Lawrence Block

After the First Death

© 1969




I CAME UP OUT OF IT VERY SLOWLY. AT FIRST THERE WAS ONLY the simple awareness of existence. I was lying on my right side, my right arm bent oddly so that my head rested upon my wrist There was a slight tingling sensation in the fingers of my right hand, as though the weight of my head was cutting off part of the circulation in that hand. My left arm was stretched out at my side. I left every part of me as it was, and I kept my eyes shut. If I moved, or opened my eyes, my head would ache. It would ache soon enough anyway, but if I could slide gently back into sleep I could postpone the headache. With more than the usual amount of luck I might even be able to sleep through the entire hangover. This had happened occasionally in the past, though not often.

I knew there would be a hangover, knew too that I had gone out and earned one, though I could not remember it I could remember very little, actually. I did not know where I was, or how I had gotten there, or what day it was, nor was I particularly anxious to find out any of these things. I knew-although I did not remember-that I had been drinking. When I drink I get drunk, and when I get drunk I have massive blackouts during which I do things, for better or for worse, which I do not remember, for better or for worse.

Usually for worse.

I had been drinking. I had thought that I had given that up, but evidently I had been wrong. I had been drinking, and I had gotten drunk, and I had blacked out, all according to the usual pattern, and if I moved or opened my eyes I would have a hangover, and I didn’t want one. If I opened my eyes just a crack I could at least learn whether it was day or night, and I thought about this, and it occurred to me that learning whether it was day or night was not reward enough to balance the punishment of a headache. It occurred to me, too, that all of this thinking was dangerous. It got in the way of a return to sleep. I kept my eyes closed and I made my mind push each thought resolutely away, like a beach rebuffing one wave after another until the sea grew calm. One thought after another, one wave after another, push, push, and the dark curtain came mercifully down.

The second time, my right hand woke me. The tingling in the fingers had ceased entirely, and now the whole hand was quite stiff, with the immobile fingers feeling at least twice their usual diameter. I pulled my hand out from beneath my head and shook it foolishly in the air. Then I used the left hand to rub the right wrist, rubbing furiously at arteries and veins to restore circulation. My eyes were still closed. My head spun with idiot visions of gangrene and amputation. I rubbed my wrist, and after a long time the fingers began to tingle once again, and I was able with effort to clench and unclench them. The headache began then, a two-pronged affair, a dull pain emanating from the center of the forehead and a sharp stabbing pain at the base of the skull in back. I went on rubbing my hand and flexing the fingers, and eventually the tingling subsided and the hand felt as a hand is supposed to feel although the wrist was slightly sore from the rubbing.

I was lying on top of a bed, uncovered. I was cold. I touched my body with my hands and found that I was naked. I still did not know where I was, other than that I was in bed, and I still did not know whether it was day or night, as I still had not opened my eyes. I thought that I might as well open my eyes, as I had the damned headache anyway, but I somehow did not get around to it.

Chunks of time went by. I moved my arms and legs, rolled over onto my back. A chain of shivers jolted me and a wave of nausea started up in the pit of my stomach. I could not seem to catch my breath. I opened my eyes. There were cracks in the ceiling. A lightbulb, hanging from the ceiling, glared fiercely at me. I tilted my head. There was a window above the foot of the bed. I could see daylight through it, backed by the wall of another building. Red brick, once-red brick, faded almost colorless by the years. It was day.

I sat up. Everything ached. I was naked and cold, and by the side of the grimy window through which I could see that it was day, by the side of the window, there was a chair. My clothing was piled upon the chair. I crawled to the foot of the bed and stretched out an arm for my clothing. I could not reach it at first. For some reason I did not walk from the bed to the chair, though that would have been the most logical way to get the clothing. For some reason I had to stay on the bed, as though it were an island in the raging sea and I would drown if I left it. I stretched out head-first upon the bed and reached out with both arms until I was able to pull my clothing from the chair piece by piece. I dropped one sock onto the floor but managed to bring all the other garments safely over the sea of floor and onto the island of bed.

My shirt and trousers were damp and sticky. I held my shirt in both hands and stared thoughtfully, stupidly, at it. Dark red stains. Sticky. I wondered if I had been drinking wine. Usually I drank whiskey, at least at the beginning, but once I was well into it, once I was past the point of no return, which happened often, and quite quickly, then I was apt to drink almost anything. And, once I reached a certain plateau of drunkenness, I was equally apt to spill whatever I had been drinking upon myself.

I touched one of the stains. It was not wine. I looked at it and smelled it and touched it again, and it was blood.

Had I been in a fight?

That was possible, of course. Anything was possible when I drank. Anything at all.

Had I been hurt? Once I had awakened quite like this to find myself tied to a bed, my feet tied to the foot of the bed, my hands to the headboard. I had been in a hospital, with no memory of being taken there and no idea of what was wrong with me. Very little, as it had turned out I had cut myself and had been bleeding, but not that badly.

Had I had a nosebleed? I get nosebleeds frequently, especially when I drink. The alcohol dilates the small capillaries in the nose and makes them more easily ruptured. I investigated my nose carefully with both hands. There did not seem to be any blood around the nose or any blood caked inside the nostrils. I wondered idly where the blood might have come from.

I started to put on the shirt, then stopped suddenly, realizing that I could not possibly go anywhere in these horrible bloody clothes. Then how was I to get out of this place? Obviously, I would have to call someone on the telephone and have him bring around fresh clothes. But how? I didn’t even know where I was. I couldn’t even be sure what city I was in, as far as that went Of course I might find out that much from the telephone, but I couldn’t find out the address from the telephone. Or could I?

It was all a problem and I did not want to think about it. I looked at my hands. They were bloody from the clothes. I decided that I could not have slept very long, or else the blood on my clothes would have dried by now. I wondered how I could have gotten blood on my clothes. A nosebleed seemed unlikely. Had I been cut?

I investigated my body very carefully. Everything appeared to be sound and undamaged. Then how had the blood gotten on my clothes? Was it someone else’s blood? If so, whose? And how had it gotten there?

I didn’t care to think about all of this. I stretched out on the bed again, on my side again, and I closed my eyes. I would push away all thoughts, I thought again, like a beach rebuffing waves, and everything would be calm and dark again.

But it did not work. I could not even keep my eyes closed. I was awake, undeniably and irretrievably awake, and everything ached-my arms and legs, my back, my head, my stomach, everything. Nausea returned, stronger

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