Chapter 4

Within a week Mary Kincaid  decided she couldn’t buy any more shoes. Walking through the mall in a half daze, all she really wanted was a drink. She was already running out of finding new ways to spend money and the grating urge to feel the burn of alcohol against the back of her throat was pulsating through her stronger every day.

The string hoops of paper bags filled with clothes, perfume and a footbath pressed against the inside of her fingers. She would shove them all into her closet, adding to the pile of things she had purchased and would never use, and then heave against the door to shove it all back so she could close it.

The void Mason had left behind was always one step behind her, waiting for her to fall in and suffocate in the darkness it offered. Nothing around her gave her any good reason to keep from doing just that.  She reached into her pocket, wrapped her hand around the cool disk of her six-month sobriety coin and squeezed it tight.

A gaggle of girls, about the same age as Bess, giggled as they floated by, oblivious to her or anything beyond the hushed intensity of their own gossip. An old man sat on a bench designed by somebody who never intended anybody to actually sit on it and looked at the floor, his face wrinkled with anxiety as if the floor was going to rise up and smother him. He checked his watch, looked around and sighed.

Mary felt a sense of panic as the sights and sounds seem to close in on her.  She closed her eyes and all she could see was her own body being stuffed into a coffin and the lid slammed shut.

Mary was tired of the aching emptiness of her life without Mason. Nobody understood, except the sobbing prunes in her support group that had nothing left but coping with spending their last years alone. The emptiness seemed to stretched out with no horizon.

She walked along in a daze until she found herself standing in front of a Mexican bar and grill next to the line of glass doors that regulated the flow of humanity in and out of the mall – all blissfully unaware of how hard it was for her to just look through the windows at the bar inside. It beckoned like an oasis to a wayfarer crawling across the desert. She flexed her fingers as they grew numb from the weight of the bags.

She couldn’t buy any more shoes.

She took a breath and stepped inside. A girl about Bess’s age chirped something at her. Mary just grunted and pointed at the bar as she sidestepped the girl. She climbed up onto a bar stool with brass legs and a wide green cushion and dropped her bags on the floor. The stools on either side were clear, so she didn’t have to bother with being social. At the same time, there were a few shoppers spread out around the bar so she didn’t feel completely alone. She waited for the bartender to deliver a platter heaped with a steaming pile of chimichanga to one of the other shoppers and then waved him over.

Wearing a blue polo shirt, he beamed at her and asked, “What can I get for you.”

She shook her head and snickered. He glanced away for a moment and then tilted his head, still smiling.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s just that you’re wearing a polo shirt.”

“Um, OK.”

She waved her hand over the bar, sweeping away the moment. “Let me have a Red Bull on ice.”

“You bet.” After he popped open the can and poured it over ice in a Collins glass, she whispered a bet to herself. When he said, “three fifty” before the glass even touched the bar, she smiled and said, “I win.”

She pulled a five out of her purse and slid it towards him. “All yours, tiger.” She twisted the red straw between her thumb and forefinger and let her tongue poke out between her teeth as she flashed a grin. Even though she was sober, a part of her was already six drinks down the road.

Just as her first taste of stinging sweetness reminded her that she was not drinking anything with alcohol, a man sat down next to her and waved his finger in the air at the bartender. Mary glanced sideways to size him up.

He wore white cotton pants, boat shoes and a yellow windbreaker over a button down cream-colored shirt with a collar. His thick black hair was receding just enough to notice, but was deftly styled with a primped wave that made good use of the few streaks of gray running through it. He shifted his gaze to her and smiled, revealing teeth just imperfect enough to preclude any attempts at pretentiousness. He came across as one of those guys where what you saw was pretty much what you got.

He chuckled and asked, “What do you do to get some service around here, anyway?”

“I know, right?” Mary grimaced and looked away. “Wow, that’s something my daughter would say. Um, I think it helps to have pretty hair.”

Still looking at her, he said, “Well, you have the market cornered at the moment.”

Mary snorted and turned to flag down the bartender. “Marco Polo, thirsty man over here.” The bartender turned away from a grumpy shopper trying to decide between the three varieties of beer on tap and ambled towards them.

“What’ll it be, boss?”

The man winked at Mary and said, “Gimlet.”

The bartender looked sideways. “I… um. What’s in that?”

Mary burst out laughing. She put her hand over the bartender’s hand and said, “Just bring him a gin on the rocks with a lime twist.” The bartender shrugged and stepped over to his beverage gun.

