Absinthe Vines Essay, Research Paper
A little money to fill his pockets was all the companionship Travis needed. No drugs, hookers, or other bonuses could ever get him through the night. Just pure green enjoyment.
Life on the streets gave hard-edged Travis this kind of love for the economy. Nothing obscene, mind you, it was just the feeling of his pockets, fat with dollar bills, that let him sleep like a baby on pills. Unfortunate for him, they never saw obesity. Rarely even were they husky.
He tried anyway. Pick up a job here, mug an old lady there, just to get by and wipe away the spider’s web of insomnia. Still worse than his sleeping habits, however, were his spending habits. He had bar tabs in at least five different counties he would never see again, and he thanked his lack of a fixed address for that.
Right now he was in a different situation. Hyper obesity reigned king in his mind, and he wouldn’t be going on a diet anytime soon. Money was all his to enjoy, because of one simple factor: Travis had a paying job.
The bar was a dismal little place in the East Side of New York. Travis was supposed to serve drinks while the usual tender was off doing god-knows-what with god-knows-who. All of his past experience with alcohol had been rather one sided, but hell, he’d seen Cocktail, he could fake it.
Usual customers didn’t demand this kind of improvisation, anyway. Beer was the word of the day. Draft, light, and others came straight from the keg, and they emptied as fast as he tapped them. However taxing this was on him didn’t matter. He had cash.
“Excuse me?” Travis said, speaking also with his eyes, which brooded quizzically over the dark hollows of his sockets.
“Absinthe,” whispered the boy sitting at the counter. Clothes containing no shortage of black were draped over his skinny frame, his eyes also holding dark half moons, swirling purple and blue. Orange ringed the pupils of his dark brown eyes. He couldn’t have been over 16 years old.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” A wiry arm shot up and pulled Travis to the counter, close to those dark, evil eyes.
“Where’s the owner? Is Thomas here?” hissed the boy into Travis’ face, his breath smelling of rotten candy, formerly sweet, now bitter with the bacteria that ate it along with the enamel of your teeth. Travis snorted in disgust and attempted to turn away from this strange kid, but he was yanked back to obedience.
“No, he left a while ago. I’m filling in for him.”
“Look, just get rid of these guys and take me to the back room. I’ll make it worth your while.” He rubbed two fingers together to make sure Travis knew what he intended.
Travis weighed his options, then asked, “How much?”
“Whatever you desire.” Travis raised an eyebrow in consideration.
White was the first sensation as Travis entered the room. White flowers adorned the blackened walls, adding beauty to the dirt exterior that was lit only by a harsh, bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling.
“What are those things?” Travis asked the boy.
“Wormwood flowers,” he answered simply. Greasy strands of black hair hung in his face, hiding his huge, piercing eyes. He brushed them away quickly with a pale, thin arm. “They make absinthe out of the poisonous oil.” Tendrils of diluted hostility lashed through his breezy voice. Travis decided not to get too close.
The boy scratched away a patch of dust high up on the wall to reveal a small, dully gleaming door. Inside was a combination lock, which he made quick use of. “I copied the combination from Thomas. I have a photographic memory,” he said to no one in particular, tapping his forehead to punctuate. I wonder what else he’s got in that mind of his, Travis thought. He seemed mysterious and intelligent, almost god-like. “Ah, here we are.”
He tossed Travis a small bottle full of some dark liqueur. It smelled of the boy’s breath, like a dark, sweet death that asks you to come with it. And I’ll say yes, he thought, and found himself saying it out loud. The boy only nodded knowingly.
Travis uncorked his bottle and took a tiny sip. Bitter alcohol invaded his senses, but still that subtle, underlying taste that made it addictive. Organic, he decided, like rotten vines and dirt and death. Another swig, and he was hooked on the swirling alcoholic mist that filled his nose, and his eyes, and his mouth, until there was nothing but his senses, twisting and writhing and moaning with pleasure. This was truly the stuff of life, and of death, and the worlds in between.
The boy’s name was Ben, he found out later, after they had drunken bottles of absinthe through the night. He was from an art school somewhere in New York, and had found the bar while he was studying the early 1900’s, to paint his mind on the canvas, and become whole with it. It was a speakeasy during prohibition, and this held even more risks because of it’s secrets in the cellar where they sat talking. Absinthe had been outlawed in every state, you see, but the previous owner had become addicted to it’s spirit, and kept producing it. The bar was busted one night, and there was an ugly brawl. The officer on the bust was killed, and he buried him down in the absinthe cellar. The wormwood flourished every day from then on, and the absinthe was dark and smooth, impossible to resist.
“So how did you find out about this stuff?” Travis asked, after taking a huge swig.
“I’d have to show you sometime,” Ben answered, smiling and cocking an eyebrow.
They were long gone by the time Thomas stumbled back to his bar, at three o’clock in the morning, clutching his stomach. Days later he would be dead, and the wormwood flowers would grow from his unmoving corpse. Now, however, he was still and silent.
“Do you have a place to sleep?” Ben asked Travis when they left the bar.
“No. Why do you?” Travis asked, wondering how this kid could possibly know that he felt sick and needed some rest for once this week.
