DIM LIGHT BREAKS by Jeff Haws

 

Jolting upright, I squeeze the Jack Daniels bottle between my thighs just before it tips over to the floor. I look down and see the black label staring at me; the little bit of whiskey that’s left is tilting toward the lip, ready to fill my shoes if my legs can’t hold onto it. I briefly wonder if this is why they give these bottles flat sides, for better drunken, convulsive thigh catches. It’s saved me on more than one occasion from having shoes full of whiskey. Well, that and my ability to leave the bottle mostly empty.

I grab the top of the bottle and pull it back up, then try to raise my head; the room rotates quickly, lights blur and walls smudge while my head bounces on a neck that refuses to carry the weight. Enough of these nights will teach you the chair is always your better bet than the bed. I’d have already puked into my own lap if I’d been in bed, but keeping your feet on the floor helps ground you against the worst of the drunken spinning head. When I know I’m spending the night with Jack, I’ll always stay downstairs in the recliner with my feet firmly planted on the linoleum.

My head bobs left and settles on my shoulder; in front of me, the window reveals a purple sky with a sliver of dim light peeking over the ground, between the neighbors’ houses across the street. What does that make it? 6:30, maybe? I can’t remember if I ever fell asleep. I’m not confident I’ll ever fall asleep again.

The people across the street, though—I’m sure they’re asleep. Spencer and Mary are in bed right now, dead to the world. Her head’s probably resting on his fucking shoulder. He snores a little bit, but she’s used to it by now. Probably even comforts her, just being reminded he’s there. I fucking hate those people. I really do. Their whole lives are based around creating these perfect little characters so the rest of us feel even shittier about our own lives. But you can’t even get mad at them, or you look like the jackass who’s jealous and screwed up in the head. Not the people who pretend they’re something they’re not. No, it’s the guy who minds his own business and is genuine about who he is who’s the fucked-up one. That’s the way the world works.

I spin the bottle around in my hand, looking at the liquid slosh around in waves. Bubbles cling desperately to the glass walls but can’t hold on, splashing back down into the molasses-colored pool below. I raise the bottle and tilt it toward me; the whiskey burns just a bit as it hits the back of my throat, the sting helping to delay the inevitable throbbing head that’ll come next. I lift the bottle and splash the last few drops into my mouth, shaking it to make sure there’s nothing left, then drape my arm over the side of the chair and let the bottle fall to the floor with a heavy clink.

I have no idea what day it is. Am I supposed to be at work in a couple of hours? When every day’s the same, it’s hard to say. Time is just change, in the end. If the sun didn’t come up and go down, the Earth didn’t rotate, the world never changed, there’d be no way to measure it. Essentially, there’d be no such thing as time. People’s lives can get like that too. When the days start blending together, how do you measure time? And, even more so, what’s the point?

That sun that’s gradually getting closer to showing itself isn’t going to bring anything good with it. The dark is better. You can hide when everybody else is sleeping. You don’t have to look at how your neighbors’ lives reflect your own inadequacies. You don’t have to face yourself. The dark lets you be alone, lets you wallow and embrace whatever misery is there to be embraced. The morning just exposes it all to those smiling faces with white teeth all lined up in a row.

I know they don’t approve of me. I see them at church and they say hi, but you can see it’s forced. There’s no small talk. No more invitations to their lake house. Just hollow greetings if they can’t avoid me. When Adrian would show up with fresh cuts and bruises on her arms, I know they suspected something. I think she purposefully tried to make them just a little visible. A small cry for help, maybe. She’s been gone awhile, though.

Now, God wouldn’t approve of what I’ve become. This withering mass that passes the hours of insomnia with liquor straight from the bottle. He can smell the whiskey on my breath just like the neighbors can. I don’t even know why I go to church anymore, when I can remember it’s Sunday. He can see my heart’s not there, that I wish I could have a handle of some devil’s water with me when I’m kneeling in front of a pew. It’s not that I don’t have faith that there’s someone in control; it’s that whoever that someone is has delivered me into this reality, this life. Whatever this is. Becoming an atheist almost seems redundant. When your belief is this tainted, is it even worth the bother of leaving behind?

I figure I’ve been strapped to this chair long enough, so maybe I’ll wander upstairs. I have blackout curtains in the bedroom; I can shut the world out up there. Pretend I’m somewhere else, somewhere better. Somewhere new. There’s no way I’m stepping foot outside today.

