Dead Letters – Michael Santiago

I had become my father. Another alcoholic destined down a dark road of desperation. Rife with self-loathing, destitution, and despondency. A dissolute barfly full of contradictory, yet melancholic thoughts. My everyday was my yesterday. Nothing ever changed. Maybe because I was not ready for it to change.

So, once again, I found myself at The Maw, the dankest bar in the middle of fucking nowhere Nebraska. I was nine shots in, placing my forehead ever so gently on the edge of the bar. Mind was rattled like a birdcage, and my head was pounding. Couldn’t think straight. Couldn’t see straight. Suddenly, some asshole decided to slam his drink down with such vigor I shot right up, snapping me out of my hypnotized, somber state.

Glancing at the clock, I could sense that the horrid wailing of grunge would soon overcome the speakers, which were conveniently located above my head.

“Right on cue, here comes the banshees howling away,” Cyrus affirmed as the music began to play.

The music blared through the busted speakers as all the “outstanding citizens” got locked into a hypnotic frenzy. Banging their heads to every thud. Slamming their fists to every scream. This scene grew tiresome by the minute and I wanted out. The music was loud enough to reanimate every corpse in the morgue two blocks from here. If for nothing more than to remind these degenerates that rest in peace meant something.

“Why the fuck do I come here? And why does this shithole play the same obnoxious band every single night,” I said.

Reaching for my car keys, I pushed myself up with both palms clasped onto the stool. That final push reconfirmed that I had accomplished my mission – to reach oblivion. Stumbling from one end of the bar to the other, I found my head swaying from side to side. This was something I had gotten good at. Getting so drunk I couldn’t even feel my legs propelling me forward. Well, the hard truth is that I wouldn’t leave until I got to this point, so part of me was cognizant to this self-inflicted, tortuous routine.

As each hand shimmied me closer to the barkeep, the bar seemed to stretch out further and further into eternity.

“Tony, I’ll get the usual,” a woman with auburn locks said.

“Double tequila sunrise?” Tony questioned.

“Hell, make it a triple tonight,” she replied.

“You got it honey,” he said.

How fortunate, the only thing keeping me from paying this tab and getting the fuck out of here is this fiery headed vixen that is impeding my path. So, I shouted, “Love, if you wouldn’t mind moving the fuck along now.”

She turned towards me and began to do one of those slow claps. You know, those claps that showed you how much of an idiot you were. And to be frank, it sobered me up just a tiny bit.

“You’re a real fucking prick, you know that?” she stated with a cold glare.

“So, I’m told. I like to accrue these sort of accolades, you know?” I replied with a drunken grimace.

A blatant unamused look blanketed her face. Tony handed her a drink, and she tossed her hair back, swinging her hips as she walked away. Admiring the curvature, she flipped me off and joined the crowd. Still, I couldn’t help but think she was the most stunning creature in this joint.

Fixating my attention back to Tony, I shouted “How much do I owe you?”

I opened my wallet as the proverbial moth flew right out. Not a single dollar in sight. Destitute like my father. Just the stark, depressing reminder that I needed right now.

“Kid, you’ve been here every fucking night for the last two weeks in a row, and you’ve only paid your tab twice. You owe me so goddamn much you might as well start investing in this place. I know times are tough considering your father’s passing, but you’re going to have to eventually pay up. I can’t keep covering you like this,” Tony yelled back.

“Listen Tony, I’ll pay you back. Once I get back to college, I guarantee you’ll be paid before tuition,” Cyrus rebutted.

“You dropped out of college months ago. Are you so gone that you forgot that? I wonder what Frank would say. Next time, I won’t be so generous with letting you off the hook. You understand, kid?” he cynically replied.

There he goes. Scolding me again and reminding me how disapproving my dead father would be of my behavior. As if my dad was anyone to speak.

“Ok. Ok, Tony. I’ll get the money to you as soon as I can,” I reassured.

“You say that every time. And here I am, still opening shop like I’m the fucking Salvation Army. This is the last time, kid. I mean that,” Tony stated as he slammed his fist into his

The Maw had become an apothecary. I used this place to quench my inner turmoil. Deep down, I knew I didn’t even deserve Tony’s generosity, but nonetheless, he conceded because of his pity towards me. Despite the veiled threats delivered, Tony was a good man that was just looking after his friend’s son in the only way he knew how, but I knew it had its limits.

Staggering towards the exit, I threw the door open and collapsed into a puddle. Spewing puke like a scene from The Exorcist. I reached for anything nearby to hold me up and stabilize me, and I began to move onward once more. With a drifting gaze, I began to hurl myself towards my car in the lot. Thankfully, vomiting had sobered me up quite a bit, which meant I might be able to drive home without fear of a DUI.

“Lady luck is finally sparing me some,” I muttered.

When I reached for the car door, I saw a pile of letters bound by rubber bands next to a parked car. Grabbing them, I noticed there were quite a few of them sealed. It’s as if they were meant to be delivered to someone tonight, but the person was in such a hurry it slipped their mind.

Unaware of who these letters might belong to, I grabbed them and sat in my car. Opening the first letter and pouring over every word with a burning curiosity. The interest couldn’t be tamed by my intoxicated state. And so, I removed the first envelope and began reading.

