by Bruce Barrow
&&&Somehow she always had the money. Her favorite was Oxy, but Vicodin or Percocet would do. Sometimes, though, the money was harder to get than others.
&&&On the radio in Ben’s Lexus people talked about how the market always served the consumer but they never said anything real. It was the kind of thing Ben liked to listen to. He was an economic conservative but a social liberal he told her for the hundredth time as he carefully parked in his favorite spot by the river. He listened to NPR, he said, because it was fair, mostly, and the people on it were never mean or yelled at each other. That counted for a lot.
&&&Mary guessed he knew what he was talking about but her mind wandered and she turned the radio off before the story was finished. She made sure he didn’t care.
&&& That was the best and safest thing about Ben. As long as she got in the car and looked good he didn’t care.
&&& When she went driving with Ben she would always leave her daughter Rose at home. Rose was four, almost five, but it was only for an hour and the videos would hold her attention for a lot longer than that, so, as Ben liked to say, win-win.
&&&If it was close to dinner-time when he drove her home he’d stop on the way and give her some extra cash so she could get some take-out. Mary would always get Rose something with veggies or salad but never a dessert – she kept apples and peanut butter in the fridge for that. Later, she and Rose would play Fish or Connect Four, both of which she’d let Rose win, and there was usually time to read her a bedtime story before the pills kicked in.
&&&Maybe it wasn’t great, but it worked for months until Ben’s wife found out. You bitch, the text said after Ben was an hour late and Rose had already spent that hour plugged into a video. Stay away from my husband. And that was it, the end of Ben’s money. That market closed.
&&&She went into the bathroom with her phone and sat on the toilet seat and screamed into a towel so Rose wouldn’t hear. Fucker, she called him. You stupid motherfucker. Married to a stupid bitch who should just throw your ass out.
&&&Her arms shook. Her body took a shiver she couldn’t control. It was too early to get high, or at least as high as she wanted to get, but she had pills for another week, so she could take what she needed. If she had enough left for four days or five days, what was the difference? At two in the morning she woke up with Rose tucked in beside her under a blanket on the bathroom floor. There were voices she couldn’t make out on the TV followed by a laugh track. Her shoulder hurt and she wasn’t sure about her neck. If she wasn’t still high this would be truly pathetic.
&&&She hated being awake at two in the morning because there was never anything good to think about.
&&& It took her a few minutes, but she got up slowly, shifted around to make sure she could move without hurting herself, then carried Rose into her room and tucked her in with Mr. Kitty. On the TV something else was really funny.
&&&When Rose woke her up a few hours later Mary turned off the TV. Rose had probably been up watching for hours but Mary decided it was too late to say anything about it. Instead, she made them a breakfast of pancakes and bacon, the house favorite.
&&&She helped Rose wash her face, brush her hair and get dressed in her pink leggings and the purple top with the kittens they both loved. Then they stepped out of their apartment into the sparkling light of a beautiful autumn day, the lawns and street damp from an overnight rain. Holding hands, they headed to the ATM, the farther one without the service charge. Mary hadn’t saved as much as she’d hoped, but if she were frugal there should be enough for a few more weeks.
& &&“Something will come up,” she said out loud without meaning to.
&&& “What Mommy?” Rose asked, but she wasn’t really listening. She stopped and let go of Mary’s hand to squat and examine a fat brown horse chestnut. It was smooth to perfection and shined a deep red when Rose lifted it into the sunlight. There were dozens, if not hundreds of them, scattered across the yards and the sidewalk. Why this chestnut now Mary would never know, except that that’s how life went. She watched as Rose picked up another one to compare with the first, finding similarities and differences that would matter for only a moment.
&&&An incoming text buzzed on her phone. She told herself not to look at it but a minute later when she looked anyway she was glad she had. Someone named Thomas, it said, a friend of Ben’s. A party tonight if she was free. Rose would probably be fine for a couple of hours. It was a good address.
&&&Rose stood up, held the original horse chestnut in one hand and took Mary’s hand with her other, a small hand so soft, warm and sweet with its dirty little nails that Mary wanted to cry.
&&& “Slug bug,” Rose said, taking her hand back to point.
&&&It was a Subaru, but Mary let her count it.
Bruce Barrow writes, bikes and makes films in Portland, Oregon.