I slammed the closet door and begged whatever divine entity was making the planet twirl on its axis to just give me a break for once. “I’m supposed to be in St. Croix, Mom. This really sucks.”
“Stop whining,” Mom said. “Blue or green?”
She chose green. Mom was always doing things like that. Prom night I wanted the red dress with the slit. She picked the yellow one that washed out my complexion, then told me to get some sunshine.
When the call came at 6:15 this morning, I wanted to tell Mom to screw off because Grandpa barely said two words to me when he was alive. But she said families stick by each other or some happy-go-lucky crap I didn’t buy and neither did she.
Mom tossed the shirt on Grandpa’s bed. The sheets stunk like pain cream and prunes, so I held my breath for a few seconds to keep from hurling. “Spring break,” Mom said, rummaging through the drawers looking for the old man’s dress pants. “When I was a kid…”
I blocked out most of what she said and picked my way through Grandpa’s prescription meds. There was good stuff, painkillers mostly. Some sleeping pills. Might get a fair price for those. I popped the cap off one of the bottles, put it back on.
I didn’t tell Mom everything. That sometimes Grandpa and I swapped pills and said nothing, just chewed and swallowed with a cup of cranberry juice. Then I waited until he fell asleep so I could take more.
“You weren’t going to drink, were you?” Mom asked, shoving Grandpa’s pants into a plastic grocery sack.
She grabbed me by the elbow and hauled me to my feet. A late-night conversation on the back of a busted-up pickup truck slammed into me — four years ago when the June bugs stuck to my shirt and Mom’s breath still smelt like whiskey, so I took the blame for smashing into that oak tree. “We got to get these clothes to the funeral home,” was all my mom said and I kept my mouth shut so I didn’t rock the boat.
It was spring break 1984 when Mom drank the first time to forget. Some creep pulled her into an alleyway behind a dumpster and roughed her up a bit. She knew him, a guy named Travis who hung around the donut shop where she worked part-time to earn money for a car. She didn’t tell nobody, just straightened her skirt, and wiped the tears from her face with her shirt sleeve.
When spring break ended, she returned to school and paid guys to buy the liquor for her, and kept it hidden in a medicine bottle in her purse. She ran into Travis again at a baseball game and threw a soda in his face. When he tried to grab her, she rammed him in the gut with her elbow, and it felt good. One night she drank too much and crashed into the garage door. She was 17. She quit drinking for six years, got married, got pregnant with me, then took up the liquor again when I hit four years old. She kept the booze hidden in weird places. Behind potted plants. Perfume bottles. Daddy’s guitar case. I was 16 with a driver’s license burning a hole in my pocket when the crash happened. Stupid band practice ran over, and Daddy’s second job as a security guard at the bank kept him later than usual, so Mom had to pick me up. Too bad it was Thursday, and Mom drank more on Thursday because she worked as Elsie Smith’s caregiver, the old lady across the street who banged her cane against the coffee table when she had to pee.
Mom and I were arguing. I kissed Lizzy Tillman’s boyfriend behind the dugout and Lizzy called me a dirty tramp, and Mom agreed. She didn’t see the deer until it was too late. She jerked the wheel hard to the left, the pickup truck crossed the center line, and we slammed into a tree. Mom begged to switch places with me. I could smell the liquor on her breath, and she didn’t want people to know she didn’t have her problem under control. I took the fall because I was a dumb girl just trying to keep the peace. She quit drinking for good after that, told me and Daddy it was time to turn over a new leaf. Spring break a year later we strolled the Florida seashore and shooed away the seagulls. Fun times all around.
My forehead bounced against the passenger side window and the memory burst into a million pieces. I wiped a stray tear that dribbled down my cheek. I didn’t miss Grandpa much, just strange that he wasn’t there anymore. Did he ever like me or was I just a silly girl plucked from the same soupy gene pool, and he put up with me because society told him it was the right thing to do?
“I’m sorry you missed your trip,” Mom said, pulling me from my depressing thoughts. Her tone was bland, like she was reading the menu at that crappy seafood restaurant downtown.
“No big deal,” I muttered. “I’ll have other spring breaks.” But nothing was guaranteed.
The funeral home came into view, a drab brown building with one side covered in ivy.
“I should’ve brought the blue shirt,” Mom said absently. “Your grandpa liked blue.”
I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to be mad at Mom anymore. It was life-sucking and enough life had been siphoned from the both of us. I leaned back against the headrest and dreamed about the beach. For now, my dreams would have to be enough.
Rebecca Buller is a native Oklahoman. Her work has appeared in various publications including Burningword Literary Journal, The A3 Review and Press, Star 82 Review, and Cloudbank. She’s also a Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition award winner. She’s currently self-studying Spanish and the acoustic guitar. She does most of her writing when the sun goes down and the moon comes up.