This is the last letter. The final segment to this ongoing chapter. To an ongoing story that must meet its conclusion. Crippled by every breath and held back by every moment. Life is an ongoing cycle of respective movements bringing me ever closer. And tonight, the story holds no sequel. A long slumber accompanied by a lack of fear. How light carries on. Even after the final chapter. A time meant to come, yet not soon enough.
I’m sorry.

“What the fuck am I reading. Who is Lilith? Shit, this is dated today,” I said.

Then, I opened the second, then the third, and so on. These letters were dated back for several months. Clearly, someone was struggling with something so severe they saw no respite in anything. All I could feel in that moment was an intense sadness for this girl. It reminded me of my father. He, too, had left a letter behind like this after he called quits to this thing called life. Then, I began to read what seemed to be the first letter, which was obviously at the bottom of the pile.

These words may come as a shock. But I am ready to cease. My soul screams with rage. It is `tired. It cannot fathom an existence in which this continues. I am tired. I am broken and defeated. What has happened, has happened. Who am I? I cannot change anything. Nor am I anyone to change anything. He tore what I had left out of me and crushed me. The abuse. The trauma. I’ve lost who I am. How long can I endure this? Not much longer.
I’m in so much pain over so many things. It persists – day in and day out.

“Who the fuck is Lilith? Is she at this bar? Why would she want this for herself?” I questioned.

As I teared up, I began to reminisce the day I got the call about dad. He was found dead in his garage from carbon monoxide poisoning. The news blindsided me. I knew he had
spiraled into depression after mom died, and then there was him losing his job, but I didn’t realize it had gotten that bad. The Maw and his house were the only places he’d frequent. If only I knew what battles he was fighting before, maybe, just maybe I could’ve helped him fight. The only thing left behind was a house full of memories and a note left for me.

Reaching for the door handle, I pried myself out of the driver’s seat and made my way back to the bar. However, most of the cars, at this point, were out of the parking lot. I shouted for Lilith as I kicked the front door open. It appeared the deni-
zens of the dump had already vacated.

“Tony, do you know a Lilith?” I asked.

“What the hell are you still doing here? Lilith? She left an hour ago.” Tony said.

“What did she look like? Where did she go?” I responded.

Hesitating, I handed Tony the stack of letters with hope that he would pry one open to delve in. Of course, Tony being Tony, he didn’t have time, and reciprocated with a dead gaze.

“I found these in the lot, and it talks about this girl, Lilith. I spent the last hour reading every letter here,” I stated.

“She’s that red head you exchanged words with earlier,” he insisted.

“You got to be pulling my leg, Tony,” I said with a sarcastic tone.

“I ain’t messing around, kid. She dipped out of here around 40 minutes ago,” he confirmed.

In a panicked state, I began scribing my thoughts onto a napkin.

I have your letters. Do not follow through with whatever it is you’re planning. I know the pain this leaves behind. Please reach out. I hope you get this – Cyrus

“If she happens to come back just give her this note. Do you have any idea where she might live?” I desperately asked.

“I’m not sure. Let me think. Ok, she does use a credit card to pay most nights. Let me contact the card company and report fraud to see if I can get something. But, at this hour, I’m not sure how much luck I’m gonna have. Give me a few minutes,” he replied.

My eyes darted around the dim, rustic interior of The Maw. Broken bottles littered the shit stained floor, which was accompanied by the pungent smell of piss. The tiles were
cracked, and the walls were peeling. For the first time in a while, I began to see the bar for what it was. A tomb. Every night, wallowing in self-blame and pity, I had to let what happened with my father go. Although not much seemed salvageable, trying to forgive was the only way forward. This had become an unexpected wake up for where my life was heading.

“Kid, I got something. 7255 Aurora Lane,” Tony shouted over the phone.

Now, sobered up, a vestige of hope remained, and I scrambled towards Aurora.

Darting past every red light, the piercing howl of sirens overcame me. “Shit. Shit, not now, I don’t have time for this,” I muttered. Yet, the police cruiser hurled right past me. Letting out a brief sigh of relief, I was still determined.

When I arrived, Aurora was flooded with flashes of red and blue. As I slowed down, I noticed a man sitting on the front porch of 7255 with his palms covering his face. Two officers were talking to the man as he was sobbing. Then, a stretcher came out the front door, and I could see those same locks from earlier. Letting out a series of expletives, I began to slam my hands on the dashboard. My hands were trembling as I reached for the stack of letters and got out of the car.

One of the cops saw me approaching and he made his way towards me.

“I have these letters. I found them earlier at this bar she was at. They were Lilith’s,” I spoke softly.

“Son, I’ll have to take these off you, but I’ll inform the father. Wait a moment. I’ve got a few questions to ask,” the officer responded.

“Dead letters,” I whispered.

As regret overcame me, I could not help but ponder a different scenario. If the trajectory had been skewed slightly then another possible outcome could have existed. Now, a stack of dead letters is left in the wake. Just like dad.

This had to be put behind me. I had to forgive myself. I had to remind myself that not everyone can be saved, but that I could still save myself. This drunken routine had to cease. I had to free myself from the burden of what my father did. It seemed impossible. But after tonight, I was determined. I couldn’t end up this way.

Michael Santiago is a serial expat, avid traveler, and writer of all kinds. Originally from New York City, and later relocating to Rome in 2016 and Nanjing in 2018. He enjoys the finer things in life like walks on the beach, existential conversations and swapping murder mystery ideas. Keen on exploring themes of humanity within a fictitious context and aspiring author.

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