| Skinners by Jerry Roth - - Full version available on Lulu.com
Josh wiped sweat from his forehead with the back of a hand, stared down at the dampness that sparkled like diamonds, and scraped it against his shirt. He used his thumb and forefinger to remove the whiskey bottle cap. The plastic screw top spun under his force, flew above the bottle like a flying saucer. It levitated into the air, defying gravity for a small moment, then landed on the floor. Josh smiled at the magic trick as if it were the only thrill left to him. Breaking the first bottle’s seal was the best, like pulling a shade down, low enough to block out the world, to erase the sorrow, leaving, him utterly alone. Josh curled his arm until the spout of the whiskey bottle touched his parted lips, and brown liquid entered his mouth, slowly at first, then more quickly with the force of gravity bearing down before, it finally hit his throat. His eyes rolled back, jaw contracted as the liquid drained downward. Heaven is waiting. Josh marveled at actors that drank straight whiskey and never grimaced, never tensed from the taste. How could that be possible? Years experience helped to underline the possibilities, how the human body can adapt to changes. Josh’s sandy-blonde hair fell into his eyes, it obscured his vision. He swiped at the strands, his biceps flexed from the motion. Josh’s large frame masked his years of scientific studies. He once took pride in his appearance. With the exclusion of the recent excesses with alcohol, which left his once six-pack stomach bloated from overindulgences, he was in good shape.
Piles of books lined the edges of his studio apartment in all directions, like bricks from a medieval castle. Josh coaxed a smaller pile from the couch, watched as it teetered precariously on the cushion before it found the floor. He leaned his long frame backwards, relaxed his knees, felt the alcohol already doing its job, and flopped onto the empty couch space. Josh fumbled through magazines on the coffee table for the TV remote, while he tilted the bottle into his mouth obstructing the view. He searched with his hand, caressing the surface until he felt his prize in his grasp. The screen came to life, along with a commentator who read the top stories. The headlines never interested Josh; they were merely a background for a day of reading, and escaping the pain. The fog of alcohol will soon overtake him.
The sunlight flooded through the blinds, reached his eyes, and forced him to squint. Years of constant drinking turned his eyes of blue, to a duller gray. He jerked to a sitting position, propelled empty whiskey bottles off his lap, and witnessed glass bottles settle to the wood floor with a thud. Josh squished his body into the couch, violently at first, then softly until he achieved the ideal position. A streak of pain engulfed him; he clutched his temples with fingertips that rubbed the fresh ache. A soft knock interrupted his concentration on his pulsating, rhythmic skull. The noise stole his attention, and with head raised, he focused with great suffering, on the front door. Stepping closer to the door, he walked gingerly like treading on eggshells. The sound of his own footsteps echoed again, and again causing his headache to grow. He turned his face up, expecting a rush of discomfort to follow his sudden movement. Josh opened the door, feeling the pain subside in time to greet his brother. Reese Sterling waited impatiently tapping his key, and muttering to himself as he waited for Josh. Seeing his older brother sparked a change in his expression, one of surprise, maybe admiration.
“I didn’t think you were home,” Reese said.
“Well, little brother, you kept knocking didn’t you?”
Josh reluctantly motioned Reese inside, watching him shuffle through without an upward glance. Reese is skinny, at least compared to his brother; he uselessly attempts to hide a limp. Out of style clothes, worn shoes, over grown beard reflects a man obsessed with science. Reese strolled to the couch, sidestepped empty bottles in his path, and collapsed on the cushions.
“I see you’re engrossed in the finer aspects of life.”
Reese gave a mischievous smile, and placed a whiskey bottle on the coffee table to emphasize his point. Reese got no reaction from his display, leaned back a little further on the couch, and watched Josh move to a blind, he peered out. A woman in a cocktail dress stood on the corner next to a streetlight, she was casual as if she belonged there. Her blonde hair whipped in the wind, Josh noticed. She wrenched her neck up to his window, again Josh noticed, took a step back from the window to avoid her gaze.
