It was not hard for him to recall how he met what he would later call the love of his life. Regardless of all of the times he had tried in vain to forget the amatory recollections, all of the nefarious glasses of wine he had imbibed in attempts to wash away the taste of her pomegranate lipstick, or all of the lines he had drawn to stay away from every inch of her. He could not elude the sillage of her Chanel N°5 that always lingered after her departure, nor could he ever fail to remember the emanation of her Marlboro Red that coheres to her clothes like last night's affairs.
Every word that tumbled from her deceitful lips was etched into his mind and written twice over. Every sigh that cascaded from her sunken mind was a woeful lament whispered in his ear when he could not sleep. He could not escape her, and he was not sure if that was a blessing or a curse.
Nightingale, sing on.
It is 3:48 in the morning when two ships part in the smooth waters of sobriety; she north, and he south. He takes the glass and brings it to his scornful mouth, the rivers of whiskey streaming down his throat much smoother than his self-condemnation.
He was hoping for an answer. An answer, or at least something fathomable at the bottom of a glass given to him with trembling hands and a plenitude of disappointment. Something that his drug-addled mind and quite pathetic excuse for a heart could latch onto rather than a threadbared string of guilt, or rather, the body of a woman.
“I believe that guilt is the strongest human emotion. The merciless executioner of the mental complex, I guess you could say." Co declares, head propped on her hands. She's staring off into the distance, far beyond the walls of this bar, and probably far beyond anything any other could comprehend. He on the other hand, cannot see past anything except the chest of the waitress and his own remorse. “Guilt is the revolving wheel of the conscience. For one moment, you’re satisfied- and then it’s like happiness never existed. You find fault in everything, and I think that finding fault is what keeps us from finding ourselves.”
Co, originally named Corinthian, was 23 and mean; not at any other age would a girl as she be so cruel. So cruel that she proudly wore her heart upon her sleeve, ready to be trampled on. She braced herself for misfortune, and perhaps that was the most harrowing part of it all; the cataclysmic fact that she was so galvanized for destruction. She was beauty doused in gasoline, a sempiternal affliction for the minds of all aesthetes, and the tempting kryptonite for all pyromaniacs.
Nevertheless, Co always came with baggage, whether in the form of spare change or tales of last night’s woe-begotten affairs; leaving her promises on the tip of her mind but never on the tip of her tongue. She exuded an aura of recklessness, an easy comfort in instability, yet Sebastien could see when she longed for significance. To matter. To be more than another girl at the bar with choppy coal-black hair, but to be a motion picture continuously playing in the mind of all.
And yet, she could never compare to his lover.
On the other side of Co, Ralph strikes his glass down in a fit of anguish. “But could those exact feelings not emerge from fear? Fear that you, yourself, are not good enough? Corinthian, fear is what halts progression, not guilt. Guilt is merely an afterthought due to the regret of mistakes. Such a pitiful emotion could not possibly be the strongest.”
Co sits up in her bar stool, and attempts to compile the hurricane of thoughts. “There is no such thing as a mistake, Ralph. Mistakes are merely the man-made way for us to deal with the failure of our expectations. We as humans, act on intuition. And when something doesn’t go the way we expected it to, we call it a ‘mistake’ so we don’t have to deal with the repercussions. If you should fear anything, it’s the fact that you cannot admit to your wrongdoings that you so chose to carry out.”
Soon, the bartender moves away from Sebastien’s field of vision, bringing forth his inhibitions and also the guilt that Co so described. His consciousness oscillates between reality, the Ambien that he took before his arrival and also the Scotch consumed after are washing away every ounce of cognizance he barely had to begin with, and he cannot not deny that it gives him an overwhelming taste of content. To feel nothing— that is his goal.
“What do you think, Sebastien?” Co chimes, eyes glossy and full of expectancy. His eyebrows furrow at the utmost confusion. He blinks a few times and shakes out the murky thoughts, plump lips parting like jaded seas. His words flutter and stumble like baby feet over pebbles before he finally can mutter out a shaky, “Huh?”
“What’s the strongest human emotion, in your opinion?” She repeats, and the tip of her tongue quivers like her heart does; a baby bird trapped in metallic confinements. She knows she’s the only one in this bar who knows; other than he himself, and her words must be choreographed to the finest extent. It would be difficult however, to dance around something so detrimental in cloudy waters.
