A noise from the kitchen drew her attention – a small clatter, like something falling. She peered around the corner. “Miles? That is your name, right? I’m sorry… I’m sorry I attacked you, I just—”
Miles sat at his kitchen table, a towel of ice pressed against his forehead. He didn’t appear to be bleeding anymore. A rocks glass sat near his free hand, the amber liquid sparkling over ice. An empty bottle of Jack Daniel’s lay on its side; Miles made no move to pick it up. He looked tired and sad, like a hungry and beaten dog. A deep purple bruise was welling up on his face where Karen had struck him.
“—are you okay?” she asked, recognizing the irony of the question. Karen bit her lip, near tears again as she bore witness to the product of her wrath. Miles looked up at her briefly, a near unreadable expression – perhaps tired resignation, she couldn’t quite tell – across his heavy face. Deep lines cut into his brow, dark circles hung under his eyes. He was nearly unrecognizable – a completely different man than the one she’d met months earlier – like he’d aged thirty years since she last saw his face.
“I’m so sorry,” she began again, not knowing anything else to say, but he waved her away. He didn’t seem angry, which surprised Karen, only distracted or perhaps merely disinterested. He raised the glass to his lips and drank, sucking down the remains of the liquor in one mighty swallow.
She stood in the doorway, a timid animal, curious and afraid and yet full of wonder at this creature who looked so harmless across from her, slumped over the table and peering up at her in a peculiar manner. He studied her for a moment and without speaking gestured into the kitchen, waved his empty glass at something out of sight. She tried to walk quietly but her shoes clicked on the wood floor as before, the only sound in the quiet house. A paper sack – presumably more alcohol – stood upright on an otherwise empty counter. She reached inside and pulled out another bottle of the amber Tennessee whiskey. She spied an empty glass in the drying rack next to the sink.
“Do you mind if I…” she trailed off. Miles shrugged, and broke his gaze, staring off into the distance. She broke the seal on the bottle, poured herself a few ounces, and returned to the table with the bottle. She pulled up a chair, the scratching of the chair leg on the floor an abrasive sound in the silence, and she sat, holding the bottle as an offering. He held his glass out and she poured in complete silence. She stopped halfway and he gestured with the glass again, impatiently, and she filled it to the rim, nearly spilling.
She sipped her drink, the whiskey coursing violently down her throat. She held back a grimace. He raised the glass, but didn’t bring it to his lips; he just sat there with his hand held high in an unsteady salute, his body swaying gently, the whiskey lapping against the sides of the glass – but never quite over. She stared at him inquisitively. He swallowed another mouthful, not meeting her eyes. He didn’t register her presence; he seemed to have forgotten she was even there. He looked so lonely, she thought, in this big house – this beautiful house – like a ghost who barely existed, that just moved slowly from room to room, as every moment faded a little more into memory and dust.
She forced down another swallow before she was brave enough to speak. “Who are you?”
He looked up at her, barely interested. At least he knows I’m here, she thought. Better that than remain a ghost. She tried again. “I know you remember me. My husband – my children – they…” She stopped. She still couldn’t bring herself to say the words. “I lost them when the truck hit us. But you know that, don’t you?”
Miles narrowed his eyes. He finally spoke.
“What are you doing here?” His voice sounded like gravel, hoarse and deep.
“My family,” she said, a hint of desperation bubbling into her voice. “You know things, Miles. You knew this would happen.”
“I saw something. I thought I could help you. I couldn’t. Nothing changed. Only traded one death for another.”
“My husband…” she trailed off, the realization slowly dawning on her. “You thought he… but my children? What about them?”
“Didn’t meet them,” he said, the alcohol slowing his speech. “Don’t know about the children.”
Karen stared at him, trying to glean something – anything – from this stranger, but he had nothing to give, and she wondered why she had come, what had driven her from her home to pursue a man she did not know. Miles shifted uneasily. He was clearly uncomfortable, but made no move to extract her; he just sat, sipping his whiskey, trying his best to ignore her.Her eyes drifted around the room, soaking in the strange conflict in atmosphere. The cabinetry was certainly hand-made; the wood was unfinished but delicately carved, and clearly neglected – like a carpenter had been halfway through the remodel before disappearing, and the house had been untouched for years since. The rooms were gloomy, poorly lit, and an unnerving weight hung in the air, like the very walls were soaked in misery and despair. Miles sat, unmoving still, and Karen wondered momentarily if it was Miles that created these feelings, and the house was merely a reflection of his mood. The house was beautiful, but at the same time murky and bleak. Miles seemed that same way, she noted – his face would have been handsome without the heaviness under his eyes, and the days of unkempt stubble that wasn’t quite a beard, more just a mess.