The drink burned Tom's throat, streaming down with forceful contingency as the sparks of blue flew past his eyes. Suddenly his head was heavy and his mouth was numb.
It took eight shots to put him here and yet another six or seven would put him in the ditch outside, vomiting his guts out.
As he rested his fingers gingerly on the edge of the counter, he felt the sway of music behind his ears, and his gaze blearily followed the lights. They streaked across the floor in reds, oranges, pinks, and blues as the lurid bodies in the centre moved sinuously with them.
He threw back the latest shot, and sat forward coughing wetly.
The bartender threw him a baleful look.
He returned the look with heavy interest. "Put a shot of tonic in the next one, won't you? The gin here tastes like motor oil."
The bartender wasn't listening; he had already turned to a group of women on the other end of the counter.
A stream of curses-- aimed at the bartender-- broke from his mouth, calling on deities and obscenities in the same breath. Swearing made his numb lips feel useful when he was this intoxicated. As far as pure inebriation went, he had about five or six more shots to go.
He looked around again. The club had adopted a much more interesting light than it had an hour ago. Tom nodded his head to the music he didn't know too well. Someone out there must have thought it was artistic; a tune broken from a lifetime`s worth of hallucinogens. It rang with the familiar tone and presence as all the other songs that played from ten pm to three am; beat-driven, electronic, and repetitive. Some high-pitched voice vocalised in the background, and it almost seemed as if the dancers now whirled in a timing made up of an ancient drum beat- an ancient string, thrums of history and ugliness.
The atmosphere was not at all bad for a Monday night. The late October weather made people desperate for an evening burn, the kind of burn that goes in your throat and presses your friendly side, makes you want to reach out and touch someone. They were cold beings out there, burning inside with gin, vodka, spritzers, martinis, rum, or even the everlasting side-effect that was E, gyrating against one another, thrusting their inner fears on the person next to them, a techno-driven explosion from all sides, leaving only a cloud of cigarette smoke.
They were all disgusting.
Tom wasn`t like them. No, he was here each night like this to consume; he had nothing to give, no friendly burn or otherwise particular sexual purpose. Yes, there were people like Tom: restless, bitter, and prepared to get systematically drunk.
Why? Why push one's senses to such a limit, to the point where the bar counter seemed a perfect place for his head to rest, as his eyelids drooped, and his mouth stopped being able to form the simplest of words?
Saucier, fish paste, thinking, deception, grossly unaccustomed, bright cities. These words became strange pseudo-words of a distinctly infantile nature when he was like this. Any word, all words.
Except for gin; Tom found he could always pronounce Gin correctly.
You see, Gin was a person too; short for Ginseng. His mouth curled bitterly as he pictured those wide defenceless eyes under a shock of jet-black hair. He remembered the feel of that hair in his hands, laced lightly around his fingers. He remembered how that feeling of possessing Gin had made him so happy; wildly happy. Of course, Ginseng was a nickname for what Gin could do: stimulate, revitalise. Tom didn't like to think of Gin's real name; he didn't think it was necessary. He knew Gin as Gin and nothing more. Gin was his angel, his tether to sanity against everything that was unbearable. He used to think Gin would save him from himself and make everything better. Gin was pure, you see; Gin was as clear as the drink he downed to empty his head. Gin was all made up of sharp features, familiar grey eyes, and the hood of the long coat down over angular shoulders.
When he had met Gin, he had been twenty-six. He wasn't quite as far-gone as he was presently, but his trips to the bar were still nightly.
It had been that evening when he took a short-cut through the park. A little person, a young person was seated neatly on a park bench, the streetlight making those clear features glow a pale gold. Gin's boots were tucked neatly underneath that long cashmere coat. Grey eyes burned at him as he passed, and he looked in their direction in his passing. His mind wandered, and he didn't notice his own staring until he saw he had stopped walking. Gin looked politely up at him.
It might have been the nature of the dark that made him stop or something to that effect.
Tom knew destiny was that little thread of intuition before one's heart that tells him at certain moments to look this way, or that. It was the glint of promise that turns the head of a young man to rare opportunity, but he also knew that destiny is not all jovial either; at times one's destiny is, in fact, to miss opportunity, to merely grasp at love's fingertips, to die at an early age…
It was late, and this person was a small thing. He felt silly thinking so, but he worried about Gin's fate on a night like that, in a park like that.
Gin's lower lip quivered.
His stance was awkward, and he felt stupid, but he smiled carefully. "Should you be out this late?" he inquired.
Inexplicably, Gin began to weep. Sobs shuddered up and down that small figure, and Tom stepped back, completely blown away. He had never been called to deal with other people's emotions. Tom's attitude towards such behaviour was usually stolid indifference. However, Tom felt that his indifference to anyone's simple-minded emotive-based behaviour extended to a mere icy and wisdom-based suppression. In the end, he didn't know what to think of that kind of thing. No one felt comfortable breaking down around Tom due to his indiscriminate, dislikeable nature; it was obvious that this young soul didn't care who he was, or what he would do in response. Gin sat there, hands over eyes, weeping until those awful sobs subsided into hiccoughs and Tom found himself facing the undignified prospect of holding, patting, and soothing.