Standing up, I get a feel for just how much I really drank; my legs nearly buckle, and I fall back toward the chair. My hand catches on the chair’s arm and stabilizes me while I try to forget about the merry-go-round in my head. Ten seconds pass, then twenty. Finally, I lift my hand off the chair arm and pause to see if I can stand up. My legs wobble but hold; slowly, I bring my hand further up from the chair and straighten from my hunch. My arms are spread to my sides like I’m on a balance beam, trying to keep my center of gravity above my feet. I take one careful step forward, then another, deliberate, slow, momentum building as I reach the banister for the stairs and grab ahold hard.

Each step is becoming a little easier, now getting help from my left hand, pulling my body up the stairs one foot at a time, finally reaching the hall. I’ll need an aspirin or four before I lie down. If I’m lucky, I’ll sleep. If not, I’ll stare at the ceiling in the dark for awhile.

I open the door to the room and step through; the bed is just a few steps in front of me. I walk quietly to it and stop, bending carefully over the mattress. I pull back the quilt a little bit and bend further, kissing her forehead gently. She’s only six, and she deserves me to be better than this. It’s kind of amazing we’ve made it this far; she believes her mom is someplace better, and I do nothing to dissuade her from that. Hell, I hope she’s right. But if so, I can’t join her there now. There’s more for me to do. If there is a god, this is the one lifeline he’s thrown me, and I’m clutching to it with everything I have. She’ll get me to the other side of this. She’ll be the light breaking through the dark. It’s dim now, but it’ll shine brighter if I can rise with it.

I pull the quilt back up under her chin and fold it back across her shoulder. Then I back out the way I came and shut the door behind me, careful not to let the latch click. My bedroom’s down the hall, and more darkness still awaits.

 

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PRISON WIVES By Nonnie Jules

 

PRISON WIVES

 

I am an unlikely character to tell these stories, but, I do know that each day that we are blessed to open our eyes, we never know what surprises, good or bad, that day will bring. No matter how much and how well we plan, the universe always steps in to show us just how much, we are not as in control of things as we thought we were.

These are real stories of moms, wives, spouses…those significant others who are left behind; those innocent, and maybe even not-so-innocents, who are left to pick up all the pieces that are shattered when their husbands walk out the door and don’t return in the time frame in which they are expected to.

No, he didn’t run off with another woman…he was apprehended somewhere between here and there by a law enforcement officer, and, for whatever reason, he’s now being held behind bars…property of the city until the state steps in to claim ownership. And, although these men are the ones incarcerated, it is the entire family that serves the time.

These are not sob stories to drum up sympathy for the accused. But, this book will serve as a doorway into an open dialogue, so that we are all aware of just how much children suffer when their dads are taken away.

These stories are but small ways to shine light on the effects of imprisoning low-level offenders for long periods of time, ripping them from their children’s lives, and the negative imprints left behind. This is a plea for reform of a justice system that will quickly parole a drug dealer, murderer, rapist or child molester, who will more than likely repeat-offend, yet hangs on to low-level offenders who may have made a one-time mistake or even worse, was forced to take a plea for a crime which he is innocent of, simply because he was too poor and couldn’t afford top-of-the-line defense. We do know that this happens, don’t we?

Lastly, this is so that we don’t forget those that are forced to soldier up and walk into battle each and every day, standing on the front lines of a war that they have been shielded from for far too long. These soldiers fight daily just to keep a roof over the heads, food in the mouths, and hope in the spirits of the children who are also being penalized in this war.

These are the stories of PRISON WIVES.

 

CHAPTER ONE – SAMMIE

Sammie was so excited about their upcoming road trip. Not for the travel element, but, because their son Jeremy, was about to lead his team to another high school championship for a third straight year. Jeremy was a senior and also big man on campus, as Rozdale High’s, 6’3, All-American Quarterback. The one drawback to Sammie’s excitement, was they had to travel cross country to play. Sammie hated to travel, she also hated to fly, so road trips were always the name of the game for her family. This year, she was especially apprehensive about their road trip and yet, she had no idea why.

