There are two bottles in front of you: one half empty, one half full. Possibly they’re yours; possibly they belong to someone else. The space surrounding this moment is hazy and grey; you’re drunk, whether these are your drinks or not. You burp, and a little bile tickles your throat, a pre-hangover promise that will be forgotten by the next round. One drink is closer to your hand than the other, but the moment is losing its stark clarity and it’s hard to tell which one.
There’s lipstick on the rim of the half-empty bottle. It could belong to anybody.
Consider a lukewarm beer.
There are two twins drinking side by side, but one is twelve beers in and the other, ten. Let’s call them Dennis. Because the first Dennis is ahead, we’ll consider her to be the older, and therefore the more resilient of the two. She stops to watch her brother choke down number eleven with distaste; he’s losing. Dennis is thinking of this eleventh beer and of their mother, who’d be proud of her brother’s sham tenacity. If she could, she’d slice him open neck-down and climb inside to feel the bubbles of his beer slide painfully down his throat. Instead, she opens her thirteenth Coors against the counter, and downs it before her brother has even reached for twelve.
There are two twins drinking side by side, but only one is blackout drunk. Maybe it could have been different if they had stopped at fourteen, but you’ve never been one to give in and God, it will be so quiet when I finally join you. My name is Dennis, and two half empty bottles are on the floor beside me, but they’re further away than the flask in my shirt pocket, always pressing against where my heart should be. Look, Dennis, the name of the game is pacing yourself. We’ll keep getting older if we keep falling asleep. You’re never around for the liquor, and it’s starting to piss me off. Stop sleeping. Now.
Your name is Dennis and somewhere in the bar your brother has broken a bottle and clenched the neck in his fist. No – that’s not right. Consider words, sharp as broken glass, hanging in the air around your body. None of them touch you, not one. Your brother has thrown them inaccurately and they glint beautifully in the fluorescent light that shines above them. He flings another insult in your direction and it hangs in the air like its brothers, rotating slowly as it approaches you before nesting somewhere several inches away from your abdomen.
Dennis needs you more than water and air. You are sunlight roasting his skin. Don’t flinch. Let him burn.
Let’s say God is a man drunk on an absinthe cocktail. All he wants are two fried eggs, or maybe five, but the stench of sulfur hits his nose when he opens the carton, and he backs away, gagging. He hasn’t been eating eggs, so they’ve all gone bad. What is he supposed to do with these eggs? The trash can seems miles away.
Let’s say the Devil is played by twins. We’ll call them Dennis. Blonde hair, blue eyes, and teeth glinting, even here. The one on the left is too full and the other one on the left has bottomed out. They’re gesticulating wildly as they argue, beer sloshing simultaneously out of their glasses like a grotesque reflection. Dennis is forty, and God isn’t real. If he was, Dennis wouldn’t be so hungry.
You are playing a drinking game with three people named Dennis. One of them might be your reflection, and the second might be your polar opposite but maybe they are their own people too, peeled from your skin but molded into something else, like Adam’s rib, like consecration. The third Dennis is laughing into the crook of your neck, breath like stale beer, and sliding his fingertips under the hem of your shirt. They’re all sixteen, or maybe forty, and their eyes glint in the fluorescent light like mirrors. Don’t look away, Dennis. This is who you really are. Welcome home.
You are playing a drinking game with three Dennises. One is your father, one is your sister, and one isn’t your husband but could have been, maybe, in a cleaner timeline. Two of them have held you in quiet moments when the world wasn’t looking, and the third can go fuck himself. The Dennis who isn’t your husband pulls a cell phone out of his pants pocket and laughs. The inside of his mouth is a bottomless pit.
Text was meant for you. That kid really needs to learn to read, says Dennis. It’s your brother, Dennis, and you probably should pick up the phone and answer the message, but someone straddles you and moans and you’re too drunk to figure out who.
Two siblings are fighting in a schoolyard. Two backpacks, Coach and Gucci, are dusted with the accumulated filth of the blacktop, forgotten in the chaos. You see them through the slats of the bleachers as you smoke alone, the cigarette butt weakly sustaining its glow through the fierce autumn wind. You are ten years old. You do not have a brother or a father and your mother is perpetually asleep in front of the television, too tired to make dinner or talk to you after her long day working at Jiffy Lube. As the wind sweeps their words away from them like so many scattered leaves, a hunger inside you grows.
There’s a dry spot behind the bleachers where a dirty kid from your class sits and sniffs glue every afternoon. This afternoon is the first time you say hello.
