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Fiction Inspirational Sad

This story contains sensitive content

*Content Warning- Addiction*


You’re whispering your promises again, old friend. I’m always listening out for them, all ears for your sly suggestions. You remind me of the warmth waiting in your arms. It’s all mine, you assure me, for a while at least. I see you curled up in each of the gleaming bottles before me on the shelves of the News and Booze store, grinning coyly, reminding me you’ve never failed to take away the pain. You know I’m yours.


The bottles clink as I cradle them like babies in my arms and take them to the checkout. I pay extra for the carrier bag to hide you in, because not everyone loves you like I do. But who cares, because today I really need you. It’s a special occasion, fraught with emotion. Owen gets parole today; my son’s coming home at last. You’ll be with me to greet him, seeping comfort and soothing nerves. After all, you’ve always helped me through everything else. We go back a long, long way. When was it we first met?


You were there when I was small enough to snuggle on my daddy’s lap, a beer can beside us on the arm rest, his finger curling on the ring pull. I can hear it now, the click and then your gleeful hiss. You were there on the breath of his loud laughter and in his rosy cheeks, and I saw you in his glassy eyes. I sometimes took a sip of froth from the shiny can, his hands holding mine over the beads of condensation, and I didn’t like the taste, but he said- you said- that’s my girl.


Other times, you sidled into our lives swathed in peach or coconut, an honoured guest on Mother’s Day. We’d present you with the breakfast tray, wrapped and ribboned, and my mother clasped the bottle to where her satin gown crossed her heart as if you were a long lost child, a yearned for luxury, a cocktail of need and want. Later, I’d sneak exotic sips of you, a bitter ghost swirling in cold lemonade, as she crooned along to love songs.


Outside on the pavement, a fine drizzle blown in from the sea wets my face like tears. The promenade is deserted, the souvenir shops shut for winter, and a silver-tinged loneliness licks the puddles. The spring tide’s drained the sea, exposing muddy flats, and gulls plunge beak first from the sky to stab at stranded fish. I think of Owen once playing upon the drifts of shingle, filling buckets, trailing tendrils of seaweed, unmarred by bad deeds. Today, I’d stop to breathe the briny tang, only the bottles are awkward to hold, and I’m wishing away the time to taste you.


Remember the first time we were properly introduced? You found me in the huddle of teenagers on the blustery beach, sharing bummed cigarettes and slugging the foul taste of you from a shop-lifted vodka bottle. It only took a few eye watering gulps and you were in, insisting on a victorious high five of elation as you surfed into my bloodstream, pooled pleasure in my hungry brain. You hijacked reason, draped yourself across the chaise lounge of my mind, and I said make yourself at home. It was bliss, and I didn’t want you to leave.


You and I became a team. With you, my liquid sidekick, I was funny and brave. With you, my secret weapon, I drowned responsibilities like rats. Friendships were fast tracked, doubts washed away, recklessness bubbled over. You coached me through the grim hangovers, the next day shame, the inexplicable bruises. We laughed about the odd lost shoe. That was wild, you whispered, let’s do it again.


Shallow love emerged from the boozy swirls you swathed me in, brittle and bottle-born, without substance to survive sobriety’s heartless glare. In the stark brightness of the morning after, stumbling from the beds of bad choices, you murmured it’s ok, this is how everybody feels.


I leave the promenade, turn into the side street of council flats, climb the concrete steps to the front door. Soon, Owen will be taking these same steps and I let the bubble of joy sit in my heart, unburst. The guilt has been ballast for too long, threatening to submerge me- I know I never protected him as I should. When the fragile cells of a new life took hold inside, you knew before I did, and you swiftly seeped through them. I took stock of our relationship- remember how I tried to shut you out? You wouldn’t have it, kept checking in on me, suggested we could make this work if I allowed you back in small measures. A little of what you fancy won’t do any harm, you assured me. You wriggled your way back glass by glass, and it wasn’t just me but my baby you had your claws in. You were already making bargains with his brain, like a witch in a fairytale claiming what was yours.


As Owen grew you were guest of honour at all the family celebrations. When he turned sixteen the men of our family clapped him on the back and brought him beer. He drank deeply to the cheers, grimaced, wiped his mouth with his sleeve. It didn’t touch the sides, he boasted, but the flush in his face betrayed him. Are you slacking, Mum? I drank up, knowing you were now his friend too, and I let you throw your cloak about us both. Isn’t it true that in run down seaside towns like this, there are plenty of worse things that could have coursed through his veins?


We should talk about that night; the one where it went so wrong for Owen. You were there along with all his mates, your arms draped over their shoulders. You stoked them up with fire and made them feel invincible. You could have stopped there and let them have their fun, but you took it too far. You’d been working on Owen for years, hadn’t you? Messing with his self-control, curdling his sense and sparking rage. Owen may have thrown the fatal punch, but you told him to do it, whispering in his ear, don’t let anyone talk to you like that, don’t take it! Owen did the time, but the crime was all yours.  


