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(novel excerpt/flash fiction)

published online by Crack the Spine lit mag

Issue 239. 

June 26, 2018

          Craig crumpled to the bed like a rag doll and began snoring. He looked so innocent in his sleep — vulnerable and defenseless. I gazed down at him for a moment and pushed a sweaty tangle of curls off his forehead. His skin felt clammy, almost feverish.

            I traced the edges of splintered glass in my pocket. Cool to the touch, jagged teeth raking across my fingertips. It would take only a second…

            I turned away.

            Downstairs, my hand lingered on the lid of a forgotten mason jar, half-full of moonshine. He would notice even a drop missing.

            My feet felt like lead as I dragged them up each step, clutching the neck on a bottle of whiskey filched from Sunset Tavern. It was easy to sneak a bottle or two without notice when I was in charge of stock count. A twinge of guilt flickered through me but then I thought how much worse it would be if I didn’t have the alcohol. And I couldn’t buy it, not without Craig noticing.

           Her nursery lay at the end of the hall, close enough to the master bedroom so we could hear Cassandra’s cries when she woke at night. I moved inside the room and twirled the ice in my glass.

            I’d designed this room, spent hours making each corner perfect. A wooden rocking chair found at a yard sale, its arms worn and chipped but well-loved, faced the window so we could watch the sunset as I rocked Cassandra to sleep.              The new crib awaited assembly, its white gates leaning against the coral-painted wall. A mobile of brightly colored birds swung in the air above. They rocked as if touched by an unseen wind, swaying back and forth in the fading light.

            The windows looked out on a breathtaking sunset just as I’d planned, the sun painting the Sandia Mountains a deep red. Orange and pink swirled together like a masterpiece, wisps of deep purple clouds added to the scene.

            Down the slope of our backyard and in the valley, a cluster of cane cholla stood guard with stiff, spindly arms outstretched, magenta flowers budding at their fingertips. A smaller mountain range stood apart from the Sandias. This singular row resembled a line of sleeping elephants, which I fondly referred to as the “elephant mountains.” My aunt and uncle used to drive past these — they would remark how the mountains leaned against each other with long ears flapping over one another, trunks intertwined. To me it had always been remarkable that these elephants remained together, unmoving and eternally loyal.

          My fingers found the shard of glass deep in my pocket. I moved to the closet and tucked it high on the shelf, hidden among untouched baby blankets. When the time was right.

I took a swig. Liquid fire burned as it went down, warming me to the bone. Tomorrow would be better. Craig would show me he loves me. He would prove it, like he always did.

            My head fell back and my eyes closed. I sank down to the freshly laid carpet soft as downy feathers between my fingers. Soft as baby’s breath on my cheek.

            Like this, I could imagine the crib assembled with its dangling mobile of dancing birds, the rocking chair swinging back and forth and holding my weight as I cradled Cassandra, humming a lullaby. The sun’s orange-pink radiance faded in the window.

            Tomorrow would be a new day.

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