Sal might’ve given Lucy herpes, but she’d been fucking a junkie before they started dating, so it was all pretty up in the air, disease-wise. In any case she began complaining that her lady bits were sore after they had sex, which she chalked up to Sal’s abnormally large member; Sal thinking this was rather charitable of her. Nonetheless, he couldn’t resist the temptation, while going down on her, to covertly play doctor and check for any unusual rash/bump-type business on or around said bits.
Aside from this niggling concern, the fucking itself was, after a brief period of calibration at the start of the courtship, very satisfactory to both of them. As it turned out, Sal and Lucy preferred a fair amount of spanking, choking, ass-to-mouth, and other reasonably kinky activities which had scared off or offended a few former partners but which suited them just fine.
A similar trend could be found elsewhere in their relationship: traits which had led to a quick end to their previous affairs – Sal’s excessive drinking, Lucy’s kleptomania – further endeared them to one another. For what it was worth, they were in love. But Sal could feel the other thing too since he’d come back, the inverse of love: Sal felt fear.
What Sal had realized in rehab was that blacking out was the closest thing he had to time travel. There was sleeping as well, of course, but Sal hated his dreams, so he preferred to black out. And it was the best sort of time travel because it only travelled in one direction: towards the end. If he lived sixty years, he wanted to remember thirty at most. He didn’t have it in him to just end it outright. He had known that for a while.
This was the thing that Sal kept from Lucy.
Needless to say the past few weeks he’d spent with her constituted something of a relapse for Sal, who had been struggling mightily with the drink until an incident involving taking a shit in the back of a taxi led him to check in to the clinic a few months earlier. All in all Sal had found his time there rather boring, and occupied himself with attempting to consume more coffee than anyone else and finding time to sneak off for illicit fucks with a fellow alcoholic named Claire.
This was the other thing he kept from Lucy, and the reason for his fears of crotch-rot.
He’d taken the first bus back to Chicago after checking out, not giving it much thought. He figured he would resume where he left off, and his family thought he was re-applying to school like he told them he would when he was done at rehab. Lucy was the only one in the world who knew where he was and he liked it that way.
It was November now, and the weather had turned from the sunny, crisp days of October to the traditional drizzle and gray of early winter, and at first Lucy jokingly blamed his gloomy moods on the old Midwest standby: seasonal affective disorder. He had forced a laugh.
“I wish I was like, one of those sitcom parents,” she said. “They could say two sentences at the end of the show and everything would just be fixed.”
When she said things like that Sal would kiss her and head to the liquor store, blowing the last of the money he had saved up from his summer job. The days after he had returned from rehab passed by like lights on the highway. Lucy could not, or would not, see any difference in him and he did his best to keep on as if nothing had changed.
She’d lost her job at the thrift store for stealing merchandise, and the weather was so bad there wasn’t much for the two of them to do but stay home, drink, fuck, and whisper absurdities to each other, Sal slurring his words until he passed out.
“I want to ride bikes with you,” he said one night while they held each other under the sheets, “and smile like we’re the first people to ever ride bikes together.”
“I wish I had a pocket-sized version of you,” she smiled back at him, “so I could carry you around with me everywhere, like a little pocket Sal.”
And for some reason that was what finally undid him: how good she was, how she actually wanted him around, how badly she needed them to be together. It had been about three weeks since he’d been back and he was feeling more guilty and afraid by the day. So he told Lucy about Claire, everything he could remember, and before long she was crying and screaming and pushing him, but by then he was already time travelling, blind drunk, falling from the bed.
“This is so dumb… You’re so dumb…” she said from beneath the sheet.
“I know,” he said, and finished their bottle on his way out.
Later Sal found himself sitting alone at a bar, watching a muted cowboy movie next to a woman in her late thirties and drinking doubles of whiskey at a rapid clip. He picked his nose, not bothering to hide it, and took a look around the bar. No one seemed to notice. On the TV, some poor patron at the saloon fell victim to a stray bullet during a gunfight.
“You know who never would’ve gotten killed in some random act of violence,” Sal said. The woman turned slightly towards him, looking nonplussed. “Michael Jackson. The force of his personality was too strong.” He waved at the bartender, and shook his empty shot glass with a grin. “It’s always the nobodies who get rubbed out. The innocent bystanders.”
He went to the restroom and found a man standing in front of an automated paper towel dispenser, waving his hand up and down trying to get it to work. Sal walked up and gave it a try, the paper towel immediately rolling out. The man regarded Sal for a moment. “I’m a ghost,” he said, grabbing it from the machine, wiping his hands, and walking out.
Sal didn’t know how he’d gotten home when he came to. It was dark outside, and he was laying on the cool linoleum floor of the kitchen, with a half-full pint of whiskey held over his heart as if he were solemnly swearing to tell the truth and nothing but. Lucy wasn’t there and the lights in the apartment were all off.
He wondered if when you were hypnotized, maybe you could remember things you’d done or said when you were blacked out, like those people with repressed memories. He stood up and looked at the clock on the oven.
“I think I’ve been in this kitchen for four goddamn hours,” he said out loud, and took a sip from his bottle. When no one asked him how he was doing, he replied: “Just great, thanks.”