I saw the other mother in the supermarket once, not long after the hearing. She was gaunt with grief and loading groceries on the conveyor belt, because although her world had ended it was still turning for everyone else. Although the light had gone out for her, the mornings kept coming, breath still filled her lungs, her cruel heartbeat never stopped. I know, I wanted to tell her, I’m sorry. She looked up and saw me, colour draining from her face, and out she walked, leaving baked bean tins rolling and frozen peas thawing, and the bemused cashier buzzing for assistance.


Through the kitchen window, the sea gleams between the gap in the rooftops- the tide’s turning, washing back in over the rippled shore. I slide the bottles onto the fridge shelf. The gold embossed letters gleaming on the label befit your power and charm; you always manage to dress for the occasion, I’ll give you that. I’m persuaded once again that you only ever mean well, and I agree we deserve a treat after everything we’ve endured. Mistakes were made, a life was lost, but it’s important that Owen moves on now.


The impatient rattling at the letterbox has barely faded before I’ve flung open the door and Owen’s home, throwing down a grubby canvas holdall. We’re all hugs and smiles and happy words of welcome before I stand back to take a proper look at him. He’s a lot leaner, his face pinched thin. I remember all those jokes he made during visits about the food, both of us falsely bright and glad to talk nonsense. There’s something else I see in him too, but I can’t quite place it. A sadness where there used be bristling anger.


“You’ll be desperate for something decent to eat!” I’m chattering too fast because if I stop, I’ll cry. “Whatever you fancy for dinner, I’ll make it. But first, let’s celebrate!”


I turn away to fetch what’s missing. You, my old friend, so we can raise a toast to a new beginning, to a fresh start. Let’s mark the moment, all of us together, and you can cast your cosy glow around us, promise us everything will be better.


Owen puts his hand on my arm and the shadow of anxiety that crosses his face reminds me he’s barely left his childhood. “The thing is, Mum, I’ve been going to this group. I’ve been talking a lot about that night, how I ended up losing it. And I’m not going to do it any more- the drinking, you know?”


For a moment I’m startled. This isn’t what our family does. I’m struggling to make sense of it, surely he can have just one? It’s cheap fizz, nothing heavy. Maybe I’ll have a drink for the both of us. I’m about to ask are you sure? No one needs to know. But I think those words might be yours. I bite my lip and smile. “I’m proud of you.”


Owen unpacks in his room, where the football fixtures from when time stopped are still tacked to his wall. I wonder about the empty room in the other mother’s home.


The bottles are cool and heavy in my hands when I take them from the fridge, and my fingers twitch to tear away the foil from around their necks, but I place them back in the carrier bag, twist the edges closed, and carry you outside, still trapped in glass. A thin shaft of evening sun pours through a break in the clouds and reeling gulls shriek insults as I flip back the hinged lid of a wheelie bin. You fall with a soft thud onto bulging black rubbish sacks. There I leave you, amongst the stench of rotting food, trapped like Jonah in the belly of a whale. Only it’s me whose being tested.


I hear you whispering again, when I’m alone on the sofa and Owen’s at his meeting. You promise to keep me company, to embrace and sooth me, just one last time. Your tone is coaxing, then pleading, and finally you shout, enraged, for me to retrieve you from the dark and take you back. I switch on the TV, let the beaming grin of a game show host illuminate the room, and I turn the volume up until the audience laughter drowns out your lies.

August 28, 2022 17:50

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29 comments

Pete K Mally
13:00 Dec 31, 2022

So engaging. Loved reading every word

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Rama Shaar
09:26 Sep 23, 2022

Wow. This is a heartbreaking love affair. But the thing that stands out even more than the premise is the language. Really well-written!

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L.M. Lydon
20:15 Sep 08, 2022

You have some wonderful imagery in this story. The two paragraphs beginning "You and I became a team were particularly strong." I liked the drowned rat and fairy-tale witch analogies very much as well. The way you run through various anecdotes in the narrator's life really illustrates for the reader how much of a core experience her addiction is.

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Ellen Dilligan
00:42 Sep 09, 2022

I agree! I really liked how engaging the beginning is!

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10:29 Sep 23, 2022

Thank you, really helpful to hear your thoughts.

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Kelsey H
09:27 Sep 08, 2022

The whole way through this I was like "this is my favourite line.. no this is my favourite line... not this is my favourite ..." you get the idea. Of all the lines I loved though I think this was actually my favourite one; -I think of Owen once playing upon the drifts of shingle, filling buckets, trailing tendrils of seaweed, unmarred by bad deeds. - I love how it captures the theme of the effect of his mothers addiction on the child. The three way relationship between the mother, Owen and alcohol is so well shown, I love how she charts th...

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T.S.A. Maiven
05:54 Sep 07, 2022

This is a winning story if I ever read one! The way you captured addiction had me enthralled. I was engrossed throughout the whole piece.

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H L Mc Quaid
13:02 Sep 06, 2022

Really powerful story about the damaging cycle of addiction. So many meaty turns of phrase, like, "I can hear it now, the click and then your gleeful hiss. You were there on the breath of his loud laughter and in his rosy cheeks, and I saw you in his glassy eyes." and, "I let the bubble of joy sit in my heart, unburst." Such a beautiful and devastating way to describe that feeling. and, "You were already making bargains with his brain, like a witch in a fairytale claiming what was yours." Whew. I'm glad there's a beacon of hope, of cha...

