Rabbit Hole — a short story

Posted on 2013 February 7


%22rabbit hole%22 ryanlerch_The_White_Rabbit

She saw him sitting near the fireplace. He was still wearing his bright-orange ski jacket and bib, dark curls peeking out from under a Dodger Blue cap, his bootied feet resting on a chair, hands cupping a wine glass as he stared into the fire. She wended her way past laughing, drinking apres-ski revelers, stood in front of him, and said, “If you hold the glass that way, the wine gets warm and spoils.”

He looked up at her. “I’m past the wine. Now I’m working on Jack.” He inclined his head toward a table, where a silver flask stood.

“Bourbon in a wine glass? Interesting.” On impulse, she picked up the flask. “May I?”

“Sure, go ahead.”

She unscrewed the top and took a quick swig. She closed the flask and set it down. “I couldn’t help but notice your orange ski outfit at the top of the hill this afternoon. Pretty loud.”

“Well, I figure orange stands out against snow. If I take a fall and injure myself, I don’t want the Ski Patrol to miss me on their last run down the hill. I’d be stuck up there all night with a broken leg and the temperature dropping.”

She nodded. “That’s as good as any excuse for DayGlo orange.”

He said, “Hey! It’s not DayGlo!”

She laughed. “Anyway, you were skiing the hell out of that black-diamond run. I was impressed. And now, here you are, and I can’t help thinking we’ve met before. May I join you?”

“I love it when a woman uses my own pick-up lines. Please, sit.” He gestured toward a chair; she arranged herself on it. He looked at her more carefully. She was long-limbed and athletic in an oversized sweater and tight stone-washed jeans and booties, a bit thin for his taste but pretty, with lustrous dark hair in an expensive cut that framed her face nicely, emphasizing the oval. She looked about his age, maybe 40. He said, “That ski run you saw me on? More like an avalanche chute. I had to concentrate.”

“Well, you looked good doing it.”

“I’m a good faker.”

She smiled. “Ooh, and false modesty, too.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Ooh, and a snarky mouth.”

“Sorry. I was just bantering.”

“At least you don’t beat around the bush.”

She let the double entendre go by. “So how do we know each other?”

He said, “I’m not sure we do. I’m Lew.” He offered his hand.

“Alice.” They shook. She squinted at him. “Wait! I know! You’re that … that guy who writes the columns in the news! The gloomy ones that sound humorous. I’ve seen them in several papers, and one edition had a picture of you. It didn’t do you justice.”

“Why, thank you. ‘Gloomy but humorous’?”

“Yeah. Pessimistic. Normally I’m not interested in pessimism, but your essays seem so cheerful about it. You say, ‘Life is pointless,’ but somehow you do it with a smile.”

“Well, life is pointless. You can run away from it, or you can embrace it and find the weird humor in it. People tend to run away. They don’t want to hear that most of them won’t attain their dreams. Just look around. Humans are fat and lazy and petty and can’t get up from the couch and the TV. I rest my case.”

“Maybe you’re wrong. Maybe life does have a point. Maybe people will wake up and achieve things.”

“Maybe. But I almost never hear a decent argument in favor of it. What I get is angry people, insulted that I dare to suggest that life isn’t peaches and cream. They don’t want to hear that their favorite habits are slowly killing them. They don’t want to hear that their beloved leaders behave in private like the angry Red Queen. They don’t want me disturbing their fantasy life. They want to turn over and go back to sleep.”

“But what’s the advantage of being a pessimist, if it’s all gloom and doom?”

“Pessimists are more realistic.”

“Are they?”

He took a sip from the Jack Daniels in his wine glass. “Researchers find that pessimists are much more accurate about life, even if optimists are happier and live longer. I prefer to be accurate.”

“If it’s all pointless, why not simply lie to yourself, be an optimist, and have the happiness available to the rest of us fools?”

