She’d be eighteen today.
That’s all I can think about as I’m washing those dangerous thoughts and feelings down with my warm whiskey. I look at this half-empty glass and start to wonder how this used to taste, all those years ago when I first started drinking. I wonder how that bitter burning bite used to feel against my throat. It’s strange really, how all these things can become so different after so much time, yet they remain the same. We call them the same things knowing full well that they’re anything but. Maybe it’s nostalgia. Maybe it’s consistency. I think it’s just clingy.
I finish the last gulp of whiskey in the glass and tap my napkin on the bar, making sure Ronnie sees me. He promptly comes over and makes me another. I like Ronnie. He never asks questions. He never talks to me. He just gives me my whiskey. The world needs more people like him. Less talking. More doing. I’ll make sure to leave an extra generous tip for the doer today.
Phone vibrates. Text message from my boss.
Kill Order: 1 Target.
Report to briefing at Dock 3. Noon.
I put the phone back in my pocket and take a small sip from my glass. I make sure to really suck the flavor from the whiskey this time. Then I start my morning systems check.
I focus my eyes on a slim, clear bottle inside the bar, with big blue letters hovering over the finer print. I squint my eyes through the morning light and can read every word, differentiate every letter. Then I look up and see the entire hotel lobby laid out in front of me. I can see outlines, but things are a bit blurry. I shake my head a few times and look back up. It’s clear now. The morning lights peek through the large windows on the sides. The emptiness of the lobby makes the size of the whole first floor ever more apparent. I pick out the elevators to my right, the concierge to my left, the revolving entrance doors in front of me all the way at the end.
I listen in on what the old man across from me is ordering. Scotch and water. I can hear the liquid being poured into a glass, and then I close my eyes, concentrate hard, and differentiate between the water pouring and the scotch pouring.
Lastly, I bring my glass up to my nose and smell the alcohol teeming from the drink. That may just be the lingering alcohol from the past hour though. I put the glass on the table, along with a $100 bill, and stand up from my stool. My balance is adequate, I’ll be able to make it to Dock 3 with no stumbles. I start my walk to the right of the bar, over towards the elevators. I can smell the fresh rug on the floor and the cologne of the man guarding the “private” elevators, off to the side of the public ones. Evening Charm for men, a famous scent around town now.
After all those bottles of toxic relief, I’m thankful those senses still haven’t abandoned me. The other two I’ve easily come to live without. Taste went away within the first year after she died. Touch, well, that took longer. A lot of sleepless nights, a lot of emptied bottles. Now the only thing I feel is numbness.
I take my ID badge out of my coat pocket and flash it to the new guard I haven’t bothered to introduce myself to. He barely glances at me and lets me walk through the white double doors. A hallway to the left leads me to a dim room with a couch in front of a television, and an assortment of fruits, bagels, and coffee on a table near the wall. I walk past it all and over to the other wall, where a set of steel elevator doors stand next to a fingerprint scanner. I press my thumb against it, and the doors separate to the command of a woman’s voice welcoming me. I step inside and run my fingers down the five buttons on the wall, and press the one next to “Dock 3”. The elevator flinches, then begins it’s long descent into the underground.
I breathe in a deep gulp of that lonely elevator air. I close my eyes and soak in the engulfing quietness of that small box. Is this what death is like? A quiet, slow elevator ride. Maybe it takes you up. Maybe it takes you down. Maybe even nowhere, if that’s your sort of thing. I can see my daughter in one of these elevators, riding it up to a place I dearly want to believe in. I wonder if they’d make an exception and let me ride with her when my elevator comes. If only but for a few moments.
I start to picture her short, blond hair and her small, round face. I hear her voice as she’s running outside, playing in the yard. I can even smell her strawberry shampoo and her mother-scented skin. I see her more clearly then the world around me.
Shit. I didn’t drink enough.
I need to get to my room as fast as possible and drink as much as I need to. This operation better be quick. I can already hear her laugh. See her pouting face. I think I can even feel her now.
I shake my head and swallow a deep gulp of air.
Cut it out, Grey. Focus.
Emotion is a boxer you can’t knock out. You can only take its punches, and hope you’re still standing after twelve rounds with it. That’s a fight I haven’t gotten into in years. And I don’t plan on fighting it again anytime soon.
I feel a cool chill run up my spine. Bumps trickle down my arms. I wonder if its her ghost inside this elevator with me. Perhaps “wonder” is the wrong word. Maybe “hope” is more truthful. I leave my hand out at my side in case it is her.
The elevator flinches again, coming to a stop and ending the descent. I reach into my pocket and pull out a heart-shaped locket. I open it slowly with both hands and raise it up to my face. I run my finger over her picture. I even manage a smile. And then, as delicately and as softly as the voice in my head can whisper, I’m reminded…
She’d be eighteen today.