The Drinking Song ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Lloyd Stott had a lead on a three-day job in a cemetery. When he called to inquire about the job, he was told to take the bus to a certain address to speak to the man doing the hiring. He took the bus, all right, but he got lost and became so confused he ended up in a place that couldn’t have been the right place. It was a neighborhood of beautiful houses with attached garages; spacious, well-kept lawns and overarching shade trees. It was a neighborhood that might have made a confused hobo believe for a moment he was in heaven.
He walked around for a while, garnering hostile stares. Anybody who saw him would know he was in the wrong place. And what would he do if someone called the police? He’d have to explain what he was doing there, and anything he said would not be believed.
He was going to knock at the back door of one of the houses and ask for directions when he saw a police car a block away coming toward him. When he turned in the other direction, he saw another police car. Somebody must have already called the police and reported a stray hobo in the neighborhood, ready to wreak unspeakable carnage! Even though he wasn’t doing anything wrong, they could nab him for vagrancy and trespassing, just when he was only trying to get a job and get himself straightened out.
Across the way was a huge brick house with a spacious, park-like lawn—lots of trees and bushes. All he had to do was hide himself in the bushes for a half-hour or so, by which time the police would be gone, and then he could go back to where he came from and resume his career of racking balls at the pool hall.
Certain he hadn’t been seen, he ran into the yard and was looking for a good place to hide when a medium-sized dog, a black cocker spaniel, spied him and ran toward him barking. He was afraid of barking dogs, especially the ones that might possibly rip off a leg. He had heard that cocker spaniels were particularly vicious.
Heart pounding, he ran around the house away from the dog, hoping the dog would become distracted and not follow. Good boy! Good dog!
On the other side of the house were stairs to the basement. Down the stairs were a door and some trash barrels. Taking the steps two at a time, he crouched behind the barrels, hoping the dog would become bored with his attack-the-hobo game and go home.
The door beside which he was crouching had a window with a curtain. There were no sounds coming from beyond the door and the window was dark. Did that mean nobody was home? No, it probably meant that nobody was in the basement. The people who lived in the house were all upstairs.
Not thinking any particular thought, he stood up from his crouching position behind the trash barrels and put his hand on the door knob and turned it. The door wasn’t locked. He inserted his head as far as he dared. He saw a large, comfortable room with a television, a couch and some overstuffed chairs, a table for playing cards, some weight-lifting equipment, a bookcase with some books, a couple of lamps, a record player and some vinyl records. What a setup! Whoever lived here must be a movie star or a prince or something like that, he thought.
What caught his attention more than anything else, though, was a bar on the far wall. He never knew anybody before who had a full-sized bar in their basement. He approached the bar as quiet as a mouse, as grandma used to say, listening all the time for sounds from above.
Behind the bar on glass shelves were all shapes, sizes, and colors of bottles, as beautiful as any work of art. There were wines, liqueurs, vodka, tequila, rye whiskey, scotch, bourbon and other bottles with labels he couldn’t read because they were in foreign languages. He picked up a bottle of vodka, unscrewed the cap and took a generous swallow. He couldn’t resist. Then he had another drink of vodka and one of scotch. It was all of the best quality. No rot-gut stuff like they sell in his neighborhood.
He sat on the big couch, the bottle of vodka in one hand and the bottle of scotch in the other, and took a few more drinks, alternating between bottles. He thought: Man, this is living! I could get used to this shit!
Soon he was asleep. That’s the effect liquor had on him.
He awoke with a start, not knowing where he was. Neither did he know how long he had been asleep, but it had probably been too long. He remembered then that he was in the house of a stranger and he hadn’t been invited in, either. Technically he broke in, but he didn’t really have to break anything to get inside. It was so easy.
He should leave, but he hadn’t heard a sound from upstairs the whole time he had been in the house. What could it mean? It might mean that nobody was home. Might he go into the kitchen and grab something to eat before milord and milady came home? He hadn’t had anything to eat all day, and it was never a good idea to consume large amounts of alcohol on an empty stomach.