“You’re bad,” she said to the man sitting next to her. “It’s a mall bar on a Friday afternoon. Beer. Jack and Coke.” She slapped his arm and giggled.

“Or Red Bull,” he said, pointing at her glass. “Getting off to a slow start?”

Mary’s smile disappeared. “This is as far as I can go.” She turned back to her drink and stared at the ice.

“I’m sorry,” he muttered. “We kind of had a good thing going there.”

Mary half smiled as she stared at the ice. “Yeah.” She took another drink through the straw. “It’s just a habit I guess. I’ve had barriers for a long time.”

“And now?”

Mary sighed, shaking her head. “Well,” she said, “I recently lost my husband.” She stirred the ice in her drink, marveling at how much easier it was to talk to a stranger than the overwrought widows in her support group.

“Sorry to hear that.”

The bartender returned with the man’s drink.  Just before the glass touched the bar, he said, “Five even boss.”  Mary smirked and shook her head as the man fished a ten dollar bill out of his pocket and handed it to the bartender.

Just being in the bar, Mary felt a reprieve from the maddening suffocation of walking around with nothing but the company of her own thoughts.  But she had worked hard for that coin and an alarm sounded in her mind that it was time to leave.  She patted the bar. “Well, this has been fun.” She started to pick up her bags when the man thrust his hand in front of her and beamed at her with a toothy grin.

“Rickie,” he said.

Mary tilted her head and glanced at him sideways. “Aren’t you supposed to know how long it’s been before you hit on a widow?”

“You’re in a bar talking to strange men. It’s been long enough.” He glanced at his hand. “I make friends fast.”

She set her bags down and studied him.  It was nice to have somebody to talk to.  There was something about the sound of his voice that reminded her life could be casual – that she could do something besides wallow in sorrow.  Listening to him talk was like the wash of air from an oscillating fan on a hot day.  It wasn’t enough to make the heat go away, but it provided enough relief to make it bearable.  It was nice

She reached out and shook his hand. “Mary Kincaid.”

“Rickie Hewitt.”

She smiled and sat back down, taking another drink from her Red Bull. “Now what?”

“I think this is the part where I buy you a real drink.”

As the the bartender ambled back with Rickie’s change, Mary twirled the straw between her fingers and pressed her lips together.  As pleasant as the wash of a fan might be, the cold blast of a good air conditioner was even better.  She closed her eyes and shook her head.  No. Don’t go there. Still, he sounded so nice.  And she wasn’t ready to go back outside where the only thing waiting for her was the gnawing ache of missing her husband.

The bartender laid a five dollar bill on the bar and Rickie said, “Hold on.  My new friend here would like a drink.” Rickie tilted his head down, smiled at her and flicked his brow.

She imagined the last time she had a drink – or at least as much of it as she could remember.  It was right after she had learned about Mason’s condition.  The only other thing she could really remember was Mason scowling at her afterwards and explaining in a soft voice how she had essentially acted like a drunken whore.  Mary winced at the thought of what she must have been like.  Then, a though leapt into her mind. That was just a bad day.

Things were different now. Mary hadn’t brought a single drop into the house since then. She even ducked away when she found Bess discreetly rummaging through the house looking for a hidden bottle after the funeral.  She had a six-month coin in her pocket.  She had learned how to control herself, because there had been plenty of times when she wanted a drink and easily stepped away from the thought.

The bartender stood across from her, waiting. “Ma’am?” he asked. Mary looked up at him and drew a breath. She had said the words so many times and part of her knew they were a lie. But things could always be different this time.

And she couldn’t buy any more damn shoes.

“Maybe I’ll just have one,” she said.

***

 

A week later, Bess stood in the space between the kitchen and living room they generously called a dining room.  There was just enough room for the table to sit under a cheap brass chandelier, its glass flame-shaped bulbs mocking any attempts at formality.  It wasn’t a place Bess had ever imagined was meant for guests.  Friends maybe – people they knew.  But whoever was coming to dinner could hardly be elevated above the status of ‘guest’.  And that was the rule, wasn’t it?  Guests were supposed to be impressed.  You didn’t have to impress friends.  All she knew was what her mother had told her, that she had invited over a “new friend.”  An old friend would have been better.

