Moira can’t get her eyes to open as she silences the rap song tinging out of the clock radio. She does not have the time to congeal herself out of the puddle she dissolved into last night. Instead, the sunlight, the alarm, and one clear thought attacks her. It is the same last thought she had before falling asleep. You promised. You promised you’d never step into that house. Cause you were never going to change.
She rolls over to put her back to the numbers on the clock.
“What the hell was that?” Rob mumbles as he lies on his stomach, his sour breath inches from her face.
“The alarm. I have to go home today.” Not being able to take his breath, she sits up and lights a cigarette from her pack on the nightstand. She spots the watery rum and coke also on her nightstand and downs it.
When the clock radio clicks and an announcer’s laugh shoots out of it, she hits the snooze button again and allows herself nine more minutes of staring off into space. After eight minutes, she unplugs the radio so that the alarm does not get Rob up.
Stumbling to the closet, she yanks her suitcase out of the back and sets it on the floor. She pulls out what she will wear today – a pair of white capris and a denim sleeveless blouse. Then she tries to figure out where she can borrow a dress as she packs. The question swirls around in her head. She sits down on the end of the bed and smokes another cigarette.
“Let’s start this day out right.” Rob’s voice makes her jump.
“I can’t get high. I told you. I have to go home.”
“It will make you feel better.”
“I need that,” she agrees. When she looks at him, he has one eye open.
“Guess what, Squirt?” Eugene asked his little girl sitting at their kitchen table.
She looked away from Rugrats on the small TV on the counter. “Mommy’s coming home today.”
“That’s right. You guessed my news.” He sat down at the table next to her. “That’s why I’m not going to work today and you’re not going to the babysitter.”
She looked around. “The house is kinda messy.”
Eugene nodded. “Mommy has been sick, so we got to have everything ready for her. Wanna help me?”
Her eyes lit up. “Yes, Daddy. Let’s make it perfect.”
Her hair is still wet from her shower. She has taken too long because Rob gave her too much coke. But with expired tags on the car, she does not want to speed. Lighting a cigarette off her old one, she promises herself that halfway home, she will pull over and burn one so she will be able to handle the day.
The coke has given its desired effect, so she decides she is alert enough to speed along the empty freeway. The fight with Rob last night and everything she will have to deal with today puts on plays in her head. So when she applies the extra force to the gas pedal, she thinks of her little saying she says often. “You can’t outrun your problems, but you can die trying.”
With that thought, she picks up her cell phone and checks her voicemail. “Moira,” Andy’s voice says. “I’m glad you called me. For you, I can get anything. Stop by and I can set you up–” She hits the end button so she does not have to hear him.
Eugene watched his daughter stand on one of the kitchen chairs and wash the dishes. She was six now and did not look like him or her mother. But the way she pulled her hand out of the soap suds to brush her hair back mimicked what he had seen his wife do a thousand times.
“Do you have knives in the water?”
“I can wash them, Daddy.”
“No. Leave them for me.”
She smiled. “They’re just butter knives.”
With a broom in one hand and a cigarette in the other, Eugene laid his cheek against his daughter’s head. “It’s my job to protect you, Squirt. Until Mom comes home.”
Even in the sleeveless blouse, her skin is moist as if she is running a fever. And though the sunny morning turns cloudy, she keeps her sunglasses on. She will need them later, too, when she is crying. Grandma will get her little digs in by saying how surprised she is that she came.
“Rain’s coming, Squirt. If we’re going to get outside today, we better do it now.”
“Can I ride my bike?” she asked. But he was already out the door and heading toward the garage to open it for her. He swung the garage door up and gazed into its empty bay.
Squirt ran under his raised arms still on the door. “It’s lonely here without Mommy, isn’t it?”
She looked up at him. “I’m telling her to never leave again.”
“I’m telling her that, too,” he said, drops of rain already hitting his back.
Then the phone rang in the house. Let it ring, he thought.
Squirt dropped her bike. “Maybe, it’s Mommy.” The way the caller did not give up made Eugene run and grab the phone before Squirt got it.
It was the police. There had been a car accident.
Moira pulls into the rest area for the self-promised joint. Parked in the far end of the parking lot, she puffs it and plans the next two days. This joint will get her through being at her grandma’s house and the rehashing of the fight they had the last day Moira lived with her. Then she will find Andy to get something to obliterate the evening and a joint to smoke before the funeral. To get calm enough to handle it. Afterward, she promises herself, she will stay sober and think about things and grieve. But she cannot get through the wake and funeral straight.
“Moira,” Grandma said. “This is it.” Her grandma was a stout woman with thinning hair in tight curls. “Living with me was supposed to show poor Eugene that you changed.”
“I didn’t steal your car. Andy did. I went along to protect it.” Moira wasn’t sure if all of it had happened. The high-speed chase. The crash. Andy going to jail. She seemed so disconnected from it.
“And you haven’t been stealing money from me and you haven’t been coming home stoned or drunk? Rehab made you worse.”
When Moira looked up, she saw that her grandma was crying, and she knew now everyone had given up on her. It was what she wanted.
Her car, loud from a rusty muffler dies to the dinging sound of the keys in the ignition. She can’t believe it. Wrong turns to get to Andy’s have left her parked in front of the house. One last promise is about to be broken.
She gets out of the car and wipes tears out of her eyes with her bare wrists. She saw him for Christmas two years ago. Since then, the drive was too long and talking to him at Grandma’s during holidays too pointless. She kept her comments light and avoided being alone with him.
This only hurt him more. But as she unlocks the door with her key, she prays that somehow she will hear the words, “I’m glad you’re home, Squirt.”
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