Copyright is held by the author.
I HAD BEEN awake for a couple of hours, strangled in sheets that just wouldn’t come to rest. Staring out the window, I saw nothing, as if the stars and moon had taken the night off from their celestial guard. The dark of night had hid my surroundings from me, leaving me desperate to get a sense of where the hell I was. Ever since I was a kid, uneasiness loomed behind every setting sun. Sleep was usually a panicky, fitful affair under the best of circumstances. Ignoring my nausea, I rolled over onto my side. My stomach swirled in both directions, sloshing waves of vodka over my intestines. Daylight was now fighting its way through the partially shaded blinds, slowly bringing the room to life.
In the corner was my suit, lying on the ground. It was in the shape of a chalk outline for dead bodies all those TV cops are so fond of using. On the night table beside me were two half full highball glasses, waiting patiently to be polished off. With the room spinning and a pounding headache coming on, I narrowed my gaze on the mysterious object mounted on the wall across from me. Straining my swollen eyes, it seemed to change shape repeatedly before finally coming into view. It was a moose head, its antlers spread out like eagle wings. Around his neck hung a tie artfully tied in a Windsor knot. On top sat an orange hunter’s hat, a final insult from the conqueror to the vanquished.
I gingerly sat up and perched myself on the edge of the bed. The shag rug below my feet provided little comfort. Head in my hands, I started the breathing exercises from my therapy. Deep breath in, hold for one, two, three. Exhale. Repeat. I liked Dr. Kincaid, but had the feeling he didn’t care for me too much. “Tell me about your childhood. How did that make you feel?”
All his questions seemed rote, spoken in a voice dulled by too many scotches, judging from breath. One, two, three. Exhale. Repeat. It wasn’t doing any good.
An arm wrapped itself over my chest. “Good morning Bill” Jane whispered into my ear as she snuggled her head on my shoulder.
A wave of panic crashed into me. My body felt nailed down to the bed under the weight of her arm. I was sweating profusely, a clammy film sending chills down the back of my neck.
“Um, yeah. Hi. I mean good morning to you. How are you today?” I managed to say, trying to sound cool and composed, but missing badly on both counts.
She giggled and said “Now, Bill, don’t be coy. I think it was fate that brought us together, don’t you? God — that was fun! I am totally fine with it, aren’t you?”
Sleeping with my boss had never been a career goal. In fact, ambition was a virtue that had escaped me. Dr. Kincaid had suggested I make a New Year’s resolution to quit drinking a few years ago. I’d hastily agreed, although baffled as to why he thought that would be beneficial. By the time January was two weeks old I had a new favorite merlot and was finishing every dinner with a Drambuie. Last night I’d been at O’Malley’s minding my own business, when she entered the bar like she was walking down the red carpet. Every guy in the place was staring, but her eyes settled on mine. She crept up to me, purring “Buy you a drink?”
One drink turned into many. Talk of project deadlines and office gossip turned into family dramas and life’s regrets. And finally, a wobbly hug at last call turned into a frenzied cab ride to her place.
“Yes, yes of course, it was … rockin’!” I winced at my second failed attempt at coolness. My head was throbbing in double time, like a marching band celebrating the game winning touchdown. I wondered if it would be weird to finish off the vodkas calling my name from the night table.
“Rocking?” she said. “Oh Bill, that sounds so …. I don’t know, slutty. Is that what I am to you, a quick fling and then you throw me aside?”
“No, no I … I….. didn’t mean it like..”
Jane started laughing hysterically. “Oh, Bill, you should see your face! I’m kidding! God, relax! What happened to your sense of humour?” She spun around and headed for the bathroom. The shower hissed to life, a shrill accompaniment to Jane’s off key warbling. Flopping down on the bed, I took a minute to gather myself.
I tried the breathing exercises again. Still no help. Walking slowly to the night table, my face burning with embarrassment, I poured the remainder of the drinks down my throat. It didn’t taste great, but it didn’t taste bad, either. Wiping my mouth with the back of my hand, I glanced at the moose head. Cold and sombre, its accusing eyes met mine and refused to let go. Great, I thought, even the stupid moose thinks that I’m a drunk.
A cloud of steam preceded Jane into the room, a white terry cloth robe wrapped around her. The shower seemed to bring her into sharper focus, her dark eyes flashing as she circled around me and skipped into her walk-in closet.
“Can I ask you a question?” I said, my eyes fixated on the shag rug beneath my feet.
“Why do you have a moose head on your bedroom wall?”
“Oh, that thing. It’s my ex-husband’s. He was so proud of it. He told everyone how he stalked that thing for days, man versus beast in a battle of wills. Truth was he bought it at a garage sale. Said he wanted it in here, where we spent most of our time, if you know what I mean.” The bluntness of her recollection hit me like a punch to the gut. “Anyway, when he left, he didn’t bother to take it with him. I keep it there to remind me who really won the battle of wills.” She winked, sending my stomach spinning again. “I actually think it’s kind of cute, don’t you?”
Not having any idea what to say, my head just nodded weakly.
She motioned toward the tie. “You should wear that to work today. Wouldn’t want anybody noticing you wore the same one two days in a row.”
I freed it from the moose’s neck. It was snowball white, with red horizontal stripes. I wrapped it around my neck and somehow fashioned a knot, my trembling fingers barely obeying my addled brain. Looking at myself in the mirror, I started staring at the appendage hanging around my neck.
I knew this tie. I had seen it just last week. Danny Willis, from accounting, had been wearing it. We had lunch together in the food court, and he had made a joke about how his tie looked like a candy cane. That was the last time I saw him. Jane fired him two days later; nobody really knew why. He seemed like a good employee, if a little reserved.
The usual rumours flew around the office for a day or two, then his name stopped being mentioned, and then Danny Willis ceased to exist. And now I was wearing his tie. Which was on a moose’s head. In my boss’s bedroom.
“Oh, and if you wouldn’t mind, can you take the bus to work?” Jane said. “It’s not like you can drive in with me. If anybody found out about this, it could be very….. uncomfortable. You know what I mean.” She winked and disappeared back into the bathroom.
God, I needed a drink.