Nevertheless, Sebastien does not flinch nor tremble. He sits upon his bar stool, absinthe eyes focused on no determinable thing. He inhales the noisome vapors of alcohol and one night stands and exhales his own brand of misery and torment; and he finds it comical how, to feel even somewhat content, he must return home smelling of strangers’ affairs and maybe, if he finds himself lucky, a couple of his own.
“Oh, Sebastien…” Co says, shaking her head. “Your eyes breed misery, my friend. I have never been able to glance upon another and feel an ache within my being, no other than you. I do believe that you, Sebastien Volgaro, are the prime example of the weight that guilt bears.” And for the first time in the three hours that the trio had sat upon a bar of broken hearts, Sebastien lets out a sigh.
II. THE INTERLUDE
Astonished at the admission, Co and Ralph look to each other for some kind of consolation while Sebastien stares straight ahead with lacquer eyes. He recalls upon a time when he had seen the light of day, a time when he had woken before noon, a time when he had felt something other than a nullified sense of vacancy. His life, up until this moment and probably forever on, was a Pyrrhic crusade between himself and existence. He is winning, yes, he is alive, but where is his prize? It surely does not lie within his being. It does not lie within a supposed family, or those who surround him, nor does it lie within a deeper meaning that he has yet to find. He had tried it all, and he had long ago lost hope.
Grabbing his pea coat, Sebastien rises from his bar stool. It was a shame. A damn shame that he had lost her. His hands travel to his dark hair and they entangle in the mess, an exasperated groan escaping his lips as he desperately looks around the crowded bar, hoping that maybe his fortune will eventually be the remedy for his misery.
One who knew not of his lifestyle would envy him. He lives the life of the proverbial affluent adolescent; he grew from money and prospered in it as well. He appeared picture-perfect, and maybe that was the most sorrowful part of it all. The fact that what was deemed quintessential was, behind closed doors, abhorrent.
But even so, the hundred dollar bills in his wallet could not dull the pain of her leaving him; they would only remind him that all he had left was his money and his Guilt, and that it could only be attributed to him because he was the one who succumbed to the pressure; the pressure of temptation and seduction, the persuasion. The other woman crawling on his lap, legs long and slender, her highways to hell. Her sleek dark hair cascading down her shoulders, highlighting the curves of her lower back. The other woman was perfection. Her quintessence gave her an emphatic aura of provocativeness, undeniable and detrimental. Albeit the other woman could never compare to the beauty, the beauty that was once the one tracing her fingers over his heart, the one place she would never find herself. If infidelity was a sin, he was eternally damned.
“Are you leaving?” He pulls himself back into reality and steps away from his comrades. He was suffocating. Suffocating under his sadness and the miserable stale air. He needed out. He had to get out. “Sebastien, are you leaving?” Co repeats, her vulnerability emerging from the deepest pits of her alcohol varnished stomach.
He looks over to her, eyes flickering once upon her lips and then to her overall visage. He notices that she looks disappointed, almost wounded, possibly. He had never been capable of displaying sentiment, much less discerning it.
Sebastien can feel himself shrinking away when he notices Ralph’s intense focus on him. Ralph was a critical fellow with a keen eye — always examining and always taking note. “I advise that you be careful, Sebastien Volgaro. Even intoxicated I can see that you have intentions to commit evil crimes.” His thick Bronx accent makes his forecast even more so frightening, but Sebastien’s decision does not falter.
“We’ll meet again?” Sebastien questions, not daring to look either of them in the eye. “Tuesday of next week, as always?” He adjusts his jacket on his shoulders and takes out his wallet. Before he turns to leave, he throws two hundred dollar bills on the counter and takes his last sip of Scotch.
His two friends sit silent in fear, but Sebastien payed no mind. He turned on his heels and walked out, wicked hands in his pocket and his mind set on hell.
The caesious winds of New York nights smite Sebastien in the face as he strides out of the bar. Somewhere in his cluttered pockets, he digs out a bottle of Ambien and a Newport, tilting the bottle back and letting the remaining pills slide down his throat. He looks to the sides of him, taking in his surroundings.
