Thirst

Your Afternoon Freewrite

Blackmore could not stop drinking. Wherever he was, whatever he was doing, he consumed. Water, Coke, a latte, beer if it was allowed, he would drink it. Day and night, night and day, Blackmore always had something pressed to his lips, gulping whatever it was down.

He couldn’t stop. He didn’t want to. He saw no reason. Blackmore’s thirst was unquenchable. The affliction was a void he could never fill. This absence was his life.

“When did you start feeling this way?” Doctor Gotten asked. He sat still with a pen and pad, crossing their legs after every question.

Blackmore, with a glass of water to his mouth, sipped, took a second, then answered the psych.

“I’ve always felt this way,” Blackmore said glibly. “It’s who I am. I see nothing wrong. I’m thirsty. Sue me.”

“I don’t want to do that. I want to help you.”

“It’s a saying.”

Blackmore refilled his glass from the water cooler, which he requested to be sitting next to at all times. The five other psychiatrists he saw before did not allow this. Gotten did, hence why Blackmore hired him.

“Does it feel good to be constantly drinking?” Doctor Gotten asked.

Cross.

“Euphoric.”

Doctor Gotten nodded. He was about to ask another question. Preemptively, he started to cross his legs but paused, so both of his legs were sticking out like he was riding an invisible horse.

Finally, he crossed them. “How long has this been going on?”

“For as long as I can remember,” Blackmore said.

The psych scribbled something down while a bird flitted by the office’s window. Its beak pecked and battered against the glass. For whatever reason, the thing wanted to come in.

“Is that yours?” Blackmore asked.

“Is what mine?” The psych looked up from his pen and pad.

Suddenly, the bird dropped to the ground and disappeared.

Blackmore inverted the glass of water so violently some droplets eeked out of the side of his mouth, dotting his white and blue striped shirt.

“Does this affect your work in any way? Your love life?”

Cross, cross.

“I work in stocks from home,” Blackmore answered, leaning toward the water cooler to refill his glass. There was a hint of douche pride in his voice. He was wealthy and couldn’t help but gloat. “And love is something I’ve decided is unagreeable with my condition.”

“That must get very lonely?”

Cross.

Blackmore was about to respond when he realized he had not felt another feeling other than a thirst for a very long time.

At his favorite bar, “The Thirsty Asshole,” Blackmore sat near the jukebox and where the bartender kept the bottled waters. There was a group of college girls dancing in a small area where people congregated. At the tiny circular tables, the old locals and the young men leered. Blackmore took a sip of his light beer, then a drink of his water, and dabbed his lips with the end of his black tie. One of the drunken girls from the dance floor swayed in Blackmore’s direction and noticed the graveyard of empty water bottles near him.

“I hear that’s super good for you…” the girl burped. “Oops.”

“Hm?”

“Matching water for every drink,” the girl said. “But then I always have to pee!” She cackled like a manic toucan. “You must always have to pee!”

“I hold it,” Blackmore shrugged, drinking his pint in silence.

“You’re boring.”

Blackmore agreed quietly.

The girl stumbled away after punching the jukebox to play Spice Girls.

After they cleared out, Blackmore finally released his bladder. In the bathroom, a couple of college boys were doing Coke in the stall next to him. Blackmore didn’t care. Before he started working from home, that was a regular past time with guys in his office. He was in stocks. The urination was strong and flowing, so much that Blackmore felt a tingle on the back of his neck. He even got a little light-headed. Blackmore released a tiny moan.

“Listen to this weirdo taking a piss and getting off,” one of the college boys snickered.

“Is he drinking while peeing?” the other one asked.

Hurriedly, Blackmore finished his bottle of water as he zipped up and exited.

Rick, the bartender, placed another beer in front of Blackmore with a glazed look of defeat on his face.

“I’ve been thinking about your condition Blackmore,” Rick started to say. “And I think it has something to do with your lamina terminalis.”

“You a doctor?” Blackmore smirked.

“Don’t patronize me,” Rick snapped. “But no, I’m not. I have Google. I’m trying to help.”

“I don’t feel like I need help.”

“You’ve been coming in here every day for years. I never see you with anybody. I never even see you talking to anybody.”

“I just talked to that one college girl.”

“And you messed it up because you were drinking and being weird.”

“I’m talking to you right now,” Blackmore pointed out.

Blackmore couldn’t hide the embarrassment and shame on his face. It coated him like hard rain.

