One Night At A Time

Ant got out of bed, shuffled to the kitchen in the dark, pulled open the refrigerator door; the cold, blue light inside revealed vodka and expired milk. He stared for a while, until he could feel the cool air escaping past his arms, and then closed it.

"You need groceries, Anthony," advised Mr. Greene, from somewhere behind him.

"I know. I'll go tomorrow." He fumbled for a glass in the cabinet, rinsed it out, filled it with water.

"You were supposed to go yesterday."

Mr. Greene was a flicker of movement in of the corner of Ant's eye, at which Ant didn't try to look directly. It would have scared him, had he not known. It had scared him, when he didn't know, when he'd first moved in. "It's too far a walk; what do you want from me?"

Ant walked slowly back towards the bedroom, still in the dark, and stubbed his pinky toe on the hallway corner, almost dropping the glass, and spilling the water. "God-dammit."

"You could turn on the light."

"It'll just wake me up more." Ant leaned against the wall, holding his foot in his hand, gingerly manipulating his toe with his fingers, trying to figure out how badly he'd hurt it. "It feels broken."

"No it doesn't. It would hurt worse."

"It hurts a goddamn lot."

"It would hurt worse."

Ant put his foot on the floor, cautiously putting a little weight on it, and then a little more. "You slipped up, there, 'Mr. Greene'. You made a mistake. If you're not just in my head, how do you know how much it hurts? How do you know? If you're an actual honest-to-god ghost and not a hallucination from me going crazy. Or from not sleeping. Whatever."

"I know how people act when they break a bone, Anthony."

"Fuck off." He hobbled into the bathroom, turned on the light, immediately squeezed his eyes shut. He could see the glow through his eyelids, a faint orange washing across the field of black. Eventually he opened his eyes a sliver, to give his pupils time to adjust.  He set the glass down, raised his foot again, tried to get a good look at the pinky toe. "It'll be black and blue tomorrow."

"Probably. Take an aspirin, Anthony, it's an anti-inflammatory. It'll keep the swelling down."

Ant refilled the water glass and opened the medicine cabinet. He grabbed the aspirin bottle; he hesitated, then grabbed the sleeping pill bottle.

"That's not a good idea."

"I need to sleep."

"You slept a little last night without them."

"Two hours. I need more." Ant picked up the glass, turned off the bathroom light, opened his eyes wide, waited for them to adjust. "I need to sleep."

There was ambient light in the hall, from the streetlamps outside, from the moon, from neighbors' porchlights; once he could see it he started for the bedroom again, sliding the hand with the pill bottles along the wall to keep his distance. He shut the bedroom door behind him, sat on the edge of the bed, switched the lamp on the nightstand on to its lowest setting. He set the glass down, set the aspirin bottle down, stared at the sleeping pill bottle. "How many, do you think, Greene?"

"One. But you can do without. You—"

"I took two last time, and it didn't work at all. Just made me fuzzy until the sun came up."

"You took them at four in the morning, Anthony. Just take one."

"It's three thirty-seven now."

"Just take one."

He stared at the bottle some more. "Let me think about it for a minute."

"About what? Whether to take one or two?"

He shook the bottle, listened to the sound of the pills in their dozens bouncing against the plastic. "It's more a question of two or all of them at this point."

"I really don't like it when you talk like that."

Ant scanned the room, tried to focus on Mr. Greene, could never quite get a bead on where to look. "I don't get you, Greene. You're dead. If you're real, I mean, if you're not a figment of my imagination or a symptom of some psychosis. You're a ghost, which means you're dead. You don't seem that bad off. Lemme ask you: do you have trouble sleeping?"

"Anthony, please be serious. Just take two. Take two, and an aspirin, and fix the edges of the blackout curtains, and close your eyes, and put everything out of your mind. You'll fall asleep."

"The neighbors will wake me. The upstairs neighbors will stomp around and—"

"Put earplugs in. You have earplugs in the nightstand drawer, half a package."

"I don't like those, Greene. What if there's a fire?"

"You'd hear the smoke alarm even through the earplugs, Anthony, I promise. But there's not going to be any fire. Don't even think about that."

"I wouldn't want to burn." Anthony opened the bottle, spilled its contents out onto the comforter beside him, pushed the loose pills around with his fingertips. "Slip away quietly, that's one thing. Burning would hurt."


"Oh, shut up. I'm not going to do it. I can't do it. You know I can't." Ant picked up two of the pills, tossed them into his mouth, grabbed the glass, washed them down his throat. "It'd be humiliating. People would say things." He  didn't bother with the aspirin, he didn't bother putting the rest of the sleeping pills back in the bottle. He laid back on the bed, his legs dangling off at the knee. He closed his eyes. "Why can't I see you, Mr. Greene? Seriously."

"What do you want me to tell you? That I'm not a real ghost? Do you even believe in ghosts, Anthony?"

"Of course not."

"Of course not. Hand me your glass, Anthony, you'll spill water on the bed."

Ant held up the glass, and the weight of it was gone from his hand, presumably to the nightstand. "Thanks."

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