The sound of the fan whirring, and the dead air ringing hits my ears first; followed then by the heat of what must be mid-morning. I'm lying on my side; I dare not move, for fear of what comes next. C lies in bed next to me, looking like a bump on a log, sleeping so deeply that he probably wouldn't notice if I reached over and flicked his nose. I have no memory, save for a few flashes of light, of him returning last night around 4AM. My eyes are crisped around the edges with last night’s mascara. At this moment, I am so very thankful that before I left to meet C last night, I lowered the shutters in the living room. It's dark, and it's cool, and the day hasn't arrived just yet.
It was 6pm, C asked that I wouldn't be late. He wanted to meet at the wine bar right after work, so that we would each enjoy a nice glass of wine or two and then call it an early night. We had traveled to Gruyere the weekend before, so I had no problem with an easy weekend. A brand new place nearby to our apartment, Fluid Mechanics, was closing for 3 weeks over the summer, and this was its last night. M, the owner, came by to greet us as we took our seats (at this point, we were the only patrons), and to tell me about a few of his wines that I might be interested in. For one, there was a dainty, pink-hued rosé from Palette in France, which tasted like sea salt, iced raspberries, and the smell of wet pine needles. How about a glass of that? I couldn't refuse.
An hour in, C and I were talking over my ever-morphing business strategy, still alone in our corner of the room. The door then swung open, and in stepped a younger man (who was about C's age), closely followed by a much older gentleman; both men were speaking in English. The older man had an unmissable, Robert Redford-esque American classic movie accent that perked up my ears immediately. I looked at C, ready to jump off my stool and head over to meet the group. "Just...calm down." He pleaded, and I sat back in my chair, waiting for the proper moment.
My eyes blink open again. Maybe an hour has passed. "Water…" I think, helplessly. "I need water." I tap blindly behind me on my bedside table. Sometime in the night, C placed there my white thermos filled with water, as if anticipating my helplessness this morning. I drink it, and immediately crash back down onto my pillows.
By now, C has awoken, and asks me how I am. I can barely articulate a response to him. He stands, drinks water from his own bedside thermos, and proceeds to go through the apartment, raising the shutters of all the windows. The light streams in through our open bedroom door in a direct line across my side of the bed. Each ray burns like a laser onto my scrunched-up face.
When the right time came, a few more people had trickled into the wine bar, making the atmosphere cozy, homey, and familiar. These were M's regulars, all who had assembled for the final evening of the slow season. M had opened a bottle of fine French white, now dipping into his more special selection, and came over to offer us the opportunity of a glass. I looked at C, and he nodded with a smile.
As all in the place now sipped from the same bottle of wine, I slipped down from my high stool and strode over to the barside tasting counter, where sat the original young man, his wife who had since arrived, M, and the Robert Redford-type. I confidently introduced myself to the group.
"I'm Allie; I couldn't help but overhear your accent. Where in the US are you from?" I questioned Robert.
He responded, "California, actually. And how about you?"
"I'm from Texas, but we live here now."
"Texas! You know, I actually lived for about four years in a place called Euless."
At that, my jaw dropped. "That's right near where I grew up. A lot of my extended family still live in Hurst/Euless/Bedford. Crazy!"
"Eet is a small world," chimed M.
I was surprised, honestly, at the geniality of the group. The welcomeness I felt as I met everyone else was refreshing. C remained in the corner at our table, waving awkwardly when I pointed to him: "my shy husband." He didn't deny the moniker, just urged me back again with his eyes. Robert nodded me on, and I could tell it wasn't the last time we would speak.
Out of pity and concern, C brings me a mug of hot coffee, and I prop my head up just enough to be able to sip it safely. Realizing swiftly my alarming state of disrepair, C comes to terms with the fact that breakfast is on him, and makes his way to the kitchen.
It isn't long before he calls for me to meet him; I collect myself enough to find a sleep dress in my drawer, and make it down the hall to the medicine cabinet for an Advil liquid gel. By the time I reach our kitchen, I am capable of doing nothing else but easing down into C's spot at the kitchen table, which is the closest to the door and stands opposite the open window, with a cool breeze streaming in. My head is throbbing. My nervous system is producing a slight shaking in my fingers and lower back. Vertigo is everywhere around me, threatening that any and all liquids I've pained to keep down may yet see the light of day. I sit in my chair, dying like a rotting flower.
C places a huge pile of eggs, scrambled with jerk spices, smoked pepper and corned beef on the table. He opens a package of fresh tortillas and flops one onto my plate. I stare at it, motionless.
