Claudia Smith

She was never good in groups. She was always too much or not enough, although it was easier when she drank to get along.

The office went out on Tuesdays for karaoke and happy hour. You could make a dinner out of the nachos, have three or four frozen margaritas, get someone to drive you home. Temporary data entry, customer service representative, phone survey center. Summer season she packed strappy silver sandals in her purse on happy hour days; wintertime, she wore whiskey boots. She was twenty-something then thirty-something, living in different cities, always starting over again. Tampa, Baltimore, Mobile, Albany. In Mobile and Albany, she was married.

When her husband left her he took all the vodka, the nice wine, the gouda. He left everything else. He wouldn't give her a divorce, but he moved out, took off his ring.

A boy at the data entry job named Zeldon said he would give her a ride home from karaoke at the Crystal Pistol. She didn't tell him her husband wasn't there. She was drunk, the boy was not. He drove her to a parking lot at the mall, and they sat looking over the lovely hill. "They built this mall over a graveyard," he said. She wasn't sure whether she believed him. She didn't know why he'd brought her there. She was too old for him.

His hair was shiny as shellacked wood. He told her his parents had moved him to that city to follow an atheist. "Are you an atheist?" she asked him.

He told her he was, but not like they were.

"They are like, practicing atheists."

She wanted another drink. The boy wanted something, she didn't know what. She asked him to take her home.

"I'm lonely," she told him, and many other things. She was too drunk now to know what she was saying. When they got back they sat in the driveway for awhile. The boy wanted to help her inside, but she said no, her husband would help her.

"He doesn't," the boy said.

He waited and watched, but she didn't drop the keys. Inside, she turned on the lights. The boy seemed to know her husband wasn't there. He left the headlights on, waiting.

She went to her bedroom. The house felt strange, like a humming inside her. Inside the closet were many dresses her husband had ordered from catalogs. She had big breasts, and he had told her she should change her way of dressing. He said this after he told her he had no love for her. The clothes she had worn mostly came from a catalog called Newport News. They had built-in bras and spangles.

It had been cold and she was wearing a coat her husband had not bought her. She'd bought it long before she met the husband. Camel colored, warm, with little brass buttons, found at a church rummage sale. She sat on the edge of the bed, looking at the clothes, stuffing her hands deep in her pockets. She had been crying, mascara running down her face, and she only just noticed. She would need to drink some water, set the alarm, shower before work. Inside the pocket was a pretty little yellow umbrella, taken from one of the cocktails. She pressed the toothpick into her finger, felt the pinch. She remembered, now, telling the boy about the time she was pregnant and her D and C. She'd kept saying, what does D and C stand for? And she had said she had a cold womb.

She was not too drunk to brush her teeth, splash her face, set the alarm. She was too drunk to take off her clothes, but she took off the coat and spread it over her body, a blanket.

Claudia Smith is the author of two collections of very short fiction—THE SKY IS A WELL (Rose Metal Press) and PUT YOUR HEAD IN MY LAP (Future Tense). A collection of short stories, QUARRY LIGHT, is forthcoming from Magic Helicopter Press.

Detail of image on main page courtesy of Joel, Evelyn & Francois.

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