"Sorry," Gin gasped, bringing to being the first intelligible words spoken. "I don't-I never do things like that. It just…I'm cold; I want to go home, but I can't."
Tom felt a twinge of distaste. A runaway? "Where do you live?" he asked quietly. He was already surprised at himself. Tom didn't often behave selflessly to someone of Gin's nature. It was just-and Tom would often tell himself this much later- that Gin was Gin, a person who could manipulate mountains and skies.
Before he could change his mind, they were walking and Gin began to talk. Gin talked about trees, rain, parking meters, people who thought customer service meant customer supremacy, and something having to do with lemon meringue being just fine without the meringue. Tom listened with some bewilderment, thinking vaguely that he hadn't anywhere better to be. He listened, realizing that he was pretending to be a nice person, when he knew, quite well, that he was not. His sneers, mocking, and sarcastic distaste fell away when Gin was talking.
The weather was still cold, however, and Tom was well aware that he had walked
Gin to the urban side of town, yet he still didn't know who Gin was nor why it was important to him that Gin keep talking.
Gin's eyes moistened as their eyes met again. Tom had felt uncomfortable at the anonymity of the entire scenario. He said nothing, though, and that spurred this person to say what he would remember as the most honest thing anyone had ever said to him: "I'm afraid, you know, of someone I've come to love waking up one day beside me and realising they don't love me." Here Gin had reached for his arm in some form of need. "I hope you're different; tell me your name and we'll own the night together, you and I. We'll walk the streets, love people, and hate them all at once. I can see you're not all monster even though you keep looking like you've never smiled before, I know. Your eyes are sweet. You look like a high and mighty one, but I can see you're lost just as I am."
Gin kept at this speech, and Tom had led the way to his flat, knowing he'd never felt anything for charity, and that it didn't matter because Gin wasn't dressed like a street-urchin. Gin wore, instead, a white dress shirt with a thin pinstriped tie, slacks of deep grey over black shoes.
He'd stationed Gin on the couch with several blankets and a pillow. However, when he returned from his shower, Gin was settled between his own covers, blinking owlishly up at him. Tom had never been that way; of course his disposition had given room for some remarks in high school, which he took care to disprove. It had all made him a little defensive.
Yet Gin was almost pretty on those sheets, with all that bare skin glowing with pearly luminescence. And that nacreous skin could be compared to many soft things relating to relief in Tom's case. And the thought that Gin was willing like that...
In the morning, it was like he had been dreaming; Gin never existed. He had gotten himself utterly pissed, and he was feeling the after-effects with leftover stomach-spinning. Yet, his head was clear, and he could still taste the flavour of Gin's mouth.
He had gone to work, normal as ever. He had answered phone calls, made it on time to his meetings, and, as usual, he felt that troublesome ache that came with being better than everyone else.
Yet, when he arrived at home that evening, Gin was waiting at his door explaining that cheese cake and strawberry sauce was the best thing to have after work, and that they simply must have some.
He had asked Gin what had happened: why there had been a necessity to leave. Gin, mid-scoop looked at him as if he was crazy. "Well, I had work, didn't I?"
He didn't want to sound whiny, and he didn't want to think about what had brought about his needfulness, but he wanted to ask just exactly what Gin did. Gin's business-like clothing wasn't quite the dead give-away it should have been, and Tom was irritated, though he found himself grinning because the ache from the morning was a memory.
There was no mistaking Gin's femininity, the fragility in the way Gin spoke; the features that had Tom feeling confused and frustrated all the time. Yet, he didn't expect that Gin would react so badly to his teasing.
Gin had been living with him two weeks by then, and he had recently discovered Gin's ability to cook. Knife in hand, Gin was chopping vegetables with surprising speed.
The subject matter, as usual, jumped from memory cards for cameras, liver and onions, mathematics in grade school, to the scarcity of pretty girls in this city.
Tom was only saying that he thought Gin was prettier than most girls he had seen when Gin had flown at him, and the knife formerly chopping a carrot was at his throat.
Gin's surprising strength had Tom against the counter, his heart slamming into his chest. that expression was fierce, the edge of the knife was cutting, and Gin's arm over his chest was unyielding. "Don't fuck with me, Thomas!" And that voice was clear and sharp like the bones in that angular face.
It was only then that Tom decided that Gin was not a little crazy.
Whenever it was that Gin spoke, Tom was watching. The expressions on that face were bright, cheery, and careless. And Tom didn't know nor care where he found this angel; he stopped caring that his relationship with this angel couldn't be called a relationship mainly because what he knew about Gin really related to himself. They all related in the sense of how if Gin weren't there, he would have to talk to fill the silence; how he felt empowered by Gin's unconscious helplessness, and that he no longer minded that people stared when he kissed Gin in public.