You’re in the living room of an average Philadelphia apartment that has one bedroom, or maybe two, a kitchen, one or two bathrooms, and a shitload of useless knickknacks. It’s nighttime and you’re lying on a hammock, or maybe it’s a bed, and staring at the wall. It’s adorned with crosses that are not yours, unless living with them for almost twenty years has changed them into decorations with joint ownership. There’s a beer on the floor nearby and it’s sweating from the humid heat almost as much as you are. Across the room, someone is rustling around in the fridge. The faint light casts a shadow of your profile onto the wall. You tilt your head a miniscule amount to get a better angle on your chin. The person in the fridge is humming a song you wrote, and it’s not meant for you but warmth floods through your chest anyway at the thought that you’ve embedded a piece of yourself inside of this person, whoever they are.
There’s a mosquito buzzing around the room, not close enough to your head to swat, residue of hair gel on the pillow, a red sleeveless shirt crumpled by your feet – he’s pulled out a six pack and is singing now, clearly drunk, and there’s no mistaking him. That voice has been slurring into your ear since the age of sixteen. He closes the door to the fridge with his foot and asks if you want another beer.
You see it as a car, a compartment, a sharp, clean knife. You’re in the parking lot again and you open the trunk and run your fingers over the latch and if you’re ready to use what’s inside then you will, but the black recesses of your mind haven’t swallowed you whole, not yet, and so you turn around and there is no lot at all, just a fire behind a door and someone who aims to please and, no, this doesn’t count, this isn’t yours, so you back away slowly until you smell car exhaust and feel cool metal pressing against your thighs. The fire fades away as you reach again for the latch. It fills you with something that neither fire nor liquor does; it makes your heart pump blood instead of ice.
You’re in the parking lot again. All Night Long is ringing in your ears. You’re in the parking lot. Open the latch again. Open the latch.
Suppose for a moment that the heart has five heads, that the heart has been locked in a car and driven into the river. The heads are arguing about stagnation and failure while the heart slowly pumps water into and out of itself in a grotesque mockery of circulation. Can the heart survive? Do the heads even care? Someone shatters a window to allow more water inside.
Suppose for a moment we are rescuing five drowning people from a cruise ship. Grab my hand. Here’s your second chance. You don’t have to be this way, we want to say.
Consider a lukewarm beer. It creeps closer to your hand by the minute, waiting for you to gulp it down like you need it, because you do. The fluorescent lights are bright, Jesus Christ are they bright. Your blurred eyes and your unsteady hands and the lust in your heart, how drunkenness knows you, the untold number of drinks that have brought you here tonight. It is waiting for you to succumb because it knows that you will. What do you love, Dennis? Who do you love? There was a time when the beer was a choice instead of two bottles, but there are cards missing from your deck so you have to play with what you’ve got. Your flask is empty. You’re running out of options. Fuck, the lights are bright.
This time everyone has the worst intentions. You’re on crack. Let’s say you’re on crack. Let’s say the eternal pressure inside of your skull can be cured for $200. This is the essence of hope and regret. You don’t see what I mean which is why this keeps happening, your life turning into an uroboros of survival and addiction that you choose to view as flawed steps towards success. Fuck it. Let’s say you’re underwater with your closest, shittiest friends because we didn’t listen either when the world told us to stop. We love you. It isn’t a choice.
After work, you go to the liquor store to get a six pack of beer and a bottle of vodka. Why is it hard to breathe? Everyone else seems to be doing fine. It must be nothing. You find a liter of ginger ale and some grenadine. Are you all out of mixers? Tomato juice, orange juice, seltzer, diet coke, and you can’t decide between two differently packaged bottles of the same brand of Crème de Menthe syrup. What’s the difference, anyway? One has updated packaging and another does not. They both cost $11.99. While you’re deciding, the fluorescent lights shine down unnaturally, juxtaposed against the darkness on the other side of the enormous windows. Take the lights above you like a message, like a scratch on the face, fist clenching the blood on your palm like it will hide your wounds. Now open your hand.
Like zip ties, bar lights, or benediction, or addiction. Liquor everywhere, he said, leaking through your pores like a hemorrhagic fever. The bar dirty, your bed dirty, gangrenous heart, and the brackish light. Or a car, your favorite car now backing out of the Schuylkill of its own volition. In your watery mascara, by the filthy bay, while the wind blows cold, and the blanket is trash, the sunlight warming your frozen skin. Your obsessive rage, the throbbing at your temple, your hands clenched in the air or clenching a bottle, urgently, like you need it, because you do. Look at the sun, glaring like fluorescent lights. Look at the lights.
