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The Cracked Glass
The man was standing in his bedroom, staring intently at a spot on the floor. He couldn’t move. His heartbeat seemed to fill his ears as the echo of the creak made by the floorboard mere seconds ago reverberated in his head. He shifted his weight onto his other foot and then back again to test it. There it was, another creak. The light pouring in from the small, dirty window of his room seemed suddenly too bright, like it would expose him. With a sudden burst of energy he crossed the length of the room in the two steps needed and seized one dingy, moth-eaten curtain in each hand, yanking the edges together with a screech to block the illumination and shield that section of the apartment from any potential onlookers.
The man turned back to the floorboard. It would be so easy, so very, very easy. All it would take was a prod here, a knock there and it would open like a treasure chest to yield its seductive bounty. It was calling him like a siren, promising him the release from the world that he so craved, promising an end to his jumpiness, his insomnia, his nightmares. He would never start shaking again, he wouldn’t see things that weren’t there. He needed it, he had to have it!
He held himself back for only a minute before he threw himself down to the floor and aggressively set about removing the board from its position.
She might have found it, he reminded himself as his fingers scratched at the edges of the wood, heedless of any splinters. She went through your room, you know it. She was cunning enough to find your other hidden compartments.
The man wasn’t sure if he hoped this was correct or not because then a second, more vicious voice joined that annoyingly cautious one.
Don’t be an idiot, it’s worth a chance! She’s just a dumb kid! You know she’d never find all of them! Do it, do it!
He obeyed the second voice in his head with minimal resistance and ripped the wood off the floor.
There it was. It was beautiful. The muted rays of afternoon light peeking in through the moth-holes in the curtain bounced off the dusty glass. With trembling fingers he reached in and pulled it out. A second later he was sitting on his heels staring at the faded, peeling label. The sound of the liquid sloshing inside the bottle was alluring and unusually loud to his ears. His world had shrunk down to the old bottle of vodka staring him in the face.
He had been on the wagon for 3 weeks, longer than some of his bouts of prohibition, not as long as others. But even three weeks later he was still getting the DTs; they were lasting longer then they normally did and that made this round so much harder to cope with. Too hard, as a matter of fact. He would simply have to try again another time, it was only reasonable. It was not a good time to start now, just unreasonable. Stress was building up at work at that minimum-wage brain-killing grunt job. It wasn’t helping him, it was trying to drive him into an insane asylum! He had a PhD for Christ’s sakes! He should be lecturing in those halls. He should be neatly piling folders on those desks, not scraping gum off the undersides of them! It was completely unreasonable for someone to expect him to stay on the wagon at this point. No one could do that mind-numbing job sober!
Besides, one little swig of vodka didn’t mean he’d be drunk, so it wasn’t really cheating. It was just a momentary pick-me-up, a little booster to give him the strength to continue with his program. Just enough to tie him over and get past the hump, everyone had a problem with Wednesdays after all! Who could fault him for that?
Sweat was beading on his brow as the man gently blew the topmost layer of dust off the bottle. He paused only one additional moment before he furiously went to work unscrewing the top. It was tricky; the stupid thing was just a little bit stuck. He struggled with it a when his sweaty palm slipped, the over-enthusiastic motion throwing him off balance and sending him backwards into the set of drawers at his bedside. The movement hadn’t been forceful, just a very light bump, but it was enough to jostle the rickety old thing so that the picture perched on the edge fell to the floor. There was a clatter and a strangle clink which made him pause. Slowly, cautiously, the man reached with a trembling hand to pick it up.
The frame was old and had two pictures hap-hazardly crammed into it. There was a girl, perhaps about ten, pushing a little boy no older than one or two on a swing. The baby was partially cut off but the girl wasn’t and neither was the metal support of the apparatus. She had a diaper bag leaning against the swing next to her backpack. The other photo was a more recent one. The little boy was six, maybe seven and the girl was now a teenager, a young woman. Somewhat unusually, he was in the photograph too: well groomed, clean shaven and wearing a semi-casual suit.
The picture frame had broken, or at least, the glass was cracked. Strange. This frame had lasted years. It had fallen off much higher surfaces and suffered more violent incidences than this and had never so much as chipped, yet now such a small bump had left a long, jagged line marring the picturesque moments beneath the transparent shield.
The man looked back to the bottle. He had to have it, he needed it, it would make him feel so much better, give him an hour or two of relief…
But at what cost? He’d lost entire afternoons to black-outs before, if he wasn’t careful. He might miss his son’s pee-wee game, the one he had sworn he would attend. But would being just a little tipsy be that bad? Really?
No. No, his kids needed him. He might be a drunk but he was also a parent. The world was a dangerous place, they needed his protection, they were looking to him to look after them and he would not disappoint them! He’d promised Natalie. Natalie would be furious with him…
But Natalie needn’t know. She was at school. School didn’t end for hours yet and she’d be picking up her little brother on her way back. It was a nice June day, perfect early summer weather. They might even go to the park. If so, that would buy him an extra half hour at least. No one would be any the wiser if he did take a sip and he would feel so much better…wouldn’t he?
The man was so caught up in his thoughts that he didn’t hear the apartment door open despite the paper-thin walls of the apartment. Instead, he thought about the urn in their living room; the only thing religiously cleaned and polished in their home. He thought of what his wife would have said if she could have seen him. He would never have ended up like this if she’d still been with them. If were to see him now…she’d hate him.
No, no he wouldn’t do it. He’d put the bottle back. Better yet, he’d get rid of it. He’d go to his son’s game at five, and then he’d take them out for dinner. He couldn’t afford anything fancy on his salary, but they wouldn’t mind MacDonald’s, especially not his son.
“Dad?” a clear young voice called, snapping him out of his reverie. “Dad, I’m home!” He looked up at the clock. What was she doing back? It was barely noon! She should be in school, unless…
She’d told him about them. Her last one ended at 11:30! Quickly, the man scrambled to replace the discarded board as Natalie’s voice rang through the apartment when his bedroom door opened. He looked up to see Natalie standing there, one hand on his doorknob. She took one look at the bottle and set her jaw angrily.
“No, no Natalie! You don’t understand!” the man implored. She shook her head and looked at him with contempt.
“You promised it would be different this time,” She said coldly.
“Natalie, please! Just let me explain—”
“It’s never any different, Dad!” She informed him through clenched teeth. With one final look at the vodka she turned and stalked off, slamming the door behind her. The man scrambled to his feet to go after her, knocking the picture with his boot. The frame flew into the wall and this time the glass shattered.