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Eyes Wide Open

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He rinsed the blood off of his hands, and it trickled down the drain in a pink stream. When his hands seemed clean enough, he reached for a tissue on the countertop and pressed it against the small nick in his neck, stemming the red tide. Once he was certain that his blood had ceased to flow, he picked up his razor and once again began, more carefully now, to shave.

When he had finished shaving and washed and rinsed his face, he stepped out of the bathroom and looked out of his window at the morning sun. Even from the thirty-ninth floor he could tell that it was going to be a cold day, the air had that crisp texture, and he thought it just as well, because he didn't feel much like going out anyway. He walked across his bedroom and pulled open his bedside drawer, gazing once again at its contents. An involuntary shudder racked his body as a familiar chill worked its way down his spine, and he slammed the drawer shut. Church. Church could certainly do him some good right now, he thought, and he quickly dressed himself, recovering. He strode across his apartment, down the long, spacious hall that connected his bedroom to his living room to his elevator door, and descended the thirty-nine floors without hesitation.

The day was indeed cold, as he had predicted, but the cold didn't bother him. He enjoyed it, the way someone may enjoy the feeling of strength that accompanies withstanding pain complacently, and inwardly he was amused by the irony. The church was only a few blocks away from his apartment, not that he ever went there, and once he was inside he was once again amused by the decrepit nature of the congregation. Even on this Sunday morning there were only a handful of attendees, most of them elderly, and a choir that was in desperate need of practice. He sat in silence in an empty pew while the priest spoke, and listened only half-consciously to the sermon. Then he kneeled down in the pew and began to pray. He wasn't reciting: our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be... but rather he found himself pouring himself into his prayer, not using words, but pure emotion as he desperately sought some connection, some feeling of substance. In his persistence he did not stop until the priest called his congregation forth to deliver the Eucharist, and he rose slowly to taste of the blood of Christ. He left the Church more relaxed and desolate and thirsty than he had ever been.

He returned to his palace in the sky, the vast whitewashed apartment where he lived alone. Its wide empty spaces, the architectural motif that originally motivated him to buy, now seemed too empty, to wide. He strode out onto the balcony, which wrapped halfway around the apartment, and watched the sun as it rolled lazily across the sky. He lit a cigarette, feeling with guilt the wheeze in his lungs, but once again the irony set in, and with a smile he stood and smoked the entire pack, and then another. He stood for hours, on the brink of eternity, and watched the sunset. Great splashes of blood spread across the sky as it engorged itself hungrily on the remnants of the swiftly sinking sun, and then, without warning, it was dark. He stepped inside and turned on the lights, activating special dimmer switches that were the very pinnacle of modern home utilities, and poured himself three fingers of Johnny Walker, blue label, dropping a solitary ice cube into the glass. He sat alone and drank, crushing the ice cube between his molars, and then, tilting his head back, he emptied the glass. He would've eaten dinner, he hadn't had a bite all day, but he wasn't hungry, only thirsty, so once again he descended the thirty-nine floors to walk once more among the living.

The apartment building had a garage service, and he called up his black Porsche, an original 1984 model, exorbitantly tuned to perfection, and sped into the night streets. He headed downtown to get a drink, and he would've liked to go to a nightclub, somewhere loud and alive where he could be distracted. Distracted by short tight skirts and tall glass bottles of expensive vodka, distracted by the throbbing, monotonous beat of house music as it deafened him to all but the available, worldly pleasures at his disposal. But he didn't, and instead he found himself looking for a clean, well lighted place, somewhere he could drink unperturbed, somewhere peaceful. He settled on an unpopular dive bar called Paddy's, and, after parking his car in a nearby garage, he walked in and took a seat at the bar. It was virtually empty, and quiet (the jukebox had been broken for the better part of a decade), and he summoned up another tall glass of top shelf scotch. He finished it with ease, and quickly conjured another, and another, and then he spoke, his tongue significantly looser now, to the man behind the bar. He told the bartender about his boyhood, about living in a tiny apartment with his parents and three siblings, crammed together uncomfortably. He told him about college, Dartmouth, which he had attended on a generous scholarship granted only to people of exceptional talent and intelligence, and about dreams, dreams that had been realized and surpassed, but which had left him wanting more, and needing more. More than he had ever wanted or needed as a boy. And he told him about the destructive nature of blind ambition, and about his wife, and his own children. He was a stranger to them now, not that he had ever been present when his family was intact. And he talked about funny things, fond memories of wild antics from his youth, and successful ventures, and adversaries crushed. He drank and drank, regaling the patient bartender with the endless stories of his life. And when the time came, when the barstools were overturned, and the counter wiped down, he stepped back out into the darkness.

He drove home without incident, and left his gorgeous car to be parked by the garage attendant, ascending the thirty-nine floors with confidence now, and purpose. And in his apartment he continued to drink, although you could hardly tell that he was drunk at all (he was an excellent drinker), and he tried to read, and then to listen to music, but these diversions only made him feel more anxious. And finally he grew tired of waiting, and, after tilting back the now almost empty bottle of Johnny Walker, draining it of its contents, he walked towards his bedroom. He was calm on his exterior, but he could feel the palpations in his heart, could feel the sweat sliding down his palms and his back. He felt the emptiness in his stomach as he looked across the room at the table by the bed, felt the sick icy tingle on his spine, even through the dullness of his inebriation. The path to the drawer was stretched out in front of him, and even though it took him an eternity to walk across the room, as he stood over the drawer he knew it should have, must have, taken longer. Slowly he pulled the drawer open, his eyes transfixed as he reached down and wrapped his fingers around the cold metal. He pulled the gun out of the drawer, and for a moment his hand quivered as he raised the barrel to his temple. He squeezed his eyes shut.



It snowed heavily that night, and it was cold and dark and empty, but the next morning the sun rose blood red, and it glinted in bright streaks upon the surface of the snow. The man rose from bed late that day, and nursed his crippling headache. He looked at the snow, looked at the shimmering streaks of red on the unending blanket of white.

That day he made several phone calls. The first was to his former wife, who did not answer. He was neither surprised nor deterred. The second two were to his children, who were young adults now. They answered, and spoke to him. They talked about their lives, their current goals, and they listened. They listened to his advice, his honeyed words, his jokes. They heard, for the first time, the love and compassion that they had always hoped to hear from him, and hated him for withholding. And though they resented the not quite cruelty, but mere ambivalence, that he had shown them in the past, they could not help but hold hope for his future. And the man looked at the fresh new snow, the yet untouched layer of soft, gently, purity that silently overtook the city that he so loved and reviled. He thought about the trigger that he had wanted to pull so badly. He had come to understand, however, that there were others, aside from himself, who would have to suffer through his pain, so he had locked the gun away and shut his eyes and gone to sleep.

"There will be time," he said to himself as he watched the snow on that brand new day, "to build, and to rebuild. But will there be time to ruin and destroy it all again?"





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