The whiskey burns going down, just the way he likes it. It helps with the smell, the mildew and mold of the house. The cheap stuff helps singe the senses, so all he can smell is alcohol. The blinds are half open, dusty rays of light weasel their way into the room, one falls right on his eyes indicating it’s time to get out of bed.
Rod’s joints ache when he gets up, he throws back what’s left in his glass in response.
Breakfast is eggs: scrambled. Toast: burnt. Coffee: instant and bitter. A fan whirls overhead in a fruitless effort to stifle the suffocating temperature of the room. It’s still morning, and he’s already adding new sweat to his sweat stained shirt.
He tosses the paper plate and plastic spork into the garbage and does the same with his coffee cup when he gulps down the rest. Dessert is a little more of that burn.
Closet doors open, he regards his dusty, wrinkled messes. Shirts tired beyond their years, seeming to not hang from their hangers, but sag, like a construction cone melting in this hot Texas heat. His thumb fiddles with the ring on his finger as he pushes a couple of shirts aside and finds the one he’s looking for.
She hates this color.
* * * * *
The truck whines to a stop, great clouds of something dark coughing behind it. He reaches under his seat, searching for the familiar smooth glass bottle. A thin sliver of copper color sits in an almost empty container, he grimaces, though thankful for at least the flavor and takes the sip gladly, then adds the bottle with the rest behind his seat.
The sun is oppressive, the cement doing no favors, cooking everything not fortunate enough to be in the shade. He shuts the door to his truck and walks inside the courthouse, papers in hand.
* * * * *
Dale already has the bottle ready behind the counter. It’s the simple things in life that bring us pleasure, Rod thinks. Simple acts of being remembered. The expectation of being seen. Dale never smiles when a customer comes in, seeing Rod is no different.
Rod slips the bottle into a brown bag and steals a sip before walking back to his truck. He sits behind the wheel and pulls another to tide him over. The bottle is placed on top of his copy of the signed papers. On the third try, the truck sputters to life, fan belt screaming, blue smog and rattling frame as he pulls away.
An empty home, the smell of mildew and mold, greets him. The heat at least has died down, it is anything but comfortable but it is an improvement. Rod takes a pot from his cabinet and turns the dial on his stove to “High.”
Back in his room, he pulls off the shirt that elicited an eye roll from her and places it back on a hanger. Above was the box, cardboard, out of harm’s way but more importantly out of sight. It’s heavy, not by its content, but by its memory.
* * * * *
The burner is red hot, making quick work of the coolness that sought to relieve the house. Whiskey in glass, cigarette between his lips, he takes one last look at the picture then takes a burning gulp and puts the photo to flame. It curls on the edges at first, the glossy finish melting before it catches, but when it does there’s no stopping it. The fire climbs up, distorting the two people caught frozen in time. Before it reaches his fingertips, he drops it in the pot and pulls the next picture.
He takes special care when peeling back the protective layering in the photo album. Grabbing each photo by the edges so not to smudge them, and eyes them the same way an archaeologist regards freshly excavated pottery.
The ritual finishes around the time the bottle does. He shakes what’s left of the contents and places it next to the smoldering photos. His thumb finds the ring, and he looks down, eyeing it not with dejected indifference but the longing eyes of a lover.
It doesn’t come off easily, his fingers have become more plump over the years. He holds it between his thumb and forefinger for a moment, then turns and drops it in the sink. Rod pours what’s left in the bottle in his glass before he starts the faucet. The ring sticks at first, then circles the drain and disappears.
He’s not sure what he’s supposed to feel, or if he even feels at all. He takes what’s left in his glass. The whiskey burns going down.
Just the way he likes it.