For the most part, she stays in her “den”, a big old grizzled thing through with roaming and ready to make her last stand against a life that has besieged her from all sides since day one (always finding herself on the ropes in this

fight), yet still troubled by what torments her from within, that insidious, determined enemy feeding on that seemingly endless food source in her head, playing her like an instrument of madness, bringing forth the full range of her emotional noise, touching her extremes like a malicious virtuoso. What defense for this? A drink? A smoke? A heaping plate of food?

         It’s one thing to say “no more” and close the door on all that “out there”, but the true horror is in learning that there is still no escape; there is still a price to pay every day. It will be taken out of her whether she is bouncing off the walls or not. There is temporary sedation, chemical aid, but the real cure will be the Big Sleep.

         Not that she hasn’t thought about closing that inner door, too. She has been beaten down in too many places to deny that. She’s been through the ringer, as the saying goes, and is tired of fighting. It’s a day-to-day struggle just to get out of bed, to face again what is in her head.

         You can’t hold the threat of a future hell over her, for she has already known her own hell through the years, it’s been an almost daily companion. It’s become tiresome – a pain in the ass – more than frightening. She’s long been used to that burden, that ball and chain, the permanently attached, oppressive weight of “getting by”.

         She often feels that she is near the end. How much longer can it go on? And whom does she address that question to? She has never been able to commit herself to God; no, that always seemed like one of man’s myths to help him get by – for lack of anything better. She had heard many people preach to her, but had never been convinced. She had always had the feeling that death was the end of it all, just a case of rotting into the earth, nourishing something else with your decay.

         People talked about paradise, but she always wondered if anybody deserved that anyway. She had learned not to take too much stock in promises, and the promise of heaven or hell had always made her laugh. Even now in ill health and feeling that her time was short, she couldn’t lose that scorn.

         She knew bitterness, enough to feel, at times, that she was poisoned with it. The bile from the past rose in her and she closed her eyes, tense, balled in on herself, trying to contain sudden anger, trying to breathe easier, and often failing. She still had a lashing temper; she could bellow and scream as her mad mama had years before. She had no doubt that she had inherited some craziness from the woman. Real craziness. Not the crazy that you commonly heard people mention in reference to everyday frustration. There may very well have been some inbreeding back in those Kentucky hills, where she came from. There weren’t that many different families, and they were all big.

         She felt the bitterness biting into her guts; she railed at her invisible enemies; she tore into, physically, her humble abode. She couldn’t seem to get room enough to breathe, and she remembered a phrase: the walls closing in. She had hidden herself away as a last protective defense, yet still she had been reached. Indeed, it was a poison in the blood.

         Fuck her appearance. Fuck her weight. To hell with her liver. The big old monster staggers drunkenly in her cave, swearing at everything, telling life to punch her clock and have done with it. Let the beast rest.

         But it won’t be long before she is sobbing in the same night; the full gamut of emotions is run. She hangs her head, feeling defeated yet again. Isn’t that always the way, in the end? After the hard laughter and the rage, there is nothing left but the pain and fatigue, the despair of a final isolation. You can only scream at the walls so long.

         Television rarely helps; most of the time it just brings in more of that shit from outside, useless information that won’t help her through her day. The same with the radio. She hasn’t read a book in years, never having been much of a reader anyway.

         She stays away from the neighbors as much as possible, and doesn’t encourage visitors. The neighbors call her crazy and are only too happy to leave her alone.

         She could call her son, her only family, but she thinks she does that too often as it is. She suspects he gets tired of her calls, especially if there isn’t much to talk about. She tries to make him understand that she just needs to sound off once in a while, and to hear a voice answer back. I’m tired of having to answer my own questions, she jokes.

         I’m in a bad way, she thinks. Physically and mentally, I’m a mess. She spots an old photograph on her dresser that she found recently. It is a picture of her as a young woman, taken thirty years before, thin, muscular and boldly smiling. She was a tough little thing then, doing physical work with men. She was also sleeping with her share of men at the time, too. Just like her mother, she thought, with a little laugh. Sometimes she missed that woman. She wouldn’t have minded having a few cocktails with her mother then. Her mama had liked to have a rowdy good time; she enjoyed making noise and celebrating. That was when she was at her best, however. During her “bad spells” she made plenty of noise, too, but you didn’t want to be around her then. She could get violent, and that is when family members avoided her, the kids making themselves scarce.

         Yes, you passed on some of that to me, mama, she said, reaching for the bottle again. She had told herself, recently, that she was going to cut back on the drinking, that she didn’t need that stuff anymore. She was too old for that.

         Yet here she was half in the bag again, tears on her cheeks, alternately crying and laughing. Playing the clown again, she thought. At least it might help her to sleep. And that had become important to her because she so often had trouble getting a decent night’s rest. The best she could hope for was three or four hours, and then maybe a nap or two in the day. At least with the drink, she would be out. No dreams, no bad memories, nothing. That’s what she liked nowadays: nothing. And if she couldn’t get that, then at least a few hours without the physical pain of old age, the arthritic joints and burning ulcers, and without the worry that the cancer might come back. Yes, there was always that ominous shadow hanging over her days. There were still the regular check-ups, and the uncertainty between them.

         If only it was a matter of saying a few prayers and leaving the rest to God, she thought. Let the Lord carry your burden. Let Him give you the strength to carry on. Why wasn’t she one of those dupes who went for that? It would have been simpler for her. Whatever happened was God’s will, and she could do nothing about it anyhow. Yes, everything depended on something else – the all-powerful deity. Just get down on your knees and hope the shit didn’t rain down on you too hard.

         Here’s to you, Jesus, she said, raising the bottle in a salute. If He only knew what went on in his name, she thought, smiling. The poor bastard hadn’t even been able to save his own life, and all these people expected him to save theirs. Come on down here, Mr. Christ and have a drink with me. I know I’m not much to look at – I certainly don’t look like that anymore. She pointed at the old photograph. But I can be pretty good company. And I won’t ask you to perform any miracles. That’s putting too much pressure on a man. She laughed and drooled some juice down her chin, a picture of whisky-flushed contentment.

         Another day was going down with her. Sixty years of them, and she’d put another one to rest. Another “dead soldier”, just like this bottle would be shortly. The old ticker hadn’t given out on her yet. Maybe she’d live a hundred years - an amusing thought when she was drunk. It wouldn’t be in the morning.

         She looked at her phone again, thought for a moment, then reached for it. She would bother her kid again, and tell him that he could look forward to forty more years of calls, already picturing his face when she said that.

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