Three in the morning and I had to get up to piss. My body was aching. My head was throbbing. I had been drinking since noon and passed out about one in the morning. I nearly tripped on an empty bourbon bottle on the floor, barely managing to keep my balance by leaning on the closet door.
Business taken care of, I lay on the couch, staring at the spinning ceiling. Sleep was, once more, evading me. I got up, after half an hour of futile attempts to vanish into Morpheus’s realm. I poured a glass of half-scotch and half-water, opened the window, lit a cigarette. The cold wind instantly penetrated the room, dropping the temperature by several degrees. It felt rejuvenating. I lit the sole candle in my apartment and grabbed my notebook, in which I used to write poems during tedious classes.
THE NEEDLE! I nearly fell off my chair when I noticed it. It was not supposed to be here. A couple of weeks back I had thrown out all my paraphernalia, because I was to move out and I had decided to come clean, to leave my substance-abuse behind. Yet, the needle was there on the coffee table, between the copies of Ask the Dust and Journey to the End of the Night. A dirty, used needle. It was real. I touched it, grabbed it, examined it closely, my heart racing within my chest.
Where did it come from? The question rang in my hazy mind. I puffed on my cigarette, and then took a long, slow drink of the scotch and water, hoping to pass out once more. It was a dream. I was certain of it. All I had to do was sleep and the needle would vanish. I held it in my hand, feeling its forceful presence between my fingers, I pressed the syringe and it squirted. Like the old days, there was blood in it. It had been used recently. The vibes were all wrong. I felt as if I should somehow recognize the syringe and the needle, but it was impossible. I drank again, praying to pass out right there on the spot. It wouldn’t be the first time I slept on my dirty floor, and it’d be a much more welcome outcome than being confronted by what I was certain was the needle that had taken Emily away from me.
I was alone in the apartment—my last two weeks in it before I moving away, heading back to the streets of my childhood where I’d seek a more prosperous future. I looked about. My heart was sinking. My gaze fell upon the mirror in my closet. I was not alone. Emily stood behind me.
I fell backwards, landing on my back and neck, too drunk to feel the pain, only my drunkenness saving me from serious injury. A chair landed on top of me. I glanced about. I sat up cautiously. My neck ached worse than before. My head throbbed like it never had. I stared into the mirror. Now, instead of standing behind me, Emily was sitting on the couch, her head leaning backwards. She seemed to be staring into the abyss. I reached behind me, touched the fabric of the couch, the worn-out sheet covering it. She was not there. Yet, in the mirror, I was running my hand across her thigh.
She turned her face to me. Her gaze was cold, heartless. She placed her hand on my shoulder. I felt her phantom touch, even though I could not feel her hand with mine when I tried. Still sitting on the floor, the chair over my legs, in the mirror her hands were on my shoulders. I felt her soft breath in my ear. She had been dead for six fucking years; junk had taken her from me.
She bit the lobe of my ear, a gentle jolt of pain and pleasure traversing my body. I jumped up onto my knees and faced the deserted couch. She had overdosed there, the same couch on which I had gotten high next to her lifeless body with the same needle. It killed her, but let me live. I wonder still, six years down the road, why in the hell I was the one to survive.
Throughout the room, the pictures of my masters and heroes, all authors from times gone by, stared at me judgmentally. New additions since her death, she had never seen them.
“When did you put them up?” she whispered softly into my ear.
I stepped back, escaping her embrace. I turned to the mirror. She appeared befuddled. I had another long sip of my drink. I rolled and lit another cigarette. The needle was on my desk now, next to the keyboard, containing the poison that had inspired so many stories and poems and had caused such tremendous heartbreak. It was the only real evidence of my habit. I had to throw it away. My parents were coming soon. I didn’t want them to find a dirty needle among my stuff, but it was the only real reminder, the only thing I possessed, that could remind me Emily had once existed and had been a part of my life.