She set the table, draping a pale yellow tablecloth over its dull, unpolished surface. She ran her fingertips along a crease, remembering her father’s face the last time he sat at the head of the table, peering out from behind weak eyes that hid away the battle raging inside his body. She remembered his smile, refusing to surrender yet somehow reaching out to her and asking for help that nobody could provide. She hadn’t known at that moment what he was going through.  Instinctively, she had squeezed his shoulder, offering comfort in response to the look in his eyes that she wouldn’t understand until later that night. That had been the night before their sailing trip, the same night she had later run home with a bruise on her shoulder that would cost her more than she could have ever known.  The guilt welled up again, a crushing ache that made her feel like she was drowning.

She pushed the memory away and opened the door to the china hutch huddled against the wall behind the table. The good plates sat on edge, facing out into the room as if they were waiting for somebody to wake them up. Bess pulled four of them down, wiped off the thin film of dust that had collected since that night, and walked around the table, setting each neatly in place.

She gazed at the dingy sheen of the plate laid at the head of the table.  Who was going to take that seat?  Would her mother sit there?  Bess furrowed her brow as she imagined the indecency of their guest trying to take that seat.  No, that wouldn’t do at all.  The best thing would be to leave it empty.

Her mother emerged from the kitchen with a silver platter heaped with steaming meat and vegetables. A grin that was as nervous as it was proud stretched across her face as she set the platter down in the center of the table, splashing drops of greasy juice onto the tablecloth. The steam rolled down from the meat and wafted across the plates, a sedative fog that told them not to bother.

Her mother pressed her hands together, looked at Bess and said, “There.” She pointed her hands at the dish, inviting Bess’s reassurance that it was bold or enticing or welcoming, or any number of things that said it was more than just a pile of meat and steam.

“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” Bess asked.

Mary’s grin disappeared as she wiped her hands on her apron. Her eyelids narrowed to slits and she pursed her lips, creasing her mouth with the thin wrinkles etched by a lifetime of admonishing her daughter. “Something you’ll learn when you get older is that you can’t wait for your life to get better.” She arched a brow and Bess felt her body tense, as if her mother was going to reach out and smack her in the face. She  seemed to always feel that way whenever her mother was nearby, even though the woman had never actually hit her.

“Sometimes you have to make it better, no matter what people have done to ruin it,” her mother said.

Bess bowed her head. “Fine,” she said.

“Finish the table,” her mother said, turning away and sulking back into the kitchen.

Bess shuffled to the china cabinet and hung four stem glasses in between her fingers.  She didn’t bother to wipe off the dust clinging to them and placed a glass behind each plate, wondering if her mother was going to protest the placement, the dust, or both.

The doorbell rang.

Her mother poked her head out of the kitchen like a startled bird peeking out from a nest. “Get that while I make myself presentable.” She dashed down the hall and into her bedroom, leaving Bess standing next to the table.

The doorbell rang again.

Bess traipsed down the hall, peeked through the peephole and saw a man dressed in white pants, boat shoes, white shirt and a wrinkled yellow windbreaker. He held a small paper bag in his hand as he surveyed the doorframe. Bess let out a sigh and opened the door. Before the man had one foot inside the door, she asked, “What’s in the bag?”

The man squinted for just a moment before attempting a disarming smile. “Hi, I’m Rickie.”

“The bag,” Bess said, staring at his hand.

The man reached in the bag and pulled the neck of a wine bottle up just far enough for her to see. “Le Petít Cheval,” he said, arching his brow.

Bess didn’t know if she was supposed to be impressed. “She can’t have that,” she said, pushing the bottle away.

The drew a breath and held it, squinting again. He looked puzzled. Maybe he didn’t know?

Her mother stepped into the hall and Rickie sidestepped Bess, taking long strides to get close to her mother as quickly as possible. Her mother took his arm and escorted him down the hall. In a cooing voice, she said, “Thanks for coming.” The man glanced over his shoulder at Bess, then leaned in close to her mother and said something Bess couldn’t hear. Her mother shot her a withering glance as she and Rickie rounded the corner and disappeared into the living room.

Bess’s feet shuffled forward before she even realized they were moving. She felt a twinge ripple through her neck as she turned into the dining area.  The man had pulled her father’s chair out and and settled into it as if he had taken that particular chair for countless nights, just as her own father had, and set the paper bag with its vile contents on the table.  A grimace flashed across her mother’s face when Rickie’s chair creaked as he sat down. Her gaze flitted around the room and then she glanced at him with a nervous smile.   Bess winced at the presumption of his gesture.  The man hadn’t even taken off his jacket.

Bess glared at him, but his eyes were fixed on her mother, as if Bess wasn’t even there. Bess pulled her shoulders up, brushed the long silk of her black hair behind her shoulders and tilted her head back so she was actually looking down her nose at him.  Standing at the edge of the table across from him, she pressed her fingertips on the tablecloth and leaned forward almost imperceptibly, narrowing her gaze to a needlepoint incision of glowering.

