With innocent abandon, Angela, one-year-old, plays with her pizza while Eli disappears his fourth slice in three bites, washing down the bolus of bread and cheese with undiluted vodka, making a show of wincing manfully at the burn.
Miranda won’t be home from the hospital until morning. It’s been weeks since she’s worked an overnight shift; Eli intends to enjoy himself. Not get wrecked, no, but he’s folded enough laundry, logged enough hours watching her mindless dating shows. He’s earned something special.
She must love him, he’s decided, just not lately, not as much. Maybe the baby has something to do with it.
While Angela labors to extract a weird bite from the center of her slice, Eli glides toward the bathroom. He plugs the tub drain and expertly twists both taps, aiming for an ideal degree of warmth. When he returns, Angela’s face is coated with red sauce, as though applied with a paint roller.
Eli heaves Angela from her highchair and dusts crumbs onto the floor. He’ll need to sweep later. Tugging off her stained onesie and diaper, he navigates the narrow hall, imagining Odysseus maneuvering between monsters.
“Scylla and Charybdis,” he grumbles, gently positioning Angela in the bathtub amid the chaos of boats and ducks churning beneath the surging tap. Hands on hips, Eli realizes he’s left his glass in the kitchen.
“Be right back,” he says. “Get clean.”
The crumbs beneath the high chair aren’t so many. Eli scatters them with a socked foot before his attention slides lovingly to his drink.
Miranda dislikes his drinking, certain it’s a symptom of depression, but Eli has indignantly denied feeling unhappy. Filling his glass, Eli frowns. The level in the bottle is now noticeably low. He replaces the vodka with tap water, raising the volume a decisive inch. Then, his mouth loaded with alcohol, Eli feels improved. Cleaned.
Looking blearily at the kitchen countertop, he recalls images of Angela, last month, writhing and screaming in that spot, blood streaming from a cut on her forehead. “She fell in the yard and must’ve hit a rock,” he’d testified to Miranda, who’s since become less tolerant of disorder, of his forgetfulness, of anything resembling neglect.
Still absorbed in the aftermath of this gory recollection, Eli sinks into a chair, glass in hand.
“That’s when shit went south,” he concludes, eyes closing. “But things’ll get better.”
D. Brody Lipton studied creative writing and education at Sarah Lawrence College and Boston University. His stories have appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine, Spelk, Literary Mama, FlashFlood and Cowboy Jamboree. He teaches in Houston, TX.