Last Night on Earth
Paul E. Halley
The first thing I remember being aware of was that I really, really had to pee. And it felt like my right arm had fallen asleep. And the sound of someone being skinned alive nearby.
The curtain of tequila, Japanese sake and Xanax began to part just enough for me to figure out where I was. I was in a mildewy, smoky karaoke bar in Owl Creek, and my arm was around a beautiful Japanese girl named Hisako, or Hitachi, or something like that. And that wasn’t the cries of someone being skinned alive, it was some manicurist from Stewartville croaking out her best rendition of the theme song from “Titanic”.
Hitachi was leaned in, talking into the ear of her girlfriend, who sat across the table from me, drinking Coors Light through a straw. The girlfriend’s date, a tall, thick-looking guy with a crew cut and a Crimson Tide sweatshirt, had an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips and kept patting his pockets, looking, presumably, for a lighter. “Hey, Jimmy,” he said, “Got a light?”
“No, man, I don’t smoke,” I answered, clearing my throat. “Excuse, me, Hitachi,” I said, unfolding my right arm from around her shoulder. “I really need to find the bathroom.”
“It’s ‘Hisako’,” she said, looking at me with a curious mixture of pity and disgust, as if I were a stray puppy, cute but possibly flea-ridden. “And the bathroom’s over there.”
“-Hisako, right,” I said. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
I slid out of the lurid vinyl booth and made my way, somewhat unsteadily, to the men’s room. The walls were lined with banquettes, like the one I had been sitting in, upholstered in a horrid shade of eggplant. They probably looked elegant at one time, but now they just looked old, faded, and repaired with duct tape. The center of the room contained a few forlorn-looking tables, all empty except for one. The place smelled permanently of tobacco and cheap gin. There was a hastily-built “stage” at one end, lit by a row of feeble track lights, which, along with a few sputtering candles on the tabletops, provided the only light in the murky, windowless room. I managed to find the bathroom just as the manicurist was starting the second verse.
Later as I washed my hands, I looked up at myself in the mirror. Man, I looked like hell. My hair was a big mess, my shirt was stained, and my face was all flushed and sweaty. “Happy 25th birthday, Jimmy,” I said to myself, shutting the water off and looking, in vain, for a paper towel. I wiped my hands on my pants and tried to remember how I had gotten there.
Things had started out normally enough. My best friend Carlo had picked me up and we went down to the Hard Times Pub, which is pretty much where we always go. It could have been any night of the week, I guess, except it was my birthday and everybody kept buying me drinks and shots. I was getting loaded pretty fast, and then this girl Marcie that I know from the bodega on the corner gave me one of her little brother’s Adderalls. Half an hour later, I felt like I was wide awake, even though I had probably already had too much to drink.
That was when I met Cheryl. I actually heard Cheryl before I met her. She was standing behind me and I heard her laughing at something. It was probably just the buzz I had going, but her laugh sounded like something other than a laugh. It sounded like music, or like wind chimes or something. So I turned around, and there she was. She was beautiful.
So, I actually started talking to her, and what do you know, she actually talked back. It was probably the Adderall or something, but I was feeling pretty confident. After a while, Carlo came over and took me aside. “She’s into you, man!” he told me. “Go for it!”
I think that was the last I saw of Carlo.
After I while, I remember leaving the Hard Times with Cheryl. She said that we were going over to some “hardcore” bar on the east side, but when we got there it was nothing but poseurs and frat boys from the suburbs. Besides, it seemed like Cheryl had decided at some point during the taxi ride over there that she didn’t really like me after all, and once we get there she let me buy her a drink and wandered off with some guy named Cooper, and didn’t talk to me anymore after that.
I had at least one more Cuervo there, I think. This is where my memory of things really starts to fade in and out, so to speak.
At some point while I was there, I hooked up with Hisako. Somehow or other, she had found out that it was my birthday, and I guess I became her “project” or something. She was so pretty, and she smelled like jasmine, so I figured what the hell. Next thing I knew, we were outside at a food truck getting pizza and espressos, and then we were at the karaoke bar, with her girlfriend and the jock from Alabama State.
I took a deep breath and left the men’s room. I found my way back to our booth through the gloom and cigarette smoke, and just as I slid back in, the manicurist from Stewartville was wrapping it up. Despite the fact that she had been an absolutely terrible singer, the dozen or so patrons in the bar applauded politely, and one guy in the back whistled. The next thing I knew, someone was pressing a microphone into my hand.
“You’re up, Jimmy,” said Hisako.
“You signed up! It’s your turn. Get on up there” she said, licking her lips like a lioness sizing up a tasty gazelle. She handed me another cup of sake. I drank most of it down in one gulp.
“Umm, OK,” I said. I made my way up towards the stage, thinking to myself that I didn’t even know what song I had signed up to sing.
Turns out that it was “Jet Airliner” by the Steve Miller Band.
At first, I thought to myself, “Great! I know that one pretty good. I sing along with it on the radio all the time.”
It only took a few seconds to realize, though, that just because you think you sound pretty good, singing along with your favorite band on the radio or while you’re in the shower, that doesn’t mean you’ll sound good singing karaoke, when you’re drunk, your voice is amplified, and you suddenly can’t remember any of the words.
