A hint of a grin showed on Cheryl’s bitter face. Gnarled by a lifetime of repressed pain and unrestrained anger, she was incapable of a real smile. The closest she ever came to feeling good was through minimizing the bad and that was only achieved with the help of Captain Morgan (the only name brand item in the house). It washed through her like a cleansing fire, burning away pain and misery. This moment, right now, was her heaven. Her bliss. Her freedom from agony. And as her body became light and her lips started to feel numb, she knew everything would be fine. And then she’d float up, away from the horrors, free of the reigns that bound and cut her flesh.
Her body stayed behind; sprawled in a chair stained by two generations of drool, liquor, and sometimes urine. With shut eyes and arms hanging awkwardly, it sat motionless while a cigarette dangled precariously from two fingers, sending a smooth column of white up into the cloud that hovered on the ceiling. Her chest rose and fell, peacefully, for the entire afternoon, long after the spent cigarette butt had fallen to join two friends on the hardwood floor.
Cheryl didn’t hear the screech of the bus as it braked in front of the house. She didn’t hear the front door creek open, the small footsteps, or the two attempts to push the door shut. But she did hear the little voice that ended the silence.
She opened her eyes too quickly. Even the dim light was enough to pierce her skull and send sharp pains throughout her head. She quickly shut them and tried, but failed to grab her pounding temples because of her sluggish drunken movements. She kicked her feet and struggled for a moment to sit up and face the blurry little girl standing across the swaying room. She licked her chapped lips, took a deep breath, and in her own mind, greeted her daughter with the control and care of any loving mother. Then she reached for the bottle lying sideways on the coffee table and held it to her parched lips.
With the flick of her wrist, she sent the little girl running for the garage to bring in the Captain’s reinforcements. She collapsed again into the chair, but this time far from heaven. This was the hell where her body ached, her head spun, and she wallowed in a murky swamp of horrible memories. Her father’s temper, the bruises, her mother’s swollen face. They were there, in the room again. She heard the screaming. She felt the terror of hiding in the closet, waiting for it to pass. She yelled, filling the house with her angry, urgent demand. What was taking her spoiled little daughter so long? Had she forgotten, stopped to play, make a sandwich? Stupid little irresponsible…
Then her uncle’s face, hovered above her. She felt his spittle on her face while his dirty hands held her mouth shut. She threw the empty bottle. Its flight across the room ended with a dull thud against the wall and it fell in one piece to the floor.
Then a cool bottle was in her hand. There you go mommy, you’ll be all better now.
With shaky hands, she wrestled with the lid until it fell to the floor. She raised the bottle and took two large draws. The burning down her throat meant her escape was moments away. She looked at her sweet child and reached out to pat her on the head but only managed to drag the back of her hand across her face which sent her running off into other parts of the house. At least my child has a good life, she thought, as the hint of a grin returned and Captain Morgan once again lifted her out of her misery.