He feigned not noticing, and he did it well.  She knew that he was feigning because her stature, her glare and the dull seething of breath through her nose in an unnatural cadence all demanded notice of some kind, even if it was just the flick of a lash or the twitch of a brow.  Perhaps, the gentle tap of a finger.  He demonstrated none of these.  Instead, he smiled insipidly, keeping his eyes fixed on her mother as he leaned forward to listen for words that had yet to come.

Her mother had noticed it.  Her fingers crept inward, dragging with them minute wrinkles in the tablecloth.  She placed her other hand over her chest with her fingers splayed as her face flushed with a dull pink.  Whether this came from the attention of a man sitting in her father’s chair, her unspoken aggravation with Bess, or both – Bess did not know.  All she knew was that they were both ignoring her, deliberately, efficiently, resolutely.

Rickie pulled the bottle out of the bag and turned it in the cold yellow light spilling off the chandelier so her mother could inspect the label and see the glistening contents encased in thick glass, a facade of elegance that hid away the darkened hours of stupor it would convey.  Her mother stared at the bottle, mesmerised. Bess stifled a scoff as her mother tried to look like she understood the prim sophistication of what he had presented her when Bess knew all she saw was the sourness of inebriation waiting to be poured into her glass.

“Thank you. It’s lovely,” her mother said.

Bess shifted her gaze from Rickie to the bottle.  He held it in his palm, presenting the intent of his visit plainly and without pretense.  He smiled, in case her mother looked at him, but she did not.  He didn’t seem to mind that her mother looked at the bottle as if he had presented her with a diamond necklace, and that she was no longer aware of the bearer of such bounty.  Still, he smiled, just in case.

Bess felt the corners of her mouth curl up in a smile of premature victory.  For a moment, it was as if neither Rickie nor her mother realized the bottle itself had conspired against them.  Red foil pressed down smoothly over a cork welded tightly in the neck of the bottle.  Even if her mother had decided to descend to the rugged incivility of picking at them, she would not be able to remove them.  Ensconced beneath the cork, the wine lay trapped, gurgling innocuously, unable to unleash the wrath of its seduction.

Her boldness, unrestrained by the better judgement of somebody more mature than herself, got the better of her.  “We don’t have a wine bottle opener,” Bess blurted, her mouth now curled in a smile that bordered on smugness.  She reached for the bottle, now useless as nothing more than a decoration in a setting that did not merit its presence.  Her hand floated out over the table, but the bottle remained firmly in Rickie’s grasp as he  jabbed his free hand in the bag and pulled out a plastic corkscrew. “Got one,” he said, holding it up as if he were brandishing a knife.

For the first time since he had sat down, he looked away from her mother and leveled his gaze on Bess.  He narrowed his eyes just enough for her to notice, while he maintained the eerily disarming grin that had been affixed to his face since she had opened the door.  Her smile collapsed and she felt her shoulders slump just enough for him to sense her deflation as he said, “Just in case.”

Turning back to her mother, he asked, “May I?”

“Well, of course,” her mother said.  Her eyes danced as she stared at the bottle, entranced.  Bess scowled as he stabbed the foil with the cheap curl of garish metal, piercing its noble pretense with a gesture that seemed vulgar to Bess.  Rickie twisted the cork viciously, skewering its fine posturing to get at the bare essence of the wine’s true purpose.  Bess let out an almost inaudible whimper as he yanked the cork free to remove the last barrier between the wine and her mother’s ravaging thirst for its glowing sedation.  Her mother saw only the elixir and nothing of the polite restraint one would exercise in the savoring of its taste, its body, its transmutation by patient aging into something to be shared and remembered.  It was the transient blush of intoxication she saw.  Nothing more.  The bottle might as well have been filled with malt liquor.

Oblivious to the silent battle raging between Bess and their guest, her mother tucked her chin down and eyed her with a thin smile. “Bess, honey, why don’t you serve?”

Transfixed by the man as he wrestled the cork from the bottle, Bess studied his hand, firmly gripping the bottle.  His wrists and the portion of his forearm protruding from underneath his windbreaker were firm and steady.  He was about the same age her father had been, but his vitality emanated with a casual resolve that she couldn’t overcome.

She groaned softly as he poured a glistening red stream into the dust-ridden glass next to her mother’s plate, its vengeance lurking in the stupor of the hours to come.

