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The Declaration of a Free Man
Moonlight leaks past naked branches that bend despondently overhead. It casts down onto the opening, where you can just make out each and every headstone, symbolizing one too many abandoned souls. The air around me is thin and icy, cutting at my cheeks and drying my lips. Car engines hum in the distance from the nearest highway, making me feel even more isolated than before.
My feet ache from walking. My fingertips numb from the bottle I clutch desperately in both hands. My head, not yet where I want it to be.
Nevertheless, tonight I’m a free man.
Headlights filter in through the graveyard, upsetting me of my peace. I stay crouched in the shadows, hidden away. I don’t move. Gravel shuffles below the burden of the tires until the car finally comes to an abrupt stop. A second goes by and the headlights disappear, overtaken by darkness. I wait.
The car door opens and the driver stumbles out. It’s too dark to make out details, but I can see a silhouette, outlined and illuminated by the faint light of the moon. It’s a man. And in his hand is a bottle.
A bottle shaped like mine.
He trips but catches himself before plunging face first to the ground. Booze escapes from the bottle by a few drops; the clinking is followed by a raspy “S***.” He drags himself to a diminutive headstone, smaller than the rest. He’s close now. If I move a fraction of an inch I’ll be seen. I catch my breath and manage my breathing.
The man falls to his knees and after sitting the bottle safely in the grass, he cries into his hands. My throat tightens. I’m an intruder. One who carefully thrashes around in someone else’s private thoughts. Still, my eyes refuse to leave the man and his crumpled body that shakes with tears and wrenches of liquor.
He began to speak, his words were unclear, and they were jumbled and slurred. But his voice… It sounded so familiar. He then tipped the bottle over and allowed the liquid to splatter against the dirt in front of him.
“Drink it up old man.” I heard him say. He got up as best he could and started to walk off. I was anticipating his absence, ready to enjoy my drink alone. But then he turned abruptly with gravel switchng at his feet and chunked the empty bottle at the grave with a loud cry. It shattered against the headstone with an ear-piercing ring.
“You b****rd!” He screamed at the top of his lungs. “You filthy b****rd!” He let out another scream, one that rattled my brain and tore at my throat. The man stumbled backwards, as if he just realized what he had done. He tripped on his heel and collapsed onto his elbows, crying with no fear of being heard.
I twirl the bottle in my hand. The sound is divine. It’s dangerous. It’s deceitful. It’s death. I pry my fingers away from the glass, one at a time, until finally the bottle has fallen in front of me. Releasing the spirit, it regurgitates with anger and jealousy. The grass will soon wilt and expire in its wake.
I stand, my eyes drooping, my legs shaking, but my mind clear. I sneak over to the stranger and stand over him, looking down at him as he wept. He looks up at me and his mouth falters. He squints in the darkness. I sway uncomfortably and the moon flashes over his face with my momentary absence. He is older than me with wrinkles crowding his forehead and circles bagging underneath his eyes. His lips twitch into a look of recognition and his jaw is set as it is firm.
A structure just like mine.
My heart stops. My breathing quickens. My palms shake with the word, “Dad”. I help him up and greet him with an embrace. He whispers, “I’m sorry, son” over and over until I slide away from his grip. We cry together atop the graves of so many others like us. We wait until our bones are strong and our speech is clear before saying goodbye.
He shakes my hand, “Never again.”
“Never again.” I reply with a smile.
He doesn’t offer me a ride and I watch him drive away, concealed in the dark once again. I retrieve the bottle that I had released and brush away the specks of dirt and lawn that clung to the coldness of the glass. I smile at the stars and the moon, silently agreeing to see them again soon enough.
I walk home, imagining what another bottle would look like in my collection. I almost have a full set like my father.
He once told me, “You have to work for what you have. And when you do that-
You’ll be a free man. “