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Gus (Bright Side #2)
Author: Kim Holden

Sunday, January 22


Every step I take is heavier than the one that came before it. I don't know where I'm going, only that my destination is a mind-numbing amount of alcohol.

As I step from the grass of the cemetery lawn to the concrete sidewalk, I feel a shift inside my chest. The softness of grief hardens to anger again. It's been this way for days now. Grief. Anger. Grief. Anger. Grief ... Anger ...

I don't want to feel anymore. I'm fucking tired of it.

I've spent the past few days trying to drown death in a shabby motel room on the unquestionably shady side of town. There's a liquor store next door that sells Jack and cigarettes. That's all I need.

Speaking of cigarettes, I'm almost out. I'm smoking my last now. At the thought I hear her voice in my head saying, "You should quit."

I answer, "Don't fucking start with me today, Bright Side."

The woman I just walked past on the sidewalk gave me an exceptionally wide berth, which leads me to believe I said that out loud. I scrub my hand over my face in the hopes that it will erase delirium. It doesn't.

"I need some fucking sleep." Yup, I'm talking to myself again. Whatever. I need a drink.

There's a bar on the next corner. It looks dark and dingy—perfect.

When I open the door, the stench of stale beer, sweat, and cigarette smoke hits me. I'm home. At least for the next few hours.

As I walk toward the bar, I notice the dozen or so middle-aged patrons are sizing me up. The vibe of the place screams that these people are regulars. This is where they drink away their rent and grocery money on a daily basis. And I'm intruding. I glance down and realize the suit and tie doesn't help. I loosen the knot of my tie and slip it off, stuff it in my pocket, take off my suit coat, and undo the top few buttons of my shirt as I take a seat on a stool at the end of the bar.

The bartender greets me with a nod and slides a cocktail napkin in front of me as I roll up my sleeves.

I reach for my pack of cigarettes while I order. "Jack. Make it a double." It's habit, the pack is empty. I knew that. "And a pack of Camels."

He doesn't card me and points to a vending machine in the corner before he reaches for a highball glass and the bottle of whiskey. I slide from the stool and buy two packs of cigarettes from the vending machine. When I return my drink's waiting for me.

So is a woman that's probably my mom's age. I bet she was attractive twenty years ago, but the brutality of a hard life and poor choices is etched deep in the creases of her face. I reach around her for my drink. She smells like cheap perfume and even cheaper sex. Before I can escape, she's talking.

I don't want to talk.

"What's a handsome thing like you doin' in a place like this?"

Why not just ask me if I'm up for a fifty-dollar fuck, or a twenty dollar blow job, and skip the chitchat? I don't answer and take a seat three stools away.

She moves one stool closer. "Anything I can help ya with, cutie?" Her hands are jittery. She's looking for money for her next fix. I wouldn't touch her with a ten-foot pole, but I half want to toss some money at her because I can identify with her need to escape reality right now.

Even though I feel sorry for her, I don't have it in me to conjure any genuine compassion. I drop my head and shake it. Usually I'm not the asshole, but today is different. I tilt my head and look her in the eye. "Can you bring back the dead? I could use some fucking help with that."

I guarantee she's never heard that one before. She's blinking at me, a rapid fire, fluttering succession of confusion.

I let my eyes fall to the glass of amber liquid I'm swirling in my right hand and answer my own question, "I didn't think so." I tip the glass back and drain it in two gulps. I place it on the bar top upside down and gesture at the bartender for another before I look at her again. "Leave me alone." It's a demand. Her tight smile tells me she's heard that one before; probably too often for her addiction's liking.

Solitude is my companion and we get along famously, until sitting upright on the stool becomes difficult. I don't know how much time has passed, but I know it isn't enough to make a dent in my heartbreak. I'm ten or twelve doubles in when the bartender refuses to serve me anymore. I want to yell and throw a full-on fucking tantrum, but the truth is I'm too tired for the drama. My vision is blurry and my limbs are past the point of numb and have moved into a mechanically uncooperative state. Movement is a struggle. I just need to sleep, so I let the guy call me a cab instead.

The cab takes me back to my motel. The walk up the stairs is slow, labored, and clumsy. I'm not sure I even shut the door behind me before I stagger to the bed and drop face first onto the filthy bedspread. It smells dank and musty: a disgusting mix of age, grime, and God knows what else. The room is spinning, sucking me into a vortex of dizzy relief, an escape from the here and now. I don't know if sleep comes for me or if my body just makes the unconscious decision to shut down. I'm grateful either way.

Tuesday, January 24


Have you ever slept a day away? I mean, like fall asleep and wake to find an entire day has lapsed without you bearing witness to even a minute of it?

It's fucking beautiful ... medicinal ... sedative. I don't dream. Well, I probably do, but I never recall them upon waking. I've never been more appreciative of this gift than I am this morning. It was more than twenty-four hours of nothing. Like I said ... fucking beautiful.

I remember Bright Side's mom, Janice, used to hole up in her bedroom for days at a time and sleep. I always thought it was sad ... a wasted opportunity. Now I think I understand. Because the last thing I want to do is get up from this bed, step out of this room, and face whatever life has in store on the other side of that door. I'm not ashamed to admit I'm hiding. I'm fucking hiding.

After I take a piss I look for my suit coat, which I find in an unceremonious heap by the door. For two seconds I think about how much I hate this goddamn suit. It's less than a year old and I've only worn it twice—both Sedgwick funerals. I'm burning the bastard when I take it off. I fish through the pockets for my cigarettes, lighter, and phone.

I hesitate with a quick glance around the room before lighting up. I usually don't smoke indoors but the overall degradation of this place practically begs for it.

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