They’re fighting again. Each time it gets worse.
She has her arms crossed over her midsection. Her eyes are rimmed with red, tears threatening. She hides behind the festive colors of her blouse.
He’s a cornered animal, ready to thrash and scurry. His blazer is worn, his shirt faded from crisp white, just enough to notice.
“I don’t understand why you have to go every day,” her frail voice factors into the escalation. It rises up to my rotting rafters.
In this house, everything is mine. My grandfather built the goddamn thing using nothing but stolen materials and a ceramic jug of rye whiskey. He did it to keep us safe, to stave off change. I wish he could see how I’ve continued what he started.
“It’s a program,” the man says, raising his arms, exasperated. “A process.”
“So, this is going to last forever?”
“Of course not,” he lies without knowing it, avoiding the boiling idea that death might be a way out. He shuffles his second-hand loafers over my creaking floorboards. “But no one wants what I have to offer. Everyone looks at me like they knew I’d end up like this.”
It’s true, the people in the town know what happens here. They feed me soft souls like dry flowers laid on a tombstone.
“Well,” she replies. The single word separates them more than the bottle ever did.
His mouth dips open in disbelief. The lines in his face are becoming unnatural, like cracks on a weathered canvas. He exhales, deflates. “I need a meeting. At least there I feel useful.”
I like this part. Rising excitement makes the filament in my light bulbs flicker.
“I can’t think about bills, or us, or any of that shit right now. I could fail on any corner in town, at any time. The doors at the convenience store are automatic, 24 hours.”
“Then fail,” her eyebrows rise as if she’s agreeing with him. “You think that’s a threat at this point? Go to whatever corner you want! At least then we could get out of here.”
That’s not going to happen. When my grandfather stumbled into his last bender, he knew there was no escape. That’s why he turned the shotgun on me, then on himself. He was right to do it. My love, my pleading, the very walls he built to protect us helped him pull the trigger. The room was covered in my blood, and I’ll never believe that end was an anomaly.
The defects these people bring me are like conditions of the lease. I use these hesitations to push new souls toward their own catharsis. Many of them could recover, find serenity. But they won’t, not in my house.
When they finally break, I feel like I belong in this world.
It just takes patience. So now, when he moves toward her, driven by anger, hands outstretched, I unfurl. His skin meets the cell I have formed and he is tangled like a gnat in a wisp of cobweb.
He isn’t ready. Not yet. So I hold him.
Likewise, I press into her back, stoking her guilt over thoughts of escape. She breathes heavily, paralyzed by the idea that she is making things worse.
The unexpected pause gives them enough room to reconnect with the versions of themselves I will eventually crack open.
“I’m sorry,” he says, lowering his hands.
It really is, but he will never believe that. Eventually, they will join me, shedding all of that uncertainty, and they’ll do it all at once. Real failure, like anything, can be done perfectly. But it’s a process.
Scott Bryan publishes the online novel/zine Get It Away From Me and penned the screenplay for the feature film Drunk. His work has been rejected from The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The Paris Review, among others.
image: Blake Levario