Meyer reached over to the night table beside him. With his head on the pillow and one eye shut he struggled to find his half empty bottle. With that keen sense of awareness that always warned him when something would go terribly wrong, he knew the bottle would spill over before it did. And it did. Meyer groaned. Fuck. HIs head was pounding and the stench of stale cigarettes, booze and old furniture filled his nostrils. He thought he was going to be sick.
He lay back in bed fighting back the waves of nausea that overcame him. His shaking hands reached for the overturned bottle. He sat up, tipped the bottle back and drank what was left. Ahh. He could feel the warm liquid travel down inside. Already he felt that small feeling of recovery. If he could have another drink he could make it , he thought. He wondered what day it was and reached back in his mind for anything that might anchor him somewhere in time.
It was just like Sharon said. “The booze is going to eat your mind.” she said. “It’ll kill you Meyer.” Christ.. The truth is he was too much of a coward to take his own life. Too squeamish. PiIlls. He had a hard time taking even baby aspirin. A gun. Too messy. Hanging. What if he miscalculated. The brain damage would be horrible for Sharon and Trish, never mind his mother. She’d never forgive him. Drinking himself to death seemed like the path of least resistance and somehow it seemed cleaner. At least that’s what he thought until he sat up and looked around his apartment. Fuck. What a stye. That’s what Sharon said last time she visited.
“You’re a pig Meyer. What the hell happened to you. Brilliant career. Great kid. Me. Now look at you. A dog wouldn’t even eat off this floor. And you stink like hell. When’s the last time you changed?”
He sat up. His single sorry bed reminded him of himself. A sorry mess, single and alone. His sister always told him he had no stamina. She was right. No stamina for life much less anything else.
Suddenly he remembered out of nowhere what day it was. Saturday. Fucking christ in hell. It was Trish’s birthday party. He was supposed to pick up the cake and the balloons and come to the party by 4:00. What the hell time is it? There was one person in the world he was more afraid of then his wife Sharon and that was his 7 year old daughter Trish. She would look at him with those steely blue eyes and see right through him. He was sure she never blinked. Sometimes he wasn’t even sure if she was human. She had this ‘other’ kind of quality he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Then other times he would never feel so loved. She’d wrap her arms around his neck and he could feel the warmth of her little stringy body. He could feel tears welling in his eyes. He reached for his cigarette, lit it and checked the time. 2:15. He hadn’t missed it but he couldn’t waste any time and wasting time was something Meyer knew how to do better than anybody else.
He ran is hand through his wavy black hair. What the hell. His hand hit a bump. Warm, fuzzy, pulsing. Meyer wasn’t given to fights but occasionally he came home with bruises, broken glasses, war wounds. He had grown accustomed to them.It was the price of giving up.
He slowly sat up and wandered over to the mirror. Jesus Christ. He looked at himself in the dim light. He looked for his broken glasses. I’m getting’ old he thought to himself. Can’t see a fucking thing. He peered harder in the mirror and saw two distinct bumps on the top of his head. What the fuck? If Meyer didn’t know better he’d say they were horns. As one of the former leading criminal defence lawyers in the country he’d been called many things including the devil and those times when he allowed himself to feel anything he sometimes felt like the devil but he didn’t actually think he was the devil. Sharon, who’s acute sense of social justice weighed like a dead cement block on his mind, was right. He had finally been won over completely by the dark forces.
He reached up and touched his right horn. Small, furry glowing, it felt warm to his touch. As he stroked his horn it rotated on his head while the left one bent over double like a limp weed. He reached up and stroked his left horn and it stood up straight like a soldier on duty. They stood about two inches on the top of his head. He pulled at them thinking it was some kind of bad joke. They didn’t budge. Every time he touched them he felt this warm glow inside. Like a fire. He wondered if it was Satan’t torch. It almost felt like the warm glow of scotch after his first sip.
Fuck. I gotta get to the birthday party or my kid will sue me. Like father like daughter ,he thought. He was panicked by the new additions to his head but he was more panicked at the emotional exile he would feel if he fucked this up. And oddly, the warm glow emanating from his horns soothed him in a way he hadn’t been soothed in a long time.He didn’t know what they meant but he knew he had to get his sorry ass over to his ex-wife’s or he’d be dead meat. Deader than he already was.
