“Could anything smell sweeter?” A voice asked.
A small nefarious smile crept across his lips. He did not answer. He did not have to. Slowly, insidiously like a cancer, the old curse began to grow in him, overwhelm him, drown him, pull him under and the sound of his soul sliding into the abyss went unnoticed as he poured the venom into a glass. He held it to the light and trained his eyes on it with a studiousness reserved for only the world’s finest of antiquities.
“Oh my…” he breathed.
“Yes, oh my.” The Little Devil hissed. “Oh my, indeed! This is what has been wrong from the very start, isn’t it? She made you stop even though you didn’t want to. She has made you stop everything! She made you do all the things you hated. She made you stop everything shedespised. Well, hell boy! Tell me, was the pussy worth it? Was it? Where is she now, if it was? It would have been more merciful if she had put a gun to your head! But you don’t have to listen to her anymore do you? She’s not here now, is she? But I am…”
Martin crushed out his cigarette, took the glass up in his hands and rolled it between his palms. The scotch undulated and swayed back and forth in the glass like bare tits under a silk blouse, only this was better. Tits come attached to a pair of legs that can walk away but the scotch would always be there, waiting. No judgments, no condemnation, no morality speeches, just comfort and numbness. He needed to be numb. He was tired of feeling, feeling everything! He wanted to forget, to be free, if even for just a moment, for just a few hours.
Suddenly the light was too bright for his eyes. He set the glass down and fairly leapt from behind his desk, lunged for the light switch and snapped it off. In the darkness he could hear his heart pounding. Every breath tore unmercifully at his ears until he could hear almost nothing more.
“I’m here.” Came the voice of his Little Devil.
He crept back to his desk and picked the glass up again.
“Drink.” The Little Devil sneered. “ Show some balls for Christ’s sake!”
Martin rubbed his brow furiously with his left hand. He wanted it, needed it. It was there and nothing need stop him after all, what else could be worse than this? Wasn’t his life in ruins? How much worse could it be? Could a half tumbler of scotch really be that bad?
He put the lip of the glass to his mouth and tipped it. The pungent vapor of the alcohol seared his nose as he breathed in. The slow burn of the alcohol against his palate felt vaguely warm and consoling as he took it slowly into his mouth. He paused and savored the taste.
“Swallow!” The voice commanded. “Swallow!”
His eyes jerked open and he pursed his lips as he held the scotch with his tongue against the roof of his mouth. He looked right, left and then frantically down to the bottle as it sat on his desk.
“Drink!” The Little Devil shrieked.
Martin was suddenly overtaken with the sensation that he was about to die.
“No, no, no!” Martin turned his head and spat the scotch all over the floor and in a frantic moment of self-preservation, threw the bottle and its contents against the far wall. There came the sound of glass shattering and then the room was filled with the stench of chemical death, of every bar he had ever crawled out of. Martin ran his hands threw his hair and pulled until the skin of his scalp was tight. He was losing his mind and losing his sobriety was not going to help. Drinking would kill him as surely as any poison or gun held to his head.
“No,” he said to himself. “No, not today.” He sighed.
The battle of alcoholism had always been one of immense struggle for Martin. Sobriety had not come easy. In the years when he was drinking and drinking steadily, it was only alcohol that brought him out of his shell. Of course, it had been Elizabeth that had borne the brunt of his drinking. Not that Martin hadn’t suffered; he had but it’s easy not to notice an open wound when you can feel no pain and for all those years, Martin had successfully anesthetized himself so that he felt nothing. Now late at night, all alone, unable to stupefy himself with Scotch, Martin had to feel and he had to feel all of it. Was it fair? No, it wasn’t. But then no one ever said life would be fair, and no one ever said that sobriety would be effortless or easy to bear.
He left his office, closed the door, trudged upstairs to the master bedroom where no one waited for him, changed his clothes and decided that though it was barely eight in the evening, it was time to go to bed. Lying alone in the dark, alone with his thoughts, alone with his mind, Martin could not sleep. He tossed and he turned for hours as his mind rolled over on itself and every possibility of his divorce. What was he going to do? He knew that he lived in a Community Property State and that if the courts assigned an arbitrator, he would get 50 percent of everything he and Elizabeth owned, but he did not want 50 percent!
Elizabeth could have everything. She could have the houses. She could have the property. She could have the bank account, the checking, the savings. She could have it all! But he wanted his business whole and intact. His business was the only place where he exercised complete and total control, autonomy near to that of a God! What he said went. What he wanted got done the way he wanted it done. His men knew that. His foremen knew that and anyone who was not willing to do the job the way that he wanted it done simply did not work there anymore. Work was the only place that made sense to him. The rest of it had gone to hell. The rest of it had descended to a point that defied explanation, to a point beyond definition and Martin was a man who learned to center his life upon explanation, definition, and clear boundaries. To be in confusion, to be at a place where he was unsure how to act and what to think was dangerous for a man who had soothed his insecurities for years with libation. Hell and all its fires would be easier to bear for a man whose only combat against chaos had been booze and the fog that came with it.