The streets, though late and saturated from an earlier torrent, are congested with pedestrians; he sees young girls at the pristine age of adolescence, boisterous middle-aged women with nothing to do other than drown their sorrows in expensive champagne as they whine about lost lovers. He feels alienated from his peers. People who he is supposed to relate to and connect with… they have no meaning, no significance. He cannot remember the last time that anything did. He sees Them walking, Them conversing, Them loving and Them happy. Why is he not one of Them? Why can none of Them be Her? He finds himself loathing society, cursing them, for maybe if the persuasion and pressure weren’t placed upon his shoulders, he would still be drowning in her love, rather than countless glasses of Scotch and unlit cigarettes that lie upon bruised lips like her head once laid upon his chest.
She was an ellipses. She was the dot dot dot, the trailing off of words, the calm before the storm, and the last leaf that falls from the autumn tree, shaken by season. Listening to her speak, he always felt an inexplicable craving for a cigarette, and even after her departure did her mellifluous voice play in his mind like a broken record.
He moves over, thoughts of her still racing through his mind, and he stands in juxtaposition with the lamp post, resembling something of a Greek god, grandeur and stature in all. He finds himself recalling the way her name rolled off the tip of his tongue so smoothly, Char-lotte. With fair ivory skin like new satin sheets and a smile that induces agony but resembles heaven; she isn’t a goddess, God no, but she was his Star.
“Before I realized my fate, it was hard to imagine a world without her. Yet now I am unsure. I cannot survive a world with her, either.” He thinks to himself. He takes his cigarette out of his mouth and looks it over in his hand. He had forgotten to light the damn thing. “Because I know she is here, but she is not here with me. I gaze into the sky and all I see is a nebulous firmament. She is gone— my life, my soul, my Star. Charlotte.”
The bulb above his head is glimmering ever so slightly, and he cannot help but relate it to his own heart. “I suppose this is a sign.” He thinks. “A sign from fate, perhaps?” He nods, and he is sure that it is time.
III. THE EPILUDE
He is ambling down the Whitestone Bridge, holding his shoes over his shoulder like the proverbial drunken mistress when he hears what sounds like the disembodied voice of Corinthian. “Sebastien!” He laughs in disdain, exhaling the smoke of his menthol Marlboros. His breath is tainted with the taste of sins and cool mint, yet his intentions are even more so monstrous. “Go away, Corinthian.” His husky voice resonates through the crisp air. “It’s unavailing. I cannot possibly comprehend why you have followed me, why you even care.”
His footsteps conclude, and he pivots with the utmost hesitation; yet all he finds is stark desolation. He is confused. He was sure that he had heard Corinthian behind him, but he and the misery that inhabits him are the only ones around. Shaking away the apparition and turning back on his path, Sebastien figures that it isn’t worth his concern.
“Sebastien, why are you doing this?”
Swiftly, almost knocking himself over in his inebriated stupor, Sebastien whips around, and ire overcomes him when he is met with emptiness once again. “Stop playing these games, Corinthian!” He shouts in exasperation. “I just- I need to get this over with.” He convinces himself of this, although somewhere in the deepest pits of his mind, he knows it is not true. He knows that this is not the panacea for his melancholy or the reliever for his peers, but he does not care. He continues on.
It is only moments later before a phantasm of Corinthian materializes right before him. “Sebastien, she wasn’t everything.” She whispers to him. He stumbles to the left, further onto the road, and trembles with fear as he crouches, hands upon his knees.
He will never realize that Co was never there. He will never realize that she and Ralph were only figments of his imagination; merely side-effects of his Ambien addiction. He will never realize that his Star never ceased to fluoresce within in the one place he never looked: his heart. Because for years he had been too occupied staring at the bottom of empty bottles at 3:48 am and into the eyes of strangers in search of mercy, in search of hope, but never did he once ponder what could have been if he had retaliated in the war against Guilt.
And before he could ever respond, ever take another breath or another shot of whisky, Sebastien Volgaro met his fate when he was struck with the anterior of a 1978 Chevy Malibu, sending his corpse into the caliginous waters of the East River and his Guilt to Hell where he had always belonged.