Down in the Bottle
Liza Michelle Williams
This story contains lines pulled or twisted from Samuel Beckett’s “Texts for Nothing”
There was delight. Someone said, You can’t stay here. The place is unimportant. The walls, very bright from colored LED lights. They’re shiny, so bright, so bright. Stale smells, a metal fan spinning in the corner of the dance floor, tracks of spilled beer, troughs scooped deep by the heels of drag queens and femmes. It was the third one I traced my palm with that night, bending at the waist, away from the light. How can I go on, I shouldn’t have begun, no, I had to begin. Someone said, perhaps the same someone, Why didn’t you just stay home? I could have stayed at home, cozy and dry. I couldn’t.
My home, I’ll describe it. No, I can’t. It’s too messy. I say to my body, Up with you now, and I can feel it struggling, struggling, struggling again till it gives up. I say to the head, Leave it alone, Don’t bother with it. I stop breathing, then pant on. Somewhere I hear a familiar voice say, She needs you right now, you did this to her. I need nothing, neither to go on nor to stay where I am; it’s truly all one to me. I should turn away from it all, away from the body, away from the head, let them work it out between themselves, let the night cease, but I can’t. Another said, or perhaps the same one, All you had to do was stop and go home.
Home. They wanted me to go home. My shared dwelling space. But the haze over my eyes makes it impossible to know which direction home is. It’s not just tiredness. I’m not just tired, in spite of the many drinks. It’s not that I want to stay here either. I heard stories of the night, the increasing tab, the stacked up shot glasses, the dance floor in its mist. It was all on every tongue. Who are these people anyway? Did they follow me down here, lie before me, come with me?
I am down in the hole of the years I have dug, years of denial, of guilt, flat on my face on the dark wooden floor with the creeping puddles of beer. They are up above, all round me, as in a graveyard. I can’t raise my eyes to them, what a pity. I wouldn’t see their faces, but perhaps their legs, plunged in the darkness of the room. Do they see me, what can they see of me?
Perhaps there is no one left, perhaps they are all gone, sickened. I listen and it’s the same thoughts I hear. I mean the very same, strange. To think in the darkness of the bar. How long have I been here, what a question, I’ve often wondered. And often I could answer, An hour, a day, a year, a century, depending on what I meant by here, and me, and being, and there. I never went looking for extravagant meanings, time never varied, only the here would. Or I’d say, I can’t have been here long, I wouldn’t have held out.
I hear the bell ring that means last call, closing of the night. That’s the way it is with bars, generous givers all day, then stingy in the final hour. That’s the way it is for last calls. And that other question I know so well—Why didn’t you just stay home?—is unanswerable, so I answered, Because, or, To dance, or, To see, or again, To see.
Fate, that other thing coming. I’m ready.
All around me is noise, is the unending surge of bass, the stomping of folks’ feet on the floor that drowns every answer I can’t put into words. Again, someone said, You can’t stay here. The harm was done. They picked me up, dragged me out and away from the harm, hoping to go their own ways and hoping I’d go my own way too. And what I’m doing, most importantly, is breathing in and out, saying, with words like a toddler, I can’t go, I can’t stay. This, this is my father all right, only compact in height and size. I follow him well, all the parts fairly well, at least I presume so.
I’m up here and down there, under their gaze, eyes closed, ear now pressed against the wet pavement. My father and I are one mind, we always were, deep down. We’re sorry for one another, there, here—we are—there’s nothing we can do for one another.
One thing, at least, is certain: in an hour the bar will close. Yes, the dance floor will be empty, the music will stop, and all my distractions—the music, the people, the lights—will fade.
Now time and tense mingle. At first, I was only to have been here and now I’m still here. Again, someone said, You can’t stay here. Body flat, neck bent, eyes fastened on a rock, my arms melting into the ground. I felt goose pimples popping along my arms and neck.
I don’t remember coming. My eyes are closing and I feel the wetness from the pavement still on my cheek. My coat is gone. It can’t be far gone or else someone has stolen it. I was attached to that coat. Giving up on myself now would be pointless, although I have, once, if not many times before, given up on myself, retelling the same old stories, asking the same old questions with the same old answers, never giving any thought to him. Yes, he is always muttering about, lulling me and keeping me company, his questions my answers, my questions his answers, and when I was a child there was that time he took me hand in hand on Christmas Eve, and led me to the porch where I sat and watched him fall flat into the grass. All I remember about that Eve was that it ended happily; we watched television and my mother brought him inside, laid him on the couch where he usually slept. Yes, I was my father and I was his daughter. And this evening seems to be working the same.
Someone is holding me in their arms now, without much affection, but faithfully, faithfully. I tell myself to sleep now, as if my father and I are under the same sun, fates twined together. So much remembering, so much forgetting.