Cold January Nights
by George Gad Economou
Same night, separated by a year; cold, dark. No snow, but there's no sun either. Nothing has changed, yet nothing is the same. Still at the same studies, for reasons unknown. Still at the same town, despite an inner desire to go elsewhere. Fly away, the screams inside my head state, but I don't heed their advice; I can't, not yet, I tell myself, and the voices won't stay silent.
We sit on the stained blue couch, drinking cheap bourbon, talking about Proust and Pound; she asked me about them. Then, we discuss Bukowski; seven poem collections are forming a small skyscraper on the coffee table; I read her a couple of his poems. She asks about what I write; I read her a few of my own poems. She likes Bukowski's better; so do I. We talk some more about the writers, I refill out glasses, we drink. I roll a fat joint from the pot she brought, we share it.
A hesitant knock on the door; her arrival was anticipated, she had asked if she could come by. Earlier in the afternoon, we had gone out, we embraced tightly, we weren't supposed to see each other again. She had someone waiting for her at home, I had the page and the bottle waiting for me at my apartmentI'll never call it home, I can't, its physically impossible. Her eyes are weary, teary. Removes her jacket and shoes, I boil some water for her tea, and we sit on the blue stained couch that has seen too much.
The conversation continues, we're getting pleasantly high. I read her a chapter from Fante's Dreams from the Bunker Hill; she likes it, first time she hears of the great old bulldog. It's all right, I tell her, you should also read Ask the Dust. I will, she responds. We each take another long drag from the blunt, we have a hit from the warm, strong bourbon. We're lightheaded, we sit close. Her hand reaches for my thigh, I smile. We kiss.
She sits on the couch, sipping her tea; I sit cross-legged on the desk chair, drinking my coffee; she won't let me light a cigarette, the smoke chokes her. It's all right, I go to the kitchen to smoke. I stand alone, by the door, she's in the main room with her tea. She observes the bookcase, not for the first time. I finish half of the cigarette, let it rest in the ashtray. I return. She smiles. We start talking.
Her head rests upon my shoulder; the blunt is done, we're not too high, and she tells me of her dreams. A big city, a carefree life, artistic pursuits. A young painter, not very good. Studies business administration to satisfy her parents. I tell her to pursue her biggest dream, do what she wants; she seems to heed my advice. Why the fuck can't I heed my own advice? I think and die a little on the inside, but outwardly I smile and plant a kiss on her lips. She asks about my dreams, I take a long hit from my drink; I refill the glass.
Still beautiful to dream of, she says, but it cannot happen. I'm still with him, I still love him, too; I can't abandon him, we've been together for six years. I've known you for five months. Tears are running down her exhausted eyes, I feel a fist squeezing the remaining pieces of my heart. I love you, I say in a rusty voiceand it feels sincere. She holds my hands, I lean closer. I love you, too; I've dreamt of you while I kissed him, I've dreamt of you while I slept with him. She bursts into silent tears; I take her in my arms.
So, what are your dreams? She insists, I remain silent. The page is my dream, I finally respond too numb now to care for correctness and tact. To absorb the world, its emotions, its dreams and hopes and misery and pain and melancholy and joy, and put them all down onto the paper; to capture in the paper the soul of the fucking world, that's my dream. No family, no friends, no home? Her head is raised from my shoulder. Maybe, is my short answer, I don't know.
We are still tightly locked in our warm embrace; I can feel her fast heartbeat, the silent tears. It's getting late, soon she'll have to leave; catch the last bus to go home, back to the one who stole her heart a long time ago. I close my eyes, realizing these are the final moments of holding her. Her phone alarm goes off, in ten minutes the bus is coming.
Don't you want stability, happiness in your life? People around you, to be there for you in time of need? She asks, clearly confused. Sure, I shrug and take a long hit. As long as they don't interfere with the bigger picture. Does the writing require loneliness, starvation, darkness? She persists, I'm getting tired. No, but my writing does. It's all about the individual, not the art.
I try to move back, release her from my arms; she holds me even tighter, forcing the embrace. I kiss her on the neck, without uttering a word. The alarm still rings, persistent as ever, we ignore it. Eventually, the embrace is broken. She gets up, in no rush, checks the clock. I'm still on the couch, she glares at me in hopeful horror. Can I stay here for the night? She asks and I get up.
What's with all the questions? I ask her, after refilling my glass. The bottle is getting dangerously empty; thankfully, I have two more sitting on my bookshelves. I just want to get to know you better, she replies innocently. I like you, that's all. I nod, drink. Light a cigarette. Why do you ask? She breaks the silence. Don't you like the subject? I just thought we were having fun, I respond.
She checks her phone, frantically; there's another bus, she says. I take a look at the phone's screen. The stop is too far, I say truthfully. You won't make it. It's all right, she nods with tears in her eyes. I'll just stay here. She falls in my arms. We're standing in the middle of the room, holding each other silently. She goes to sit on the couch, staring at the phone, writing a text to her boyfriend, trying to figure out what to say. She cries. If you want, I say, we can call a cab. No, it's okay, her lips twitch in a faint smile.
I refill her glass, the bottle is empty. We are kissing, we quit the conversation. I open another bottle, I pour two glasses; we drink them up, another refill. A new blunt is rolled, smoked. The night begins to get blurry, we are numb but the libido is at its highest. She takes off my shirt, I raise her dress and search for her underwear. We are kissing, taking breaks for rejuvenating sips. There's no talking, it feels better.