You and your roommate are fucking in the filthy bedroom of your new rental home. It’s pre-furnished with a bed, but you’re on the floor, flushed and naked and deep inside of him. Summer of 69 begins to play on the stereo. Is it melancholy or nostalgic? The man you’re with is halfway gone. We should change positions, he says. It would be fun to 69 with the song. We’re stuck here, so we should try to have fun. We deserve it. I know we’re both close, he says. I think we’d like this. I think we need more fun in our lives. Don’t you? Downstairs, the dog barks. Everyone is hungry. There are dark circles under his eyes. Consider a lukewarm beer.
The game is nearly tied, so where’s the spins to say that your body’s almost done? She’s downing drinks beside you, careening towards unconsciousness or. . .she’s not. Imagine a city. Yes, imagine a city: midnight and bustling with the machinery of life. Keep moving. Hold my hand. It feels like stasis when you’re pushed by the weight of a crowd. You’re holding tight; white-knuckled and red faced, hot and cold. She’s everyone and nobody and inside you all the time. Imagine a city. Imagine you’re laughing. Imagine blacking out. Let go.
Two people: one of them has a knife to your neck. Two people: one of them has a hand around your throat. It’s time to make a choice. Stabbing or asphyxiation? You want more time? You don’t get more time, you get two people. Here are two Dennises. Pick one. This is how you know yourself, you take two ends and try to find an unhappy medium. Dennis or Dennis? How do you want to go? You just wanted to live forever, but you don’t know what that means, really. You just wanted to prove you could live a life where you needed no one. You have not made that life yet. You cannot make that life ever. You will die. You will die. One day, you will die.
Here are the pictures and here is the capsule and here are the things you’ll never save: A chair painted gold that smells like ass, your duster, jelly beans, raw, shoved into a shelf next to dusty, rotted limes, which have been packaged perfectly using a vacuum seal, for you. Here is the beer in the ceiling, and here is the Coors sign, and here is the glory hole, used. And here are the rats, who keep chewing the wires that keep the lights on. Here are the Kodak pictures you hate, the ones you developed by mistake. This is your life, Dennis. It’s writ in what you leave behind.
There are two twins playing a drinking game but they are not playing a drinking game, they’re in a mansion where the windows are as big as the sky. Imagine you are in a mansion. What are you doing in a mansion? Leave! Let’s say this isn’t your home anymore. Let’s say they aren’t siblings anymore. That’s right, they aren’t siblings, they’re four other people and they want to drink with you but they’ve never been civil so here you are again, yelling, as your drink spills out of your hand and shatters on the floor. What are you still doing in this mansion? This isn’t your home! You should be in the bar! You should, at least, be trying to get back to where you belong.
Leave a trail of empty bottles like those crowds we used to dream about. We used to have crowds. We still have dreams. Pick up the bottle, read the label, and drink the dregs anyway. I’m at the counter again. I’m at the counter. I’m humming a song we sang together, once. Stay here. Sing along. I got you a new beer from the fridge.
Someone had a party while you were passed out but you weren’t really passed out, you were numb, and your voice was hoarse, and all of your clothes felt too tight, and your skin felt too loose. Perhaps the party was for your birthday. The memory is hazy. Your mouth tastes like beer and liquor and bile, but that’s every day, nowadays. A half-eaten cake on the table, someone’s condom in the trash. When was the last time you really looked at this room? Hey! This place isn’t that bad. It’s not yours, but that’s fine. Hammock hung on the wall like that, and the way the dust motes glint over it like that, glinting in the fluorescent light like that, like words.
Let’s say that God is the space between five friends and the Devil is the space between five friends. Here: I’ll try them on - Dennis and Dennis and Dennis and Dennis are standing side by side behind the bar, four bottles broken, sharp words glinting in the air. Two of these Dennises are knives and two of these Dennises are fists and all of these Dennises have something to say. Put down your drink. Shut the hell up. We’ll go down the line from most important to least. Look at your reflection in our eyes and for once, Dennis, just listen. . .
You’re in a car with a beautiful boy and you won’t tell him that you need him, but you do. And you feel like you’ve made some mistake, like missing a stair, or waking up naked, or vomiting liquor, and you’re confused. You’re in a car with a beautiful boy and he’s trying to tell you that he loves you, and you’re trying to figure out what to say, and the words aren’t the ones that he wants, but he leans over and kisses you anyway, like a selfish resuscitation, and you feel your heart beat hot and full of blood, like it’s finally figured out how to be alive.