"Please eat," he says.
"Believe me, I want to," I croak back.
With every ounce of will power I can muster, I reach for it and take a bite. It sits in my wholly dry mouth until it breaks down enough for me to swallow. I finish one breakfast taco; C builds me another. I limply stare at it, eventually bringing myself to eat a few more bites. The egg pile depleted, C stands and brings the bowl to the sink. With his back turned, staring at my unfinished taco, my eyes involuntarily well up with tears.
It was closing in on 8 o'clock when we got up to pay. C then paid our tab with M, but not before he invited us outside to sit with the rest of the regulars, now that the hot summer sun had set past the western building blocks. I looked again at C, who was, surprisingly, savoring the vibe as much as I was. We had not yet had dinner; I was already three glasses in. M poured us both tall glasses of water, as well as two new glasses of very slightly sweet, acidic French dessert wine. We joined the rest of the group out on the terrace.
Back in bed, I lie on my side with the shades redrawn in our bedroom; the fan is trained to blow directly at me. With my phone, propped up by pillows and lying a few feet away from me, I watch old bloopers of the show Parks and Recreation, waiting for my coffee to wear off so that I might fall asleep again. The little giggles that escape my lips help me to forget how I feel in the moment, which allows my squinting brain to relax. My makeup still on, I am able to rest for a half hour. I am stirred awake by C, gingerly reopening the bedroom door. He has come to check on me.
Rob, M, C, I, the husband and the wife (who are both from Finland), and a man who looks suspiciously like Werner Herzog sat on the shady terrace of Fluid Mechanics sipping our wine. M was a bee buzzing in between all of our glasses, filling them up with a new offering once he was prompted by each glass's owner. All it took was a wink and a nod.
I spoke to Robby at length about his time in Texas, and what brought he and his wife to Lausanne over 22 years ago. The usual: work, and then a crossroads between a stint in Europe or a stint in Minnesota. We joked at how many people would choose the latter. The conversation then switched over to the Finns, who obsessed with me over some of the fine restaurants in our hemisphere, most of which we had all individually learned about from watching the Netflix show Chef's Table. Finnish husband then broke my heart by telling me that the restaurant I've always wanted to visit, Faviken, is closing its doors this year. Bob optimistically chimed in that maybe there was still time for me to get a table, to which the Finnish foodies shook their heads solemnly. It was all over.
From inside, as the last of the sunlight dimmed on the street, M retrieved thinly sliced Spanish pata negra, homemade prosciutto from a butcher 30 kilometers down the road, and a sweet aged Gruyere, cut into thin wedges. The charcuterie was gone in minutes, along with the slices of country bread served alongside.
Werner Herzog was talking to C as a group of men wandered over behind him, seemingly from nowhere, to join the throng. They were then revealed to be the chef and the owner of the restaurant across the street from the wine bar, as well as the owner of another local bar on the same road, located a few blocks down. All had closed their doors for the night, and had heard the raucous laughter radiating from where we sat. Glass after golden glass was poured and enjoyed. I couldn't believe how much fun I was having with so many people that I had never met before.
I peel myself from our bed at the smell of the frozen Domino's Pizza that C has put into the oven for me. While C is in the shower, I shuffle to the kitchen and eat three greasy, delicious pieces of bell pepper and chorizo pizza quickly and gratefully. I feel hopeful. Lunch is an improvement compared to having cried in my eggs earlier this morning.
When I'm finished with the leftovers, C is finished with his shower. I meet him in the bathroom.
"I think I'm going to try and take a shower," I say.
C dresses and disappears around the corner to the other side of the apartment, returning with a hot cup of coffee. He places it on the top of the washer in the bathroom and kisses me, all without saying a word. I take this gesture to mean good luck; I believe in you.
Turning on "My Favorite Murder", the true crime podcast I listen to most often, I focus in on the voices of the funny comediennes recounting the harrowing story of Michael Peterson and The Staircase. This gets me most of the way through my shower, until I'm propping myself up by my forearm on the tile wall. After my teeth are brushed and my mascara is finally removed, it is time for me to lie down once more.
By midnight, all told, I drank about 9 glasses of wine in six hours. I had no clue how I was still going, but C and I were having such an excellent time, going home was the last thing on our minds. It was all just too fun. At this point everyone, including M, was drunk. M asked if we could all equally split the tab for the bottles, and to that, everyone gave a rah in agreement. I stood to go inside and pay our tab. The Finnish husband followed behind me. Standing underneath the yellow light of the half-lit bar, we three spoke about nothing, the way old friends sometimes do. I forgot in this moment that this was only the second night I had been in that place, the first just for two little glasses of rosé the evening before.
