Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Elizabeth Kirschner: Bright as Guilt

Under the shadow of death, I drank my entire language, sucked the bones out of my hands. I drank until my bone marrow pickled and my eyes, their lids, turned into thin tourniquets. I drank, my lips lush as a gun full of mist and dumb want.

I drank and in drinking, I chose my obsessions, like train cars the size of boulders, but now my head dries, like sweat from a rainbow. My head dries, drains light from color.

When drinking, I was a boozy sugar cube who made the whole room tipsy. Not long ago, I modeled in a fashion show. I drank before I left the house. I drank out of a jelly jar. I drank wine the color of oxblood.

I got into my car and drove in coffin light, the sky, drab as a nun. The lines on the highway wobbled, my vehicle swerved. I didn’t care.

I was wearing spiky black high heels. When I arrived at the theatre where I was to model, I left my water in the car along with my slippers and blue spa socks. This way, I’d be able to drive home in comfort.

Up into a room bright as guilt I went. There was a bevy of women. Older, like me, with a worn, worried glamour. We dressed, drank champagne from plastic cups. Red, red lips were painted. Diamond studs went in. Chatter chitter-chattered.

Our clothes had paintings on them. Industrial windows. Ladders the color of yellow rain boots. Yellow like the sleeper pajamas I wore when all of thirteen. PJ’s with feet in them, suede bottoms so worn little balls formed on the padding.

In a tent the size of a merry-go-round, we played spin-the-bottle. Two girls smoked. The cigarettes glowed, were red batons. Our faces, lean, hound-like, were gaunt in charcoal grey light. Beyond the tent walls, the lawn hissed and stars barked, like barkers hawking cheap goods.

Which is what I was. Marie had shaved the back of my head so far up my neck, the kids in school taunted, Girl or boy? My breasts, these were as tender as a baby’s teething gums. The liquor bottle, brown, grimy, was spun. Round and round it went and in coming round did not come out right.

It kept landing on me. Again and again. Girls sat on their thin haunches, bared their teeth. Off came my mood ring, smoky with a thin band of light. Off came my monkey knot bracelet. Off came my tongue, my mind, my heart.

Each time the bottle pointed at me, like a teacher’s stern ruler, I was ordered to guzzle. Ten, nine, eight, went shrill teenage voices. Faces bobbed, like balloons twisted into cartoon animals. I drank. The liquor sizzled down my throat.

C’mon, girl, show us some more! I unzipped my sleeper pajamas a half inch, then another. The girls kept at me. More, more! Tobacco smoke came at me. I shrank inside, was deflation at depth.

The air swaggered. My breath had brown haloes around it. I swigged more alcohol, fell down, got up, a pop-up punching bag. Years later, when climbing mountains, Tina would scream in her sleep, I’m just a little punching bag, just a little punching bag! Did I scream with her?

The girls, they laughed at me, shrill, hyena laughs. Susie Aramovich, whose blonde hair was soft as dental floss, heckled, “She still calls her Mom, Mommy.”

Drunk, my eyes stitched closed. I wanted Ed’s monkey doll, the one whose tail disintegrated in my hands like the stuffing inside a cattail.

I robot-walked toward Susie. In grade school, we had communicated by tapping our mood rings on our desk tops. Because they were too big, we had wrapped them in yarn. Susie was popular. She got her period before the rest of us and didn’t need to pad her bra the way Mary Shanley did.

I pawed the air as I walked toward Susie. I believed if I walked toward her, I could walk into her and leave my body behind, for it was the stuff snow disowns. My mind, it was zombie-like and full of gray static.

“We want you naked, girl,” came a chorus of voices, loud as a squawk box. When someone yanked on the blue collar of my pajamas, I shrank some more. I didn’t want them to come off. Daddy might get me. This scared me so much, I passed out.

When I came to, I had peed in my pajamas. The pee was still warm. I was not. The other girls slept, were heavy tubes of paint. Susie snored, a bell chime held underwater.

I didn’t know what to do. My head had garbage inside it. I stank. The girls around me, young, cruel, cute as toy guns, these girls were somehow normal. I wasn’t.