His marriage had fallen apart and he knew that it was his fault. In the dark days when he drank, the best that he could offer his wife was a stumbling, clumsy, Scotch steeped lust that all too often found him passed out half way through, provided he could even get started. But sex was the last thing she wanted from him. First, she wanted a life; she wanted security and stability. She wanted him to be the man she had fallen in love with in college, the man who was attentive and adventurous. She wanted a man who would woo her not just with kisses and an erection but with the promise of something that lasted beyond the momentary writhing in the back seats of cars and he had done that. They had made plans, he knew. They had talked for hours of what they wanted their lives to be. They wanted to avoid the stale loveless marriages that their parents had. There would be no day-to-day drudgery and desperation for them; every day would be special because they would be in love! They would have a cozy little house with a white picket fence, a dog, a cat and children. The street they lived on would be tree lined and their love nest a place of refuge against the storms that life would throw at them, only he brought the storms home with him. He brought the thunder into their house and used it against her as he screamed and raged at her in a drunken stupor. Liquor and a nightly high ball started out as a soothing liniment for life’s little ills but quickly became the leprosy that ravaged him, his life and everything around him. He never hit his wife, never struck her with his hand or fist, he never had to. His madness took a toll greater than that of a fist and the bruises it left; though unseen unless you looked deep into her wounded eyes, that went to the bone and through her soul. It would have been more merciful if he had hit her. It would have been more humane to have killed her all at once rather than torment her slowly, rather than to inflict on her the years of verbal beatings and abuse that had cowed and finally driven her over the edge of love’s compassion and reason into a chasm of hatred.
Martin rolled onto his side and folded his arm up over his cheek. The rueful moonlight, severed into bloody shadows by the blinds, fell across his face and he listened to the world groan in the darkness. He hadn’t managed to drive his wife away from him with his debauchery. The irony was that it was his sobriety that had finally driven the wedge between them. At least when he was drunk he needed her. When he was in jail, he needed her. When he was passed out on the living room floor and choking on his own vomit, he needed her but that need had been replaced with AA meetings and his sponsor. He no longer confided in her, he told everything to his sponsor. He would meet with Art for several hours at least three times a week and meetings, at the start, were every night while she sat at home alone. He plunged himself into the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous with a vengeance and he worked those steps on himself unmercifully. He made the lists, he made the amends and the apologies and he meant them. He admitted that he was powerless but that never really evidenced itself in his office, though he never quite understood that. Art was constantly explaining to him the difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge but he never understood. He would recite the Twelve Steps like a mantra. The Serenity prayer was an incantation mumbled under his breath during moments of stress and it took the place of the curses and epithets that flowed in the same copious amounts as the scotch. He began to turn his life by force and right or wrong, good or bad it made a difference. In the beginning, she was glad for him and proud but she soon realized that his disease was more insidious than she had ever imagined. It didn’t go away, it simply took another form and left him a controlling unfeeling shell of a man that was no more her husband to her than the drunk slobbering fool she had spent the years rescuing. It was then that her rage began to boil over. What was the pay off? What was her reward? Was it ever going to be her turn or were they simply going to live the rest of their lives around him and his compulsions? Would he have done for her what she had for him? No, he wouldn’t. If the roles were reversed, he would have put her out of his life within the first year! He would have suffered her, the drinking and the life that went with it for a far lesser time.
Tears began to roll down his face. It was so unfair, all of it. He had used her up and used himself as well and there was nothing left now except the scattered broken pieces and they were fighting each other over those. He rolled over on his back. He did love her, even still but it was no use anymore. He had done too much, been guilty too many times for any forgiveness and Elizabeth, if she still loved him, was no longer willing to pardon him as she had done so many times in the past. Through all of it, through everything, she was the glue that held it all together, but she wasn’t willing to be that anymore. For whatever reason, for all of the reasons, Elizabeth was gone and she was not coming back.
It wasn’t that he cared so much for their assets, the houses, the cars. They were nothing to him. A few hours at a local automobile dealership and he could buy another car! Two weeks with a realtor and he would have another home, two even! But though there were other businesses, none of them were his. None of them were businesses that he had built from the ground up. None of them were remnants of a life that he had lived and enjoyed. Had he enjoyed that life? He couldn’t remember. It was a blur, an alcoholic haze but it was familiar and he needed to hold onto it, to something because the only other recognizable piece of his life from those years, the only part of his life that he could not control was suing him for divorce.
His business was the last piece of his sanity and to surrender it would be to fall endlessly into the abyss. He had told Bill to sacrifice everything, give Elizabeth whatever she wanted, but keep the business. Well, that’s not how it had gone, was it? Bill had been out maneuvered. He had warned Martin that divorce was not his specialty but Martin had begged him to take his divorce anyway because he was the only man that he really trusted and what had happened? They had been suckered in court. Now what was he going to do? He did not want an arbitrator. He did not want to give up his business, even a piece of it. What was he going to do?
A fitful sleep tugged at his eyes. He wanted to sleep. He was certainly tired, but he could not shut his mind off. Somewhere in between the wee hours of the morning and the endless calliope that never turned past the same eight bars of music in his mind, Martin finally fell asleep, but it wasn’t a restful one.
Ciccio gathered up his wares into his huge knapsack and headed out for the street. It was well before dawn, and his prayers had already been said with the other Marocchini. He would set up outside of the shop of Andrea Morucchio, which was his usual spot. Even though he had been promoted to Capo Di Strada and had his choice of any of the sites within his district, he decided he would keep his place outside Andrea Morucchio’s shop.
Andrea arrived at his shop in Venice a little after eight in the morning and set about the task of opening. It wasn’t much of a chore. The store was little more than the size of a large walk in closet with an excruciatingly small side room where he hung his jacket and kept a small hot plate to make his afternoon coffee. Opening his shop simply required that he slide the metal gate up, unlock the door and walk in. If there had been the high tide, then he would have to swab the marble floors down after the water had abated but today, mercifully, there had been none. He would listen to the afternoon radio news broadcast to see if there was any predicted but it was still too early in the year. High tides did not generally start until the middle of November and that was still better than a month away.
When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson
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