Whiskey lullaby This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

February 3, 2011
They had nothing more to say to each other. He didn’t even have anything more to criticize her for or accuse her of. He packed up what was obviously his and a few things that weren’t, pushed past her pleading outstretched arms, and walked out the door, leaving it wide open to the night and to a bitter winter landscape that mirrored their frozen hearts. She didn’t call after him. She watched numbly as his familiar silhouette grew smaller and disappeared into the falling snow. It didn’t take long. She heard a car door open and close and watched his lights receding. Then she crumbled silently to the floor, still refusing to believe it. After everything was said and done, she still couldn’t wrap her mind around the end. She stared wide-eyed at the gapping black hole of the open door. It taunted her and threw swirling whips of snow onto her bare arms. She made no move to close it or shield herself from the cold. It was a relief to feel something again. If the door was still open, she could imagine him walking back through it. In her wishful mind, he got down on his knees and pulled her close, wrapping comforting, loving arms around her. When he did this, she felt her heart come alive and start to flitter again like a tiny bird within her chest. But he didn‘t come back. He didn‘t wrap his arms around her and tell her he was sorry. He didn‘t make promises she knew he couldn‘t keep. He was gone this time for good. She was alone. Really alone. It was over. Really over.

She stared at the open door for what felt like hours and let warm tears roll down her frozen face. There was nothing to be said. Nothing to be done. Her head throbbed as she at last reluctantly got up from the floor to shut the door. She paused on the stoop, half-way in and half-way out, transfixed by the movement of the snow. It was beautiful. Mean and cruel and beautiful. It danced around in the halo of her porch-light, inviting her to join in, to venture out and go wherever the winds would take her. She couldn’t see very far in the darkness and near-blizzard conditions. Something about the mystery of this intrigued her. What lay beyond her porch? What were the darkness and the blanket of snow hiding from her? She felt close to knowing something important that had been escaping her but was now waiting for her to reach out and touch it. A chill run up her back, urging her forward. She stood at the door and willed the breeze to take her away to a better place, a place where the winter was not the lonely dead thing that beat without life within her. She longed for a winter that was as beautiful and alive as spring. For a few wonderful moments, she lost herself in a world of her own making. She forgot reality. For those wonderful moments, she was happy again with her husband and baby beside her. It didn’t last nearly as long as she wanted it to. A branch from a nearby tree creaked and startled her out of her pleasant dreams and back into the darkness of the night. As much as she wished it, winter was not spring. As much as she wanted it to be otherwise, her baby was dead, her husband was gone and her heart would remain cold and bleak and ugly. She closed the door along with her last vestige of hope that he would be coming back.

She went to her room and crawled into a bed that still smelled of him. It was an odd mixture of whiskey and cologne. She hated the smell of whiskey! Mingled with his cologne, it became a spirit-scent that haunted her, reminding her of what was lost. She lay awake, staring at the wall and trying to think of nothing. Instead she was besieged by memories of him. The good Memories caused the most pain. She remembered the man she fell in love with before the whiskey monster took him over. The joy of her wedding day flashed before her, piercing her heart with sharp shards of graffiti. She smiled bitterly, recalling the moment he had refused the glass of wine she offered him on their honeymoon. It wasn’t a test, exactly, but he passed it -- that time.

She’d known about his drinking problem from the beginning, but she didn’t think it would get in the way of true love. She saw love as a magical elixir with the power to make all things right. She fell in love with the man behind the addiction and true to her expectations, he stopped drinking -- for her. She helped him. It wasn’t easy, but he loved her then and he protected her, and she thought it would always be that way. That was before the baby died. That was before she fell into a deep depression. It was before he felt so helpless that he turned back to the whiskey. He left her alone and had an affair with his whiskey. Alone. Night after night. If he can do it, she thought, then so can I. So she dulled the ache by having an affair of her own. She wouldn’t have done it if she hadn’t been mourning for the baby. She wouldn’t have done it if he had been there for her. But she did it and there was no undoing it. He couldn’t forgive her. She knew he couldn’t forgive her. Even if he could, there was no going back. They had taken the elixir of love and thrown it upon the ground. It proved to be more fragile than they thought. It was irrevocably broken, its magical contents forever lost to the cold, hard earth.

She lay awake, smelling the cologne and the whiskey, memory after memory piecing her heart. It became clear to her, then, that she had made a grave mistake. He chose the whiskey over her; so she had turned into the arms of another man. Instead, she realized, she should have embraced his vice. Then, they could have remained together. Now it was the only thing she had left of him. It was the only way she could reach out to him. She gathered herself from the bed and walked resolutely to the kitchen. She’d found a bottle of his and hidden it in the cupboard under the sink back behind the cleaning supplies, hoping he wouldn‘t find it there. As she bent down to open the door, she saw her reflection in the small glass knob. Her eyes were reddened and puffy from the countless hours of crying, her hair went every-which-way, and in her empty, sad soul she saw the ugly, useless, no good wife she was led to believe she was. She opened the cupboard without further hesitation and reached for the whiskey.