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Mary Sheehan
22:04 Sep 05, 2022

I was moved by this story about addiction. You hit on so many things: the lies our addicted brain tells us, the impact it has on other families, the harm it does to society, the lives it rips apart. Owen got time for manslaughter I'm guessing, which I think gives the judge the ability to choose the sentence, so could be 0-life. If he has given up alcohol, he is more likely to get out earlier. I like to think he's still a young man and has a future. I also love how you touch on the fact that alcoholism runs in the family. It's as much gen...

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11:10 Sep 06, 2022

Hi Mary, Thanks for that helpful legal context- I somewhat ad libbed that part! I’ve assumed if he was still under 18, or perhaps with no previous offenders when he committed a serious crime (e.g. manslaughter) it would lead to a more lenient sentence, hence he’s still young when paroled and showing potential to change. Although there’s still the possibility of life long disadvantage from in-utero exposure to alcohol, which could have been developed further in the story. Thanks so much for your feedback. Best of luck too! :)

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Zack Powell
20:11 Sep 05, 2022

First of all, welcome back, L. It's been a while since we've you. Glad you're still keeping up with your writing. And second: This story is both my favorite of yours, and of the ones I've read so far, my favorite of the week. What beautiful storytelling going on here. Never thought I'd see a "love letter" (I use that term VERY loosely) to alcohol. Gorgeous use of POV, gorgeous use of language and verbs, gorgeous transformative ending. This is a winner in my book. So many good things going on in this story, from a technical level. As always...

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11:38 Sep 06, 2022

Zack, you’ve made my day with your wonderful feedback, thank you so much :)

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Lisa Neuvelt
15:38 Sep 05, 2022

That was one of the best stories I have read in a long time. I couldn’t stop. Great job. ❤️ I’m going to see what some of your past stories are.

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19:09 Sep 05, 2022

Hi Lisa, I’m really pleased you enjoyed reading this story, many thanks!

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Suma Jayachandar
10:29 Sep 04, 2022

L, You have told the sad tale of addiction running in families and the struggles they have to face in such a rich,smooth and addictive style and language; it's flawless. I am a fan of your writing. Thanks for sharing.

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18:56 Sep 04, 2022

Hi Suma, Hey, we both wrote for the and prompt this week- we’ve used very different cultural contexts to demonstrate transformation. Yours is incredibly moving. Thank you so much for your feedback!

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Rabab Zaidi
04:45 Sep 04, 2022

Very well written.

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19:08 Sep 05, 2022

Thank you Rabab :)

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Aeris Walker
17:34 Sep 02, 2022

This is so absolutely beautifully written. It’s so emotional and raw, like a letter to a toxic lover you just can’t leave behind. Every sentence was concise and vivid, but these were a few of my favorites: “You hijacked reason, draped yourself across the chaise lounge of my mind, and I said make yourself at home.” “You were already making bargains with his brain, like a witch in a fairy tale claiming what was yours.” “The gold embossed letters gleaming on the label befit your power and charm; you always manage to dress for the occasion, I’...

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21:33 Sep 02, 2022

Heartfelt thanks for your lovely words, Aeris, and for picking some flowers as you walked through the story :)

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Aeris Walker
21:36 Sep 02, 2022

:)

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Lily Finch
13:43 Sep 02, 2022

Oh L., the strong pull of addiction -- and the sad reality that Owen learned the hard way. I love how he returned home and was steadfast that he was not going to drink anymore, and then the mother was at least supportive in that she, too, was trying to become sober. I enjoyed the story. Great work!

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21:18 Sep 02, 2022

Many thanks Lily :)

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Michał Przywara
21:41 Aug 29, 2022

I've seen many stories personify liquor and alcoholism, and just like relationships with actual people, each such story is unique. What I like about this one is the intergenerational aspect. Here, it's not so much a personal relationship, as it's a family tradition. Indeed, it sounds like it extends beyond the family and maybe hits the whole town. Children have their alcohol milestones, a coming of age, and then they join their older kin in celebration. Until, of course, something goes wrong. This is another nice aspect of the story, bec...

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06:21 Aug 30, 2022

Hi Michal, Thanks for your insight here. You’ve rightly picked out how alcohol use can become normalised within families and communities-an insiduous aspect of culture that starts early. And thanks for the edit heads up, you sure do have a focussed eye.

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Jay Mc Kenzie
19:32 Aug 29, 2022

What a moving portrait of addiction. Its subtle, sad but ultimately hopeful. As always, your writing is beautiful.

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06:12 Aug 30, 2022

Thanks so much Jay. Been a while since I managed to write a little hope into a story! 😂

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00:10 Aug 29, 2022

Another powerful story you have written. You convey the allure of addiction well and how you wrote in a type of 2nd person is unique and works. Good luck in the competition this week:)

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06:10 Aug 30, 2022

Hello Scott, Thanks for the feedback. Not sure about this one, but it was half written already and nodded to the prompt. I wanted to emphasise how addiction can be like an attachment relationship, promising comfort along with the harm.

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