Where the darkness comes from he does not know. He turns in his chair, and there it is, a sort of heavy absence, like the static greasiness of the air before a storm. What is it Dickinson calls it? The doom's electric moccasin. That is it exactly: the sensation of footsteps, unseen, unheard, drawing steadily nearer. He feels like a blunt weapon. He has a desire to measure himself against razors, to yield himself to their sharp-edged objectivity. He has a desire to be cold, steel-like, a jagged presence in a world grown acute.
That's when he remembers the vodka. He bought it a month ago, for a friend's visit. It's been lying there ever since, unopened, nestled in the back of his underwear drawer, snug as an unhatched egg. A small glass bell of a bottle, its contents as clear and as liquid as silence. Forgotten like a mine, or an unexploded bomb.
He thinks of it now, the need growing stronger in his throat, corroding him like acid. Who would have thought that thirst could be so specific, so demanding - a petulant child. He tries to deny it. It does not do to give in to these impulses, it does not do to drink alone - that way madness lies. But there is something half-hearted in his denial, something very like defeat. He is like a man who braces himself against the seat of his car, knowing the accident cannot be avoided now, knowing that the weight of his will will not be enough against the driving engine of this urge. In the bleakness of his consciousness, the bottle becomes a talisman, a lamp to be rubbed, a friendly ghost to be conjured with. An irresistible sword set in an immovable stone.
No, it is no use resisting. Maybe just one drink. He fishes out the bottle, places it (still unopened) on the table. He finds a glass, takes out the ice-tray, pries out a few cubes. He is like the priest to some pagan rite, laying out the accoutrements of the ritual, careful not to glance in the direction of the victim until the very end. The sharp crack as he unseals the bottle is like the breaking of some covenant. The vodka coils its way between the ice like some viscous serpent. He holds it in his hand for a minute, the glass cold to his touch, staring into it like a soothsayer into a crystal ball, seeking some shape, some sign.
The first sip tightens him, bares him like a fang. The drink is a mouth biting him back. He feels the slow warmth of it spreading through him, like the glow of a bonfire, fanning out across a plain of ice. He feeds the flame then, small, quick sips burning their way onto his tongue, down his throat. Only one drink, he tells himself. I must take it slow, make it last. But he goes on drinking.
One hour later he has turned all the lights out and is sitting on the floor listening to Beethoven's Eroica. The slow movement swells. He tastes salt in his drink and realises he's crying. The bottle is half empty now. There's not enough left for another person. "Like my life", he says, to no one in particular. Then he pours himself another drink. Might as well finish it now. Might as well get it done with.
When he wakes up the next morning, the ceiling seems very far away. He realises he's lying on the floor. There's a gushing sound in his ear, like a distant waterfall. He shakes his head to clear it, then realises it's the tap in the bathroom. He must have left it running. He can hear the roar of its wounded martyrdom, protesting, nagging him. He gets to his feet slowly, his legs are trembling, uncertain. He staggers into the bathroom, turns the tap off. Stares at himself in the mirror. He looks like a wreck. His eyes are bloodshot. His clothes are terribly crumpled, his hair is a mess. His neck hurts from lying on the cold floor all night.
He goes back into the bedroom, pries the glass out from the corner under the bed where it has rolled. At least it's not broken. The ice-tray lies in the centre of the table, a pool of dead water spreading around it in sympathy. The bottle stands next to it, upright, forbidding. In the daylight, it is a warning made tangible, like an emptied hourglass. He picks it up gingerly, throws it into the trash. His temples buzz like telegraph poles, waiting to transmit the day's headache. He drinks water directly from the bottle - long, greedy glugs. He crashes onto his bed. Slowly, like a man a making his way through a tortured labyrinth, he falls asleep.