The drive would take them 21 hours and 32 min to reach their destination of Clearwater, FL. from Lubbock, TX. And, since Jeremy had to be there on Friday, this would mean a full day and a half of travel prior to. Sammie, mother of three daughters and one son, knew that her husband Josh had a suspended driver’s license, yet, he would have to share the drive time with her anyway.  This was not an option as none of their children were of legal driving age, and Jeremy, the oldest, would not get his license until he turned 18 in the following year.

On that hot July morning as they backed out of their driveway, Sammie sat in the passenger seat and prayed. “Dear Lord, guide my family safely from this place to the next and back again. Return us all safely to our home…together. Amen.” Sammie wasn’t what you’d call a deeply religious woman, but she embraced her spiritual side and she strongly believed in the power of prayer.

The family drove along Interstate 20, then passing through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, they finally entered into the state of Florida. There were many stops along the way, but it was the last one that they would never forget. With almost seven hours left in their journey, they heard the sounds of a police siren behind them. When Sammie looked over her shoulder from the backseat, which she’d retired to hours before to stretch her legs, her heart sank so low, she could almost hear it hit the floor of the rental van.

Pulling over into the gas station they were headed to for their next potty-break, Sammie’s mind raced wildly. Not only did Josh have a suspended license, but he also had an outstanding warrant back home for a false probation violation, which they were aware of.

“I know I wasn’t speeding, officer,” Josh offered as the policeman approached his door.

“Yes, you were, sir,” the officer responded, surprisingly with a smile. A lie, I thought. “License and registration, please.”

Knowing all too well that it was going to take a miracle to keep him from being arrested right there, Josh, ever-protective of his children and family, asked the officer if they could get out of the van to use the restrooms.  If the worse happened, he didn’t want his children to see him in handcuffs or in the back of a police car. The officer said “Sure,” again, with the same smile on his face.

With his entire family inside, Josh tried to convince the officer to please let him get his family to safety and then he would return home to deal with the issue. His wife had no idea how to make the rest of the long journey without him, he shared.  But, still being kind, the officer said that he just couldn’t do that. He had to take him in.

Sammie’s phone rang from inside the gas station. “He is arresting me,” came Josh’s shaky voice through the phone. Her heart sank again. “You are going to have to make the rest of this trip without me. Sam, you can do it.” His voice quickly changed and now held a firmness to it. He knew he had to appear strong or she would quickly become unraveled.

Tears filled Sammie’s eyes. She’d been married to this man for 15 years and for 15 years he’d taken care of her, done everything for her…made her life so easy. Now, he was telling her she had to continue on this long journey without him. OK, but when they arrived, what then? Josh had shielded her from the real world for so long, she wasn’t sure if she could take a breath without him. But, she had to…for their kids. If she had been alone, she might have given up right then and there.

Sammie stood in the parking lot and watched the officer drive away with her husband in the back seat of the car, while she had asked the kids to stay inside and away from the windows.

When she realized that she wasn’t dreaming, she wiped her tear-stained face with the tissue in her hand. Composed and in brave face, she walked back inside to collect her children, as they were now both her reason and her strength to get them through this long, arduous journey –  a weekend without their father and then back to Texas, safe and sound.

Sammie had no idea how hard it would be once they headed back home five days later with the questions and comments from the kids about their father.  “We can’t leave here without him,” said 8-year-old Vanessa. “How is he going to get home?” asked 12-year-old Maggie.  “Why can’t we just stay here until this is straightened out? It can’t take that long,” added 16-year-old Zandra, the sassy one of the bunch. Sammie was thankful at that moment that Jeremy had chosen to remain silent.  His un-asked question was one less stab to her heart.

Not knowing the severity of the situation, Sammie drove along, oblivious to all those words that could cut deep into her heart. How would she find the words to tell these kids, who had never gone more than 7 hours without seeing the dad they worshipped, that she didn’t know when he’d be coming home again?

 

 

Thank you for supporting this member along the WATCH “RWISA” WRITE Showcase Tour today!  We ask that if you have enjoyed this member’s writing, to please visit their Author Page on the RWISA site, where you can find more of their writing, along with their contact and social media links, if they’ve turned you into a fan.  WE ask that you also check out their books in the RWISA or RRBC catalogs.  Thanks, again for your support and we hope that you will follow each member along this amazing tour of talent!  Don’t forget to click the link below to learn more about this author:

(Nonnie Jules) RWISA Author Page