He smiled. “What, and twist the truth all the time? I’d rather step in front of a fast train. People think they can change reality by talking nicely to it. I’d much prefer, as they say, to be a dissatisfied philosopher than–“

“–a satisfied pig?”


“You know, there’s a pill for that. You can become much more serene.”

He sang offkey: “One pill makes you larger! And one pill makes you small.” He coughed. “Got carried away. I sound better in the shower. Now, if I took a pill I’d stop writing those essays you like. If I can’t explore the downside with a straight head, my upside will be flat and boring.” He paused. “Pills, huh? Are you a doc?”

“Pharmaceutical rep.”

“Speaking of the dark side.”

Her jaw dropped. “Now look who’s snarky!”

He shrugged. “Well, what do you do, exactly, except bribe physicians into giving patients the drugs you peddle? Ol’ Doc Bonecrusher ends up prescribing a med, not because it’s the best choice for his patient, but because it gets him tickets to the Super Bowl. You might as well be Satan’s minion.”

She glared. “That’s propaganda! It’s the doctors who have us trained! They demand free lunches and shows and gifts before they’ll even listen to a pitch.”

He raised a hand. “Okay, okay! I suppose it must go both ways. Besides, somebody’s gotta sell the stuff. I’m not really against what you do. I was just playing Devil’s Advocate.”

“That’s a relief. For a minute I thought we were going to have our first fight.”

He grinned. “You don’t waste time, do you?”

“I don’t have much time. I leave tomorrow morning. Gotta get back home to L.A.”

“That’s a co-inky-dink. I’m from there, too.”

She smiled. “Perfect! We should bump, you know, cell phones.”


She said, “So you’re single?”

“Kind of.”

She sighed. “Oh great. I’m flirting with a married man.”

“I’m not married.”

“What, then?”

“Well, I date around. It’s sort of like, you know, ‘friends with benefits’.”

She raised an eyebrow. “More like, ‘friends with commitment phobia’?”

He said, “You’re ahead on snarks, two to one.”

She laughed. “Sorry again! But why no girlfriend? A cute guy like you…”

“It’s a long story. Partly because of the pessimism, and partly because of how I relate to others.”

“How do you relate?”

“I don’t bond with people in the normal way. Most of us want to feel safe, so we hook up and then latch on. We take delicate feelings and try to etch them in stone. But like stone, they become dead. And even if the feelings are big and strong, they’re kind of doomed over time.”


“Well, the world’s constantly changing. People’s opinions shift, their experiences go off in different directions, they end up arguing about stuff they used to agree on. Meanwhile, they keep meeting new and possibly better potential partners. It’s a wonder anybody has friends at all.”

She shook her head. “You are a pessimist.”

“I try not to inflict it on people. Except when I’m writing. But when women hang out with me, they usually end up hearing more of my annoying viewpoint than they can stand. Anyway, I don’t go into relationships hoping for security. Strangely, that gives me an advantage — the freedom to just be with them. I get along better with women since I stopped trying to own their hearts. But it can be tough when nobody wants to play that game.”

Most of the evening’s carousers had moved on. They had the fireplace to themselves. They stared into the flames.

He said, “I’m surprised you’re still here. Most women have left by now.”

“You must feel lonely and frustrated.”

He set down the wine glass. “Sometimes. And sometimes I’m just … well … skiing.”

She put a hand on his. It felt cool. “And sometimes you have friends with benefits.”

His hand turned over. Their fingers laced. “Sometimes. But I gotta warn you. I’m a ‘black-diamond run’. My dark view of the world, combined with no commitments, it makes most women run away screaming. Those essays I wrote that you enjoyed?”

“They were gloomy, but I could handle them.”

“Tip of the iceberg. There’s much more to it. You connect with me, you’re gonna go down the rabbit hole.”

“Like Alice?”

“Like your namesake.”

She took a breath. “Okay, Mister White Rabbit! I’m ready to jump.”

They jumped.