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Distilled Spirits: Ch. 3 — Caitlyn

August 4, 2013

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 1: “Distilled Spirits”

Caitlyn

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Like an underreported % of Americans, Caitlyn is an addict.

Like a smaller % of them, she knows this.

Like many fortunate young women, Cait has a partner who loves her.

Like too many unfortunate young women, she knows she has to break up with him.

Repetition and decisions.

Angst and nihilism evolved beyond just a phase, perfected into a comfortable cycle.

Cait has identified a lot of her problems, but what she doesn’t want to hear are any solutions.  And her friend she’s meeting at the airport is always full of them.

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“Mrs. Emma Cranst, please come to a white courtesy telephone.”

Cait waited with a number of normal-looking people beside the baggage carrousel.  With her sunglasses on, the fluorescent lights were dimmed and everybody took on the same hues—Latin couple waiting for someone, black businessman talking business on the phone, white-shirted security guards making their rounds—Cait’s world existed in a handful of simple colors.

An old man in a tweed suit had been eying her from across the carousel.  A second or two on her face, a few more on her chest, and then he would glance away.  Cait waited until the man looked again, then she flashed a small, demure-secretary’s smile.

The old man smiled.

Cait showed her teeth and reached up, pulling her false canine free from her mouth.  She stuck her tongue in the gap and wiggled it around and the old man’s face whitened, quickly finding something else to gawk at.

“Mrs. Emma Cranst, please come to the white courtesy telephone.

A TSA agent held open the doors to the security area, maybe keeping an eye out for Emma—Emma the potential threat?—and a stream of people burst into the concourse.  Glenn’s flight.  Most had their tired eyes on the baggage carousel that had begun rotating moments before, the display reading: Copa Airlines No. 1804.

Cait’s gaze flicked over the passengers, over the lovers and families embracing and the lonesome few with thoughts only for luggage.  Glenn was one of the last—he and a stooped Colombian grandmother who walked with one hand on a cane, and the other on Glenn’s arm.  He carried a heavy-looking purse and the two of them made a slow line toward her family.  A stout man in a suit took the purse from Glenn and shook his hand, thanking him.  The grandmother clung to Glenn’s arm during the exchange and it wasn’t until a young boy took his place that he was allowed to leave, waving over his shoulder.

Glenn’s smile widened when he saw Cait waiting for him, and he walked over, keeping one eye on the carousel. His deep tan was new since he left the country and it matched the warm glow that always surrounded him, or so Cait sometimes imagined.  Her friend had an annoying habit of genuinely making her feel better most times they hung out.

“Caitlyn!  What’re you doing here?  Thought Geno would meet me.”

“He picked up a new gig—some landscaping deal—and Sid’s hungover,” Cait said.

“You guys get into it pretty heavy last night?  One sec—”  Glenn grabbed his only bag, a worn backpacker’s backpack, and shouldered it.  He looked at Cait, expecting a story.

“Nothing happened,” she said.  “Sid was celebrating a new project.  Another crappy flash game, but this developer actually has a budget.”

Glenn gestured at the exit and they stepped outside, into the line for taxis.  It was a warm morning but Cait shivered in long sleeves and jeans.  A cigarette was lit and at Glenn’s mouth in one smooth motion.

“Don’t say anything,” he said.  “It was Colombia.  Everyone smokes there.”

Cait shook her head.  “Just don’t quote Vonnegut as an excuse this time.”

The line dwindled as the cabs cycled.  Glenn crushed his cigarette on his shoe and tossed it in the bin when their taxi stopped.  He threw his backpack in the popped trunk before the driver could help him.

“The Inner Harbor,” Glenn said after he got in the back with Cait.

“Wait,” Cait said, “sorry, do you think you can drop me at St. Anthony’s, over the bridge?”

Glenn sighed and told the driver to head to the hospital first, and Cait leaned back in her seat.

“You’re still with Blanks, huh?” Glenn asked.

“You were gone for less than a month,” Cait said.  “Drew’s doing well, thanks.  He got his anesthetist certification last week.”

“I’m sure it’s very convenient,” Glenn said while staring out the window.

