May 9, 2011

5.2. Marie Shield: 1 flash/story

Affirmative Action

Her mother had been pushing Alice to the brink of madness for thirty-eight years. For the last twenty, Mom’s determination to drive her crazy had been aided and abetted by Alice’s philandering husband, by a boss who took credit for all her good work and blamed her when anything went wrong, and now her three teenage children - amend that, the three delinquent Goth creatures who inhabited her home - drained her wallet, her energy and what little patience Alice had left.

Mom never asked Alice to do anything. She demanded it. It wasn’t necessary for Mom to mention all that she’d done for her daughter, all of her flaws and mistakes, or what a horrible disappointment Alice was. A look, a tear, a gulp from Mom and Alice dissolved in a puddle of guilt.

Neither of her parents drove. Mom claimed her eyesight was failing and, after his third DUI, Dad permanently lost his driving privileges and was ordered to attend AA meetings. His sponsor drove him everywhere. Alice had no idea where or how Dad and his sponsor spent their days and evenings together. She didn’t ask.

When Alice hesitated about attending an Al-Anon meeting with her mother, the reminder that Mom had stayed with Alice’s drunken father for forty years for the sake of Alice and now for the grandchildren was all it took. She caved in and drove Mom to the All-Christian Methodist Church of Murray, Minnesota. She wondered who went to church besides Christians but knew better than to question her mother.

The church basement was divided, one large room where the alcoholics met every evening at seven o’clock, and smaller rooms for other groups including the long suffering Al-Anon members.

Alice saw her dad on his way into the big room. He winked at her. She winked back. She never wondered why Dad drank. She knew. But she did wonder why he would consider spending whatever was left of his life un-anesthetized.

She took her seat among the morose women and gritted her teeth while they prayed the Serenity Prayer. Alice could hear the laughter and clapping coming from the big room, smelled the cigarette smoke and wished she could join the fun.

The women took turns sharing their stories of how they suffered, each trying to top the last with a more miserable tale. Then one woman who looked less grim than the rest began to speak about her journal and how she started every morning by writing an affirmation in it. She shared some of them: Today I will not kill anyone. Today I will remember it will make me happier to flip someone off than not to do so. Today I will be kind to someone who may be a psychopath, namely myself. A few of the women smiled and Alice laughed out loud.

The meeting ended at nine. Alice drove her mother home and all but pushed her out of the car so she could make it to Borders to buy herself a journal before they closed.

On the way back to her house she stopped and bought a bottle of Stolichnaya and some cocktail onions. Pulling back onto the street, she braked hard and gave the guy who made an illegal left turn in front of her the middle finger salute. As soon as she got home she made herself a martini.

She called her office and left her boss a message. “I won’t be in tomorrow.” She paused. “Or any other day. I quit.”

She called her husband’s latest mistress and told her to keep him. None of her children were at home. She made a sign and taped it to the front door.

To The Children of Alice Purdue:
You are no longer welcome here. Your behavior is unacceptable.
Clean up your act.

She relented, took it back down and signed it: Love, Mom. Then stuck it back on the door.

Alice opened her new journal and wrote: Today I attended my first and last Al-Anon meeting.


Marie retired from her day job in 2003 to become a fiction writer. Her short stories have recently been published in Long Story Short, The MacGuffin, Insolent Rudder, Houston Literary Review, Timber Creek Review, Apollo's Lyre, Stymie Magazine, Linnet's Wings, and others. Excerpts from a novel in revision have been published in the anthologies See You Next Tuesday, Pen-siev and others. She won an Excellence in Writing Award at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, first place Flash Fiction Winner Abbey Hill Literary Contest, semi-finalist Black Lawrence Chapbook Competition, honorary mention Masks and Mirrors contest, finalist West Side Story Contest and various other awards. She lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband Michael.

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