M handed me the bill. It was far more than what I had expected, and even three sheets to the wind, I worried about how to break the news to C. We drank some very nice things that evening, and I then regretted not taking longer to enjoy them. The look on my face betrayed me, and M and the Fin returned with an embarrassed look. I quickly laughed it all off and paid. I explained to them how we were still just on C's dime until my own pursuits beared fruit, and then it would be me paying for our Beyoncé-level libations.
As I headed back outside, I ran into Red, and we chatted. I heard a small clank on the wood paneled floor below me; I looked down in horror to see that it was my engagement ring, which had gotten loosened and tumbled to the ground. Scrambling for it, and snatching it in a matter of seconds, I slipped it back over my knuckle, where it rested again, snugly. How and why the hell did that happen?
When I sat down again on the terrace, the owner poured me one final glass of good will, something viscous and lemony, which I sloshed about a quarter of into my shoe.
I have to get up and make dinner in batches, which takes ages. By the time we finally sit down and eat, I have a heating pad on my stomach and a fan blowing on my face. My dream, once I started to feel better, was to have my ultimate comfort food dinner from when I was broke in Nashville: a tortilla crisped in a pan with a little butter, provolone cheese, sliced prosciutto, and homemade guacamole. As a special treat, I then make Bon Appetit's best chocolate chip cookies, which come out perfectly, despite my condition. I eat my special dinner, and the cookies. They taste so good. There is something about sugar, butter, and dark chocolate that just soothes my soul. But just in case, I do take two Lactaid for the dairy.
At about 1am, the entire group took to their feet, and dispersed. The restaurateurs hopped into nice cars and cruised past our group, blasting loud French club music from their stereos. Werner Herzog disappeared into the night.
The rest of us rounded the corner together into a little millennial gamer bar called Quartz, owned by a friend of M's. There is a long table inside already set up for us.
Knowing I had not had dinner, Bobby ordered me a croque monsieur from the server. They had to fire up the grill to make one especially for me. Even through my haze, I was touched by their kindness.
We were then instructed to roll a d20 (a 20-sided die popularized by the role playing game Dungeons and Dragons): The number we rolled would then translate to which shot we would order off of the menu. I get the Donkey Kong: a chocolate liqueur-based shot mixed with amaretto. I didn't shoot it until I had finished my lava-hot goat cheese croque monsieur, lovingly placed before me along with a few bottles of good hot sauce.
Knowing I didn't have much partying left in me, I watched as C received his 2nd shot. He passed me a sideways glance, which confirmed that he wanted to stick around. I surmised that this Franken-shot would be the one to do him in. In the last moment, I reached across him, grabbed his shot, and downed it, to the surprise of the others around the table.
I lie on my back in bed, the heating pad waging war against my gurgling stomach. I feel my body just doesn't want to give up on the poisoning I have done to it. I tell myself, never again. After all the training, the gym visits: I am no longer equipped to handle a night like last night.
Give me a break, Allie. We thought you were past this nonsense! says a disembodied voice inside my head.
I do some crossword puzzles. The heating pad dissolves my cramps as I think about the bar reopening in three weeks; my new, multicultural acquaintances; and how interesting things may get considering I love the place already, but am also contemplating never having another drink again. I fall sleep at last.
Sleepwalking home. Our apartment was only one long street away from Quartz. As I passed the opera house, with its tall glass windows reflecting hazy orange light, masking the jet black shadows that lurked inside; I knew in my heart I couldn't stop walking, or pause for any one moment. If I leaned against anything, I wouldn't make it back.
I passed not a soul on my way home, nor did I feel the least bit afraid. No one was following me; no one was looking for me. Even in such a messy state (I'm sure I hid the truth of that decently well); in nearly a year of living in a city center in Switzerland, never once has a stranger even batted a malicious eye at me.
I texted C when I reached the inside of our building. As I unlocked our apartment door and padlocked it closed behind me, the last shot at Quartz, the one that was meant for my husband, hit my brain like a tranquilizer dart. There was no time for water; or for toothbrushes; or for anything at all. I peeled off my fancy faux-leather Friday pants and left them in a heap next to my Friday shirt. My Friday night curls hit my cool pillow.
I fell asleep instantaneously, safely back in my own home. At that exact moment, I had no regrets.