“Bess?” her mother said, prodding her with an edge in her voice.

“Right,” Bess said, her voice floating over the table. Trapped in the trance of watching the man pour wine into her mother’s glass, she couldn’t look away as the wine swirled higher, smothering the dust clinging to the side.

“Bess.”  Her mother’s voice sounded like a small dog barking. Startled, Bess winced. Looking away from the glass and into her mother’s smoldering eyes, Bess’s shoulders slumped as she sat down, defeated.  She lifted a large fork with a molded plastic handle and stabbed the pot roast to hold it in place as she carved away a slice with the matching knife.

Her mother took a sip of wine and closed her eyes, a wave of pleasure washing over her face. Eyeing the man, she said, “Wow, that’s really good.” She tipped the glass back and gulped the wine away, making no pretense at giving it even a cursory opportunity to fill her senses with any notion of palette, body or bouquet.  All of that was wasted on her except for the fact that she could make the excuse that she was drinking fine wine and somehow that was different than just drinking.

As Rickie poured enough wine to take the bottle to less than half full, he stared at Bess and curled his mouth into a thin sneering grin.  She felt a shiver run down her spine. His eyes stayed on her as he set the bottle back down and slouched comfortably over the table, letting her mother run her hand over his arm as she drained her glass.

Bess could hear the words forming in his mind as his gaze bore into her, relentless and overwhelming in its heralding of his victory. She could hear the words as clearly as if he had leaned over and whispered them in her ear.

There is nothing you can do to stop this.

***

 

Just over twenty-four hours later, Bess leaned against the stove, biting her nails.  He mother had left hours earlier, wearing a smooth dress that hugged her curves too tightly and several layers of makeup that she thought made her look ten years younger.  It had been a long time since she had seen her mother wear her face like that, and all she could remember was the sharp barking of her parents fighting in the waning hours beyond midnight while Bess cowered in her room and cried as she rocked nervously on her bed.

The front door opened and thudded against the wall little too hard, but Bess knew this was from clumsiness, not anger.  She squeezed her eyes shut as she heard her mother’s footsteps padding down the hall.  Her mother turned the corner and stopped in the entryway to the kitchen.

When she opened her eyes, Bess squeaked in a sharp gasp at the sight of her mother standing quietly in the doorway, glaring. She had been crying and the dried tears left streaks of mascara that hung down from her eyeliner. Her dress hung perfectly still on her slender frame. The woman stood so still, Bess couldn’t even tell if she was breathing. A plain paper bag folded at the top hung from her curled fingers.

Bess felt the air fall out of her lungs. “Mom. No.”

Her mother’s heels clicked on the tile floor as she stepped to the sink. She set the bag on the counter, uncurled the flap and pulled out a new bottle of Jack Daniels. Bess grabbed her mother’s wrist when she reached up to open the cabinet for a glass. Her mother tried to jerk away but Bess held on, digging her nails into her mother’s wrist.

“No.”

Her mother turned her head and looked at Bass sideways, sneering. In a single flurry of movement, she jerked her hand free and shoved Bess against the oven. Bess grimaced as her lungs deflated from the impact and the control knobs jabbed her in the back. Bess slumped down to the floor as her mother pulled the bottle out of its bag, set it on the counter and picked up a glass.

Her mother turned the glass in her hand, staring at its facets in the scant light that filtered in from the living room. She set the glass on the counter top hard enough to fill the room with a ringing clatter and glared at Bess. Keeping her eyes on her daughter, she ran her thumbnail around the neck of the bottle and twisted the cap just enough to break the paper seal.

“What was it you wanted to know?” she asked. She twisted the cap off and placed it on the countertop without a sound. “Why did my husband die? Isn’t that what you asked at his funeral?”

“Mom -” Bess gritted her teeth from the jabs of pain in her back as she struggled back to her feet. She started to reach out to her mother when her mother slammed her hand down on the counter top and yelled, “No!”

She picked up the bottle and tilted it just enough to form a thin trickle splashing into the glass. She didn’t take her eyes off Bess for what seemed a lifetime as the amber liquid filled the glass. Just as it was about to spill over, she stopped pouring and set the bottle next to the cap, then picked up the glass and rolled it between her palms as she turned towards Bess. She scoffed and tipped the glass to her mouth, closing her eyes as she savored the burn.

Her mother set the glass down and licked her lips. Opening her eyes, she said, “You can’t help it.”

