked him.
“Patricia O’Connell,” he said back.
“You should talk about Ruth’s piece,” she said to him, huddling into him slightly, creating a sense of privacy.
“The one about Paris,” she said. “And the rocks.”
“I don’t think that’s really it,” Leighton said back.
“It’s uplifting,” she said. “It’s got some light in it.”
She looked at Leighton, as he cringed and shook his head.
“It’s just that you’re getting a little dark,” she said. “You can get dark sometimes, Maybe…”
“Just, I think I have a point here,” he said. “It’s the one about her hands, and you know it’s so…”
Leighton looked back towards Sarah, sitting nicely on their periphery, silent and calm and therefore all the more frightening. He suddenly felt woozy and took a deep breath and another sip to keep himself together.
“So this poem,” he said. “The one that nobody reads, it’s just about this woman’s hands.”
Sarah gave a quick, obedient nod.
“She’s old, her hands are gnarled, she can barely hold a pencil. Well she looks at her hands, and she really looks at them, and I won’t do it the disservice of trying to recite it, but she really sees her hands, all the little marks and lines that make them up, and she thinks of how they were formed, and all the little moments and actions that created them, every little line –all the pieces that were woven together to form the fabric of her life.”
Leighton paused for a sip and continued.
“And she realizes that she’s coming face to face with so much of her life through this moment, through just seeing, really seeing her hands. But inspite of the pain and the disfigurement, she knows that this moment will never come again, and she stays in this reality as long as she can until it fades. And every day, every week, every month – inspite of the pain - she opens her eyes and walks out the door. She chooses to be part of this world.”
He waited for a second or two until she gave another brief nod.
“And that’s something,” he said.
Sarah continued to look at him, twirling strands of her hair, shredding the label into 50 little pieces, scattering them across the bar.
“Ok,” she said.
“Are you getting anything from this?” Leighton asked.
“I guess it’s that there’s little moments in life,” she said.
“Well, Ok,” Leighton said. “But are you, I mean is this getting at anything? Do you kind of get something from this?”
Sarah rubbed the back of her neck.
“ I mean it’s nice but I think, it kind of sounds like something you’d tell to someone to keep them from, well…”
“Well that is in fact what I’m doing,” Leighton said. “And not to put you off but a person doesn’t walk into a bar and tell someone that they’re gonna throw themselves in front of a train if they don’t, in some small part, want to be talked out of things.”
“Maybe we should talk about something else,” Jenna said. “ Change the pace a little.”
“Well wait just a second,” Leighton said. “ Sometimes you have to get a bit hard with things like this, you can’t just avoid it, you have to know what’s there.”
Jenna looked at Leighton sternly, still trying to communicate something compassionate, but now with urgency. He replied to her with a soft look, something that seemed to know, that had a knowledge of some sense of pain.
“It’s Ok,” Sarah said. “You can keep going.”
“What I’m getting at here is, look, not everything you do turns out the way you think it should. Her poem will never be read by nearly as many people as it should, and she put in much more effort and pain into writing it, into just being able to write it, than she’ll ever see in any sort of return.”
He stopped and took a a deep breath. He wobbled, falling backwards and then gripped the bar and pulled himself upright.
“Things get broken and sometimes they get fixed. But no matter what happens, life goes on and rearranges itself. Sometimes beautifully. And my point here is that if you don’t pour yourself into it, it’s not worth much.”
He stopped for a second as the bartender brought over his drink, he pulled the glass up, circled it around his mouth, and then let himself put it back down on the bar before taking a drink.
“It’s just a shell,” he said. “It’s empty by itself. It looses some vibrancy, that veneer, whatever it is, and you just feel like, like you’re going through the motions without, well, without that excitement. So what is the point then you ask?” He tapped his glass against the bar.“The point is get involved, make it your own. You take what you do, even though it miight just be a pretext, and you pour yourself into it.’
“That was nice Lee,” Jenna said, putting her hand on his shoulder. Leighton leaned in for a moment,quickly turned towards Sarah and pulled back when he realized how close he was to her actual face.
“Is any of this, is it clicking at all?”
“I guess,” Sarah said quietly. “A little bit.”
Leighton kept his gaze pressed upon her.
“It’s just, it’s not really…” she stopped herself and look back down at her beer bottle.
“Well, look,” Leighton jumped in. “It’s a metaphor I guess, maybe it should be more, but I think in metaphors and that’s what makes it…”
As he sat another beer in front of her, Sarah started to speak.