While she was taking his medicine, he was out in a winter storm, driving drunk through a blizzard. He didn’t want to think about her anymore. He just wanted to drive fast and forget why he was leaving her again. He didn’t want to feel the tears rolling down his face and he didn’t want to see her pleading face before his eyes constantly. But he did. It was her fault. It was always her fault. He repeated this over and over. She brought this on herself. She hurt him, more than she could imagine. He drove faster and drank more. willing the whiskey to shake away the memories that hurt too much. He remembered the smile on her face when they brought the baby out to her and how beautiful she looked after giving birth. She was always beautiful. He remembered holding the baby and seeing the brilliant blue eyes beaming back at him. They were her eyes. He promised that baby the world, that he would protect him and always be there for him. The first week was a happy, loving time. That night, it was his turn to wake when the baby cried. He never woke, because the baby never cried. In the morning she woke to find her child still and cold and stiff. She picked it up and held it to her warm body, refusing to believe the truth. He found her that way. Her wide, frightened, shocked eyes boring a hole through his very soul. They were the child’s eyes. Accusing eyes. “Where were you?“ she asked. “You were supposed to wake and feed him?“

Nothing made her happy after that. Nothing. In time, he stopped trying. He stopped looking into her accusing eyes. He started drinking again. The doctor tried to explain what had happened to their son and why his wife was as she was, but no one could explain why God had decided to take the baby away, no one could explain and no one could help. Only the whiskey helped. He wasn’t so bad at first. He only drank a little and he never let her know. But she found out, and she wasn’t happy. He couldn’t stop drinking and she couldn’t stop crying. Her heart was breaking right in front of him and he was helpless to prevent it, just as he had been ineffective in keeping their child safe. He took comfort in the whiskey. She was tired of the heart ache and the husband that neglected her. She needed help, she needed someone to lean on, so she found comfort in another man. False comfort but better than what she had.

It was only a matter of time before he found out, and no amount of whiskey could fix it. He drove faster down the highway clenching his teeth willing the speed to take him away to a better place. If she can cheat, why cant I drink? He thought to himself as he pulled the bottle of whisky out from under his seat. He stared at his reflection in the bottle. Bags lay under his reddened eyes, worry, sorrow and anger lined his brow and sadness took over his deep chocolate eyes. He saw only the selfish, abusive husband he was led to believe he was, and without further hesitation he opened a new bottle of whiskey.

She lay outstretched on the bed, whiskey thick on her breath, as she clung to a picture of him. He was smiling at her, his deep brown eyes shining with something she hadn’t seen in awhile. His arm was around her in the picture. She looked up out of the photo with something she hadn’t felt in a long time -- loved. She held the frame to her chest, letting drunken sobs tear through her. Her head heart, and her heart felt as though someone had ripped it from her. She longed desperately for her old life back. Her memories of once upon a time taunted her impaired mind and exposed heart and drove her to desperation. She wanted more than she had ever wanted anything to be able to jump into the photograph. But she couldn‘t. It was impossible to go back. She could only go forward and see what was beyond the blizzard.

Her fingers reached out instinctively. They opened the top drawer searching blindly for the object of intent. They came to a stop when they felt the cool touch of metal, carefully tracing its contours to make sure of what she was grabbing. They stopped dead at the trigger; a paralyzing adrenaline engulfed her. She felt the power of a life or death decision. Whatever her choice, she realized that she was in control of her destiny. The thought of seeing her baby again brought a smile to her face. It would all be determined by the slightest movement of her pointer finger.

He drove through the snow and hail. It was hard enough under normal circumstances to see through the snow but his whiskey impaired eyes made it all the more difficult. He drove on blindly, sometimes on the road, sometimes not, but he was long past caring. He wanted to remember her now, every little thing about her, her smile and her laugh. He wanted to remember the days when life was easy. He recalled her on their wedding day; how beautiful she was in white, her hair pinned back in fancy curls, her caked on makeup. He chuckled aloud remembering how she let her sister do her makeup, and how bad it looked. But she was beautiful, in spite of it. She was always beautiful to him, and he wanted to hold on forever to the memories of her the way she was. In his mind, he went back in time and relived those first years of bliss before any of the bad stuff happened, when he had a faithful wife and he knew what it was like to be sober. His hands clutched tighter to the wheel, his breathing slowed to a normal rate. He clung to the memories of her face, and to a long-lost and long-forgotten happiness. The icy bridge that should have terrified him only comforted him, revealing new hope. What was on the other side? Would it all make sense there? Would they at last be able to come together, the way they wanted to, but couldn’t? He smiled, a slow, languid smile. He was no longer in control of his body. A strange new excitement took hold of him. Was this the end of love, he wondered, or the beginning of something better? The slightest turn of his hand promised an answer.

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