Realizing he was still holding liquor bottles in both hands, he set them on the bar and went quietly up the stairs, holding on to the wall. If there was anybody at home and they confronted him, he should be able to run out the way he came in before they called the police. Always a good idea to have an escape plan in mind.
At the top of the stairs was a hallway and then the kitchen. The kitchen was dark and quiet, orderly and neat. The refrigerator hummed quietly. He took a few steps and stood still, listening for any sounds coming from any of the other rooms. Hearing nothing, he proceeded.
Beyond the kitchen was the dining room and then a living room. Blinds were closed and curtains drawn. The air felt stale and uncirculated. Nobody was home, plain and simple. He could take as much time as he wanted and explore the entire house, but there was always a chance that whoever lived there would be coming back at any moment. He had to be constantly on guard for footsteps or voices.
And then he saw the note on the kitchen counter that liberated him:
Dear Geta, We’ll be back on the twenty-fifth. On the twenty-fourth, come in early to vacuum and dust, collect the mail, newspapers, etc. Make the house presentable. You know how I like everything perfect! Ha-ha! I do hope everything has been all right while we’ve been away and that nobody has broken in and made off with all our valuables! See you on the twenty-fifth. I hope you’ve made good use of your free time, as we discussed. Yours sincerely, Mrs. Penelope Poindexter.
So, he had the house to himself until the twenty-fourth! That gave him four days. He could have a good rest, get himself clean, eat whatever food was there, drink the liquor, sleep in a comfortable bed. When the people who lived in the house returned and saw that somebody had been staying there, they’d call the police, of course, but by then he’d be long gone. They’d agonize over it, have a locksmith come and change the locks, upbraid the maid for not securing the basement door, and then, in time, forget it ever happened. No real harm done.
First things first, though: the bathroom. What a luxury to sit on the toilet and do one’s business with nobody else around and then just flush the effluvia away as if it never existed. Surely one of life’s greatest pleasures!
Later he would have a bath, but first some food. He went to the refrigerator and opened the door. The shelves were mostly bare: a jar of pickles, some mustard, a couple of shriveled onions, a part bottle of wine. He reached for the pickles and the wine and sat down at the kitchen table and drank wine and ate pickles, digging them out of the jar with his filthy fingers, until he believed he would be sick. Then he put the pickles and the wine back in the refrigerator where he found them and opened the freezer, in which he found, among other things, a full carton of mint chocolate chip ice cream. Finding a spoon easily enough, he began eating the ice cream greedily right out of the carton. Nothing in his life ever tasted so good.
He was sick then, but he made it into the bathroom before he made a mess on the floor. What a pleasure just to be sick in such a spacious, clean bathroom! The lucky ones don’t know how lucky they are, he thought, as he rinsed out his mouth afterwards, regarding his frightening face in the mirror above the sink.
Standing in front of the mirror, he stripped off his clothes, not failing to notice the awful smell emanating from his body. After he had taken everything off, he didn’t want to see himself. He got into the tub and filled it with scalding water.
The hot bath was the closest he had ever come to bliss on earth. After scrubbing every inch of himself, he let out the dirty water and started over, but this time he reclined in the tub and took a long, luxurious soak, making it last as long as he dared.
Emerging from the tub, he dried himself all over with a beautiful pink towel and when he was finished, he felt like a different person in a different skin. He regarded his old clothes in a pile on the floor with distaste. He’d rather go unclothed than to put them on again. He didn’t know what to do with them so he kicked them out of the way where he wouldn’t have to look at them.
With the pink towel around his middle, he went into the bedroom at the end of the hallway to find something to wear. The men’s clothes he found in the closet weren’t right for him, too big and boxy; they swallowed him up. Since he was a small man, only five feet and four inches, he found the lady’s attire more to his liking.
Ever since he was a little tyke, he liked to dress in women’s clothes. His mother indulged him in this peculiarity, while his father beat him with a belt to discourage any feminizing ways. When his father went to prison for a twenty-year stretch, he was free to be either male or female, according to his mood.
Now he was getting on in years (over forty) and his indulgent mother was dead. He had found precious little opportunity in the last ten years or so to dress as a woman. Now, though, God had landed him in this rich person’s house for a few days where no one could see him and he could do as he pleased. Thank you, God!
