That One Last

by Rachel Toliver

My husband always asks why I need that one last. What’s it going to do for you? he asks. I can’t make him understand that it’s not about the beer, which is awful and tastes like grubby, public metal. But, still—the beer is waiting around in its can. The can’s waiting around in the fridge. And the fridge is waiting around for me to come home.

The one last isn’t just its sallow self. It goes click and tab and fizz. It hums with the electric magic of bar-light; it hums with the secretest ticks of all the city’s clocks. Let me just say: the one last is way much more than colorless, insipid, very inexpensive beer.

There’s not much drunker you can get, he says.

But that one last isn’t about being drunk and becoming drunker, as if drunker were a destination to get to. Getting drunker doesn’t feel like a throttle forward. It doesn’t feel like a road or a truck or a state with a noticeable sunrise.

The one last is about where I’ve been. A brewery flushed with copper vats. A bar where the walls peel in black plastery chunks. A party in a house whose emptiness I envy: low, votive flames; holly branches; white walls; floors all wooden clean.

And the one last is where I’ve been, but not just where I’ve been tonight. A cat that was shy at first but finally became my cat. A job, or two, and a house that I own myself. My skin, such as it is, in its negotiations with the outside air. I’ve only gotten this far, but in the one last, I feel I’ll always stay here.

My husband tells me, You’ll only feel worse in the morning. But the logic of the one last doesn’t hold any concourse with the morning. The one last could care less about brunch or orange juice or the subway ride to work, could care less about stockings that match my dress or a hairstyle that isn’t lopsided. Tomorrow feels like bed sheets that don’t fit the mattress right. Tomorrow feels like trying to smooth away stove grease or trying to remember the name of someone I never liked in the first place.

In the morning I’ll watch a lot of television that I hate, and I’ll hate myself for watching it. Or I’ll go to work and note the wood grain of my desk warping, asking—exasperated—what is all of this anyway? But all day tomorrow I’ll also accept the fact that the one last was inevitable, something moving in me the way winter light moves across a room.

My husband means well, and his words do something in the world that exists. The world that exists will bring blue plastic cups of water and eating something and wondering for just a moment where my glasses are. In the world that exists, I sign in to online banking and I pay the bills. The world that exists includes my planner, embarrassingly branded with Keep Calm and Carry On, and lists that endure as the weeks advance.

My husband thinks that the one last is the final fuck-it in a night of fuck-its. But right now, the one last is really a discipline, a work of focus. That one last is a space, a way to fold my legs up under me and stay where I am.

I palm the one last from the fridge; the can feels like a thousand dew-cool trains night-gliding through a thousand verdant forests. And the thing is: time is doing something new. Time is finally made concave. And I’m inside it. I lower my head.

I take just one drink. Here, in the one last, time is a flame working its slow way backwards—quietly backwards—all along its yielding match.