I know it's in there still, he thought to himself, but the photo didn't lie. No flickering light of mischief in the pupils, no self-satisfied smirk on the countenance he knew so well. All he saw was a slight sneer and a dead cast in the eyes, the sort of look one sees in a man who holds a grudge against his failures.
He swallowed hard, heard the click in his throat. Once upon not long ago he would have swallowed something to make his insides feel as dead as his eyes, but he'd given up the habits that had helped bring him to this place. Nothing down the throat, nothing in the veins: for no particular reason he was healthier now than he'd been in decades, and he intended to keep his promise to stay clean, even if it meant more time on this plain.
With surprising ease he had settled into his new routine — work, solitude, sleep. Except when he was on the phone or in the office he rarely said more than three dozen words in any day, and those were all uttered in quiet conversation with an imaginary friend, a ghost he greeted first thing every morning and last thing every night with the same words: "Hi, _____." He wished the ghost well, always.
The few friends he had left thought him quite disturbed, of course, and a couple of them had noticed his detached behavior and had tried to pull him out of the tailspin. He had humored them and half-thought he was good enough to pull off the deception, and pretty soon his friends reciprocated his distance.
He walked a lot when he was by himself. He wore his earbuds when he walked so people would think he was listening to music and no one would try to engage him in banter. But no one ever did. He did his best not to look at other people.
On the worst days he remembered the way he used to be, when there was joy in his eyes and that gallop in his chest. But now that he was sober it no longer hurt much to remember. The world within him and around him was smooth and dull. He accepted the circumstances with a bland acknowledgement and a small, careful smile. He knew what had happened. It was really very simple. Something in him broke in the turning of a second, and nothing was ever the same again.