The Bitter End
“I love you, as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret between the shadow and the soul.”
“I don’t drink whiskey any more,” Frankie says to me in his thuggish Boston accent:
“You know, on account of that whole being-Irish thing.”
“I get mean.”
I imagine him leaning back in his wooden chair, feet up on his writing desk running his long fingers through his red hair, phone pressed sacredly against one ear as if he were holding me directly against his heart.
“Well, I do, still, drink whiskey,” I say, taking a sip, reveling in the taste of that amber ether. Waiting for that familiar amniotic fluid to lubricate my brain with each prudent swallow.
He says he’d watch me drink it as long as I was wearing a garter belt and stockings. My cheeks flush red for a moment but fade with indifference.
Frankie asks me what I’ve been up to lately.
Falling madly in love?
Feverishly penning that corpulent all American novel?
Wayfaring myself around the countryside?
Entertaining a new muse?
Just existing. I say simply. Ingesting another sip of liquid gold.
He laughs at my lack of lust or empathy for anything.
I laugh to myself, in particular at our silly past tense-game of hide-and-seek.
“I still love you kid,” he jokes. “I’ll still marry you one day. And I, Francis Reardon, will always be your best muse!”
I tell him in a low, hushed tone that there is no novel.
There are no plans to travel the countryside. And love, love. Love and I are estranged. We do not speak.
He says, “You’re a writer! You fall in love with everything!”
Beer cans, grass, trees—and lifesavers!
And that. That is truth. I think. Naked as dawn, plain as day, sharp as a razorblade, and as painful as the cuts that follow. For this, I had no argument. For I am in love with possibility.
“And the muse?” he asks urgently
“I have one,” I admit.
He laughs a wild, Bukowski-esque roar into my wincing ear.
“That’s OK. I’ll still marry you,” he says.
Frank Reardon, my soured muse, my stale lover.
We both are vaguely aware of our symptoms for one another and muse on how that book will end.
We’ll get drunk on our distilled dysfunction! We’ll purposely denounce our own collective crumbling infrastructure! He promises me with repose: Just imagine: at least when you are with me, you’ll never wonder if there is anything more to life than daytime television, artificial sweeteners, and fruity-smelling suburban fabric softeners!
The offer is sometimes tempting and, like Faust, I too might make a deal with the devil. But I know better.
The ending, our memory from this place, this paradise, fades.
I think of my darling muse—who will remain nameless, faceless, and a mystery to everyone but myself. This is mine. For me. For my eyes only. I think of him, the way he smells. Like zestless tobacco, balmy bourbon, and simply sweet sweat. I think of his eyes and how desperately I try to search for answers there to questions that elude me. But all I see is my own sordid reflection and the ghosts that pass in the shadows of his azure twilight.
I think of us—meshing, bathed in the sullen ecstasy of moonlight; two separate beings attempting to map out each other’s individual biographies.
I image him, tethered to me, his hands slowly moving over me, telling me the story of my own body. He, I, and us, together yet always secretively slicing out that sliver of solitude in the quiet darkness we both hold so close. I fiercely and silently fend off that slow dull ache of life’s impermanence. Nothing lasts forever. We’ll all wake up one day, dead with a gut full of worms. Perhaps that’s not the point, to worry about all this. Things come and go, people, places, and emotions. Everything rusts, molds, or wilts. Maybe. Or at least fades. Perhaps.
I think of Frankie, often in those moments I catch myself looking back over my shoulder for a glimpse of the past. I smile at his wisdom.
“You know, Malone,” he says to me, offhand and casual. “You can always spot a writer by the folded-up pieces of paper tucked lovingly into their shirt pockets.”
You can always spot lovers by the way they kiss each other on a busy street corner against the whir of grinding traffic for everyone to see, except they don’t care who’s looking.
You can always spot a muse by how much room they temporarily inhabit in your heart in between permanent vacancies, staying, indefinitely till the bitter end.
© Kat Malone
Kat Malone, a Baltimore writer, is a witty retort specialist.