Monday, February 13, 2012

The Bottle Jumper

            The first time Ben jumps inside a bourbon bottle is an accident. It is three in the morning. He eats barbecue potato chips with cream cheese, gulps mouthfuls of booze, and watches an old episode of Sanford and Son, Fred Sanford clutching his chest, staggering, saying that it is the biggest one yet. Ben needs to pee. He moves the potato chip bag from his lap and sits the bottle in front of him on the floor. When he stands, the room spins, his knees buckle, and he starts to fall onto the bottle. He closes his eyes and dives into the bottleneck, instead of impaling himself, plunging into the brown bourbon sea within.
            He is swimming, gliding through the liquor, and his eyes are open. He is breathing, but his lungs are not filling with fluid. Instead, he is drinking, not guzzling from a bottle, chugging from a beer can, or tossing back shots, but wafting with a smile on his face through the sour mash and absorbing alcohol into every inch of his body. All of the drinking, the feverish wide-eye boozing from sunrise until sunset, gives him what he wants at last. It promises to numb his heart, drown his brain, swallow him whole, and delivers on the pledge. Ben is not thinking about falling inside of a bourbon bottle. He is thirstier than most, so it is no cause for alarm. No one will find him floating inside a bottle, soaking up bourbon with a wide grin on his face.
            His hands and feet stick to the walls of the empty bottle when he climbs out. It is a tight squeeze through the mouth, but his body bends and narrows until he pulls himself through. His body is dry, but he feels the alcohol pumping through him. His chest is heaving with excitement and he doubles over to catch his breath. He feels free somehow. The television still plays. The empty bottle sits on the floor. He hears his wife's snoring in the bedroom. No one sees him fall inside the bottle and no one sees him climb out. He wants to keep it that way. He knows he can do it whenever he likes, but will hold back the desire to dive in. It is his special skill and his special place and no one must know.
            His wife can never know. He does not see her much since the funeral. She works twelve hours a day and, when she is home, slams doors, locks herself in their son's silent bedroom, and fills the house with the soft whine of her weeping. If she spies him diving into the bottle, or climbing out, she will take it from him. When they talk, she wants to shame and prod him.
            "Plan on leaving the house again, Ben? Or taking a bath? How about not drinking yourself into a coma today?" Her eyes are wide-open and twitching. Her skin is gray and moist.
            He is slumping in his recliner and watching television. She is standing behind him, so he cranes his head backwards to peer over the top of his chair. "I will. Today." His voice is hoarse. He turns his head away, grabs his bottle, and starts drinking. The gulping sounds like a heartbeat and he does not stop drinking until he hears his wife sigh and leave, slamming the door behind her.
            When she goes to work the next morning, Ben jumps into the bottle for a second time. Bubbles rising from the bottom pop around him and the warm ripples breeze over his face. The swimming is better than before. His slow, deep breathing helps his swollen body slither through the bourbon with ease and the hot tingling of his skin when the liquor soaks into him loosens his muscles and cools his flaming nervous system. The bourbon is the color of his son's Cub Scout uniform. He sees a brown world outside the bottle, moving, its refracting shapes and colors bobbing and weaving in his vision. After finishing the bottle, he climbs out, lays back in his recliner, and passes out.
            A week passes and Ben jumps into a bottle once a day. It is his first drink after waking up. When he opens his eyes and hears the stomping feet and smack of a closing door, he finds his bottle, breaks the seal, sits it on the floor, and takes the plunge. The other bottles he pours down his throat, but this is his "pick-me-up". It cheers him to dive into the depths of the bottle and suck in the sweet brown sea around him. He wants to spend more time in here, jump in more bottles, but he knows it is not a good idea. Someone will find out and they won't let him drink at all.
            Another week goes by, the days blending into one another like drinks spilling across a tabletop. After his wife leaves, he spends his whole day jumping into bottles, stopping when he sees the sunset, knowing she will soon walk in from work. His third bottle of the day tastes different than before. A splash of bourbon coats and thickens his tongue, but this thin flavor slides off. Bourbon warms the back of his throat, but now it pinches him tight when he swallows. The worst part is he cannot feel the liquor taking hold of him. He tips the bottle high into the air, filling his cheeks until they swell, but nothing works. He wants to jump into the bottle again, but fights the impulse and watches the hours pass until morning.
            A day later he decides to jump into a third bottle. He turns the thought over in his mind all day before convincing himself he will climb out before she gets home. He will drink nothing after she comes in and fall asleep in his recliner. If he checks the clock, dives and climbs out at the same time every day, she will never know. He does not feel well and needs the third bottle. He never stops sweating or shaking. He has terrible nightmares and hears voices when no one is there. If he jumps into a third bottle, the sweat will dry, the shaking and nightmares will stop, and he will hear nothing except the television.
            He is too weak to stand, so he sits the bottle on the table in front of him. He falls forward and shoots through the bottleneck, splashing into the bourbon below. He is sinking, the alcohol flooding and stinging his eyes. He inhales and, instead of breathing in alcohol, it rushes into his lungs and chokes him. As he sinks deeper, he thrashes and flails, the alcohol scalding his skin and the rising bubbles bursting against his chest like ascending bombs.
            Ben is not drinking anymore. He is dying, drowning inside a bottle of bourbon, and he knows it. He is holding his breath, his body pleading for air, and the churning brown liquor is burning the life out of him cell by cell. However, he sees how to save himself. If he heaves himself through the liquor, pushing off with his legs, and arching his arms through the alcohol, he can hit the side of the bottle, tip it over, and shatter it on the floor. The brown liquor will spill onto the white carpet, soak into the fabric, and leave a ruddy stain. He will be free.
He will not die.
            He swims through the alcohol, his legs pumping, kicking, his arms turning and pushing, and when he 

hits the wall, he hammers the glass with tight fists. He kicks the glass, the impact knocking him backwards, but

he grimaces and paddles back to the wall to pound it again. The alcohol shifts to one side and Ben topples

end over end. When the bottle crashes into the floor, a blinding white light washes over him.

His wife is walking through the door when she hears breaking glass. She drops her briefcase, tosses

her coat to the side, and runs through the house. When she sees Ben, he is on the floor, curling in a fetal

position, and shivering. He is wet, his clothes sticking to his body, and a halo of glass shards rings his body.

She screams his name, darts across the room, and kneels at his side.

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