Then, after half a bloody year of living like husband and wife, Gin didn't come back.
Gin had a key to his flat so he expected a cheery voice to call out a suggestion for dessert or he even thought he might find Gin sprawled under the coffee table, sketching vague nameless things. The flat was empty and Gin was gone.
He couldn't breathe; his heart was constantly in his throat; he felt like tearing it out so he could breathe. He spent three days waiting, curled up on the living room floor, drinking carton after carton of orange juice since there was no Gin. His head ached, and no one called, no one rang at the door since he had no one outside of his Gin.
After those three days, his dead melancholy turned into irritation.
What was Gin thinking, leaving me like that? No words, nothing?
After the first week passed, he was angry.
How dare Gin think I could be thrown away like that? I was serious!
A year passed, and Tom lived at the bars and clubs. His dark features had temerity against those crazy lights, and his mind often wandered back to those days with Gin. No one was like Gin, and he found he could not find anyone to compare. That was precisely why it was an unmistakeable sight when he saw Gin again.
It was a dark and earthy club with its sour smells, and the dim lights of dull yellow. Gin was with a young woman, locked in an unmistakeable embrace, and Tom staggered forward at the sight of those hands in someone else's hair, those grey eyes widening in the boldness of another's touch.
Their eyes met suddenly because Tom had already been looking, and Gin looked defenceless again. The girl with Gin noticed her person's inattention and looked in Tom's direction. He felt his same awkward stance when he'd first met his angel, but he knew there was nothing reparable in front of him. Such a revelation came to him in all the worst ways; the way his chest ached and his teeth hurt.
He took three sharp steps forward and threw the girl away from Gin. Gin stood up
in neither outrage nor surprise. Grey burning eyes angled up at him with an enigmatic light. "Why are you doing that? She makes me happy like you did once."
His fists were balled. Gin never made any sense, but love didn't make sense anyway—at least, that's what he'd been told.
The girl was shouting obscenities at him, but he could only look at Gin, his Gin. The reason he couldn't go back to work because he wanted to come back home and see that expression, touch that nacreous skin. It was not Gin's to decide when they were done. Gin couldn't just do that to him.
He seized Gin's arm, unsure what he intended to do thereafter, but at least he had gotten that far. Tom still remembers the feeling of his heart sinking when Gin was firm and pushed his hand away. Gin's gaze was hard, and unfeeling; there had always been a difference in strength between the two of them.
"How did you find me?" Whispered like strange tangy smoke. The question itself told him what Gin's leaving must have meant.
"Where the hell did you go?" he demanded. "Do you have any idea how worried I
"Please, leave me alone. I don't want to be around you anymore," was the answer, which was too much for Tom; he hadn't done anything to deserve this.
"I actually loved you. I gave you a place to stay; I took care of you with everything I had!"
"Pretty words you have there, Tom."
In his disbelieving rage, he was spitting. "You were the one who was always saying you're afraid of the one you love waking up one day and not loving you. It was your worst fear, you said."
"Yeah," Gin murmured, thin eyebrows quirked satirically. "Now it's yours, isn't it?"
All his stoicism aside, he wanted to cause Gin as much hurt as he felt at the moment. His fingers only grazed Gin's cheek as his blow was dodged.
There was no time for reaction before Gin was on top of him, punching, kicking, and hissing. His anger was greater, and the adrenaline rushed up his arms as he pushed Gin to the floor. His fingers curled around that horribly sculpture-like neck, and his grip tightened mercilessly. To this day, Tom often wonders how this fight had escalated into such a thing. He remembers Gin's eyes staring up at him in defiance as his strength fought those struggles.
Right then, he had wanted Gin dead.
He didn't kill Gin.
As his anger cooled, his fingers loosened, and Ginseng fled with that horrible whore in tow. Tom watched them slip away into the fog of cigarette smoke under cover of the dull yellow lights of the club. His head hurt as he wondered at destiny, and all its devices.
Of course, it was only two years from then that he'd come across the purpose of it all. The deep and demeaning concept of nightlife, of sitting there throwing back little glasses of alcohol. He'd understood the cold, the day to day society that shrunk from each other only to grasp, during the night, at a fleeting, tired hand. The "dues ex machina" of healing in the city world of Vancouver was the burn of alcohol.
Gin had been a lot like the drink in his hand; heady, strong, hard to take in sometimes, and deliriously painful on withdrawal, Tom thought. He threw one more shot back, and saw that perhaps he could take in another three or four. He may have taken himself to oblivion, but it wasn't nearly enough to keep him from thinking about it all again.
He held his hand out for another shot, and, upon receiving it, drank a burning and bitter toast to the burn of alcohol. May you continue to turn my disgust at the daylight to a longing burn without the payoff.