BOOM! BOOM! The knock against metal door reverberates and rattles inside my sensitive skull. The suddenness of the unexpected banging disturbs and disrupts, and my eyes open wide. I survey the surroundings and take solace in the fact that I should feel much worse. My body seems to be adapting to an ever-increasing rate of consumption. Without lifting my head, I reach for the bottle of generic aspirin that is stationed permanently on the bedroom nightstand. God, I’m thirsty, I tell myself and reach for any available liquid before downing a handful of aspirin with an unfinished beer from the previous night’s binge. Should have checked for cigarette butts, I wonder, but I’m lucky . . . this time. The dull throbbing headache is almost unbearable as I begin the morning ritual of sifting through the haze of yet another alcohol-induced coma. I run through a mental checklist; like a detective, investigating and analyzing sketchy facts that don’t add up. Increasingly, I am not able to piece together the events from a long night of heavy drinking. It’s no use this morning; the fog isn’t lifting. I know I’m home, in a tiny apartment, alone. Beginning to come out of a stupor, I try to push back the only memory that remains: the same one from last night, the night before, and every night during the past three years. But it’s becoming faded, murky, like the vague feeling of déjà vu. Maybe the alcohol is finally doing its job. I rise from the bed and recall the loud knock as the strange feeling begins to pass. Still, I can’t help sense a deviation from the standard routine . . . .
It is a scorching summer Sunday in the Lone Star State; heat and intense sunlight force the need to draw the blinds, close the curtains, and turn the central air to freezing. Living alone allows certain freedoms: sleeping late is one; being hung-over is another. What’s wrong with enjoying an occasional drink? Okay, lately, just maybe, it’s more than occasional, but I do enjoy the numbing sensation as the alcohol begins to work its magic. Maybe I should have just one, a little hair of the dog. I glance at the immense round clock hanging above the small kitchen bar; it is well past noon. I tell myself it is five o’clock somewhere. I reach for the large, tilting decanter of whiskey on the bar and fill a small tumbler, neat, no ice, no water. There is nothing like the feeling of alcohol as it punches the back of the throat and enters the bloodstream. It trips troublesome switches in an emotional breaker box, resets the current, and allows for uninterrupted flow. I sit down and flip the television to golf; I begin to doze. What was I forgetting?
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! “Hang on, I’m coming.” I thought I had only imagined the knock, a dream. Hadn’t had any visitors for . . . How long had it been? Sluggishly, I pull on the handle of the recliner with my right hand, grab the falling remote with the left, and in one smooth move, I am in the upright position. I stand—struggling—feeling no sensation in my lower left leg. Hobbled, I restart the flow by slamming my deadened limb against the floor. The blood slowly drains from my head, down and through my leg, as I begin to feel the tiny electrical signals that indicate weight can be placed on my left foot. I stumble towards the door and kick the previous night’s bottle of wine across the floor. The rapid movement generates an intense head-rush and with it, unstable equilibrium; the room begins to spin. I grasp the bar for support and catch a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror hanging below the huge clock. Shuddering flashes of familiarity spark formless memories, yet I am still unconvinced. Who are you? . . . How long have you been here?” I ask the reflection.
Although currently unemployed, a promotion allowed an escape to this city. Has it been three years? Considered the heart of the Lone Star State, Austin is not the typical “Texas” town. The locals—an eclectic collection of beatniks, hippies, and liberal thinkers—do not fit the stereotypical redneck, Bible-thumpin’ mode. I have always felt I was above such labels, belonging to a smaller, more highly evolved segment of the population, one that doesn’t allow sentiment to shape their persona. My surroundings help to regulate spontaneous emotions and are perfect for my solitary needs. Although it is a tiny living area, the space is meticulously arranged with a black leather recliner positioned in front of a 42” state-of-the-art television. On the wall are black and white photographs of inanimate objects hanging alongside posters of music festivals and art gallery showings. I know they are pretentious, but these artifacts aid in keeping unwanted memories from infecting the atmosphere. Although efficient and organized, wine and beer bottles have begun to clutter the room. The mess normally would cause anxiety—I should clean—but lately I have not had the motivation. I wonder if I should straighten before answering the door?
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! “Just as minute!” I realize the remote is still in my hand. I turn the already hushed announcers down to a whisper. They remind me of sycophantic mimes, praising Tiger for yet another 240-yard high fade that lands softly and trickles to within three feet of the flagstick. I faintly remember good times on the golf course. When was the last time I played?