“I never sleep. You’re tired though. I have an apartment.”
Travis raked a hand through his spiky hair. “Sounds fine to me.” Anything sounded fine then.
Ben’s apartment turned out to be more than Travis bargained for.
The building was charred with black sear marks, ash, and dirt. The top was missing, airing out the scar. Nobody had lived there for ages. You live here?
“I’m squatting,” Ben answered, seeming to read Travis’ mind.
They entered into a lobby owned by the rats, a place where no intelligent human wanted to live. Heavy breathing emanated from under a chair to Travis’ left, but he didn’t look. He would rather live.
Green vines tangled around Travis’ feet as he trudged through the doorway into Ben’s apartment. The walls were swathed in them, dark green and reaching, straining towards Travis. The cloying smell made Travis want to cough, but it was good, so he breathed it in and forgot to exhale. Ben pointed to a rather soft section of the spongy interior, and Travis lay gratefully down. Quickly, he drifted off to sleep, among the vines that smelled and tasted of absinthe.
His sleep was an untroubled one, filled with dreams of a painter, with blind eyes rolled in the back of his head, and Travis all at once understood how Ben thought, and how he knew so much.
Images flooded his senses, his smell first, as he sniffed the thick scent of wormwood, and tasted it’s bitter scent in the air. Finally, his eyes opened slowly, greeting Ben’s strangely soothing eyes that massaged his mind. They turned away, allowing the pain to shoot back through his mind.
“Oh my god, my head,” was the first thing uttered from Travis’ lips, and he dug the heels of his hands into his skull.
“Did you sleep well?” Ben asked as he handed Travis a bottle of some clear liquid. Thankfully, it turned out not to be the dark liqueur that had taken over his body with obsession, and he slugged it down. It had a slightly malty, slightly bitter taste, but it cleared his hangover right up.
“Yeah. Dreamed too.”
“So now you know,” Ben said reluctantly, turning away from Travis with a slightly saddened tone.
“How do you do it anyway?” asked Travis, wiping back a puffy tuft of hair as he sat up.
“My addiction is the souls of the dead, the rot and decay, and the sweat numbness that follows. I get that in many things. Cannibalism, absinthe; even those roots you slept on last night contain rotting flesh. They grew from it.” Travis managed to hold back his disgust. He had found solace in the spirits of absinthe last night.
“But how could you eat dead flesh?”
“You don’t know what it’s like,” Ben answered, swinging around, protective now. “The manic depression, the ennui, everything that happens, I have no escape. Not even painting will release me, for I can not achieve true art unless through the souls of others. I’m nothing without the dead.”
Travis nodded, understanding more than he ever imagined he could. Of course, he had never imagined drinking of rot and decay, born from the bodies of the dead. But hey, with his luck, that was the best thing that could happen. At least he had money.
Ben sat down, his knees in the air, arms wrapped around them, face down, and began to cry.
“Where’s Thomas?” Ben asked later, after sauntering into the bar past eleven o’clock. Red, irritated skin hung around his eyes, but the dark shadows remained there.
“I don’t know. He hasn’t shown up all day.” Ben pantomimed a swear, and pounded his fist into the table.
“I needed to talk to him. Oh well, not much use now,” Ben answered. A tentative smile flickered at the corner of his mouth. “You want to go have a drink?” Travis shrugged and nodded. There was nobody left in the bar, so it wouldn’t be too hard to close up.
They crept down to the cellar slowly, taking great care not to kick up much dust with their shoes. This time neither reached for the chain to turn on the lights. They wouldn’t need them.
Ben went through the formalities, and gave a bottle to Travis. This time it had the same clotted scent of Ben’s vines, and the liquid was thick and syrupy. It had the fresh taste of sweet, cool death.
Tonight they spoke urgently of places the must go sometime in their life, of things they must do. Ben had to go everywhere, do everything. Travis said he would rather stay in the same place the rest of his life. But that was the old Travis. The new Travis was an integral part of Ben now, he knew him better than himself. Travis knew of the abuse at an early age, Ben’s escape to drugs, Ben’s close call with death at the hands of the cold, chrome car on a rainy night, the night he discovered how sweet death was. This new Travis wanted all the things Ben wanted. There was naught but a shred of him left.
And so they continued for days and days, which turned into months.
Travis awoke one day without the comforting breath of Ben’s lungs across the room, ready to tell him about his newest masterpiece. He looked over sleepily in the general direction of the easel that he used, and saw Ben curled in a fetal position. Sleep had finally taken him after all this time.
Small petals surrounded his tiny body, indicating a wormwood overdose. That night Travis drank alone. The absinthe was dark and sweet, like a fountain of honey and blood. It intensified with each death that it could absorb. That night it was pulsing with dead energy, and the rot of the grave.
Afterward, he came back to the apartment they had shared for two years, and saw nothing but the vines that had dominated the apartment for so long. Ben had become them, become the dark, leafy branches that Travis intertwined with his fingers at night. He knelt next to his friend’s final resting-place, and threw his wallet away.
His last drifting thoughts disappeared into the night, dark and syrupy like the cold, inviting grip of death.
Here’s something that’ll really get you through the night.