“I’m the bartender!” Rick snorted. “Get out of here. I ain’t serving you anymore until you figure your shit out. I can’t look at yah’.”

In the middle of the night, unable to sleep, Blackmore googled lamina terminalis.

“The lamina terminalis is a series of interconnected brain structures that act as a central hub to control fluid levels in the body. Some cells in the lamina terminalis are adjacent to large, fluid-filled compartments in the brain, called ventricles. When the body begins to run low on water, the composition of the body’s fluids (including the fluid in the brain’s ventricles) starts to change. The lamina terminalis neurons that border the ventricles can sense changes in the ventricular fluids, giving a snapshot of whether the body has enough water. These neurons also receive messages from other parts of the brain to give an even more complete picture of the body’s water needs.”

Blackmore finished a fresh glass of water, poured himself another, and continued to read.

“Neurons in the lamina terminalis receive many different messages about the body’s water needs. Thanks to their location next to ventricles in the brain, they can directly sense key indicators of water need like sodium levels and osmolality (the ratio of salt particles to a given amount of liquid). They also receive information about what time of day it is from another brain region, as well as cues from the mouth and kidneys. Neurons in the lamina terminalis can pool all of this information to determine whether the body needs more or less water. If it needs more, they can trigger feelings of thirst and appetite suppression. If it needs less, the brain will send signals telling you to stop drinking. The lamina terminalis also sends messages to a brain region called the hypothalamus. In turn, the hypothalamus can affect heart rate or urge the kidneys to retain more or less water.”

“I need…” Blackmore murmured. “Different neurons. A different brain. But how? Where do I get one of those?”

The next day, another doctor was looking over Blackmore’s file. This doctor’s name is unimportant. Blackmore was thinking about what Rick, the bartender, observed about him, how he was always alone, how no one ever talked to him. How he had no one and how it never concerned him. Well, it troubled him now.

“We can do an operation, but it will be very costly,” the doctor advised Blackmore. “And it may not work.”

“I have a lot of money,” Blackmore said nonchalantly. “And if something is wrong with me, then I want it fixed. That’s how I was raised.”

The operation was a week from the day. In that span, Blackmore inhaled any liquids. He called out of work and guzzled everything from lemonade to RC cola to milk straight from the cow. His thirst was insatiable — the desire to drink and drink and drink overwhelmed him. A demon lay burrowed inside his stomach. There was no fulfilling the unquenchable desire.

The night before the procedure, Blackmore felt he was on the verge of being content. The feeling was reminiscent of dipping his toes in cold river water; of his first kiss with Abby Orange in grade school; the taste of vanilla ice cream on a hot summer day; of present peace. Then, a great purge of vomit erupted out of him, where Blackmore proceeded to pass out on the bed.

Years later, Blackmore woke and immediately reached for something on his bedside table. His meaty hand stumbled around in the dark. Finally, he clutched his vibrating phone and turned off the alarm. He rolled over and, with the blankets cold on his and his wife Mary’s skin, Blackmore kissed her bare shoulder. She let out a sweet groan and met his gaze.

They talked about their plans for the day and who they would see. They discussed yesterday’s movie and an upcoming local election. They promised to have a date night next week and debated what color their bathroom should be. They talked about why drinking water when you’re thirsty is so rewarding.

“Researchers in Yuki Oka’s group at Caltech conducted a study to see why animals find water rewarding. By using a special kind of sensor that glows in the presence of the rewarding molecule dopamine, they could see what kinds of liquids caused dopamine release. They recorded large spikes of a dopamine release when thirsty mice drank both water and salty saline solutions, indicating that mice found both of these liquids rewarding. When researchers injected water into thirsty mice, though, they found no changes in dopamine levels, even though the injected water would also hydrate the thirsty animals.”

“I used to have a problem with that,” Blackmore said.

“I know,” Mary said. “But you’re better now.”

“I love you,” whispered Blackmore, completed. He kissed her before she rose.

“Do you want anything from the kitchen?” Mary asked.

“No, thank you.”

Mitchell Duran is a writer of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. He has been published in Black Horse Review, Drunk Monkey, The Millions, BrokeAssStuart, and more. He lives in San Francisco, California. Find more work at Mitchellduran.com

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Mitchell Duran is a freelance writer. He earned a Master’s in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University in 2019. Find more work at Mitchellduran.com

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Mitchell Duran

Mitchell Duran is a freelance writer. He earned a Master’s in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University in 2019. Find more work at Mitchellduran.com