The leaves had changed. Lori enjoyed tracking their transformation from summer green to autumnal fire. But already Fall storms had ripped most of them from the trees and scattered them across park giving the woods beyond more of an early winter look than mid Fall.
Lori crumpled to the ground at the base of a tree. Leaves crunched beneath her jeans as she settled down, got comfortable. The bottle had practically removed itself from her coat pocket. This far into the woods no one would bother her. She hadn't passed many people on her way to her private little spot, but even if she had she couldn't imagine anyone eyeing her with suspicion. She'd been drinking and smoking for most of the morning--a continuation from the previous night--but she was a stolid drunk, able to keep her appearance fresh despite feeling much to the contrary. In college it had gotten her and her friends out of trouble on a handful of occasion. And while it served her less and less as the years went on it still proved useful in a pinch.
She took a whiff of the bottle. Bottom shelf whiskey. She couldn't afford the nice stuff anymore--truth be told she never could, but special occasions were special occasions and neither price nor salary every deterred her from celebrating a special occasion--to be honest, she couldn't even afford the cheap stuff anymore, but lousy occasions called for debauchery just as much as celebratory ones--perhaps even more so--and so here she was, sitting in the woods behind the park, high, polishing off her nth bottle of booze.
Unemployment was a hell of a thing.
Lori took a swig, let her head fall back with the swallow. When it hit the tree she winced, but booze made bandaids of the air and she was quickly smiling, lolling her head from side to side, enjoying the feel of the bark on the back of her skull. Who needs a masseuse, she thought, and she pat the bottle, pressed her head harder into the tree. A low moan escaped her throat and as life tended to do, reality cut a sharp, incisive cut in her dreams and opened the wound to an unignorable width.
She was broke, drunk, and freshly fired. Not laid off. Not the casualty of a corporate merger, or a move overseas. Fired. Frog walked off the premises, her life piled in a box in her hands. Pressure in her stomach. Vomit rising up. As she walked past the cubicles, her eyes lowered to the box to avoid seeing any of her co-workers, she found herself focusing on trinkets. The little Bed, Bath, & Beyond sign. She couldn't even remember the wording. They were all the same, really. Live, laugh, love nonsense. She didn't know why she bought it in the first place. She was young, white, and pretty and that seemed reason enough. The little stuffed cats, tucked in behind a box of paperclips she had stolen in a moment of fury, looked up at her, confused. There were other items. A cutesy calendar. A few figurines her grandmother had given her when she was young. She had almost loved them whenever she spent the weekend at her grandmother's. She still remembered the birthday when she pulled her aside and given her a box of them in secret.
"So your cousins don't get jealous," she told her, their heads close together in a conspiratorial confab. "Sshh!"
They laughed so hard at that. If there was a lasting memory of her grandmother it was that. The two of them laughing about something no one else was aware of. Her mother and her aunts would often look over at them and roll their eyes. "There they go again," one of her aunts would invariably say.
They didn't care. Soulmates was for more than just romantic relationships. Lori and her grandmother were proof of that.
Lifting the bottle up, Lori opened her throat and let the whiskey burn her all the way down to the stomach. Maybe it would drown her.
Sun caught the empty glasses and beamed into her eyes. She started to lower it, to finish her long, deep sip. But a flash of anger altered those plans, and she threw her head back farther, banging it once again off the tree. She didn't care. She let the whiskey pool in her cheeks, flood her teeth. It got hard to breath. She rocked on her haunches, battering the back of her head against the tree again, and again. The glass clinked against her teeth. The sound sent shivers through her. Her mind latched onto it, the sharp click, the feel of glass on enamel. She imagined her teeth shattering, breaking off at the point of contact and leaving nothing behind but two jagged stumps.
That did it.
Her stomach lurched and sent her tumbling forward. The booze spilled out of her in hot, wet streams until her throat burned raw. The stink, the pain, the realization of where she was and what she was doing. Tears gathered at her eyes and soon the heaving turned to dry, desperate sobs.
What the fuck was she going to do?
On her way to the park she had stumbled into someone she knew from high school. Back when they used to gather in the woods to build fires, drink, smoke, and grope, he had been one of the regulars. Sneed. She never learned his real name. She knew Sneed was a play on his last name.