Despite knowing him since high school, Cait hated this.  Whenever Glenn came back from a volunteer adventure to some poor country, he was always like this.  High on help.

Even Geno barely tolerated it.

“Did you save a bunch of Colombia babies while down there, or what?” Cait muttered.

“We were building houses.”

The rest of the trip to South Harbor’s hospital was quiet.  Cait kept her sunglasses on as they passed through Geno and Glenn’s neighborhood and over the USS Stinger St. Bridge.  She had still never visited that aircraft carrier-turned-museum.

The rays of the peaking sun on the rich side of the harbor were washed out and so were the faces of waterside joggers, smiling Saturday lunchers, and dog walkers going wherever they went.

The taxi stopped at St. Anthony’s and Cait opened the door.

Glenn caught her arm.  “You know that if you need—I mean, I know some people who—”

Cait shook him off.  “Not today, okay?”

“Why are you wearing long sleeves?”

“Fuck off, Glenn.  You know needles freak me out.  Go rescue a kitten, will you?” Cait slammed the door and the driver took the cue.

Drew was in reception when Cait walked through the hospital’s automatic doors, air conditioning blasting away.  He was talking with a group of young, pretty nurses who probably had somewhere else to be.  Cait sat down in the waiting area like they had decided earlier.

After a few minutes, the other nurses remembered they were on-call, and Drew came over, wielding a clipboard.

“Ms. Hash?  Caitlyn Hash?”

Cait put down her magazine.  “Yes?”

“Come with me, please.”  He waved her out of the reception area with his clipboard.

They both knew the routine.  Nobody would bother a senior nurse guiding a patient toward examination rooms.  Drew nodded his way past custodians, coworkers, and an exhausted surgeon–each had at least a fake smile for him.  He stopped Cait with a hand on her shoulder in front of a storage closet around one corner.  He looked both ways and they quickly slipped inside, turning the light on.  The shelves were taken up by excess supplies—gauze, wraps, gloves—it was like a walk-in first aid kit.

“Ah, here it is.”  Drew’s hand snaked behind a tower of tissue boxes and pulled out a small orange bottle with no label.  It was usually there, or in a different closet.  Drew’s friend liked to change it up.  A mysteriously appearing unmarked bottle of morphine tabs could cause a lot of trouble.

He tossed the bottle to Cait and she caught it with two hands.  “Save some for me, okay?”

“It’s a full bottle, Drew,” she said, eying the contents.

“Put it away,” he commanded and Cait pocketed the bottle.  “Now,” he said, pulling her closer by the hips, “I’m on-call till midnight.”

Drew leaned down and kissed Cait, and after a few seconds, she kissed back.  He pushed her against the wall and light switch—off—Cait’s sunglasses fell to the floor.  She could feel his beating heart.

His hand snuck under her shirt and pulled her bra down, knee between her thighs.

“Wait,” Cait said, turning her face away.

Drew’s mouth found hers again.

“Stop,” Cait mumbled.  “I don’t want to.  Not here.”

She was suddenly free, the pressure from his body gone.  “I’m sorry,” she said.  “I’ll see you tonight.”

“No, I’m sorry,” Drew said, turning on the light and picking up her sunglasses.  He was smiling.  “I just miss you, Caitlyn.”

She nodded and opened the door.  “Tonight, okay?”

No one bothered her in the hallways and Cait knew the right things to say if anyone did.

“Were you just seen by Nurse Blanks?” The receptionist was talking—trying to get Cait’s attention as she passed. The woman was in her 40s.  “Isn’t he just great?”

“Yes,” Cait said.  “He’s wonderful.”

When she got outside, the breeze chilled the sweat on the back of her neck and she shivered.  There were no taxis around, not that she could afford it.

Normal-looking people were waiting at the bus stop that would take Cait home, and probably more were below at the subway that would do the same.  Instead, Cait walked toward the bridge and reached into her pocket.  She broke a tab in half and put it under her tongue, swirling it around.  The world muted when she slipped her shades off her forehead—dull colors, dull people, and dull sounds fading.

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