, December 2021

Carmine had been sober eight years. He met Judy after he’d stopped drinking for good. She’d never once seen him take a drink, and she didn’t drink or ever bring up the subject, yet he knew not to take too long when he went to the store, or to come home even a minute late from work.

It was their oldest son’s sixth birthday party. Two-dozen first graders running around the house making a horrible racket. Judy hadn’t noticed her husband disappear until ten minutes after he’d been gone. She waited another five before checking the upstairs rooms, but all were empty. She found him in the basement, sitting on the tool room floor, back against the wall, legs splayed, swigging a whiskey bottle.

He didn’t look at her. She said nothing.

“Get out,” he finally growled, still not looking.

“Let me get you help,” she said. “I’ll call your sponsor—”

“Get out!” he roared, then threw the bottle, missing her head by inches, hitting the pegboard, hammers and hooks and screw bins crashing down, party noise upstairs silenced.

“No,” she said, angry-calm, stepping towards him, pointing, “you get out. Use the back door. Do this and I won’t call the police, but I will if you show your face here again.”

The sun was about to set. He breathed the cold air deep into his lungs and looked at the string of Christmas lights he’d tossed on the bushes a couple of weekends ago, pitiful compared to the neighbors’ decorations.

“I can’t,” he said, then started walking towards downtown. ▪