Siren

All it took was one deep breath and the room was ablaze.

The women were captivated. The men were enthralled. Cascading through the room, all of the eyes were on him and his instrument. He told a story to the crowd; one of seduction, one of love, one of the raw passion that lie deep within them all. Every chest rose and fell to the melody of his march. He was the hypnotist and they were hypnotized. This was a tale to be told over and over, one that he could never complete, one that consumes his life. It was his work, his lover, his religion, his consolation. It made him smile, made him cry, pissed him off but still clung to his skin like the sweat on his back.

So they danced again. The hot stage lights burned him, beads of sweat rolling from his hairline, down the crease in his forehead and down his face. It was a small price to pay for the love and he paid it every single time. He put his all into the music, even though his shoes were too tight and his back had begun to cramp. Small price to pay. The music radiated from him like a pheromone, ensnaring the unattached women in the joint, the women who had shimmied into tight dresses and tall heels for him; women who burnt their ears and applied and reapplied rouges and powders to impress him. He was a simple man. His woman was not a vain nor jealous lover; she was always patient with him when his attention was diverted because it would only be for a moment. She knew that soon, his rough and warm fingers would careen around her and it would only be a moment before his lips were wrapped around her and when they were, what a glorious sound! She was his siren, his muse, his Aphrodite. She owned every part of him and he gave himself to her willingly.

So they entwined, their tangled webs drifting through the air and surrounded those in earshot. The world fell away and littered at his feet, nothing but rags of stress and dissatisfaction. Nothing gave him the feeling of the humming in his feet, the sway in his hips, the tap of his shoe. Nothing mimicked the moment of escape, no one could guide him from the darkness, away from the flame. The room was ablaze and he would burn for it.

Kentucky Straight

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.