“I’m nothing buta drunk,” she thought.
“No. I’mnothing. And I’m a drunk.”
And then she fell asleep.
Outside, thestorm’s wind had pushed the grill a foot or so from the wet, slatted patiowall. Rain had filled the heavy glass ashtray until it spilled over the sideand dripped greyish water down onto the rusting metal bistro table.
Water had comein through the slightly open window in the living room. The wind had blown itagainst the screen until it made its way down onto the windowsill.
Down against thewall.
Down onto theold wooden chest on the floor painted green a year ago. It was a child’scoffin, once. But never used. The coffin was a gift from a family friend whowas a woodworker. The order for the coffin had been cancelled.
Riley slept onthe couch in the living room with the coffin. Her feet were tucked under thecorner of a heavy wool blanket, but the rest of the blanket draped off of thebrown leather couch into a pile on the dusty hardwood floor.
She enjoyed thesound of the rain against the window, against the roof and walls. It helped hersleep and reminded her of camping with her mother and father when she was eightor nine. Every year they camped on Prince Edward Island in an old canvas tentthat leaked if you touched the sides.
So she sleptdeeply, now, as the water seeped in, more and more.
And it rained inher dream. She was walking toward her office, early in the morning. Too early,too dark. Her auburn hair was getting much too wet. But there was nothing to doabout it. She had forgotten her umbrella. Forgotten her coat. But her feet werewarm, and dry.
The coffee shopshe usually stopped into wasn’t there anymore, in her dream. It had never beenvery good. They served coffee out of those giant thermoses, some off-brandgeneric roast, poured halfheartedly into a white Styrofoam cup. But it was onthe way.
Now, though, itwas replaced with something else she couldn’t see, and didn’t want to.
She tried towalk away, but every step brought her closer. She tried to run, but her feetwouldn’t hold the ground. She bent over, tried to pry at the sidewalk with herfingers, to propel herself forward, but she only went back. Back and back.Toward something like a shard she could feel but couldn’t see.
She feltsomething pierce her back, carve slowly through her skin. She felt it slidethrough muscle, wedging in between her vertebrae, sending pain to every cornerof her body. The shiv moved so slowly and so deep she could almost hear it.
She listened toherself die.
And then shefell. Down to the ground. Down past the sidewalk and through it. Down into theearth.
Down and down.
She fell untilshe was traveling upward again through the earth. Toward the sky, towardheaven.
Up and up.
And then she woke.
The boards inthe couch were uneven, and the padding had given in long ago. She felt thepressure from its structure against her back, felt the pain of seizing musclesthrough her body.
She kicked theblanket off of her feet and sat up slowly, trying not to move her back toomuch. She tried not to open her eyes wider than needed, and tried not to hearthe rain coming in through the window. She tried to wish it away.
She stoodslowly, looked at the window, looked at the wall, looked at the coffin. The lightswere on, had been on all night. There were dead moths in the light fixture, butshe didn’t know how to get them out. How did they get in? They must have foundsome gap and struggled through it, only to find an oven, heated by a lightbulb, instead of the moon.
She closed thewindow and wiped some of the water away with her hand, down onto the floor. Ifshe’d been wearing socks, she would have tried to wipe up the water with herfeet. But now she looked down on chipped pink toenail polish, standing in apuddle.
Her curtainswere heavy, and pulled to the side, so at least they didn’t get wet. But theydidn’t help at all, either. They’d been an apartment-warming gift from herfriend Avery, and they were probably the nicest thing she owned. They had a whitebacking, to keep the heat out in the summer. Riley didn’t like the heat. Herantidepressants made her sweat more than before, and she could never pull off a“glow”—she just looked wet.
She leftdelicate footprints on her way to the kitchen to get the paper towel. Herfather would have been so upset if he’d seen it. He hated footprints—no barefeet allowed on the hardwood— and he hated fingerprints around the lightswitches, smudges on the mirrors, water left in the sink.
He'd have hatedRiley’s bookshelves, covered in dusty DVDs and books out of order, piled atopone another. Whatever had most recently been watched or read shoved back on topof the pile. Loose discs without cases, and dust jackets without books strewnall over. The last movie Riley watched was Casablanca.She watched it every few days, actually, so it was still in the DVD player. Thecase for it had been lost long ago.
Her favoriteline comes when Rick is talking to Ilsa at the outdoor market near the BlueParrot. He says, “Why did you come back? To tell me why you ran out on me atthe railway station?”
Ilsa says,“Yes,” and Rick says, “Well, you can tell me now. I'm reasonably sober.”