She's sitting on the couch, I am on the chair. Tea and coffee respectively; I have to smoke, I go back to the kitchen to finish the cigarette on the ashtray. I sit next to her on the couch, she takes my hand into hers. Are you okay? I ask, she nods and her smile grows wider, promising. This is a one-time thing, she reminds me. I acknowledge the cruel fact. Solemnity just flew out the window. We recall the moments of the past few months.
We lie naked and sweaty on the blue couch; it feels crowded, but it's all right. The pictures on the closet are staring at us; I sense the approving glances on my back. At first, they intimidated her, now she doesn't seem to care any longer. The night is young, we're drunk, high, aroused. It feels right, because it's how things always were. We kiss, we're naked; new stains intermingle with the old ones on the worn-out fabric of the couch.
Is this how it feels to be high? She giggled wildly. Give or take, I nod, also laughing. You want to know how it really felt meeting you? She asks, trying to stay serious. Sure, I shrug my shoulders, drink some coffee. She opens her bag, produces an old notebook with yellow pages. Oh, the infamous diary! I exclaim, and we both laugh. We're sitting next to each other on the couch, my head on her shoulder, she goes through the entries, reads aloud some passages.
We move to the bed, still naked; despite the drunkenness, we can't sleep. Still tightly locked, still satisfying the physical needs. I notice the gleam in her eyes, we smile at each other. Moans and screams fill the space trapped between the four deaf walls and for a moment it's not midnight anymore, there's some light dispersing the dense mist of emptiness. We kiss, her warm body up against mine.
She explains how bad she often felt for thinking about me whilst she sat at home, with her boyfriend next to her. I remain silent, merely smiling. We are holding each other, there's no kissing. It's a one-time thing, we remind ourselves. It's getting late. Time to sleep, tomorrow we have a meeting at the university. She makes me take down the extra blanket, she'll sleep on the couch, alone. I do so, then have a cigarette in the kitchen.
Her head is resting on my shoulder, her breath the only sound in the room. Her hand atop my chest, where my heart is supposed to be. I stare at the loft blankly, my drunkenness has subdued, I have a slight headache tormenting my head and a scorching flame torturing my soul. She snores, gently, and I chuckle in the dark. I kiss her forehead, return to my staring competition with the wall.
I put out the cigarette, she comes out of the bathroom, wearing some sweatpants and a t-shirt of mine. I try to give her a kiss on the cheek, before going to brush my teeth. She turns abruptly, our lips meet. We stare into each other's eyes, then kiss again. If we sleep together on the bed, will you be a good boy? She asks playfully. Sure, I nod. I kiss her again. That's not being a good boy, she jokes. I shrug my shoulders. She kisses me again.
I open my eyes and wake up in a hazy world; she's still asleep next to me. I get up, nearly collapse. My head is throbbing, my body aches. It's all right, I'm just out of shape, I tell myself sternly and drag my carcass to the bathroom. I make coffee, light a cigarette while leaning against the kitchen counter. I remember, it's too long since I smoked in this position. It's all right, I keep telling myself.
We lie on the bed, both clothed. We make out for the rest of the night, but no sex. A final threshold towards an undying love already severely wounded. We smile at each other through the darkness, in her eyes I see a fire that will not be extinguished. It's only for tonight, a voice in my head reminds me; but sometimes moments last forever, another voice creeps in. Eventually, we fall asleep in a warm, safe embrace.
She walks into the kitchen, with half-closed eyes, still naked. She smiles, I pour her some coffee. No cream, no sugar; my kind of woman. We move to the couch, we drink our coffee, battling the hangover. Isn't it too early? She asks, when I pour some bourbon in my cup. It's never too early, I reply coldly. Alright, she nods and rubs her forehead. I like going out drinking with you, she says.
The alarm goes off, time to get up. The dream is over. She gets dressed. Needs to go home, change clothes; in a few hours, we have a meeting at the university. At the door, we kiss, I hold her hand. I cannot let go, I will not see her leave. She kisses me passionately. I have to go, she reminds me. It's goodbye for now, she says after the last kiss. Climbs down the stairs. The apartment is, once more, empty. I'm, yet again, alone. I return to bed, not caring about the meeting.
It was a fun night, I agree. I drink my bourbon, and the hangover subsides. Not strong enough to kill a dinosaur anymore; feels good. Well, I have to go; she gets up, starts searching for her clothes. I remain seated, observing her body. I smile, she notices. She climbs on me, we kiss. I really have to go, she says eventually, but doesn't move. I kiss her again.
I'm holding the pillow whereupon she slept in my arms, and think of the night that is officially over. The alarm rings, once more, I need to get up. Some coffee brewed, few cigarettes lit. No will to read the news, who gives a shit about the world. I smoke, time to go. I get dressed, leave the apartment. She'll be, too, at the meeting, but it won't be the same. Only a smile, a meaningful glance. It's all over; perhaps, it's for the best.
She's dressed, I walk her to the bus stop. You don't have to wait, she tells me. I have my book, I'll be fine, she shows me the crime fiction novel. I shudder, kiss her one last time. Okay, thanks for the fun time, I tell her, walk away. It's cloudy, but I wear sunglasses. God, I'm a fucking asshole, I tell to myself as I light a cigarette. I reach the apartment, lock the door, close the shades. I pour me a bourbon, drink it up. I notice the paper on the coffee table, amidst the books, with her number. I stare at it for a whole minute.
The morning is young, I drink coffee; soon I'll have to be in a classroom, same studies, same town. Nothing has changed. I couldn't sleep, so I wrote about two nights one year apart from each other. It's the same night today; perhaps, then, that's why I wrote. I look outside, everybody is asleep. Tonight I'm hitting the bars; tomorrow I'll suffer from a hangover. More ashes to collect.
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