Nights Like This
A Short Story by Nicole Krueger
Written using the suggestion "Quest"
Originally featured on 11-13-2009
As part of our series "The Words That Seem to Justify Anything"

Here we are in the same place we always end up: your living room, with the back door open to let the smoke out and a bottle of wine on the table between us. I can’t tell what time it is because the clock above your television has been blinking three a.m. since I’ve known you. You’re sitting on the couch, knees pulled up to your chin, while I’m on the floor, indian-style, leaning back on my hands. Aimee Mann or something equally contemplative plays on the stereo, an ironic choice at first, but the mood has changed and all of our irony has drained out with the stale air.

“I’m getting too old for this,” you say, or I say, or maybe we both say, because it’s like a mantra we can’t stop saying until it becomes true. Then we laugh, not because it’s funny but because laughter keeps the truth at bay.

“I’m so done,” you announce. “I can’t do this anymore. I have to shape up my life. I have to figure out where I’m going.” I just nod, because we both know in less than a week you’ll be lonely and we’ll be figuring out where to go on Saturday night and I’ll be stopping at Trader Joe’s for a couple of $3.99 bottles of pinot.

I squint at your face, green and distorted through the empty wine bottle. For a moment the bottle seems full again, full of you, and I wonder if maybe this whole time we thought we were drinking from it, it was actually drinking from us, sucking us down its slender neck until we are dry, spent, all the juice drained from the evening, with nothing left to do but concede defeat and raise a white flag to the night that bided its time to do us in. We stand up, grimacing at the cracking in places that didn’t used to crack.

We set about cleaning up the evidence, as we always do when we’re not too drunk. We’re almost obsessive about it, this superstition of ours, like knocking on wood, as if waking up to empty bottles and sticky glasses would mean the party is over, really and truly and finally over, and neither of us is ready for that.

You reach to set the empty wine bottle on the shelf above the kitchen cabinet, which is covered with dozens of others just like it. Or maybe not dozens, but it looks like it to me, each one with a different shade of glass and a different picture on its label. They’re lined up in neat rows, kept clean of dust as if they contain something precious, some elixir of youth you can uncork at a later date and swill with your vegetarian stir-fry. You have to rearrange them a bit to fit one more, and I think to myself that the shelf is getting crowded, your apartment is getting crowded, and I’m not sure how much room is left for more wine bottles and slow, drunken nights like this.

I sweep crumbs off the coffee table and onto the floor while you rinse the glasses. Tomorrow you will vacuum like a madman while I’m still trying to sleep, your forehead creased with pain from the machine’s noise crashing against your hangover, and I will burrow under the covers, trying and failing to recapture my comfortable oblivion until I am ousted from bed by the harsh reality of sunlight. And we will make pancakes, and we will laugh less wildly than we did tonight and talk less vigorously than we did tonight, knowing it’s the best we can do, a watercolor imitation of this night’s acrylic masterpiece.

Read More By Nicole Krueger

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