“I mean it just seems like…I just feel like I’m wasting time. I just want to be someone or somewhere else, ” she said, and then trailed off once more, fighting back tears.
“Do you want me to give you the meaning of life?” he asked. “ I can only say so much before…” and he stopped.
At this Jenna leaned in.
Leighton continued to look at Sarah, at the modest tone in her appearance, even in this slight confrontation she seemed unmoved.
“ You have something that’s pushing you and hurting you and you don’t know what to do with it so your instinct is to give up.”
He took a large gulp of scotch, bringing the glass above his jaw line. There was a liquid sliver left in the glass when he put it back down.
“But things change” he said. “They turn into something else if you stick with them. This thing that you can’t stand could turn into something great, or maybe not, but you don’t really know do you?”
Sarah turned her head away, and then back to him again, altogether avoiding him, but not directly confronting him either.
“That’s life,” he said. “That’s what life is, these little things you can’t see, these ups and downs, these moments. The bumps in the road and the beauty of a day...”
“Ok,” she said.
“And well,” Leighton said. “Do you want something out of life? It doesn’t just come. It isn’t handed to you on a plate...and it will never be the thing you think, it’s just…”
There was another pause. He looked at his glasss, turned it around and brought the last little drop up to his lips.
“It’s a pile of shit that flowers grow from,” he said. “And if you don’t want that …if you don’t want that, then maybe…”
“Ok,” Jenna said, loudly and firmly, the faintest glimpse of kindness still lingering in the back of her voice.
“Why don’t we just change the subject?”
Leighton’s face started to droop and his breath was heavy with fumes of alcohol. “I think if you can find it…”
Jenna patted Leighton the back. “Ok,” she said. “Do you mind if we talk for a little bit? Me and Sarah?”
Leighton paused.He looked up at Jenna wearily and then back down at his drink. He smiled, first to himself and then back at Jenna. He turned to Sarah, giving her a slight nod and grasped his glass in his hand and then stumbled off his seat and slid over to Jenna’s place while she walked around him.
Jenna sat down and gave Sarah a warm grin.
“So tell me,” she said. “Where are you from, do you have parents or family in the area?”
There was a pause as Sarah adjusted herself. Leigh noticed her air of dread and perhaps confusion give way to a sense of grace, of socialibility. As subtle as the change was, Leighton was still taken aback by how quick it happened.
“Well, from Connecticut, originally Maine,” she said. “But we moved when I was pretty young.”
“That’s nice,” Jenna said. “Where in Connecticut?”
Leighton continued drinking, as he sat at the edge of conversation. Jenna asked questions and Sarah answered them, in increasingly warmer tones and longer takes. Jenna went on about other things too - Leighton had trouble following. The air became warm, warmer, and the night faded.
He was happy with this for a moment but fears settled in. Had he been eloquent or sincere enough? Had he added to her anxiety by failing to find the right words? Things were light now, but there can be diminishing returns with lightness, with levity, with happiness when that happiness comes in the form of relief. Things return, and could a person, could she, withhold those things? This was a question, he supposed, that he couldn’t answer. Even if anything of his had stuck, even if it had been eloquent or beautiful, it still could easily fade, still could be pushed out at a moments notice by this thing that encroaches, that dread, those feelings that he saw in her, that he wanted to grab hold of and shake down and make bare and visible and, well, so it goes. A reprieve for now, and perhaps that was a good thing, a fine thing. But there was still, and slowly and gaining, a feeling of darkness in the back of his mind that this thing wasn’t over- of course it wasn’t, these things never were.
Leighton stumbled back into his apartment to find it empty and a mess. It hadn’t been cleaned, at least not well. He stuck his head into the bedroom to find Jim passed out, face down with his socks still on. Leighton went into the kitchen and looked at all the dishes piled up at the sink. He was tired and drunk, almost too drunk to stand up straight, but he approached the dishes anyway, in an attempt to not have to deal with the mess, at least not the full force of the mess, tomorrow. He turned the water on and began to grab plates from the counter and scrub them. He couldn’t see how dirty these dishes truly were, his vision spotty and his head cloudy and dim- sometimes he saw spots where there weren’t spots or thought a plate was clean only to find more dirt on examination. Regardless he scrubbed, he scrubbed hard and then his resolve weakened, and then he scrubbed more until he zoned out and he was just rinsing plates with no real effect. He was trying to get through the pile but he was tired. He looked at the dishes stacked next to him on the counter- there were a lot. And he looked up at the ceiling and sighed.