The note he found in the kitchen told him that the lady who lived in the house was one Mrs. Penelope Poindexter. As he dressed himself in her clothes, (including frilly undergarments), he began to think of himself as the one, the only, Mrs. Penelope Poindexter.
What could be more comfortable after a bath than slipping into a silk Japanese lounging kimono with a motif of red poppies, topped with a cascading, curly wig from the shelf in the closet? A prolonged examination of his mirrored image reminded him that his previous state of drunkenness had worn off in the act of bathing, and he knew that no good would come from being sober.
He had never considered himself an alcoholic, but he had known other alcoholics, including his father and two of his brothers, and what he had in common with all of them was that he couldn’t leave the stuff alone. Remaining drunk all the time was the only way he could live. When he was sober, he had to face the hard reality of his life: despicable, distasteful, insupportable. My life has become insupportable, he remembered hearing someone say. It might have been a line from a movie.
He drank a bottle of Jamaican rum and a bottle of tequila (small bottles) and then he tried on a cocktail dress of madame’s from the closet. He didn’t think the cocktail dress was quite right for him somehow, so he took it off and threw it on the floor and replaced it with a tea-length dress in a floral print. An auburn wig from madame’s wig collection set off the dress perfectly, calling for more ice cream. He ate the rest of the carton of mint chocolate chip and then he threw up again, barely making it into the bathroom.
As he finished each bottle, he lined all up all the empties on the table in the kitchen like a row of toy soldiers. It made a pretty picture and served as a visual reminder of just how much liquor he had consumed and how much more he had to go: there were still lots of bottles left in the basement.
He tried on some more of madame’s lovely clothes and then, realizing it was two in the morning—where does time go?—he carried the bottle of gin into the master bedroom and passed out on the king-sized bed.
When he awoke in the morning to the sound of birds singing, he didn’t know where he was, but he knew it was someplace good. He had a terrible headache but was able to stumble into the bathroom, where he found a bottle of aspirin in the medicine cabinet. After taking two aspirin without water, he fainted on the tile floor, where he lay unconscious for several hours.
So, in this way, Lloyd Stott passed his four days in the home of an unwittingly generous benefactor: modeling all of madame’s clothes from the closet (discarding them in a heap on the floor in the bedroom when he took them off), drinking all the liquor from the bar in the basement, eating all the food in the kitchen. How lucky he was that the liquor and the food lasted just as long as he wanted them to! And madame had just enough clothes that he didn’t have to model any of them more than once.
For his last night in the house—and he felt a little sad that he couldn’t stay longer—he wore madame’s shimmering, white, floor-length evening gown. And not only that, he saved one last bottle of his favorite rye whiskey. He would have a little going-away party. A party for one.
The maid would be in early the next morning, so he planned on being out well in advance of that time. He would doze until five or so and then get up and vamoose like a scared little rabbit while the world still slept.
He had a wonderful time his last night, drinking straight from the bottle, dancing with an imaginary partner to music from the radio, remembering some good times he had when he was younger before he gave up his life to drinking. When he was twenty-three he was married for a time and became a father. He had traveled and seen the world. He had seen New York City and the Gulf of Mexico and Niagara Falls.
At midnight he retired to the master bedroom, taking the bottle of rye whiskey with him. There was still a little left in the bottle and he wanted to finish it off before he left in the morning. Before going to sleep, he thanked God, again, for the four happy days in the wonderful house.
It was to be his last night on earth. He would not live to see another day. His heart, his stomach and his intestinal tract were overburdened by the huge amounts of liquor he had consumed. His heart stopped pumping and he died in his sleep; he didn’t know or feel anything.
When the maid, Geta, came in at nine o’clock in the morning, she saw the bottles lined up on the table in the kitchen and she knew something was wrong. Then she went into the master bedroom and saw the contents of the closet turned out on the floor and the strange figure in the bed wearing Mrs. Poindexter’s evening gown. It gave Geta quite a fright because she thought it was Mrs. Poindexter herself. Her hands shook as she went to the phone and called the police.
Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp