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"The Half Slip," short story excerpt

Thursday 7/8/21

If anyone could feel how much I love my children, they’d never question me, she thinks, no matter the results.


That’s an awful word, “results”—it can have so little to do with understanding, intention, the desperate need to bring about that which is most desired. A single result can outweigh everything that is in a heart.


It’s so unfair, she considers once more, but it’s not unfair. She understands how the system works. Why it’s in place. What she’s done to her children. What she’d kill anyone else for if they did it to her children. She wouldn’t actually kill them. She’d want to help instead, now that she was as she was. And knowing.


The times she wanted to kill herself the most were the times she wanted the most help. The times she needed it the most. When she thought about how she’d never deserved it less she felt a sadness that she’d only known when her babies were taken from her.


But that was a bigger sadness. And they weren’t babies then. They’re not babies now, but she can lose them, and she’ll feel worse for each girl because they’re twelve and fourteen. They’ll have to be somewhere else, with other people, and they know, and they can talk, and ask. They can understand how much is wrong. How much is wrong with her.


A baby wouldn’t. What can a baby recognize? Then she thought about her girls when they were babies, how they recognized her face. She knew it. They smiled in their way of saying, “why, it’s you again, I was so hoping it’d be you who first picked me up on this new day, what are we doing today, momma?”


She looked at the bottle in front of her on the table next to the couch. The condition of the glass. Once she dated a man who sold sports cards for a living. He spoke in terms of conditions. Very good-to-excellent. Near mint. Fair. Poor. Authentic. Gem mint. The gem mint bottle of the vodka. Quality brand. Not a gas station guzzler. Even the plastic wrapping at the top was pristine. Elves might have stitched it there.


The vodka more readily lent itself to the gem mint grade. Something about the cold transparency of the liquid. The brown of whiskey suggested a certain impurity. Pebbles. Stagnation. Silt. The vodka was a stilled sluice. Merely paused. Not on the path to turbidity.

She could practically feel the quality of the oxygen in the contents of the glass. She could breathe it in if she had to if someone took away the air. If God took away the air. Wouldn’t need gills. If one day he decided, “that’s enough hearty and hale ozone for all of you, you sinners and you suckers.”


Or wait—was ozone way up in the clouds? There was liquid there, too. Was it any wonder she saw a drink everywhere she looked?


But maybe they wouldn’t know. When they tested her. She went years back now with the probation officer. Some nights after she’d driven the girls to where she’d driven them—a friend’s house, the movie theater, the dump of a mall that was supposed to be shuttered two years back—she thought, I can call Sandra. In a different life, a different circumstance, we’re exactly the kind of people who would be amazing friends. We kind of are friends.


She saw her probation officer once at the store around Christmas, when she was out determining what she could afford for the girls. The older they got, the more what they wanted cost. But they were good girls. They understood certain realities. Of how little there was to spare. But if it was possible to get them each something, a decently good something, that would be the Christmas, and it would be better than the Christmas from the year before. Which was always the goal of a Christmas, or the Christmases she wanted them to have—beat the one that came last. Keep the momentum going.