Because I didn’t know what else to do, I stripped, stuffed my sleeper pajamas in my sleeping bag, the one with fat cats in the lining. I then rolled it up, tight.

I put on the outfit I had arrived in for the slumber party. It was my Girl Scout uniform, the one with the green sash that displayed my badges. I was a good Girl Scout. I had my hiking badge, my good faith badge. Even my safety pin badge, but best of all was my scribe badge with the fancy feathery plume.

I had written a Letter to God for that badge. In my best penmanship. Bless me, Father, it began, for I have sinned. What else could I say?

Ducking out of the tent, the sky was a scab with purple scallop edges. I took my sleeping bag with my yellow sleeper pajamas tucked inside it down to the river that smelled like a river. I tossed it in, a log. It bobbed, played Dead Man’s Float.

Into the cornfields I walked. Into my country of phenomenal women, even though I was anything but phenomenal. I was just a girl who stank, a girl who already walked in the valley of death.

At the fashion show, I strutted onto the runway, a peacock. I flashed a smile, bright as dimes. My heels clicked, a nightmare of staccatos. I danced a little, turned, waved my scarf at old men who probably had crust in their underwear.

Three times, I sashayed out onto the runway. The other women did, too. They were polite, demure and smelled good. I took up too much light, bared too much leg, smiled way too hard. You could almost hear my teeth break.

I forgot to eat. Little trays of appetizers went by after the fashion show. I ogled the wine, guzzled a glass or two. Good night, beautiful peoples, good night, I thought as I headed toward the door.

I was stopped by the bartender. “Sorry, lady, you aren’t going anywhere.” His eyes were almonds, hard on the edge, but sweeter in the middle. Mine, I suppose, were glazed.

“You,” he went on, “are in no condition to drive.”

“Excuse me,” I said, “but I need to go home.” Did I wink at him? No matter. In that instant, I remembered. Brother Doug. Once he was so drunk, he passed out in his car, right there in the driveway. His head hit the horn. Another time, he decided to take a short cut over to his girlfriend, Gretchen’s house. Only thing was he drove through the yards and ended up slamming through a neighbor’s sliding doors. The waterfall of glass was tinsel on a Christmas tree.

I was that tree and my leaves were on fire as I smooth-talked the bartender. “My little dog, Albert,” I started. Surely a woman who has a dog to care for would be allowed to drive home. Surely.

The bartender body-blocked me. “Go sit down,” he ordered. I was put into a side room. People gathered. Was I put on display just like for Dr. Flesh? I kept talking. “My feet are killing me. Can’t you see that from these stupid heels?”

Faces contracted. Was I slurring my words? “I’ve got slippers and water in my car,” I argued. “I’ll be fine.”

“We’re not letting you drive,” came more voices than I could count. Were their voices slurring? Blurring?

A big fat hamburger was shoved at me. It was bloody and the bun looked like a monkey’s bum. I shoved it away and did what drunk grownup women do. I cried.

“I just want my slippers,” I wailed. Had these people no sympathy?

Mascara streaked down my cheeks. This was a scene and I was making it. A cop came in. I noticed his gun, snug as a penis in its holster. Please put it in my mouth. Pretty please?

“Just blow,” he ordered. I blew into the breathalyzer. Would I make bubbles?

“Good God,” said the cop.

“Uh-oh,” I answered, “uh-oh, spaghettios.”

Later, later, I would come to understand that when I blew, fifty percent of my blood was blood. The other fifty percent, pure alcohol. I drank until my bone marrow pickled.

I was driven home. All the way, I was that talking tree whose leaves are on fire. I called the driver Dr. Flesh. He yawned, a fly flinging itself against the pane.

At home, I got undressed, put on my nightie, poured myself a nightcap, passed out on the bed. Of course. I chose my obsessions, like boulders the size of train cars. I chose and in choosing, I walked in the valley of death.


Copyright 2017 Elizabeth Kirschner


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This entry was posted on January 1, 2018 by in Health and Nutrition, Personal Essays and tagged , , .

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