If he's being honest, he wishes he was at home with a Bourbon and a good book. He's never been one for pageantry. But the party is to honor him. The other retiring faculty members too, of course. But ... [+]
Mrs. Anna Shaw dreaded Saturdays, though if you asked her why, she wouldn't have known exactly what to say. "Dinner just doesn't feel right," she might say, tugging thoughtfully at her platinum curls. And this one was no exception. She pressed a few more glasses of wine than she should have to her brightly painted lips, the clinking of her silverware awkwardly waltzing with the march of the clock.
He sat, staring at nothing.
She cleared her throat. "You like the pie? There's more in the kitchen if—"
"Anna, I'm tired. Be a dear and let me rest a bit, won't you?"
The table shook as he heaved himself out of his chair. She exhaled, breath trembling. He'd been so good, but the week had gone and Saturday had come. He would never have refused her pie if it weren't a Saturday.
There he lay on the living room sofa, his cheeks glowing pink. His sagging eyelids curtained red-rimmed, vacuous eyes. So quickly had his hair become disheveled, his shirt untucked and rumpled after those fitful moments of passionate consumption. But the fever had passed, and the man was relegated to unintelligible murmurs and muscles leaden with the drug slogging through his blood. Mrs. Shaw hated when he succumbed. It scared her even, the way her good-natured husband sank so easily into those pernicious waters; the way he'd wake up the next morning, washed ashore, disconcerted; the way he would kiss her for being so good and kind and vow never to get so carried away again, and then he wouldn't until the very next Saturday.
Yet curiously enough, there was never the sickly-sweet aroma of liquor in his sedated breath, nor the thick stench of cigar smoke. Alas, where empty bottles would have lain were Mr. Shaw's magazines, glossy pages sprawled on his chest, sensational titles fanned across the floor.
Mrs. Shaw would run out every week to retrieve the magazines, hide them in the half-hearted hope that he might forget if he didn't see them, but he always managed to find them stashed somewhere–this time beneath a pile of unopened invoices. How he perused through all of them—National Geographic and The New Yorker and Rolling Stone; the rustle of African savannahs, stills of rock bands and smashed guitars, movie stars strutting down red carpets, fiery stars hurtling through outer space. He pored through them so curiously!
But that night, maybe work was particularly tiring that week or the magazine pictures were particularly colorful that night, he found it harder and harder to focus until his eyes couldn't quite make out the words on the page and his consciousness stumbled between what was and what wasn't and what could be. He laid down, his head pounding, and when he opened his eyes the ceiling was marred by blotchy stars and those illuminated Vegas strip lights that he saw in Time, and he thought he could hear the whisper of dewy leaves and the exultation of a tree frog pictured in National Geographic. Thrilling stories and sensational headlines shuttered through his mind. Click, click, click. Except he, the intrepid, gallant, Mr. Shaw was the protagonist at the foreground. Surely he was the hero. No longer did he need to hold himself back. Maybe he'd gamble his life away tonight. Why shouldn't he?
A numb fog rose and rose up his body, and that was how Mr. Shaw, one Saturday evening, became intoxicated by his dreams.
When Mr. Shaw stood up, blood rushed down his body. Giddily, he spread his arms, a childish grin plastered across his face.
"Look, Anna, I'm atop Mount Everest!"
She must have been asleep. The bedroom lights were off. Surely it was too early for that.
He stumbled to the front door, groping at the handle and blinking his eyes groggily.
"I'm going to see the world," he announced to the nothingness before him.
It didn't respond.
"Okay, well. I'll be off now."
The door shut with a gentle click.
There was something sweet that night about the cool air—the secrets they breathed into his body that Mr. Richard Shaw discovered for the first time. Standing alone on the sidewalk, he breathed that nocturnal magic in and felt the stars sparkle upon his skin. He heard the night sigh, and as it exhaled, he thought he could smell the sweet nectar of a delicately plump fruit. A familiar yet foreign one—one held by its stem in suspension against the quivering boundary between reality and transcendence. He stood there, nearly on the tips of his toes, the gentlest flavor toying with his lips, his nose stretched towards the sky, yearning. I'm so close.
His car squawked obediently as he unlocked it. He hauled himself into the driver's seat.
Where to first? Well, he'd read about the blues earlier that day. He'd never really been a fan of music (the car radio was only ever set to the news), but he had wondered what it'd be like, just one time maybe, to sink himself into that torrent of sound inebriated with spontaneity and soul. Mr. Shaw lowered the driver's window and shut his eyes. Yes, he'd be shrouded in a cloud of tobacco smoke, smeared with the blues and violets and oranges of neon club lights, and the sandpapery wails of those singers would rip his heart apart and then put it back together. He couldn't quite imagine what the grating cries of those guitars would sound like, but could think only of how gratifying it must be. Later he'd down shots of liquor and squeeze his eyes shut as the fire licked down his esophagus, and if anyone were so drawn to his mysterious brooding as to ask his name, he might respond with Rich, or Ricky, or Dick, but not Richard. Then maybe he would ask around for something to smoke, so that with every exhale he could fully experience the music's terrible, beautiful, forbidden catharsis. He opened his eyes. So. Chicago it was.
Mr. Shaw sat very still, the chill of the night breeze beginning to settle into his bones. He started the car. Chicago was far, and he wanted to get there as soon as he could. Besides, he was worried he'd change his mind if he dawdled any longer.
The sickening crunch of metal against metal was not a good sign for Mr. Shaw. Damn! He couldn't even back away from the curb without a stroke of nasty luck. At that moment, something snapped inside him–he could not tell if that something snapped together or into pieces.
Frustrated, Mr. Shaw inspected the damage, squatting on the side of the street. He'd backed into a nearby pole, leaving a shallow scrape. Perhaps the car would be fit to drive to Chicago after all. Of course he could make it. But as that thought flickered through his mind, it was smothered by a cold blackness that put the fire out as quickly as it had been ignited.
Right. It would be more sensible to get his car fixed at Sampson's tomorrow. His plans could wait, couldn't they? Yes, Sampson, the old gentleman. So reliable with his tools. He liked to call Mr. Shaw "a fine fellow." Mr. Shaw liked that. Sometimes they would chat. About business and things. Mr. Shaw liked business and things, probably more than the blues. He laughed, a solitary, thin sound that hung a bit longer than it should have in the empty night.
To think of how foolish he'd been. Chicago! Alone with his ordinariness in such a great big city! Since when did he care for music?
He laughed a little louder this time. Perhaps even a derisive bark. "Now you've come to your senses, Richard. That's enough adventure for this lifetime. It's time to go home."