It was only the second drink. Sloshing spinning slivers of silvery ice. Two pieces swimming just beneath the surface. Swirling around in synchrony glassed in an endless circle. A tiny shake from his fingers almighty kept them timelessly turning around each other. They crash into each other from time to time, bludgeon themselves against the invisible crystal wall to freedom, and then float lonely, smaller, melted a bit more than before. Drinking in their drift to nowhere, he watched them waste away. Water in the whiskey.
Sometimes he orders it like that. A splash of water cuts it just as well. A splash of water mellows the taste from start to finish. A splash of water because he doesn’t have patience for the dramatic dance of the ice cubes. But not tonight. Tonight he needed the bitter sting piercing that first taste. Burning lips and scorching breath. Fiery pain over his heart, that’s what he wanted to feel, before the ice leant her soothing touch.
Drinking to forget is what they thought. But all he could do was remember. Every searing sip brought her face more into focus. That walk from the movie theater when her arm touched his, a little longer than it should have. The three seconds he caught her eyes across the pub table littered with peanut shells and pints of beer. The secret smile she barely revealed as he spent an hour in his backyard explaining internal combustion. Short stories of intense connection. Short moments that he replayed for years. Too short, appearing no more significant than a familiar stranger delivering the mail.
He imagined a time where he could say it all. All the looks, the hushed words, the intentional touch, tiny seconds of a life that never quite was. To say it out loud, to listen to her say it to him, just the exposure of such desire, would thrill him. A sweet confirmation that his heart was not really alone. A word of oneness, even if it never could be. Tonight, whiskey made him remember the dreams named regret.
Because tonight she wouldn’t remember. She has lost too much, her yesterday, her kids names, how to put on lipstick. It was harder and harder for his best friend, Bill, to deal with her dark episodes. It was harder and harder to believe that she was slipping away from them so soon. Tonight, she might not even recognize his face anymore, as the friend whom she quietly loved. If he was met with her glassy empty eyes, void of that restrained seductive smile, missing the telepathic sentences they would never speak, it may rewrite the precious seconds they once shared. If he couldn’t tell himself their untold story anymore, tomorrow may be too lonely to endure.
But she was never his to love. She had a beautiful life, of which he only touched parts of. But every time they were together, something, unexplainable, irrational, impossible, crashed over them. She belonged to another. He could only watch from afar. Tonight he mourned the loss of a dream, a missed moment that grew comfortably dormant over too many years.
Greater than a single moment that never was, tonight he grieved the death of love. Like so many slouching on that tired bar stool before, all he could do was bow his head and stare into a fading drink. Not all were plagued by her missed opportunities: her nagging, her cancer, her divorce, her heartbreak all drowned the unlucky ice cubes spinning around and around. There was an uncontrollable force of life and death and gift and loss beyond the reach of all men. And yet all would come to a dark draught of woe, eventually.
Tonight, for him, there was nothing else to do but simply recall the beautiful pain of his love. But his overwhelming regret was there was just not enough to remember.