Mean Drunk

I loved him, up until that third bourbon. He was such a fucking amazing person but jesus he was a mean drunk.

He texted: Just had my third bourbon. Mona cornered me before I left the house.

Mona is his wife.

Mona wants to give it another try, he texted.

If you love a person you shouldn’t love, it can be tricky to know what to say.

Oh. Well. How do you feel about that?

There is no love. Doesn’t that matter? he wrote.

Mona still loves you. Apparently.

Mona wants my dollar bills. My plastic. It sure would be nice to see you.

Aren’t you at the airport? Cleveland is waiting.

Fuck fucking Cleveland, he texts.

My apartment is up in the sky, overlooking our city from a safe distance. A doorman building, because a doorman is handy, if you need to know about oncoming police action. And I do. I adore my doorman, he is four-and-a-half feet tall and almost as wide, his name is Jethro and he is passionately devoted to the notion that I should be able to do my business unmolested.

He believes I provide a service. And I do.

And Jethro loves my special Christmas tips.

I don’t know how long it was before three shots of bourbon knocked on the door. Thirty-four minutes, maybe? His fingers were wrapped tight around the neck of a bottle. This is Pappy’s, he said, striding right in with it held up before him, taking a swig, then slamming it with way too much force on my new glass-topped dining table. I rushed over to check if it had chipped.

Then I shoved him, hard.

Is that your idea of hello?

Yes, a very nice hello! It happens to be the finest bottled drink in these United States. The bottles are numbered. He stabbed a finger toward the label. See? Number.

I just feel so bad about Charles and Eduardo and Bob and Keith and Andre, I said.

These were his children. Ages 1, 3, 5, 6, 8. In reverse order.

I could say the same about your lovely wife, he said now. You are about to screw Marylea over royally. Again.

That’s not a very nice thing to say.

Marylea is my wife.

I wanted a baby. I thought about it all the time. And nowadays I wondered if maybe I get could get myself pregnant with him, via fucking, and not with Marylea, via outpatient office visit at the sperm bank.

Anyhow, those boys will be taken care of, he said. I want out. And you. You changed your hair.

I wanted it darker.

He eyed me. I think it’s trending you toward haggard.

Nice, I said. Why are you here?

I just want a little love in my life. Is that so bad?

And even then, after that haggard remark and the crack about Marylea, my heart ran toward him like water downhill. Let me make you a Lean Cuisine, I said.

You should EAT a Lean Cuisine, he said.

I took this as a note about how I had gained weight, some, in the months since we’d met. He was a one-time customer. As in, he came to me one time, to score molly.

I actually sold him ecstasy. Back then I stocked e and molly both, because I wanted to offer options. Nowadays, it’s molly or nothing. It’s more pure. I need to feel pride in my product.

So he came here for the e that first time, and instead of just keeping him in the hall, like I do with new customers, I opened my door to him. It was his face, I guess. I liked it. I let him stand in my living room while I fetched his purchase from the inventory in the master bath.

The whole time I was thinking how bad would it be if I asked this guy on a date?

I didn’t know I was going to fall in love. If only I had known. But to have known that, I would have needed a time machine, and if I’d had a time machine, I wouldn’t be dealing molly, would I? I’d be at a dinner party with Shakespeare.

In this day and age, a woman should be allowed to gain weight without it being a federal crime, though, for fuck’s sake.

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a mean drunk, I said to him, watching him swig that bottle again.

Oh, I’m just joshing, sweets, he said. You know I think you’re fine.

I shoved him again. You want chicken parmesan or beef lasagna?

Beef me up baby, he said. And how about a glass and two to three large ice cubes.

And then the next morning. My apartment is so high, it’s close to the sun. The first light of day shoots in like a laser, this time of year. Marylea begs for drapes. At least put in some fucking blinds, she says, because I’m fucking blinded every morning!

But on this bright morning she was ok with our bare windows because she was in California, touring with Drake. She’s one of the girls who dance and she’s also known for twirling her red hair. Except this tour Drake was making all the girls wear hats.

I tapped him on his snuffling, messy head. I am ripe for adventure, I said.

Let’s do it, he mumbled, then lapsed into snores again.

I checked my period tracker on my phone. Last night, it says, was a potentially fruitful moment. And he’d come at least one and a half times, and I hadn’t bothered to tell him I’d been off the pill for a while, so I had cause for optimism. I opened my closet and looked in the full-length mirror at my belly. Then I looked at it in profile. It was protruding but well so what else is new.

Down on the lakefront there’s a restaurant with an outdoor bar I like, especially in winter when it is encased in clear vinyl and they pump hot air from toasty space heaters. I’m a sucker for the views of wind-whipped water through dirty plastic windows, and the greasy nibbles and the martinis filthy with olive juice. Marylea and I like to sit there, on a half a capsule each, and just pass the afternoon, day drinking and mildly e-puddled.

I decided I want to try this with him, for comparison’s sake.

My favorite bartender, Keegan, was there, all pale skin and blonde in her white button-down and black smock apron – who could resist her? I certainly wasn’t going to introduce her to him, so I just kept it businesslike, ordering the martinis and those rubbery fried mozzarella sticks that make you feel like you’re eating someone’s warm crumb-covered lips.