I check my messages to see if this anonymous knock is someone I should be expecting, maybe a missed call. No, no messages, no missed calls, no text. When was the last time I received a call? I scroll through the contacts and choose the first number from the list, an Amy somebody; I can’t quite remember her last name. I press Send nevertheless; just a busy tone. I choose the next name on the list: Becky; no clue who this is. It’s ringing. . . .Finally, an answer, “we’re sorry this number is no longer in service.’ I try several more with no luck. Desperate now, I try all of the numbers in my contact list, only to get more of the same. I tell myself people only complicate your life. Chit-chat on the phone, responding to text, emails—who has time for the bullshit minutia of others. When was the last time someone knocked this loudly” I wonder. How long ago had it been since . . . ?
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! “Hold your horses!” Moving towards the door, I am distracted by the noise from the pool outside. Muted and muffled, the splashing and giggling rings in my ears. Don’t these idiots know how silly they sound? Maybe this was the good-looking neighbor who had looked my way when I moved here. I can’t remember exactly where our paths had crossed. Can’t quite see her face, but maybe she followed secretly from the communal mailbox. She could be standing at the door wearing cut-off shorts, a bikini top, and holding a 12-pack. “Need some company?” she says; I nod, then escort her to the kitchen. This helps to block the rising memory, the one I have been desperate to eradicate.
Before the move, I had broken off a two-year relationship with a beautiful woman who had two young sons. I wasn’t ready for instant fatherhood and began planning an escape. A new job would take me to Austin. I told her once I got settled, I would call. I didn’t. This was my ticket to freedom. She had asked me not to leave, but the plan was in motion; I would not look back. The decision was not easy. She had nice things: a beautiful house, an expensive car, and one hundred and fifty thousand dollars collected from a life-insurance policy after her mother’s head had been blown off. The murder-suicide was no mystery. Her father had been threatening to kill the entire family for years; I guess he finally found the courage of his convictions to make good on his threats. At least he had the guts to finish himself off. She had been the one to find the bodies.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! Unsettled, I consider the reality that most girls don’t knock this hard. “Who is it?” No response. I approach the door and look through the peephole. The view is obscured by a looming shadow. A sensation washes over me, an unease that causes the blood to drain from my face. I shrink from the door, reach for the now half-empty bottle and top off the glass. I tell myself that living alone causes paranoia and uncertainty as I finish refilling the half-empty tumbler. Apprehension causes distraction, and I notice the whiskey spilling over the rim of the glass. My mind begins to race back in time. How long have I been here? The details are fuzzy; something strange begins to stir in my gut. Shit, thought that had been turned that off. Do not need this, right now, ever. I place the tumbler of whiskey to my lips and drink. Unquenchable, I begin to pour another.
I remember when she first knocked on my door, just a few days after her parents’ death. She didn’t really talk about the “incident” much, and I didn’t ask. She did, however, express that she would never do such a thing, leaving behind a gory mess for her kids to clean up. Her depression seemed mild at first, but her perpetually sad face began to grow darker over the next two years. Drinking made the situation tolerable, but I began planning my escape just the same. Normally, this would have been hard to leave, but the money was almost gone anyway. One month after the move, I received a phone call: while her kids were away, she drove into the garage, shut the door, and left the car idling. A neighbor found the bloated, purple body several days later. Friends and family speculated about the cause. Most had been aware of her depression, and with the exception of her eighty-seven year old grandmother, no one expressed that I should shoulder any of the burden. What does she know about depression? her granddaughter would have gone through with it sooner or later, right? I try to push it back; this has become a daily ritual. It is easy enough to escape: just pour another drink. Has it been three years?
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! Seven rapid, forceful, violent knocks. I shrink from the door back to the safety of the bottle. I pour a third drink and knock it back, fast. It’s not working. Although I have wiped the rest of the slate clean, the memories of her are still clinging. I cannot rid myself of this ghost. Why do they call alcohol spirits? I wonder? Am I losing my mind? Just open the door—just put your hand on the knob and turn. I place my hand on the door; it’s trembling. Funny I didn’t notice that before.
Suddenly, a click, and all comes to an abrupt halt. The thoughts in my head, the trembling, and the knocking are all quiet now. Trying to convince myself all is well, I feel a pressure in the room and in my chest, something is about to change in my comfortable routine. I quickly turn the lock, open the door and . . . .
It is eerily quiet, no wind, no sounds of laughter, no one there, only a yellow phone book, neatly placed, and wrapped in plastic.