“Help what?” Bess asked. She stared at the glass, her mind racing to find a way to distract her mother from drinking the rest. She latched onto her mother’s anger, turning into it. While her mother was venting, maybe Bess could slip over to the bottle somehow. If nothing else, her mother couldn’t yell and drink at the same time. It was a start.

“Girls your age do stupid things. Even if they’re smart like you.” She picked up the glass and took a long drink, draining the glass by half. “You can’t help it.”

Bess stared at the glass forlornly. Keep her talking. “That’s not fair.”

“Fair?” Her mother finished the drink and set her glass next to the bottle. Bess felt a sickening ache inside her chest and squinted at the bottle, forcing herself to keep her eyes open. She slowly shook her head, as if she was watching somebody fall from a cliff to plunge to their death. She cringed at seeing something inevitable, yet something she desperately wanted to stop from happening.

Her mother crouched down and looked straight into Bess’s eyes. “Tony is not a good man.” She raised her brow and tilted her head. “Hmm?”

“No. He’s not,” Bess said, noticing that her mother had left the bottle on the counter. That’s right. Look at me. Pour it all into me. I’m right here.

“Your father, well -” Her mother swept her hand through the air. “There was a good man.” She pursed her lips, waiting for Bess to say something.

“Yes. He was.”

“Men like Tony, they’re easy to find. They grow like weeds along the highway and keep springing up even if you run them over.”

“Mom -“

Before Bess could tell her mother that she understood all that, her mother cupped her hand around Bess’s chin and squeezed. “Do you know why everybody preaches to you about being careful with boys?”

Bess started to answer, and then realized her mother couldn’t accept any answer she might have. It was better to let her keep doing the talking. The bottle was still on the counter. If Bess could get just a little closer…

Her mother squeezed harder, sending a twinge of pain along Bess’s jawbone. “It’s because it’s so easy to get pregnant and find yourself shackled to a man who will make your life stop. It’s just that simple. It’s just that stupid. But for you, that wasn’t enough.” Her mother squeezed harder and Bess let out a whimper as a spike of pain sizzled along her temple.

“It’s easier to replace you than it is to buy a new houseplant. But men like your father – ” She let out a sigh and whipped her hand away from Bess’s chin. “Men like my husband – men like that are near impossible to find.”

Bess squeezed her eyes shut, refusing to give in to the tears welling up from the pain. Her mother leaned in. When Bess opened her eyes, she jerked back from the sight of her mother’s mascara-encrusted face just inches from her own. Her mother hissed her next words.

“Don’t you dare. Not one tear.”

Bess glared back, struggling to focus through the blur of water lining the rims of her eyelids. Her mother stood up and clicked back to the counter, where she picked up the bottle and clumsily poured her next drink, letting the glass overflow before she set the bottle back down.

Bess wiped the backs of her hands across her eyes to clear her vision and focused on the bottle. There was no other way. She had to risk direct, deliberate intervention and endure whatever wrath may come in its aftermath. She could to that. She had to. Because her father wasn’t here anymore and he had told her she had to take care of it now. So take care of it. Bess sucked in a sharp breath through her teeth and held it, steeling herself for what came next.

As her mother picked up her glass, Bess lunged forward and grabbed the bottle. Her hand started shaking as she held the bottle up and looked into her mother’s eyes. A flash of surprise raced across her mother’s drooping eyes and then her mouth opened as she reached out for the bottle.

Bess dropped the bottle on the floor.

Her mother jumped as the bottle shattered, sending glistening shards tumbling across the tiles and rivulets of whiskey flowing along their grooves. Her hand started to tremble and she spilled some of her drink as the muscles in her forearm tensed.

Bess saw it coming. She braced for it, as she did for the swells on the lake just before they broke against the hull of the boat. Her mother lashed out and threw her drink in Bess’s face. Bess’s eyes fluttered from the burn, but she kept them open and stared back at her mother as the whiskey flowed down her cheeks and dripped of her chin. Anything else?

Her mother tossed the glass in the sink and let it shatter as she turned and stormed out of the kitchen, her heels clicking against the tile with the swaying rhythm of her unsteady gait.

Bess wiped her face and flicked whiskey from her fingertips. She bent down to pick up one of the shards and held it in the light from the living room. A smile crept across her quivering mouth when she realized that her mother only had one drink.

She dropped the shard on the floor, imagining a glass brick had been shattered so she could peek through the wall. From somewhere in the wind, she imagined a whisper. Closing her eyes, she let it drape over her, soothing everything away for just a moment.

That’s my girl.

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