“Josh, what are you doing to yourself? You’re drinking your life away.” Josh spun around, nearly gave into his anger when he saw his brother’s face and melted.
“I’m just self medicating a bit. Everything’s under control,” Josh said with a smile.
“It’s safe to say that you’re too brilliant for denial. It doesn’t suit you and besides, your potential is being wasted.”
“I’m just for myself,” Josh said hoping to end the conversation and not believing it would.
“That’s a load of…well, a load. How does it feel to be back in Pataskala?” Reese asked.
“Pataskala, Ohio is a small town, not unlike other small towns. The people are friendly, curious.
“And concerned nearly to a fault. Underneath the surface of this common city are secrets that are better left hidden, guarded by the locals, a little too fervently,” Reese said.
“The tractor factory on the edge of town employs over fifty thousand out-of-towners, it is fascinating how the locals can hold all outsiders in such contempt.
“They weren’t born in Pataskala, they don’t live here; they only use the town for their convenience with no love for the town.”
“That’s just it, Reese, passers-by are only a necessary evil, to ensure the livelihood of a few upscale shops, and restaurants that draw in commuters.
“With their pockets full of money,” Reese added.
“And complaining all the while. It matters very little that I left town right after high school, and didn’t come back for ten years. I was welcomed back like a member of the community, like being born here marks the blood forever. They even overlooked that nasty business with me and Tracy in Columbus,” Josh said.
“A hometown boy can’t do any wrong, even if the rest of the world thinks differently
Josh looked again through the window, bit his lip, and watched the woman glance his way.
“Tracy has been dead over two years now. She wasn’t irreplaceable.” Reece winced from his thoughtless comment. “Josh I’m sorry. That was a stupid thing to say.”
Josh shook his head, looks to the wood floor studying its grains.
“You said it, not me,” Josh exclaimed.
“I just meant you’re living the life of a hermit.”
“So why didn’t you just say that? It would have been less hurtful.”
“You sit in this apartment and drink until you’re oblivious to any connection of an outside world. The worst part is, you stopped working on your projects altogether. That’s definitely not you.” Josh returned his attention to the street-lady. Her enamored focus remained.
“Science holds no passion for me any longer,” Josh said.
“I know how to feel. Believe me, I know.” Reese paused. “I mean, I can guess what you’re feeling, the thing is, you have to carry on big brother.” Josh ignored him.
“Take a look at this Reese, a woman has been staring up at me for a week now.”
Reese shook his head in disgust.
“I’m trying to help you, the least you can do is hear me out.”
“It’s not that Reese, come here and look at this.” Reese walked next to his brother, stopped short of the window, and stared down to the corner.
“I see nothing. There’s no woman there.” Josh pressed against the glass, his nose smashed against the pane.
“There was a woman on the corner! I think her name was Dawn,” Josh said.
“So, you know her name? How, how is that possible?” Reese asked.
“She…told me,” Josh said.
“She told you?”
“Yeah. One night, not long after I got back in town she stopped me and I listened to some made up story about an affair we had together.”
“I get it, she’s crazy, probably a hooker looking for a payday. Will you listen to me? You gotta stop thinking about Tracy.” Josh continued to leer at the street corner.
“Whether she’s a hooker or just crazy, the woman is obsessed.” Josh finally heard his brother’s accusation. “Reese…Tracy was special. She was gonna be the mother of my children. We would have been a couple that lasted. I lost my chance to be happy, to grow old with someone. You’ll never get it, she was the one,” Josh said and allowed his head to fall, the energy drained from him. Reese’s eyes welled with tears.
“Josh, if Tracy was truly the one for you she would be alive right now. That can only mean one thing; your real soul mate is out there. She’s waiting for you Reese.” Reese motioned to the window, realizing that he was pointing to the spot the mystery woman stood. He quickly dropped his hand.
“You know she called me?” Josh questioned quiet to himself.