Without warning, the needle rose into the air. In the mirror, Emily was holding it, as if about to stab me with it. Instead, she threw it. I ducked and it stuck in Poe’s nose. Emily was smiling. I straightened my body. It’s the drink, I told myself. I wanted to lie down, get some rest. I couldn’t. Phantom arms were thrown around my neck, dead lips were being pressed up against mine, and the kiss was more passionate and real than so many I had exchanged with one-night stands and cheap replacements of my Emily. Squinting, I glanced into the mirror. Emily’s body was pressed against mine. She was wearing my John Lennon t-shirt, and her hands were on my head, exploring the balding spots. She broke off the kiss and stared into my eyes.
“Why aren’t you looking at me?” she asked. “what are you afraid of?”
I couldn’t answer. No sound could escape my dry mouth and throat. I stood petrified, wishing I could touch, for one last time, the body that I could only see in a reflection of a wished-for reality. I tried, but there was nothing there. I was touching my own body, regardless of the lies the mirror told me. I had another sip.
“You drink more than you used to,” she whispered in my ear.
“I know.” My words came out more hoarsely than I had expected. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t,” she said, “it’s alright.”
“You can’t be real,” I caught myself saying.
“Why?” she asked.
I had no reply.
Her soft lips touched mine. We were locked in yet another phantom kiss.
I stopped caring about what was real and what wasn’t. I sat on the couch, a newly rolled cigarette between my lips. I felt a soft weight on my shoulder. I kept my gaze fixed on the mirror, for there her head was resting on me, she was smiling, her hand on my leg. I lit the cigarette. The needle was still stuck on Poe’s picture. The first cloud of blue smoke that left my mouth lingered on for longer than it should have. I noticed the pair of bright green eyes staring back at me, and I smiled.
“What have you done in your life?”
“What do you mean?” I muttered, astonished at the question, and with a touch of horror.
She—I saw it all taking place in the mirror—angrily pointed at the blank page on my computer screen.
“Where are the masterpieces?” she demanded.
I heard her voice loud and clear, even though I could not see her outside the mirror. I didn’t respond. There was nothing to be said after all, and she punched the screen, and it rattled violently.
“Please, Emily,” I said fearfully and got up.
“Don’t talk,” she ordered me and I obeyed, my heart beating up against my ribcage too hard, trying to escape.
I sat down on the couch, puffing on my cigarette.
“What happened to you?” the soft, gentle, loving whisper in my ear, an affectionate, short-lived kiss on my cheek. “Where have all the grand dreams gone?”
“I don’t know,” was the most real, and only, response I could provide.
“It’s alright,” a chuckle in my ear brought goosebumps while non-existent fingers toyed with the few remaining hairs on the crown of my head. “A lot has changed, huh?” another giggle, another soft kiss. I didn’t want to move a muscle, afraid of somehow ruining whatever was going on.
I was, however, growing dizzier, I had gulped down the scotch and had mechanically poured another, a tall glass of scotch, neat. I drank long and slow. The world was spinning around me faster and faster.
“It’s alright” was the last whisper I heard, a kiss on the lips the final memory of the crazy night.
I passed out on the spot. I woke up several hours later, in dire need to piss. I crawled to the bathroom. I could not have stood up had my life depended on it. I pissed, puked, washed my face vigorously. I returned to the living room and threw myself back on the couch. As I was about to close my eyes and sleep the horrendous hangover away, I caught a glimpse of my closet. The syringe was still stuck on the picture of Poe. Quickly, I rose, adrenaline allowing me to ignore the throbbing head, the aching limbs.
Then, I noticed my computer screen; the blank page was no longer blank.
asked THE poet, he said yes.
come when you please.
I’ll be waiting in the dark.
I read the lines over and over. I had not typed them. I lit a cigarette. The first puff had me rushing back to the bathroom. I passed out on the toilet seat—for the hundredth time in my short life—and when I finally regained consciousness, I rushed back to the living room. There was nothing: no needle, no lines, only the empty bottles on the floor and the blank page on my screen.
I poured a strong one and again drank long and slow. I felt rejuvenated. I spent the rest of the night staring into the mirror, somehow finding a little hope.