The problem began, as so many problems do, with a gift.
“No good deed goes unpunished,” he said, with one raised eyebrow.
All he did was shovel their driveway a couple of times; nothing he hadn’t done before. This time they were saying thank you with a bottle.
“They’ve given me booze before,” he answered, to no question at all.
Maybe they had. Maybe it hadn’t mattered before.
Be generous: “You deserve it!”
Magnanimous: (a pat and a squeeze) “Enjoy it!”
“I’ll just put it away”
We’re in the car. After Santa Claus pictures. After last minute shopping and Salvation Army drop-offs.
“Wanna give it away?”
I shrug. “To who?”
Anyone. That is the point.
“Or d’you think we can kill it in one night?”
“Tonight? Yeah.” (Me. Too quickly).
“Or we could pour it down the drain”
A few kilometres pass. It’s Sunday afternoon. The kids are asleep in the backseat, napping far too late in the day.
“We are going to pay for this little gift,” I say, and shrug my shoulder toward the sleeping babes, but he misses the shrug and thinks I’m talking about the rye.
“It’s one bottle,” he says. We drive past the street that leads to the church where they hold the meetings.
He turns to look my way briefly at the next stop sign, “You know, I can’t stop thinking about it”
The babies need carrying inside. One is sprawled half out of his booster seat, the other has her mouth open in a rosebud “o.” Their curls are damp inside their hoods and the heat of their cheeks tell me they need more sleep. I hold the door for him as he hoists our boy (growing lanky in his sleep) up the steps.
I will him to open the bottle.
I unzip puffy purple parkas and try not to obsess. Stay in the moment. So beautiful. Precious girl, sweet, sleeping girl.
“Do you think he’s the devil?”
It takes me a moment, but not a long one, to realize he is talking about our neighbour. He might be. Or he might be an emissary. In fact, his pallor suggested that the only thing keeping him alive was a deal made at a crossroads.
“It was good of you to shovel his driveway,” I offer. Supplicating. Massaging. “He couldn’t do it himself.”
A frown as he closes the front door lightly with his foot. “I thought they hired a service?”
I don’t want to talk about the service, or the neighbour, dying of cancer. There is only the bottle.
“Listen,” I say. “The kids are going to wake up any minute, what’re we going to do?”
“Well, it’s up to you”
No, it’s not.
“What do you want to do?”
There is no “want”. No “you.” There is only that bottle. Somewhere in this house, somewhere he put it when I told him “keep it, but hide it.”
The Christmas lights turn on by automatic timer and they light the dim room.
Fists pound the inside walls of my flesh, screaming injustice at their mortal cage, screaming for emancipation.
“OPEN THE GODDAMN BOTTLE!”
A shrug. Nonchalant.
“Let’s do it.”
And relief melts his features as the decision is made for him; and he can still the small fists pounding a fury inside his own body.
Alexa Farley writes poetry and short stories in the Georgian Bay area of southern Ontario. Her inspiration is drawn as much from the beauty that surrounds her as it is from her own ridiculous fallibility.