“Who called? This woman, she got your number? How?” Josh shook his head, and felt like escaping into the fog of alcohol.
“Josh, I need your help to continue dad’s work.”
“The world doesn’t need a better railroad.” Josh smirked, happy the subject of Tracy was changed.
“Why are you trying to push my buttons? Dad’s discoveries will revolutionize transportation and you know it. Damn it, this will change the world!” Josh kept the smile on his face with all the force he could muster. “You don’t have to be condescending, Josh.”
“I’m not trying to hurt you Reese. I just don’t believe in the project. It’s nothing more than that. You may not know it now, but teleportation is an impossibility. Dad’s death should have proved that to you.”
“You have to put faith in something that can’t be seen,” Reese said.
“A genius once wrote that, in order to teleport a person you would have to verify the location of every atom in the body in relation to every other atom? And with that, the venture is impossible. I’m sorry, dad couldn’t admit that to himself, neither can you.”
“Everything seems impossible until the answer is found,” Reese replied.
“Teleportation was dad’s dream, not mine, Reese.”
“It was our father’s life’s work,” Reese said.
“Look where it got him. I’m not trying to keep the old man’s memory alive through science.” Josh’s regretted his words.
“Fine, don’t work with me! The least you could do is leave this apartment occasionally. There’s a whole world out there beyond your bottle.” Josh broke his focus from the street corner, eyeballs Reese. “Oh, I forgot to mention, I saw Sara the other day,” Reese said, which caused Josh to freeze in place. “ I think she wanted to see you. Maybe you should ask her out.”
“Dating Tracy’s sister is not the answer. Sara is cute, but that would, I don’t know, too weird.”
“You said yourself you thought Sara was beautiful, before you ever met Tracy.”
“So?” Josh asked.
“I’ve seen the way she looks at you. There’s something there brother, a spark maybe,” Reese said.
“The bed’s been made. I decided early who I would choose, and I gotta live with it. I chose Tracy not Sara, end of story.” Josh looked out at the Pataskala skyline, or the lack of one. “I do think you’re right, about one thing, I gotta get out of here for awhile.”
The minor break-through stunned Reese.
“Great,” Reese said, apparent surprise in his voice. Reese rose, moved to his brother already thinking of a way to comfort him. He placed his arms around Josh and held him tight. Josh’s eyes filled with tears. He attempted to return his heart to stone before his brother seen the weakness. With more concentration his heart hardens until he felt nothing, he felt safe.
“Thanks for stopping, little brother.” Josh already moved Reese to the door. “Don’t be a stranger.” Josh tried to smile, with some difficulty, feeling his cheeks turning up.
“I recognize the brush off, but I won’t be hard to find.” Reese gave a smile of his own. “If you need me.” Josh nodded. “Remember, get out tonight. See what it’s like to drink around other people, for a change of pace. Promise me.”
“I do, and I will.” Reese walked back to the door, refusing to look back while Josh headed the opposite direction to his distraction, to the window. Dawn is back on the corner, where she belonged. She looked up, like she could hear him. “What do you want from me?” He closed his eyes, felt the sweat on his palms, and wondered how life became such a mess. When he was a child, he would close his eyes tight in the dark until the monster went away. A battle raged inside as he fought to open them, fear strangled his resolve. Josh began to count aloud. “One, two, three.” Adrenaline rushed in and caused his eyelids to flip open toward the window, a large cat sat on the outside window ledge. The sight of the gray and black cat startled him enough to throw him backwards onto the floor. The feline’s green eyes burned through Josh’s, he stood upright, and forced himself to stare back at the cat. His finger tapped the window hard, the cat never budged. The cat only focused its eyes on his, slowly moving away from the window. He was in no hurry. Sweat formed on his forehead from the encounter, eyes returned to the spot Dawn stood, she was nowhere. He felt like a prisoner, a prisoner of a dreamy moment that he couldn’t shake.
Skinners by Jerry Roth