I was horrible.
“Jet Airliner” runs approximately three minutes and thirty-eight seconds. That doesn’t really sound like a long time, until you find yourself on a stage in a seedy karaoke bar, singing a song nobody likes to a bunch of drunks who think you stink. Three minutes can last a lifetime, believe me.
When at last the song was over, you could have heard a pin drop in that place. Despite the fact that they had just practically given a standing ovation to Cindi the singing manicurist, who was awful, not one person clapped when I handed the microphone over to the emcee. The guy in the back coughed and said, “You suck.”
I made my way back over to our table. The booze and the drugs and the clove cigarette some asshole had just lit were really getting ahold of me now. My ears were ringing and the room was beginning to spin. Hisako and the other two were just sitting there, looking at me, not saying a word.
“I think I need to go now,” was all I said. I finished the last of my sake and found my way to the door.
It completely took me off-guard when I walked out of the murk of the karaoke bar into full, glorious, blazing, daylight.
“Jesus Christ!” I said to myself, shielding my eyes. Once they finally adjusted, I was able to make out 09:15 on the bank clock across the street. 9am! Man, it had been a long night.
I just started walking. I wasn’t completely sure what part of town I was in, really, but I knew that if I just wandered around a bit I was bound to figure it out. I just turned left and began walking for a couple of blocks.
Let me tell you, you will never be more acutely aware of the fact that you look, walk, and probably smell like a drug addict derelict than you will be when you’re walking around town after a long night out, stumbling and reeking and wearing last night’s clothes, while everyone around you is showered and mouthwash’ed and is heading out to their respectable jobs at insurance companies and consultant firms, or jogging. People were actually crossing the street to avoid me, and after I turned and caught my reflection in a shop window, I can hardly say I blame them. My mom would have said, “You look like you’ve been rode hard and put away wet.”
That’s when I saw her. It was Beth, my ex-girlfriend. Well, actually I saw her walk, long before I saw Beth herself. She always had this kind of bounce in her gait, like she was doing a little curtsy every time she took a step, and a thick head of bright red curls. And that’s what I saw, two blocks ahead, was Beth’s curly red hair bouncing towards me as she curtsied her way up the sidewalk.
I call her my ex, but she was pretty much the only girlfriend I ever had. We dated for the last two years of high school, and things got pretty hot and heavy for a while there. We even talked about getting married and moving away together, but then one day, three months after graduation, she came over and told me that she was breaking up with me because I wasn’t “career-oriented” enough.
Then I caught another glimpse of myself in a window, looking all pasty and sweaty, and I thought to myself, “Holy crap, I can’t let her see me like this!” She was getting closer by the second, I had to do something right away. So, I turned and entered into the building on my right through the first door I came upon.
Just as the door was closing behind me, I heard, “Jimmy! Wait!” She had spotted me!
It took a minute for my eyes to adjust from the bright sunlight of the street to the bluish, artificial fluorescent light inside. The air smelled like laundry soap and disinfectant and soft pretzels, and I heard a watery, saccharine Muzak rendition of, oddly enough, “Jet Airliner” being piped in through tinny speakers. My eyes finally adjusted to the light as an old man in a blue vest came limping towards me, waving.
I was in a WalMart.
“Jimmy! Is that you? It’s me, Beth!” She was closing in. I had to do something. I ran for it.
Through the menswear and the sporting goods.
“Jimmy! Yoo-hoo!” A mess of auburn curls bouncing their way towards me.
Through the automotive and the Misses Department. All the way to the back of the store. The up escalator was on my left, and the down escalator was to my right. In between was a balcony, which overlooked the floor below.
I ran out of places to run.
It’s funny the things you remember. I mean, I could hardly remember half the things I had done that night. I couldn’t tell you the name of that lame nightclub that Cheryl had brought me to, or what color dress she had been wearing; but one thing I do remember is the railing on that balcony.
I had run out of places to run. Beth was behind me, ready to grab me and try to “fix” me, or else pity me, or laugh at me. But what I was thinking was, “Wow, look at that railing. It’s nice, kind of ornate. Hardly looks like it belongs in a place like this. And it looks like I could just climb on top of it…”
And the next thing I know, I didn’t see the railing any more, and Beth was still behind me but now she was screaming. And I was falling, falling through thin air.
Some people say that just before you die, your entire life will flash in front of your eyes. That’s not exactly true, at least, not for me. What is true is that time becomes sort of elastic in those last few moments before you die. So, even though the entire time it took me to fall, or jump, from that balcony to the tile floor below took no more than, say, a second and a half, I still had enough time to have this conversation with myself:
“Oh, man, really? Did I just jump off that goddam balcony?”
“Yes. Yes you did. Genius move.”
“Shit. So, this is it then, isn’t it?”
“Yup. This is it.”
And then, nothing. That was it.
You know what? It’s all OK, though. I’ve had a lot of time to think about things since all this happened, time to ask myself the really big questions. And time to think about the answers.
Like, I asked myself about regret. That’s a pretty big one. I had managed to survive for twenty five years, what were my biggest regrets?
I could only come up with two: singing karaoke, and Beth.
So, I figure, if those are the two biggest regrets that I can come up with, things must not have been that bad after all. I can live with that.
© 2015 Paul E. Halley