Wine to Water by Anushka Kulkarni

“Are you sure you don’t want any wine? David bought it from Paris, you know.”

“Oh what the hell! One glass won’t hurt.”

“Mom….,” protests Bella.

“Don’t want to be rude, sweetie.”

 Bella’s heart sinks. She watches helplessly as Mrs Calvin pours her Mama’s hubris. Her survival instincts tempt her to slap the glass right out of her hand and splatter the foul liquid all over the Calvins’ dining room rug. But she doesn’t. Because it would be a terrible blow to the family’s already perilous reputation. 

The glass is set in front of Mama like cheese in a mousetrap. Bella is surprised at her mother’s restraint, she doesn’t immediately pounce on it. Instead she praises the weather and curses the new mayor. Five minutes go by. Then ten. Bella’s fists unclench. The entrée is brought out, then the steak. Yet the wine glass remains untouched. Bella’s heart slows down. Dessert is apple pie and she recovers enough to actually enjoy it.

 Soon everyone is standing up, thanking the Calvins for their generous hospitality and praising their chef. After the dinner party’s concluding pleasantries, Bella and her mom walk to their car in silence. It is not an uncomfortable one. It’s simply one that does not need to be filled. Nevertheless Bella says, “I’m proud of you Mom.” Her mother smiles and nods, trying not to cry in front of her child for the millionth time.

They get in the car and the chauffeur pulls out smoothly. Fifth Street, Euclid Avenue, Marshall’s Road….wait, why is he turning on to Rose Lane?

Bella panics and curses the chauffeur in her mind. How many times must she tell him to avoid Rose Lane? She braces herself for the sight of the hot pink hearse in the driveway of her childhood house. She turns away at the last second to see her mom craning her neck to catch a glimpse of the ruins of her marriage. 

At home her mom kisses her on the forehead and Bella notices a strange look in her eyes. She turns away before Bella can decide if it was a glimmer of strength or a sinister glint of surrender. Just to be safe, Bella camps out in front of the liquor cabinet until 3 o’clock in the morning, pretending to do her homework. When she finally goes to bed, she takes the keys to the liquor cabinet and the car keys with her. Just to be safe, she tells herself.

Bella is roused by her usual 7 AM alarm. For a minute she lays there, willing her past to be her present. The next minute is for praying, thanking God for all she has and asking Him to help her mother. One last minute to prepare herself for whatever might be thrown at her when she emerges from her safe cocoon beneath the blankets.

 She tells herself that today is going to be a good day. She has decided that it was strength she saw in her mother’s eyes. After all, a girl can hope. She gets out of bed, opens her bedroom door to a peaceful quiet. Or is it eerily quiet? She cannot differentiate. She walks into the living room. 

“Ouch!” She upturns her foot and a piece of glass is wedged right in the middle. And then the stink hits her. Takes her right back to that first time, which she thought was going to be the last time. So much for her good day.

Bella sighs defeatedly and begins her routine. At this point, it’s muscle memory. She gently pries the bottle of whisky from her mother’s possessive grip, replaces it in the liquor cabinet. That’s when she realizes its glass is broken. She shudders at the strength of the temptation that led her mother to destroy the expensive antique. Letting her sleep it off in the living room is not an option. Bella can just hear the rumours that would circulate if the housekeeper finds her mother covered in her own vomit, reeking of booze, surrounded by 125 year old glass shards. So she wakes her, cleans her up and half-carries half-drags her to her bedroom. Once she’s tucked in, Bella starts to tiptoe out of the room. 

“Sweetie, maybe you should go live with your dad for a while.”

Surprise. Hesitation. Realization. Determination. A responsibility, not a burden.

Or as others call it, affection.

“No Mama.” 

Anushka Kulkarni is a teenager from India, studying biology. She writes flash fiction as a creative outlet. Additional work by her may be found at Friday Flash Fiction.