We drank the halved pills down with a can of Clamato. The first bit sucks. Five minutes in, your lower jaw feels like it’s being cranked up into your skull with a tire jack. A background playlist of say, Adele, sounds like monkey sounds, screeching.

After a little while that horrible g-force feeling leaves you, though, and everything is grand. I heard him order another round of martinis from Keegan, but I waved her back. Make that two screwdrivers instead, I said. Lots of ice.

He laughed long and hard. Screw drivers! That’s fucked up. His voice got very high when he said “up.” He smiled and shook his head in wonder.

The bar began to fill. Outside the wind swept ice chunks onto the beach.

Hey, he said, can you turn off this fucking Adele and put on something tight.

Keegan grinned and nodded. She looked a little hypnotized by him, his gold watch flashing. Something deep and bass started rumbling the bar. “My manager’s gonna fire me,” she giggled.

He raised his fourth screwdriver glass to her. The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? he said. He downed his drink.

Then he turned and winked at me. Let’s pop it, baby, he said. He pulled me close. We danced for a bit, then lost the thread and went to lay down on either side of a booth, him on one bench, me on the other. The vinyl was cold and grounding. I pressed one cheek to it and I looked across at him under the table, on the far side of the footwell. I really did love him.

Our afternoon meandered into evening. Keegan came out from behind the bar, her apron folded under one arm, her white shirt open. Red lacy camisole underneath. I’m just saying. He started dancing over to her, holding his arms open.

I blocked his way and shoved him. Don’t be an idiot, I said.

He looked me up and down like he didn’t recognize me.

Meanwhile, Keegan darted out of the door and disappeared into the night.

The new bartender said we should settle our tab because we’d had enough. She had a Caribbean accent and I felt like I really couldn’t argue with her.

Get the coats, I said to him.

Back at my apartment, the world was still spinning. I sat on the floor, leaned my head on the sofa, and turned on the television. Friday the 13th Part Five was on, and I realized it was Friday the 13th.

I yelled that to him, he was back in the bathroom. Oh yeah? he said. You’re right, so it is.

He came out holding the duffel I kept hidden under my jacuzzi. I’d removed the engine and created a nice little hidey hole for my inventory back there. I have a weapon, he said, but I could never use it on you because I’m too fucking in love with you.

Oh that’s sweet of you to say, I said.

But you know, Mona and the boys, they’re bleeding me dry. He slipped the duffel’s strap over a shoulder, picked up the bottle of Pappy’s, never taking an eye off me, and took two big swigs, then set it down again, too hard. Maybe chipped the table. You’re getting kinda sloppy, sweets, he said. They’ll just bust you wide open one of these days. You actually ought to thank me for taking this stuff off your hands. You need to find employment, get yourself in shape. Join a gym. And the hair. It’s too dark.

Jesus, he was a mean drunk. He left then, with my bag, closing the door gently behind him. I still had the remote in my hand, I’d been about to pause the movie, so we could talk. But he was gone.

I phoned down to Jethro. Then I went to take a shower and sober up a bit, because damn, it had been a long day.

He was tied up in a broom closet in the sub-basement. I didn’t know Jethro would slice his face that way, but I don’t tell a man how to do his job.

Jethro’s doorman costume looked a bit dirtied up, and he was missing his little cap, but otherwise, he was cool as can be.

I had on my raincoat, the big hooded one I used to wear when I used to be a dogwalker.

I zipped it up tight, pulled the hood up. Then took my Tec out of the pocket. Confident because I warmed it up at the range on a regular basis. Hell, I’d even let him shoot it once. He knew what a vicious thing it was.

You shouldn’t drink so much, I said.

He was crying. I wasn’t. I guess I really hadn’t loved him as much as I’d thought. I mean, I did love him, but only under optimal conditions. And is that love then, really?

I put its mouth between his brows. It fit right there, perfectly

Your last child will be a girl, I said.

I like your hair, he gasped.

We all laugh about that line now. And I was right about the girl part. Marylea and I named her Keegan.

Keegan and his youngest, Andre, they love each other. We call them the jellybeans because they’re so little and sweet.

After Jethro untied him and I brought him back to the apartment, he made a call to Mona. I told him what to say and eventually we all worked it out. We’re grown-ups.

The two families trick-or-treat together and do other activities like that. Occasionally, when the others aren’t around, I collect a kiss from him and maybe a little grope. He stopped drinking and now he is as mild as milk.

Debra Jo

About Debra Jo Immergut

Debra Jo Immergut is the author of You Again, published by Ecco/HarperCollins in July 2020, and The Captives, a 2019 Edgar Award finalist for Best Debut Novel by an American Author, published in the US by Ecco and in over a dozen other countries. She has also published a collection of short fiction, Private Property (Random House). Her essays and stories have appeared in American Short Fiction, Narrative, The New York Times, and PANK, among others. A recipient of Michener and MacDowell fellowships, she has an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and lives in western Massachusetts.

Debra Jo Immergut is the author of You Again, published by Ecco/HarperCollins in July 2020, and The Captives, a 2019 Edgar Award finalist for Best Debut Novel by an American Author, published in the US by Ecco and in over a dozen other countries. She has also published a collection of short fiction, Private Property (Random House). Her essays and stories have appeared in American Short Fiction, Narrative, The New York Times, and PANK, among others. A recipient of Michener and MacDowell fellowships, she has an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and lives in western Massachusetts.

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