The breaths of little miseries beat down the man who holds them too dear. Embracing them, he regrets his life, and it seems to pass his arm like the cool August night-wind. The last summer breeze rips ocean into waves; but more, hearts into tears. Cole sat on the rocks of the beach with a pain like a broken leg that takes months to dull and might throb forever. Nearby, the seagulls screech and search for scraps of bread and crabs.
Coming up from the pier that points toward other shores walks the friend for whom Cole waits. What hour is it? Cole wonders, knowing only that it is newly night. No watch constricts his wrist — twice now have broken bands led to quartz-shattering falls. The unknown time is right for his friend’s approach, as dusk fades slow to black.
One step more, then the tall friend sits beside the quiet man.
Pete waits a moment, then offers him liquid wrapped in brown. Cole’s hand declines the drink, and nodding, Pete sips of his own. His eyes close at the warmth, or lack of cold, the liquor gives. Approvingly, he licks his lips and lets the paper-wrapped bottle hang loosely by the neck with light fingers. Cole glances at the bottle between his friend’s knees, only to look away as the dryness of his throat and soul are magnified by the simple sight of a remedy for neither. Salt-wind blows across his eyes, and he shuts them as an unmeant tear elicits and falls. The breath abates and Pete speaks.
“Guess who I ran into today.”
Cole shrugs and does not care. Their mutual friends were few, and only one that they both hold with any regard. But he had left their fellowship for other, baser companions. He was nothing more than a memory of childhood.
“I saw our good pal, Alec.”
“Our good pal, huh?”
“Yeah, good pal. Remember when he jumped out his window?”
Cole snorts, and something of a smile overtakes his lips. The stupidity of his former friends remains the savior of his wit. When he was twelve, Alec had thought that the snow would soften his fall. It was two feet deep, and luckily Alec had only twisted his ankle. He had limped back up to his room and expressed to Cole and Pete his wish that reality could be changed. But such mutation never occurred. Cole’s cornered mouth faded as he noticed the last, dark blue light go absent in the west.
“I remember that.”
They sat in the pale luminescence stretching from a streetlight some fifty yards away. Pete took another swig and stood. Two steps closer to the tide, he turned back to his silent friend with bottle in hand.
“Cole, why did you stay here?”
A wondering look cast up from Cole’s eye to his remaining friend. What pains he had the other knew; what reasons for a non-existence came written on his life, of which Pete had almost always been a part. But Cole never had explained his inaction to another, even his best friend, and so he looked up at the vodka-enfranchised man before him and sighed.
Pete set his bag and bottle on the ground and twisted them slightly in the sand so it would not fall over. Cole watched Pete’s hand, then traced the outline of shadows cast from the rocks back-lit by a streetlight on the boardwalk behind them. He noticed a piece of sea-glass and reached down to pick it up. The glass slipped, but Cole gripped it tighter and managed to prevent it from falling. Reaching back, the young man threw it at the water. It fell short upon the wet sand of the receding tide, burying itself into the softer ground. Cole frowned in small disappointment, and then turned from procrastination to the task of self-explanation.
“I don’t know why,” he answered.
Pete kept silent. Cole averted his head in unnecessary shame of his half-lie, and when he once more looked to his friend, Pete was walking away, returning from the direction that he had come. Cole stood to call him, but decided to let his friend go. He did not need to answer any more, and he needed no more friends to ask him such questions.
Cole stood and faced the sea, then turned away. Before the rocks where he and Pete had talked, now empty with the disuse of a memory put aside, the paper bag stood where Cole’s absent friend had left it. A moment passed, then another as his feet wavered, one then the other, with overwhelming desire to reach down and remove the bottle from its sheath. A hand shook, the second passed before his eyes and paused a moment as he shut the outside from himself to dwell on a bad decision already made. A deep breath and an open eye; then, he reached down into the bag and pulled out the bottle.
In a single, convulsive shudder, Cole fell to the ground. From deep within his throat, from that point where it seems that matter touches spirit, a long, primal, ecstatic cry threw forth. He opened the hand that held the bottle; empty, the clear shell of artificial soul fell slow and hard. Cole’s chapped lips stuck together as he exhaled. In the quick presence of his dissipating resolve, he stood and turned.
Off by the streetlight another man walked past. Cole watched the man exit into shadow before he reappeared behind the illuminated edge of another light a little further away. Cole smiled and lifted his foot to step out onto the rock that had been his seat. He ascended and then hopped down on the other side, trudging toward the boardwalk. The sand was loose and his sandals not the best that money buys, but his sober legs stayed fast. Soon, he reached the wooden stairs that lead up to land, and he stepped up, turning to walk adjacent to, but also away from, the beach.