The Whiskey MysticFiction, Fiction & Poetry — By The Merry Monk on July 23, 2010 at 2:00 pm
Love for my baby girl sent me into the woods. Soul searching. It had been almost a year since I stood in a hospital room and cradled pure beauty wrapped in soft blankets. I’d never wept for joy before. She deserved so much more than I could provide. I was already working overtime, and on the verge of signing up for grad school. Was I up for it? Getting lost in the woods has always helped me find my way.
I was on the Appalachian Trail two days, wandering off the beaten path when I came across the old man. I heard him talking before I saw him, then watched from a distance.
“Listen here, I know you’re just a squirrel and you probably don’t get what I’m saying…well, maybe you do. Anyway, listen to me. I know things, things that matter, things that can change the trajectory of a life.” The squirrel stared. The old man tossed a piece of bread on the ground. I think I saw the squirrel’s whiskers twitch. The old man continued, “You have very clear, deep eyes. But that’s not the point. The point is that I have something to say, but nobody listens to me.”
The old man looked at his empty tin cup and threw it into the trees where I was hiding and watching. The squirrel darted in the opposite direction. “Blargh! Cups…” He fumbled through his knapsack, pulled out a bottle and sucked out a good, long drink. Then he yelled into the forest, “What use is knowing if nobody will listen?!”
I knelt down, picked up the old man’s cup, smelled it and looked back through the trees to where he was sitting. He was gone. The pine trees swayed in the wind and their countless needles rubbed out a song.
“That’s my cup.” I turned to see the old man with his hand palm up and stretched toward me. My heart throbbed in my throat and my lower back started to hurt. My back always hurts when I get scared. I handed the cup to the old man and he swatted it into the bushes.
Then he extended his hand toward me again and said, “Half empty, half full, too full to be filled. The water takes the shape of the cup. Be like water. Flowing water can make a canyon where a mountain used to be. All bullshit. Have you heard these things?”
I stammered nervously, “Yeah, Bruce Lee right? The optimist and the pessimist. The monk and the tea cup? I can’t place the other.”
“Shhhh.” The old man slurred as he extended his big hand further toward me.
I tilted my head and silently questioned him with my eyebrows.
“Shhhhit!” The old man finished his thought and stepped toward me. “I’m too eager. I’m trying to introduce myself. My name is Victor.”
I hesitantly reached out my hand. The old man grabbed and shook it as a smile lit up his face. “Come, sit. We’ll have a drink.”
Against my better judgment, I walked with Victor to his spot, and he motioned for me to sit next to him by the fire. He handed me his bottle and said, “Take a hit off that.” I examined the bottle. It was Wild Turkey. I figured 101 proof would be enough to kill whatever germs swarthy ol’ Victor left on the bottle, so I took a swig.
“So, what are you doing way out here?” Victor asked.
“Well, that’s a long story.” I said as I handed the bottle back.
Victor squinted at me and said, “Don’t hurt yourself trying to sum it up son. Truth is I don’t really care. We don’t have much time anyway.” Victor started rummaging through his bag. “You see, whatever you think you’re in these woods for, I know better.” With that, Victor pulled out a revolver.
When I saw it, I tried to come up with something that would excuse me from the situation and give the old man a reason to think twice before shooting me…or worse. “Well, thanks for the drink Victor. I really should be going. My buddies are probably looking for me.” I stood up.
“You don’t have any buddies. Sit down.” Victor glared at me. “You’re going to listen, and I’m gonna talk. Understand?”
“Look, I was hiking and I heard you talking and I stopped. There you were and I saw the squirrel. I didn’t mean to intrude. I’m sorry to bother you, it was just that I…”
“Sit down and shut up!” Victor exclaimed as he pointed the gun at me. “I talk. I talk! You have no idea who I am or what I’m offering you.”
I raised my hands, knelt down and froze. “Please don’t hurt me.”
“Hurt you? I’m here to help you.“ Victor lowered the gun and said, “Relax, I think you have the wrong idea.” Then he asked, “Can I tell you something?”
“Do I have a choice?” I asked.
“Choice. Yes, choice! That’s what I want to ask you about. Listen to this…’There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.’ Do you know who said that?”
I tried to think back to a philosophy class I took in community college. It sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place it. “I don’t know.” I said. “I’m in marketing. I don’t know about philosophy.”
“Marketing, huh?” Victor took another pull off the bottle. “Marketing? Are you out of your mind? You really do need me.” Then, BANG! Victor fired the gun into the air. The blast echoed through the woods.
I covered my ears and started to loose it. “What the hell are you thinking? I have a wife and a little girl! Why are you doing this?”
“What would you do with this gun? Kill me? Would you kill me to save yourself? Is your life that valuable? If so, why? I used to be willing to commit philosophical suicide for a chance at redemption. I used to be a whiskey mystic.” Victor emptied the bottle into his mouth and then tossed it into the fire. Sparks flew toward me and ash got into my eyes.
“Dude, you’re nuts man.” I rubbed my eyes.
The old man wiped his face and ran his hands through his long, thinning gray hair. “I don’t get a lot of company.” Victor sounded apologetic. “I’m too eager. Do you know how many times the barrel of this gun has been in my mouth? I know what death tastes like, but I couldn’t do it. Now I know why. I was waiting for you.”
“Victor,” I said. “Give me the gun.”
“I will not.” Victor caressed the barrel of the gun. “I will not. Not until I’m done. Answer the question. Is life worth living?” Then Victor said, “I think it’s absurd, really.”
“Yes. Life is absurd, and I’m about to join it in its utter absurdity. You remember that, and you remember me. You tell them. Go back to your wife and your kid and tell them. Tell them life has no meaning, or if there is meaning, you can’t find it. Market that. It won’t make a bit of difference. Nobody will listen to you. With no evidence they’ll go on thinking that their lives matter. Even the ones who say they believe you will just go on living, but that’s because they don’t really believe you…or they don’t have the courage to go along with their convictions. Not like me.“
Victor looked up through the trees to the deep blue sky. Then he looked me in the eyes and said, “Forget what I said. Don’t remember. Don’t tell anyone. It doesn’t matter anyway.”
Then the old man put the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Another echo, wind in the trees, a bird’s wings fluttered, then…silence.
In vain, fear and trembling I looked around for another witness. I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing. There was no one, just dead old Victor and me. My lower back swelled with pain, and even though my legs were about to give out, I ran.
This is the first time I’ve told anyone about that day. It happened five days after my 29th birthday. Nine years ago to the day. For nine years I’ve been answering Victor’s question.
Every year I buy a bottle of Wild Turkey, and I drink to Victor. I drink to Victor because he did help me that day. He helped me to see the three-pronged fork in the road of the absurd. He helped me to choose which path I’d take. So, despite what Victor thought, his life mattered. Well, it mattered to me. Suicide, demonic madness or philosophical suicide? I’ll take philosophical suicide and a chance at redemption…a chance at life. I guess that makes me a whiskey mystic.