Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Writing - Otter

Writing - Otter

About 3 months or so ago, Rachel challenged me to write something about an otter, or otters if that was my preference.  I don't remember but I don't think there was anything else stipulated beyond that.  I've written six stories now about otters, and most of them I don't like.  Today I wrote this one, the first sad one (write what you like) and I love the flow of it.  One hour, writing and thinking.  Unedited.  Otter.

She watched out the crack between her doorway and the frame.  The television in the other room had been mercifully quiet, but now all she could hear was his slightly laboured breathing, a slightly rasping wheeze.  He was drunk, drunker than usual.  One empty bottle of whiskey sat astride the couch, another fresh one sat on the tv tray next to a glass.  She hadn’t poured it for him, her hands shook too much.  She worried that the shaking might betray what she had put in it.

So she watched him, silently.  There was the glazed look in his eyes as he stared at the screen, shapes and teams moved back and forth, but it was a curious, silent dance.  He clutched the fresh bottle, finally, unscrewing the cap and for a moment, though she couldn’t see it well, his eyes slid sideways at it.  Her breath hitched.  Did he know?  Could he tell?  Then her heart resumed beating, as he poured out a generous splash into a dirty glass.

He didn’t even look at it, just held it and watched the game.  How long she waited, she couldn’t tell.  It felt like a lifetime, some strange cerulean tableaux in the darkness, her shining eyes out the crack in the doorway, and his glassy ones…staring at nothing at all really.

Then finally he raised the glass to his lips, sudden but jerky.  As though toasting some long dismissed friend, he seemed to appraise around him, and the fiery liquor slid home.  A testament to his problem, he didn’t even feel the burn, no gasp or cough, not even a sputter.

The glass slid from his fingers, landed on the rug, a few still clinging drops rolled lazily out.  It was forgotten.  She had courage then, it would be quick, mercifully painless.  It should be peaceful.  It should be, that was how it would be right.  She wanted a moment now, selfishly, or for right or for wrong.  She had been raised by him Catholic, maybe she wondered if he might confess.  Maybe she felt like she was the one who should confess, or at least explain.  Perhaps she just wanted to say goodbye.

She walked around to the front, not too far from his feet.  Her shaking hands had stopped.

His eyes didn’t move from the screen, but they didn’t follow the ball, and they were unenthusiastic.

“I put something.”  She said.  “I put something in your bottle.  I’m sorry.”

His eyes still didn’t move, remote and distant, staring through the screen.  But his voice came out, faint and far away, she struggled to hear him.  “Your neck’s all healed up, bruise faded away.”

She nodded, then tried again.  “The whiskey, I put poison in your…”

She trailed off, he raised his right hand slowly, open to quiet her.  “I know.  I saw.”

Everything grew tight, confining, restricting.  Her arms came up around her own chest and she struggled to breathe, and not to cry.

He blinked, slowly…languidly.  She almost wondered if he’d even open his eyes again, but he did, and this time he looked at her, as if taking her in from top to bottom.

“Do you remember…” he cleared his throat, a harsh, raw sound.  “Do you remember at the carnival, you were real young, it was a sunny day.”

She shook her head.

“It was a sunny day, I took you to the carnival.  We got hot dogs, an’ ice cream…and we played with the mimes.  You wanted me to win you a prize, some cheap stuffed furry thing…but I said-“

“That I ain’t no good at them, your da’ just ain’t no good at pitching any more.”

“I did.  I did say that.  I weren’t no good at pitchin’ no more.  But ya begged and pleaded, and you asked like a hundred times-“

“Please Da’, try just once, try for me?”

She couldn’t stop the tears now, large and fat, rolling down her cheeks.

“So I did.”  His voice was fainter now, distant, as if speaking a long way off.  “Hit them bottles clean, one shot, first try.  Won you a little plushie, little whatsit.”  He went silent then.  A long time, the tv still flickered, and even his breathing began to slow, her sobs were quiet, but her whole body was wracked while she tried to remain upright and focus on him.  “You still got that little thing?  That little…otter?”

She shook her head, hair flailing left then right.  It clung to her wet face, messy.

“Just as well I s’pose.  I should’a done better by you, should won you more things so you wouldn’t have to ask.  Should’a done more before ya asked.”  His arm pushed out for a second, gripping the bottle heavily, and he took a long draught then, a final pull.

The half-full bottle fell from nerveless fingers then.  His mouth opened and closed, but only whispers drifted out.  “I should’a tried harder for you.”  His weight pushed him down then, his chest which had been so steady was as a billows slowing down.  She went and sat then, perched on the edge of the couch next to him.

Her voice was broken now, but words tumbled out.  “Dad I’m sorry.  Dad I’m.”

He stopped her again with a hand, “It’s okay” his voice slowed further, as if he was already half asleep.  “Just let Dad carry you, we’re going home.”

And then his head tilted back, and his hand drifted to fall clasped in hers, and he sighed once.  No more.

She stayed there a long time, in the silence, his hand clutched against her own, in the dark stillness.

Then she rose and tucked his hand back in, pulled a worn blanket over him and padded back through the doorway.  On her bed, in the corner buried under the pillows was a small, threadbare stuffed otter.  She clutched it against her face, breathed deep and lost herself in the darkness.