One drink in and she was laughing. It felt like she hadn’t laughed in a long time, but she was always laughing one drink in, and she drank more than half the week.
That night she was with a friend she always forgot she didn’t like when she drank.
Vodka straight tasted like cleansing. That first gulp of vodka, five years before as a teenager, it burned her throat straight through to God. She felt “where have you been all my life.” This was the thing her health teacher had said an alcoholic thought when they had their first drink, but then he didn’t say what to do next, how to struggle against that gripping hug.
She’d heard it said vodka was a drunk’s drink—as if all the drunks desired the same, as if they could even chose—but her father’s drink was red wine. Growing up, she knew that heavy red breath could take many forms when it said good night—sadness, frustration, annoyances, nervousness, sometimes giddiness if there’d been good news at work.
But vodka made her feel light. She trailed her hand along peoples’ arms. She slapped their shoulders playfully. Outside, she felt: what tethers me to the ground? One drink in, she relearned eye contact. Three drinks in, she forgot it, or made it too aggressively. Her friend said, about one of their professors, “She makes eye contact like it’s ripping her soul out.”
“Who, me?” She’d misheard, was about to defend herself.
Well sometimes she didn’t make it as late into the night as she’d meant to.
At one of the bars in her rotation:
Murkiness resurfaces to faces, darkness resurfaces to faces, darkness resurfaces to pushing open the women’s room door, darkness resurfaces to faces concerned, holding arms out to lift her off the tile floor. The tile floor was so ugly, which made it so beautiful, she thought.
She bopped outside the bar, underneath its awning to avoid the drizzle. She was dripping in almost happiness. Another girl’s face swam into focus. Pale and dark haired, like her (a raven witch princess, what she saw when she looked in the mirror). It was someone she’d been supposed to meet. So that night didn’t work out, exactly.
Back home, in her apartment, she ripped off a hunk of baguette and thought if she squeezed the bread vodka would ooze out. In her room, she reeled her body up one vertebra at a time. The sheets smelled like vodka, she smelled like vodka.
She looked in the mirror just to see her bones, the way they pushed up against her skin for freedom. This cover that held her, propelled her forward. Our containers. Others’ containers, holding inside bones and blood and tissue, but something else, unknown tucked whispering within synapses, and those unknowns were what meant something when she looked at someone. She was sad about having to miss the meeting with the new friend, the other raven witch princess, because she knew you only had so many chances to make a new friend. She cried until she was crying about everything that had ever made her sad and then she was crying about nothing and she crawled into bed under the caring light. She kept the light on, everything swirled but she was afraid of what might happen to the world if she turned the lights off.
She didn’t think to worry about becoming soggy and swollen inside. Her father would find out about that.
It—vodka—didn’t burn anymore.
The night shined like oil gushing out of the earth.
Vodka cran after vodka cran from that wrinkled weathered bartender of that subterranean bar. He seemed to truly love her. When you mistake love for the liquid swirling inside of you and inside of the person you’re looking at. The liquid that makes them smile, and cock their head back and grab at a shoulder. The liquid that keeps them standing while dragging them down. Anyway, it was an empty bar that night so he kept bringing everything free for their table. Lemon drop shots. Yeungling pints. Vodka cran, which was her friend’s drink, but he’d mixed it up in his mind years ago.
Empty glasses, slick inside.
Everything was dark for a really long time. Her mind tried to push through in the morning, but couldn’t even then. She finally woke up surrounded by red vomit, and considered herself lucky she’d fallen asleep sitting up on the couch. She said “lucky” one or two times before it became meaningless. She was chasing God.
Amanda Boyle is a short story writer from New York. She holds an MFA in fiction from the University of Pittsburgh. This is her first publication.