“You’re a ticking time bomb,” said Hannah, perched on the edge of the armchair, 3 feet away from where he sprawled out on the couch. His cheek stuck to the leather, which had been marred by age and his own doings. The room was dark, lit only by the lamp beside him, doing little to lift the haze that fell everywhere but on her.
“Yeah right,” Matt responded. When a bomb exploded, it didn’t only hurt the person who set it off, but everyone within a 10, maybe 20, 30-foot radius. Nothing he did impacted anyone but himself. If anything, he was a still lake, the plunk of a pebble producing no ripples. Or at least that’s what he told himself.
“You’re not listening then, because we can all hear it.” She called him on his bullshit, as easily as quarterbacks called their own plays up 40 with 2 minutes left on the clock. After 6 years of knowing her, it wasn’t surprising to him—it just pissed him off.
“Whatever.” Matt turned his head towards the ceiling to keep her out of his sight, but still, he could feel her gaze on the back of his head like it was super glued to his scalp.
It tasted the way Matt imagined lighter fluid would. Once, Matt’s dad said if he took a match anywhere near a glass of it, it would surely combust, and encouraged Matt to dump it.
If the taste was the only quality his drink had, Matt probably wouldn’t have come back to it, but it was the feeling that came after the flavor wore off his taste buds that always drew him in: He loved how the euphoric daze bled into dullness.
Draining the tumbler, Matt pushed himself up slowly, his world teetering and tottering as he hunched forward on his knees. From the wood-planked floor he picked up the bottle. He could drink from it, but he wasn’t that kind of person, not that bad off. So, he tipped it towards the bottom of the glass, filling it halfway.
All the while, he could see on the edge of his vision: the dark waves of Hannah’s hair, her booted leg crossed over her knee and bopping up down.
“Don’t you have anything better to do than sit here and judge me?”
“I’m not judging you. I’m trying to make you see what you’re doing to yourself.”
Scoffing, Matt dropped the bottle back to the floor, hitting like a heavy footfall. “And what am I doing to myself?”
“Self-destructing.” Her answer struck as quickly as a lightning bolt, and her voice carried no doubt.
“How is that? As far as I can see, I still have a job and a place to live,” he said with a wide wave to the living room, like he was a showman introducing a trapeze artist to the ring.
Hannah didn’t even flinch, just released a simple, everyday breath. “It may be slow, but it’s still happening,” she said. “And it’s only so long before this is gone, too. And all you’ll have left is yourself.”
Matt had often heard that his bubble would someday burst, and when it did, all he would be able to do was look at the splattered mess he’d left on the walls. But he was still going, wasn’t he?
“Oh, really? You say that all the time and you’re still here! When is that actually going to happen?” he mocked, whipping his head toward Hannah. But the chair arm was vacant, along with the rest of the room.
“Hannah?” he called, but she didn’t appear. “Seriously? You just leave?”
Still, he stumbled as he moved around the living room, searching for her. No matter which way he looked, his eyes couldn’t locate her. But across the room, in a hazy patch which began to evaporate, he saw something that caused him to stop mid-stagger. Or, rather, he didn’t see something.
For the past 3 years, a pot of fake flowers had always sat front and center on their mantle, but it was suddenly gone and had been replaced by a stack of newspapers. He spun in his spot. Hannah’s red and blue knit blanket was missing from the ottoman. He looked at the end table, where the framed photo of them at their engagement party had been. Empty.
Memories emerged from the alcohol. Memories of the two of them fighting over boozy nights. Ultimatums screamed in threat and later whispered in a strong but steady voice. Shouts that she’d never follow through. Waking up to packed boxes, and a ring balancing on top of the bottle.
A silver-plated mirror purchased at a vintage shop two towns over. She used to check her hair in it each day before going out. As she left, sweeping a scarf around her neck, he asked why she wasn’t taking it with her.
“So maybe one day you can look in it and see what you’ve become, Matt,” she told him.
Now, in front of it, his reflection showed a man with darkened half-moons beneath his eyes, cheeks red and puffy, hair limp against his forehead.
He had always told her he’d never become the monster she had described. He had already.
Shuffling back to the couch, he took another sip and let the cushions swallow him.