All Consuming Oblivionby Jon Stark
“Choose your poison.” That’s what he always said, when they gathered in his studio apartment, cobbled together with materials he’d rescued from construction sites during a midnight walk-about. “And don’t be stingy.” he’d say, guiding a guest from the door to the corner where everyone else already sat, staring at some new painting, or photograph. Imbibing avant-garde performance art. Or listening to the reading of a poem or play. Or eulogy.
They joined in by invitation, but once invited, members were always welcome to come. To the part of the city where there were no streetlights. No traffic cops in their funny little three wheeled go-carts. Welcomed to the falling down warehouse, condemned before any of them had been born.
Jenny always drank rum and coke, but tonight she’d brought arsenic. Pauline drank wine – always red – but tonight it was vinegar. The boys weren’t picky and often drank little more than whatever beer was cheapest at the bodega half a mile away though tonight it stank of sweat and urine.
Brandon had his usual bottle of Maker’s Mark, but the whisky was sticky like kerosene, and no one smoked as its vapor seeped into their pores.
He hadn’t greeted them at the door. Hadn’t ushered them to their places. The air was heavy with incense, like it always was, but he hadn’t lit it. Someone had arranged him in his usual place, but his arm wouldn’t stay put and kept flopping down. In life he’d always pulled one leg up, and rested that arm across the knee. That arm, hanging limply, was more a sign of his passing than the blow flies that covered him -- undisturbed as they fed.
“Don’t be stingy.” he’d say, “That glass is only designed to hold your poison long enough to get it from the bottle to your lips.” Then he’d gulp down the absinthe and pour another. An untouched bottle of it sat beside his corpse, “Absinthe of Malice” scrawled gloriously on the label, the surgeon general warning that it would kill you in neat print below.
The assembled guests, the watchers of the dead, poured out their drinks that night in to a decanter that had been purchased years before, especially for this occasion. “Fill your glasses.” he’d say. And they did, toasting him. And they drank.
All consuming oblivion.