Just the One

Vincent sat at the bar. His elbows were planted on the surface so his forearms formed a warning triangle in which his head rested. He stared at the glowing emerald bottle on the shelf behind the bartender and considered his decision.

He could already feel the dull throb in his arm reminding him of the last time he’d said ‘yes’ to the green fairy.

‘Just the one,’ Vincent had agreed. The thing is, it can’t be ‘just the one’ when you’ve already had six of something else.

He remembered the sense of occasion as the blue flame danced on the spoon of browning sugar. He remembered the wildness in Joe’s eyes after the second ‘just the one’ went down.

He shuddered as the memories became smudged and distorted no matter how much he fought to bring them into focus.

He recalled the faded click and whir of the jukebox and the clear strands of that song about being a joker and other rhyming things. There was dancing, which had seemed to match the rhythm at the time but seemed out of step in Vincent’s memory. There were the women, the faces were gone but the shapes and the hair and the perfume were still there, drifting back from somewhere in Vincent’s hippocampus. Hippocampus; hippopotamus. It wasn’t a hippo that had turned things sour but Vincent’s brain wouldn’t change it back now. It could have been Joe, it could have been Vincent, but smiles had turned to… something else. A thing was thrown; liquid perhaps. A thing was swallowed; liquid for sure. A thing was struck; a chest, a cheek, a nerve. Something was bitten, or perhaps the other way round. Either way, it…

Vincent blinked out of the memory and looked at the ring of scars on his wrist where, previously, that night, there had been an armful of teeth.

Vincent remembered how green had turned to red to flashing blue to black, then he remembered no more.

Clearer now, Vincent remembered the bill, the landlord, the headlines, the shameful conversation with his mother, the afternoon in court, and the endless apologies.

He took a deep breath and looked again at the emerald bottle on the shelf behind the bartender.

He heard the sound of Joe entering through the back door after finishing his smoke and girded himself for the question he knew was coming.

‘So, have you decided?’ Joe said before he’d even sat down. ‘Just the one?’

‘Fuck it,’ Vincent answered.

‘Just the one.’