I have a relationship with many muses and some of them are human. This is a story given to me by one of the humans. I'm blessed to have a friend who hates to write (how can that be?) but whose imagination is like a story generator. I wanted to write a kind of surreal story to submit for a flash fiction contest but I also wanted a happy ending. I'd been told my imagination tends to lean towards the dark side, so I wanted to try my hand at something with a smile at the end. And here's the result...
"My mommy drinks like you do," Shelby said. Marcee startled. She'd grabbed the whiskey for a swig to steady her nerves and hadn't heard Shelby come into the kitchen. She and her brother, Teddy, the latest foster kids, showed up a few days earlier than expected. That, along with the complications of her sister's illness, convinced her she needed to take the edge off.
These kids tugged at her heart unlike any of the others. "They look like they could be ours," was how Theo, her husband, put it.
"I..." What was she going to say? That she didn't drink much? That she had it under control?
"My daddy didn't like it, so he went away."
"I'm so sorry, sweetie."
"And then mommy got real bad." Marcee stared into the somber brown eyes.
"Well, don't worry, I won't get bad."
A stab of anger rose from her gut. She remembered asking her mother to make the same promise. But she was nothing like her mother. So she was imbibing more than usual. She was under a lot of stress but she wouldn't be drinking like this if she had kids. When she said this to Theo he suggested she try pretending they were theirs. But whenever she imagined motherhood her stomach lurched. Would she be like her mother?
Later, as she washed dishes, she felt four eyes on her.
"Teddy wants a cookie."
"Why doesn't Teddy talk?"
"Mommy made him stop."
Chills raced over her skin. The kids usually came from troubled homes but they didn't talk about their experiences. Theo and Marcee offered temporary placement until a foster family could be located. She handed Teddy two cookies. Pure joy washed over his face while a wave of nausea rattled her. She reached out to ruffle his hair and he flinched. This was the part she found difficult. How could anyone hurt a child?
"You know what Teddy and I wish for every night?" Shelby asked as Marcee tucked her into bed that night. The question frightened Marcee. She knew what she wished for, that her own Shelbee, her baby sister, would find her cancer gone and live much longer than the mere months the doctors promised. She also wished that the kind of stories Shelby could tell became nonexistent.
"We wish very hard that we could get mommy to listen to us. She can't hear us anymore. If she could, she'd get better, I just know it. Mommy wasn't always so... bad."
Marcee's mother's angry face surfaced in her mind and she raced to the kitchen. She almost dove for the cupboard. She didn't bother to pour the amber liquid into a glass. She yelped when she almost tripped over Shelby.
"How did you get here so fast?" Heat crawled up her face while her hands shook with shame.
"I wish I could tell my mommy to stop." The child's countenance scrunched into that of a strict schoolteacher's.
"Honey, I know..."
"No, you don't! You're not listening!"
She knew what Theo would say. "It makes you impatient with the kids, Marcee. Remember how you almost smacked the last boy?"
Maybe she needed to listen to Shelby. Wasn't it likely Shelby's mother hadn't considered how alcohol might affect her behavior? She thought of her mother and the welts she sometimes left on Marcee's young skin. She remembered her mother's tears and promises, broken every time. She remembered the way that last boy ducked when she lifted her hand. Maybe the kids weren't the only ones who needed help.
The next morning she took the pregnancy test she'd been avoiding. Before she could curse the positive result the doorbell rang. Ms. Allen, the new caseworker, stood on the porch. "I'm sorry I didn't call sooner," she said. "You wouldn't believe the mayhem at the office. But I didn't forget you."
"No worries. The kids are great."
"What kids?" Marcee didn't like the way Ms. Allen looked at her. "I just stopped by to let you know I won't be bringing them until next week. If that's a problem..."
After Ms. Allen left, Marcee ran up the stairs and found the beds empty and made up as if they hadn't been slept in. Bile rose in her throat and she worked not to faint. It wasn't possible, she thought, it just couldn't be. But then maybe, just maybe, Shelby and Teddy's wish was granted.
Marcee walked into the kitchen, opened the cupboard and reached inside. Her hands shook when she held the bottle to the light. It was half full. Thoughts whirled madly through her head as she perused many possibilities. She had to admit, she'd been drinking too much. She had to admit, there was no explanation for Shelby's and Teddy's appearance. She considered the kids' names, their sad faces, and Theo's words.
They could be ours.
She poured the contents down the sink and smiled, a weight lifted from more than her shoulders. She grabbed the keys and opened the front door.
"Where are you going?" Theo asked.
"To that AA meeting you told me about." She placed her hand on her belly. "I'm ready to listen now."