Watching somebody die on Christmas day was the worst present anyone could have given to me. What made it even worse, was that I couldn’t do anything about it but share a drink with him. The snow was packing it that day, nothing too extreme but it still touched my ankles. I didn’t care to wear any boots, and so I treaded in the snow with regular shoes. I remember going home with wet socks, and a bloodied undershirt. Luckily for me the scarf I was wearing was already red, so the blood didn’t show as vividly. Holding a dying man in the middle of snow fall was disappointingly unromantic.
I was on my way back home after attending a late night Christmas party. It was probably around midnight. I was riding the train and watching the window as rows of buildings and lights shifted past me. It almost felt like I was running away from Christmas. Like I was running away from everything festive that seemed to permeate itself within every fiber of modern capitalism. It didn’t help that I was one of few people on the train. The whole night was mundane, and even the party I attended was to save face. I decided that night to get off a station before my regular stop to walk the rest of the way home. I needed some air.
Once I got off the station, I noticed a ragged man outside the terminal. He was tucked away from security, and he had a particularly rancid smell when I passed by him. The only reason why I even gave him any heed, was that he was holding two bottles of what appeared to be liquor. The only problem I had was that the labels were completely torn off, and the only thing he had was the bottles jangling about with some kind of colored liquid inside. Something about his situation made me smile, and I went up to him. He didn’t bother speaking when I approached him, but he thrust the two bottles in front of me. I took them and handed him two bills of twenties. His eyes gleamed on the bills for much longer than I could bear, and he grabbed them with clothed and dirtied hands. He then smiled back and began walking away. I couldn’t track where he was going for long after he bled into the shadows. I took the cork off one of the bottles and took a whiff. It was nothing I ever had, I concluded. With the two bottles in my hands, I began walking towards my home. Something about the situation was absurd, but I took a swig of the bottle and was oddly satisfied.
It didn’t take me long to get drugged up on the stuff and soon enough my gait became glided in staggers. I could barely drag my feet through the snow, and soon enough I began burning up. My vision started becoming loose in the process, and I remembered having to stop halfway on the sidewalk to find my balance. I was lucky that there weren’t many cars moving by me, and that the only thing to give me more headaches were the flashing Christmas lights. Once I found my balance, I continued forward, but by the time I was nearing a wall to lean on, I knelt over and began dispelling everything in my stomach. Luckily for me, it was a closed restaurant that I had just vomited all over the back of. I tasted everything of the night, which consisted of burnt fruit cake, eggnog, and someone’s idea of homemade gingerbread. The smell was about to get me when I rolled over and planted my face into the snow. I then leaned over and looked straight at the stars. I loved looking at the stars and tracing my fingers across to make shapes and patterns in the sky. But that night my arms could barely stretch over my head, and so I grudgingly gave up and picked myself off the snow. Before I could make my way back towards my home, I noticed a few foot prints leading away from the restaurant and into the nearby woods. My day was already filled with streaks of weird occurrences and impulsive tendencies akin to the commonality of youth. I was a working lady, and so I wished to be even younger.
I followed the foot prints with surprising ease. I wasn’t as drunk as I thought I was, but the booze was definitely strange stuff. I dared to take another sip in the dark woods but I shook myself out of the idea. The footsteps began getting more frantic as I got closer to the origin. They were more spread out, almost as if the owner of the prints were in a panic. I made the revelation soon enough that someone was in a panic. The footsteps were swirling around like a snake in my head, and whenever the wind blew and grazed the dead trees around me, I began imagining wolves and deer all around me. I cursed myself, but I pressed forward.
At the end of the footprints, I saw a pool of red leaking away from a tree. I called out, “Is anyone there?” After saying that, I cursed myself. Of course there was someone there. I wrapped around the tree, and noticed myself sinking into red snow. There was a person lying against the tree, with a knife jabbed straight into his chest. He was still breathing. I knelt down towards him, and didn’t realize I was starring in a horror movie when his eyes suddenly jolted open. I fell on my back and then cursed myself again. A dead man had no business in hurting me anytime soon.
He looked at me with a kind of pitying gaze. I was even more surprised that when he opened his mouth, he began speaking to me quite clearly, almost as if the knife in his chest meant nothing at all, “If I asked you, would you kill me?”
“If you asked me, I’d say you were already dead.” I looked towards his clothes. He was wearing a suit, and tie, and his hair was slicked back with what appeared to be gel. He was a working man, I could tell, a fairly average built white skinned man. Except, all the blood he was gushing out was ruining his suit. I guess he didn’t need to care about cleaning bills anymore, I thought. The man brought his hand slowly to the knife in his chest, but didn’t have any power to send it further into his own body. It was this action that I made sure to understand, “Killing yourself on Christmas day must be your gift to the planet.”
“I’m just one in seven billion.” I was surprised that he played along with my dark humor. I grew a strange attachment towards him. I took the knife’s handle, and then slowly extracted it, watching as pools of blood began gushing out and filling the snow even more. He looked at me with the same pitying gaze as before, “You can’t even come to humor me? I came here to die.” I took out my cell phone, and began dialing for an ambulance.
