Kentucky Straight

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He shuffled down the street, age gripped his back and legs heavily. Passing him on the street, the smell of whiskey wafted off of him. He sat in front of the corner store, his hand extended limply. Every few hours, he would have enough money to buy a new bottle to stave off sobriety. He would nod off and be asleep on the sidewalk, but the owner would kick him lightly to wake him up. At some point, he had urinated on himself and it was beginning to dry, a new layer of grime on his pants.

He made his way to his unkempt home and sat in the worn chair and opened his last bottle. The firewater cascaded down his throat, giving him a familiar feeling of euphoria. He opened his eyes and looked around the cluttered room. It was no longer warm and inviting. His wife hasn’t making biscuits for breakfast. His daughter wasn’t laughing at him while he made faces at her. The dusty suede box on his mantle gave him no comfort. Shaking the hand of President JFK didn’t change the outcome of his life. The Army made several promises that didn’t come to fruition. He didn’t get the chance to go back to school and the only part of the world he had seen was a Godforsaken jungle. He came home to no parade, no work and no loving family. Even his memories had begun to fade into blurs of Kentucky straight.

He panhandled to survive and live in the bottom of a bottle. He had no more hopes, no dreams, only the desperate need to remain incapacitated. He was sick but it made him better. He didn’t have to think of his troubles or shortcomings, only his drink made him feel whole again. He sat in a pool of self-pity as he turned up the bottle and rubbed the stubble on his face. He made his way back out onto the street, in front of another liquor stores, looking for his next fix.

People passed him, day in and day out. They walked around him, farther away from the smell of decay that clung to him. They pretended they did not hear him, turned their heads so they didn’t see him, ignoring his grumbled pleas for change. He was invisible. Once in a while, change would be dropped into his hands and after a while, he would enough for a new bottle. When hunger overcame his need, he dug through trash cans and bags, searching for something half eaten, something someone had wasted just to tide him over. Sometimes, he collected bottles and cans for change, to feed him, to feed his addiction.

At night, he stumbled home, back to his chair, the only thing he owned from before. In the cold, he would burn paper in the metal trash can he had dragged from the park for warmth. But in winter, this barely helped. In the bitter snow, the only thing that kept him warm was the whiskey he poured down his throat. He would drape himself in layers upon layers of lost or left behind clothing. Summer was almost unbearable, to him and those around him. He had grown used to the smell of sweat clinging to his dirty skin, but people would almost run to escape the stench of the Garbage Man.

He couldn’t keep anything in life: family, work, money. He searched for whiskey to escape and soon it consumed him. His home was even gone, reduced to the pit of squalor he often sat in. The only thing he had was the hunger, the leprosy and the dereliction, things that he even the bottle couldn’t fix. But he would always try.

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