Portrait of an Addict on Christmas
Mom passes out in the den on the pullout, the red-capped bottle of vodka tucked behind a stack of magazines underneath the end table. Court TV drones on the screen. Soon she will be just like the boy in handcuffs. She received a warrant and has to turn herself in after Tyler and I leave, after the only Christmas we’ve spent with her side of the family. She says she’s “very depressed.” She sleeps facing away from the doorway so we don’t have to see her, or so she doesn’t have to face everyone else.
Grandmom stirs spaghetti gravy on the stovetop. Her dark, wavy hair is pulled into a tight French braid. She makes her gravy chunky, which I don’t like but eat anyway with mild Italian sausage and short fat noodles. Tyler and I sit in the living room, the one right inside the front door and beside the kitchen, watching cartoons. Grandmom calls for Mom.
“She’s sleeping,” I say. My fourth-grade alto twists into the Christmas cartoon on Nickelodeon. Joy in this room, a prison sentence in the next.
“What is she fuckin’ hibernating?” A plate crashes on the floor in the kitchen, but it doesn’t shatter.
From the den Mom yells, “Will you shut the fuck up?”
Grandmom stomps into the den with her red gravy-stained ladle and points it at Mom like a knife the times she wishes she could kill her. “Helena, I swear to God if you ruin Christmas with this goddamn shitty attitude, I’m going to kick your sorry ass out in the snow and let your freeze to death.”
Aunt Kathy, Mom’s twin, glides down the stairs wearing a plaid Ralph Lauren sweater with a white button-down underneath. She used to model a couple years ago, probably before her addictions took over. She likes pills though she also does coke. Mom says Aunt Kathy does heroin too. Mom likes coke. Grandmom abuses her bipolar medication, smokes pot, and Mom says she smokes crack and meth too. I don’t know if that’s true. Once Grandmom took us to get drugs in Chester, and the dealer gave her a small bag of rocks. I haven’t seen that before then.
Tyler and I never know whether or not Aunt Kathy will be in jail when we come to visit. She’s been good lately. Her therapist recommended she keep her hands busy, so she cross-stitches hours a day and into the night until she falls asleep to Court TV. Grandmom hangs each new cross-stitch Aunt Kathy finishes in the house, maybe to encourage her to keep clean.
“What’s going on?” she says.
Grandmom and Mom yell at each other in the other room. Aunt Kathy, trying to be good, says she doesn’t need this energy right now.
“Put on your coats,” she says to us. “We’re going out.”
We listen, like how we obey Mom when she tells us to put on our sneakers to keep her company her on a drug run. I don’t know Aunt Kathy’s dealers. I don’t know what parts of town they’re in or what kind of people they are. My heart pulses in my ears. I don’t want to go to down to Chester where there are bullet holes in front doors, smashed windows, blood on the sidewalks.
The three of us sneak out the front door. We sit in the black Explorer, the one the cops know. She puts the car in reverse.
She drives to the mall five minutes down the road. Last-minute gift buyers prowl the parking lot for close spots. Women carry armfuls of bags, the handles slid up the wrist like stockings over the mantle.
“God, I just needed to get out of the house, you know?” she says. She wears a dark, Russian fur hat that makes her appear more sophisticated.
“I know,” I say, from the front seat.
Tyler doesn’t speak much. Whenever we visit Mom, he withdraws into a pillow fort inside himself. But he says, “I don’t know why we’re here.” He didn’t mean the mall.
Aunt Kathy glances up in the rear view. “You shouldn’t be.”
Inside Macy’s, Aunt Kathy guides us through fragrances toward Ralph Lauren. The women behind the counter tell her what a beautiful mother she us, what beautiful boys we are. The florescent lights highlight the amber waves in her hair and pronounced cheekbones, especially when she smiles. She has a beauty mark Mom doesn’t have. Her nose is narrower, more elegant, adjusted from a car accident she was in. Her hair appears naturally wind-swept. Her face is thin and beautiful.
“Thank you,” she says with a smile. “But we’re actually out here avoiding their real mother.”
The women catch their breath, then smile and let us go.
In Ralph Lauren, she holds shirts and sweaters at arm’s length, imagining what would look good on each member of the family. A sweatshirt for Grandpa with the famous logo stitched large on the center. A plaid flannel for Uncle Dan. She finds a boys’ shirt, white with charcoal stripes like prison bars. She holds it up to my shoulders and watches it drape across my body.
“This would look so good on you,” she says. Then considers it long enough for me to believe it.
Andrew Hahn has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. His poetry and essays can be found at Lunch, Pithead Chapel, Crab Creek Review, Crab Orchard Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Rappahannock Review among others. He is a Best of the Net nominee and was listed in Yes, Poetry's Best and Faves of 2019. His chapbook God's Boy is available from Sibling Rivalry Press.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.