“I’ve been out here for quite some time already. I’ll bleed out before they even get here.” I looked at him again, and at the knife in my hands. I planted the knife into the snow behind me, and called for an ambulance anyway.
“I’m still here you know. I’m sure some security camera somewhere saw me go up the trail and find you. I’d like them not to think that I was a part of a murder.” The man grunted, and then looked up into sky through the dead branches above.
“You know, Christmas is just another excuse for people to get drunk and show off their corporate assholes.”
“Tell me about it. I’m wearing a suit too.” He looked over to me and then smiled.
“It’s cold here.” I took off my scarf, and wrapped it around his head, making sure I was extra cautious so that I wouldn’t make him bleed out any faster than he already was. I got blood on my hands in the process, but I planted it in the snow.
“Giving a dead man a scarf. You really are a strange one huh?” I remembered that I still had my bottle of liquor on me. It was on the snow, and I figured that I had dropped them when I first got spooked. I picked them up, and cursed myself for even buying them. I cursed them because I needed something to curse.
“That looks like moonshine.” I knew what the term meant, but I also knew that prohibition was an old tale.
“I bought it from some guy at the station. Don’t know what the hell it is but it sure as hell is heavy.”
“Have you ever heard of the term watered booze?”
“I’m guessing you mean liquor that’s watered down?” The man laughed. He didn’t laugh hard, but he laughed. It was the kind of laugh that spiraled throughout the dark woods and made someone think they were listening to a pack of howling hyenas. It was the kind of laugh that livened up a boring party. It was the kind of laugh that shone brighter than anything around it. It was the kind of laugh that belonged to a living man. But I laughed along. I didn’t know why but I began laughing.
“In a sense yeah. I use it all the time with my other white collar pals when we go to corporate shindigs. Booze always sucks there. That’s why you stick around for the after party at the night club.”
“Guess you and I both missed that.” We both smiled. I took a quick swig of the liquor in my hand for time’s sake since the ambulance still hadn’t arrived. The man then said, “Give me a swing of that. Haven’t tasted Larry’s moonshine since forever.”
“You know that old man?” I pressed the second glass bottle onto his lips and gently poured some into his mouth. I wasn’t surprised by the alacrity in his way of drinking.
“That old man’s senile. But that old man’s my old man. Thankfully I’m kicking it before him.” The man looked at the bottle in my hands, which prompted me to give him another taste. I took another swig of it myself and knelt back down. The stuff was kicking it again in my stomach, and my head began swirling. He looked at me and said, “Stuff ain’t that strong, can’t hold your liquor lady?”
“Guess I can’t when a dead man can drink better than me.” I took another swig, and this time felt it’s burn all the way into my stomach. I gave him another gulp as well. The night grew cold faster than I could think about it, and the sounds of sirens in the distance meant that my time there would be growing over sooner than I could think. The man sighed, and looked at the glass bottle in my hand. Not even half of it was drunk. I placed it beside him onto the red snow and said, “For you in the afterlife.” He chuckled at that.
I reached over to unwrap my scarf from him, and in the state of my demeanor, ended up falling nearly on him. I only stopped myself inches away from his body when my hands crashed into the snow. I laughed, and regained my balance. But this time, my laughter was empty. Unlike before, it echoed in the forest as a sad reminder of desolation. It was the laugh of a deranged bumbling drunk just trying to make her way on the streets. It was the laugh of a woman who’s had one too many shots of moonshine and ended up throwing up on herself. It was the laugh of a dying woman.
I looked at him, and said, “You’re really dying.” He looked back at me, and with unmoving eyes, slowly opened his mouth, “I was never alive to begin with. Not in my job. Not ever.”
“Right. How can you ever be alive, right?” He laughed. I began hearing shouting now, and sounds of branches being pushed away. The sirens were still on, and somewhere in the distance was a man waving around a flashlight, desperately trying to find us.
“Can you do me a favor? I won’t tell you to kill me this time.” I nodded.
“Lay me down on the snow, and nuzzle the knife back into my chest. I sure did a lousy job.” It took me a few moments to understand what he had meant, and by his unwavering eyes and empty face, I knew that he was sincere. It only made sense, I thought. I brought my hands towards his back, and gently began laying him onto the snow as if he was sleeping. Before I let go, I held onto him for a few more seconds than I would have felt comfortable with, but with the poison in my system, and the obscurity of the night, it seemed all too appropriate to admire life in its rawest form. I then picked up the knife, and before placing it back into his self-inflicted stab wound, said, “I might not be a murderer, but I’m an accomplice now.” The man didn’t answer back, his eyes were closed, and his breathing seemed to have stopped. I placed the knife inside his chest, and then moved back onto the snow and grabbed my glass. By this time, the officers found me. They pointed their guns at me, told me to stand up with my hands held high. The last thing I did before I followed them into the car was asking them, “Want a drink?”
Since that day whenever it’s been Christmas I always take the train and stop at that stop. I skip my company’s after party, and end up walking home alone. I haven’t gotten any moonshine since that day, but the taste of it comes back to me whenever I pass by that restaurant, tucked away by the forest, where I found a dying man. Sometimes I’d like to think that making another walk into the forest will yield me something special. But I haven’t dared to try it since then. After all, if something special does happen, I’d have to drink with a dead man.