Once alive, your heart shall come across regret, which is living by its own standard. Her sister Alice, for example, would taunt her until she took another drink. Her heart would slip on the fiery platforms for respect and admiration. Most of her would be faded, inebriated on the carpet, her throat pushing back hot fluids all over the reflected light of the curled veneer. She never used to drink. In fact, she always hated the taste of alcohol, and would endure the heckling that accompanied every single fruity concoction that she could just about stand. She didn’t really start drinking heavily until Wayne went away the first time. Then it got to the point where it was just one of those things. Then it finally got to the point where it wasn’t about having fun, it was about feeling good.
The way things happened, the people that Sue liked, she would share her secrets with. The women, she talked about behind their backs. Both groups were just avenues for testing her faith. It’s seldom she gets a call from her daughter in Ohio, but when she does, it’s brief and full of outrageous lies. She wishes she could tell her kids that she always loved them, but lying only comes easy when you don’t realize you’re lying. That way, Sue can try to drink less today than she did yesterday, and drink less tomorrow than she did today. But it’s hard to get out from under the things you pile onto yourself – it’s even harder when you’re not entirely sure that you ever loved your children, or if they ever loved you.
The happiest thing she can remember is, well, twofold. She can remember her purple hat that she wore every day in high-school, and she can remember riding the metro-transit with her son to and from his football games. It doesn’t matter that he can’t stand football now, but back then she was happy that for once in his life, there was a time when she could marginally be there. These are the memories Sue would look for in the bottom of a glass, and sometimes she would reluctantly find that she never once gave her daughter the same feeling. It must be some natural law of the cosmos that mothers shall resent their daughters, just like fathers shall resent their sons. Back then, when she was making all those mistakes, she didn’t know that she wasn’t doing it right. She didn’t know that one day she would be saying to herself, mistakes are like little shards of glass that must be accounted for, or one day you will end up digging them out of your heel.
It isn’t uncommon that Sue thinks one thing, but does another. She tells herself that, this is it.
I’ve got to stop.
I’m going to stop.
Time to move on.
This is it.
The irony isn’t lost to her that the gin and soda grows increasingly less soda, and more gin with each passing day. Her kids tried to water it down once. And the fact is that they didn’t even water it down that much, but Sue could tell. Her heart never broke at the thought of her kids sneaking behind her back like that. It infuriated her. Not that it breaks her heart now; now it just feels like a giant finger pointing in her direction. It’s that finger by which she judges herself, and tries not to allow others to judge her – her kids least of all.
Her son would tell her that during the worst of those nights, she would scream from her window that there was a difference between black people and niggers. He would say, “I lost a lot of good friends because of you.”
He would say, “After that, they wouldn’t look at me the same way. They would always think that I was like you.”
Sue couldn’t reconcile that she was born in a small, racist town. And when she would lose her head those nights that she drank the most, it was as if all of those prior demons would find their way through the fog of her life, and howl at the moon. At first she thought that her kids were lying to her; she thought they were just verily trying to shame her out of the habit. Then she would remember the one black family where she grew up, and what everybody thought about them. Her nightly baying became harder to deny when the neighbors started sending cinder-blocks through her windows.
Her son told her that one of their neighbors showed him his gun and said, “the only reason I haven’t taken her out is because she’s your mom.”
Sitting where she sits now, Sue can only shake her head at how many times death had come for her, and how many times she had given him the slip. She can pour her drink and hate it. She can’t remember those moments her children told her that she tried to take a bath with a plugged-in radio, or tried to wash down an entire bottle of pills that she couldn’t pronounce. She knows why, and she’s not telling. It’s nobody’s business except hers and whatever god she happens to believe in at the moment.
It’s easier to tell people that she goes to AA than actually try it. They would usually leave her alone if she said, I’m getting help. Don’t worry.
Her husband Wayne helped her work up the courage to shoplift with large quaffs of wild-turkeyand vodka. Shoplifting was how Wayne paid his portion of the bills. Sue would tell him, “I have to go home.” He would always think that she meant afterwards, and she had to say, “No now. I’m scared.”
She first saw Wayne in a bar called the Horseshoe. After a cursory digging, she discovered that Wayne’s father was the bartender there. She figured that the best way to get his attention was to be around all the time. She would leave work and head over to his bar, sit in the booth closest to the television and watch Love-Connection. She did this every day until he bothered to talk to her.
Her son said that he spoke to Wayne a few months before he finally died of cancer. He said that he tried to make Wayne promise to talk to her about quitting before he went. Her son said, “Wayne just told me that you deserve to relax. On top of looking like a huge hypocrite, he doesn’t think you have a problem. He thinks that you’ve been through a lot.” Sue knows that she shakes in the morning.
She knows that she never had to sneak a bottle into her cubicle before, but that there is a nice, warm-one snugly waiting to help her fail that moral test. Apparently there are different kinds of alcoholism. It isn’t enough that she just drinks a lot, but somewhere along the line she became functional. So why quit now? The best anyone could ever hope for is utility. The economy isn’t waiting. People are patient with her because they think that we have to hit rock-bottom before we decide to change. The truth is that there is no such thing as bottom. The truth is that we just keep falling.
Sue lost her sister at forty miles per hour. With her head propped up in Sue’s lap, Alice’s last words were, I can’t see.
What was left of her family eventually had to start relocating Alice’s stuff to the attic. Being the second oldest of eight, Sue did most of the work. She knew that her mother was busy, and that her younger siblings needed to deal with things in their separate ways. She found a stack of books and some old homework under Alice’s bed. She skimmed the notes, thinking that if she tried hard enough, she could see the world the way Alice did.
On the morning Alice was moved to the cemetery, the one where her favorite uncle Joe was buried, Sue found a snippet of a poem Alice had copied in one of her notebooks. Her wispy, flowing calligraphy was something Sue would never quite be able to duplicate. It was patient and beautiful. Pencil drawn hearts populated the margins. It read, thus in the sunlight shows the down of doves that circles, garlanding, the nape and the throat: now it is ruddy with a bright gold-bronze, now by a strange sensation it becomes green-emerald blended with the coral-red. The peacock’s tail, filled with the copious light, changes its colours likewise, when it turns. Wherefore, since by some blow of light begone, without such a blow of these colors can’t become.
It was during the worst of those nights, the nights in which her gin would turn to water in her mouth, the nights that she would hold on as long as she could before taking her first drink that she would talk to the shade of Alice, who lived in her memories. Those worst of nights, when her son and daughter and dead husband would finally succumb to the deep lake of her addiction, she would commune with the dead and wait for her turn to change likewise.
Shane Lindemoen is an American author, journalist, and sometimes literary critic; he is the National Affairs Editor of Secret Laboratory. Shane is a self-described “poor white boy from the east side who happens to read about politics and stuff.” In 2007, Shane won honorable mention in the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition with “Mount Airy”; he was also a finalist for the 2011 Glimmer Train Award with his short story “Lucretius.” He published his novel, Empire Dirt, in 2008. Visit Shane at http://www.shanelindemoen.com/.
E-mail Shane at firstname.lastname@example.org.