My daughter, Alexas, is only 10-years-old, but she likes to keep my whiskey glass full for me. If her mother was alive she would probably scream at the both of us. But she’s dead now, so we content ourselves with remembering the echoes of her displeasure. Meanwhile, Alexas kneels by my recliner and brushes her doll’s blonde hair.
“Daddy likes to drink,” she tells her doll. “And I like to pour him drinks.”
The doll’s plastic little eyes swivel up to frown at me. No. No, maybe that’s just the alcohol. Dolls can’t give the same scornful looks as deceased mothers. Another round of laughter escapes the television, reminding me that the show is funny. Thanks, studio audience. I don’t think I would have known otherwise.
Outside the windows of our apartment the city lights glitter like a thousand little candle flames. Someone has lit them just for me. Another reminder to feel something for the wife I used to know. But all I am reminded of is how many Goddamn reminders the world gives us when all we want to do is forget.
I want to forget the way Alexas’ mother screamed as she fell. Why would she scream? That’s not what someone does when they are snuffed out, exhausted. That’s not the sound someone makes when they cut their body loose from the tethers of the sky, dropping like a stone into the ocean of sound that is downtown Chicago.
The thruummm swallowed her whole. No, she begged it to swallow her.
“Daddy needs more to drink,” says Alexas, laying her doll down.
Those plastic, evil little eyes burn into me. I can feel its hot stare searing the flesh off my forehead, warming my skull like a stove warms a pot with brains inside. I can hear the sizzle of my mind. I can hear the thrum of the city, begging for someone else to eat.
“Do it, pussy,” says the doll. I’m watching her mouth now, but it’s not moving a second time. Still, I know that voice by now. That weak little manufactured chirp, like a bird with a voice box. Even when Alexas isn’t around to pull the string in her back, the doll speaks to me, “Do it, weakling. Or do you need the same kind of push you gave your wife?”
“I DID NOT PUSH HER OVER THE EDGE!”
Somehow my glass is shattered on the floor where Alexas was just standing. But now she is kneeling, nursing her face with both hands. She’s…crying?
“I didn’t say you did, papa.”
“I… I know that.”
“I made you drink, dad. I thought you wanted another.”
My hand burns, like I just swatted a volleyball with my palm. But there are no volleyballs anywhere nearby. There’s only Alexas, nursing her face and hiding her tears from me. No, that’s not right. There’s also the doll.
“You’re not fit to be a father,” my wife said.
She was standing at the kitchen counter, but two years ago. Not now. How could she be there now? Still, I can hear her voice. It’s always scolding, always full of so much judgment.
I look over to see the kitchen counter, empty. Her golden-green eyes are missing from below the ceiling lights. Her slender hands are missing from the cold counter-tops. Her hair, invisible. Only her voice remains now.
“She makes you drinks because she knows that’s all you love,” says the invisible woman, the one who refuses to die. She has quit the world but she fucking refuses to quit me. “Then you hit her.”
“Stop it,” I say, because I have to say it. Because if I do not then no one will.
“I’m not doing anything, I swear,” simpers Alexas from her place on the ground.
No, that’s not her place. I have to remember that. Her place is with the doll, with a smile on her face. But that is just another illusion; another place in another time that will never be.
“It can be,” says the doll. Somehow she has sat herself up. I’ve only just realized that I’m still standing. I’ve only just noticed how tall I am compared to that little doll of hers. Compared to her, I am a giant of a man. “She can have her place in the sun if you step aside.”
“Is that what you told her mother?” I ask, but this time inside my head, where only the doll can hear. “Is that how you convinced her to give her soul to the city?”
Another burst of laughter pours from the warm glow of the television set. Another witty line I must have missed. Suddenly the television screen goes black, and I hear a song playing. It’s soft at first, barely audible. But it gets louder as the lights begin to dim above me. The whole apartment feels darker.
“Step aside,” says the voice. “Let her be warm again.”
Suddenly the room is at my back. I can feel the wind picking up through what’s left of my hair. I can’t see it but I know it’s streaked with grey, whatever has not fallen out already. And I know it’s not only my hair that has left me. It is not only my hair that disowns who I am.
A car horn peels loud and constant from below. The air is cold on my face. The balcony freezing beneath my feet. I am numb, teetering like a wooden plank about to tip into nothingness. But there is a warmth, just a touch. Like a golden orb, something soft and heated fills my hand.
“Please don’t,” whispers Alexas. She won’t look up at my face, not after what I did to her. But her voice is full and embracing, her hand so tiny as it wraps around mine. “Come back inside, daddy.”
I do not know why, but I follow her back into the dimness of the apartment. What was I even doing there, looking down on the street so far below me? Somehow it seems a little brighter inside now. The television is playing again, and the soft song that once wafted through the dark has lifted away completely. But the doll is still there, looking up at me.
“Soon enough,” she says to me, scorn burned into her plastic, lifeless eyes. Or is it a voice come from somewhere else, just for me? “Soon,” it says, “Soon, you will have to leave Alexas, and give your life to the city below. She won’t be able to save you from yourself forever.”