He grabbed the cleanest pair of kakis’ he could find which were wrinkled and stained but not smelly and an old t-shirt. He didn’t know what to do with his head. Towel wrap? No. Ridiculous. Baseball cap? He set the cap on his head. The cap rested on top of his horns. Admittedly the slightly skewed cap gave him something of a jaunty look and it brought a slight smile to his face. He looked around his ashtray strewn apartment with crap everywhere. Piles of dirty plates, empty bottles,and clothes everywhere. What the hell. His eyes finally came to rest on the red beret. Then he remembered Eizerman had been here one night. Eizerman was an artist but these days he was mainly a junky.A big mellow sad-eyed junky who wore a red beret.He came here one night and they sat up and talked and drank till dawn. They both passed out and when Meyer finally woke up he was gone. Never saw him again but he left his beret.
Meyer grabbed the beret and put it on his head. The hat fit over the top of his horns perfectly. He looked at himself in the mirror and he recognized something about himself from when he was younger. For a brief moment he saw that hopeful optimism of his youth but it came and went in a flash and Meyer was left with nothing but himself, his horns and this god awful beret that stunk like bad beer and made him look like a transvestite.
Alright he said to himself. I gotta get the hell out of here and to my kids party. Just the act of saying that brought him back to that world and place he occupied just a few short years ago. Accomplished lawyer, husband, father, member of the community and empty shell of a man. He thought of Sharon. A woman as hard as nails and uncompromising in her pursuit of justice. But she was as hard on herself as she was on him. When sex was still something he was able to think about he thought about her. Her long legs, her long black hair her unruly sense of dress – often accompanied not unllke himself by some stain. Curry, mayo, mustard. Generally a condiment but not always. It was the one way in which they were alike. He loved her. Did he just think that? Was he crazy? He never let his mind go there anymore. t was over. Enough of that he thought as he lit another cigarette. He reminded himself to splash some aftershave and bring some chewing gum before he arrived or his kid would give him the smell test and then give him hell. What were they teaching them in school these days anyways?
He arrived at the party at 4:27 exactly, just late enough to be given a mouthful of hell. “Meyer, what the hell?” Sharon said as he stood outside the door in the pouring rain. He looked at the Frank Lloyd Wright rip-off house that he and Sharon bought together and which he had walked away from. He couldn’t believe he had ever lived there. Who was that person anyways?
“Where were you? This is a kid’s birthday party not some cocktail party you show up fashionably late to? Come in here. You look like hell by the way. What’s that on your head? Jeezus Meyer what’s going on?
“I don’t know what’s going on Sharon. I feel like I’m losing my mind.” ”
“Believe me Meyer, you lost your mind long ago.”
“Sharon, I know. But look at this. I woke up this morning and look I don’t know what the hell they are or where they came from.” Meyer removed his red beret and stood before Sharon his horns straight and at full alert.
“Jesus Meyer. What the hell. You’ve grown horns. Two of them!”. Sharon stepped closer to Meyer and reached up to touch his horns.
“They’re soft. Christ they’re moving. It’s like they’re looking at me.” Her voice softened in a way he hadn’t heard in years. They hadn’t’ stood this close since their divorce when she had pushed her finger in his chest and called him an asshole for giving up. This time her voice was soft.
“I can’t let Trish see them.”
“Meyer don’t be an idiot. The most forgiving person in your life is your daughter. Until she’s an adult of course and she’s realized how much you’ve screwed her over but until then she’s the most forgiving person in your life. Go show yourself Meyer. She’s a good girl.”
Suddenly Meyer felt like he was 5 years old again. Naked, young, uncynical, reborn. Standing as tall as he could he went upstairs to look for his daughter before her guests were to arrive.
I wrote this as a result of a challenge from a friend over wine and drinks one night. She gave me the topic and I had to write whatever I wanted. This isn’t my usual style of writing at all but I was reading the Yiddish Policeman’s Union at the time and I was heavily influenced by the voice of that author. I did this purely for the fun of it.