Cara twirled the silver spoon through the dark red juices and watched beans swirling around in the bowl. It was tradition, Momma made chili the last night of every year, but Cara wasn't the slightest bit hungry. She glanced at the clock above the oven, it was eight in the evening and the chair at the head of the table was still empty since Daddy wasn’t home. Cara nibbled at a cracker and wondered if Daddy was sick again.
It was New Year’s Eve and Daddy said he’d be home with fireworks. He promised they wouldn’t be those sticks that sparkled, or the firecrackers purchased from the corner store. He said these would be special fireworks, the big ones that lit up the entire sky. Once when Momma wasn’t listening, Daddy whispered in Cara’s ear, “This year we’ll have a celebration since you’re old enough to help light the fireworks.” Cara hoped nothing would ruin the celebration she planned with Daddy, but lately the disease ruined nearly everything.
The past year the disease had been especially hard on Momma, often causing dark circles that lasted a week or more around one or both of her eyes. Momma usually tried to cover them with makeup, but Cara knew they were there. Sometimes the disease made purple spots all over Momma’s arms and legs, which later turned shades of green and yellow. Most people didn’t know about Momma’s spots since she always wore pants and long sleeves. Most nights the disease changed Daddy’s voice and caused him to yell for hours. On the nights when Daddy’s yelling woke baby sister, she tiptoed across the hallway and snuggled in Cara’s bed to sleep, but Cara always stayed awake listening and saying prayers for Momma.
Just last week the disease made Daddy sick again and kept him in bed most of Christmas. He missed all the festivities, including watching Cara and her sister opening presents from Santa and the family dinner at granny’s house that afternoon. Over the year, the disease caused Daddy to miss her piano recital, her ninth birthday party and the softball game when she hit her first homerun. Every time Daddy didn’t show, Momma cried and blamed the disease. Cara hated the disease and what it did to her Daddy.
Cara gazed through her bedroom window. A vanilla moon surrounded by a million stars dangled in a cloudless sky. It was the perfect night for a firework show. When one small star blinked and drifted downward, Cara closed her eyes and made a wish. Granny always told her prayers worked better than wishes, but Cara wasn’t sure she believed it. She’d prayed so many times, but God hadn’t taken away Daddy’s disease yet.
Through the trees along the edge of the yard, Cara watched two white lights in the distance shimmer through the pine needles moving closer to home. For a moment Cara thought Daddy was there, but when the beams of light continued moving past the house, hot tears formed in the corners of her eyes. Sometimes the disease made Cara cry, just like it did to Momma. She closed her eyes, bowed her head, and prayed, just the way granny had taught her, even though she didn’t think it did any good. She took one last peek through the smudged windowpanes and crawled in bed to snuggle beneath the pink blanket granny had quilted her for Christmas. Though her eyes were closed, she stayed awake listening to the sounds.
Cara knew the sounds the disease made by heart. The engine roared every evening as it pulled in the driveway and was followed by a slam of the truck’s door. Daddy would jiggle the knob and the door creaked when it opened. Daddy’s footsteps were always heavy, and his keys jingled in his pocket as he traipsed through the house looking for Momma. The disease always changed Daddy’s voice, and when he yelled at Momma, his words were always angry and ran together. The disease made Daddy angry and Momma sad.
Not long after drifting off, Cara awoke to the familiar roar of Daddy’s truck pulling into the driveway, followed by the expected slam of the door. The front door knob jiggled, and the door creaked open. Daddy’s footsteps seemed unusually soft, but the keys in his pocket still jingled as he traipsed through the house looking for Momma. His footsteps pattered up the staircase and stopped just outside Cara’s bedroom door. When her bedroom door knob turned, Cara closed her eyes and said a quick prayer that Daddy wasn’t sick again.
"Get up. We have fireworks."
"It’s so late.” Cara rubbed her eyes. “I didn't think you were coming"
"Sorry, I had a meeting, but it’s not too late for us to ring in the new year together.”
Daddy’s voice was softer than usual, and his words didn’t run together. When he spoke, his breath drifted beneath her nose. The aroma was different than Cara had remembered all the other nights Daddy came home sick. Cara noticed Momma standing in the doorway and she smiled in a way Cara didn’t remember seeing before. Her eyes were bright and clear as she watched Daddy knelt beside Cara’s bed.
When Cara leapt from the bed, she stumbled nearly falling on the cardboard box beside Daddy on the floor. The large box overflowed with fireworks in every color, shape, and size imaginable, exactly the kind of fireworks Daddy promised. Running past Momma, Cara skipped down the staircase taking two steps at a time. She sprinted towards the coat rack near the door. Not waiting to be reminded, Cara slipped the winter coat over her pajamas, zipped it up and lifted the hood, so she’d stay warm in the night’s chilly air. She searched for the shoes she’d removed after dinner and found them near the dining table. When she bent down to slip them on, a blue pamphlet near Daddy’s chair caught her eye. She hadn’t remembered the paper there during supper earlier.
Curious, Cara flipped it over and whispered the words out loud.
Alcoholics Anonymous, meeting for new members December 31st 8 pm.