This time, Mom got drunk first. In a pink cat-embroidered sweater, she delicately opened the Beefeater, like it was one of those antique music boxes. Dad watched from the doorway, grinning, flipping his mug in his hands, still pockmarked with paint from our chores yesterday. This was breakfast.
Hours later, she’s driving. We were off to the races today. She’s singing but it sounds like she gargled with gravel instead of Listerine. Her red nails clacked on the dashboard. Dad’s fumbling to light their cigarettes. It was a sunny day and the light cut hard into them.
To be honest, and I know you’re going to think me an apologist, but I didn’t mind them this way. I mean, was it healthy? Of course not. I will say this though – they made sure I was fed, read to, and had good shoes to wear. The drinking never hindered their jobs. They just liked to have a good time. Maybe a little too much, but it was days like this that they really let themselves go. If we were going to the races – they loved going to see the horses – then they were going to have gin instead of coffee, beer instead of apple juice.
I remember on this particular day that I wasn’t really enthusiastic about going though. The night before, they got me a Super Nintendo – I was the last kid in my class to have one and I was looking forward to finally playing some of the games they talked about. But, they said, I was still too young to be at home. I almost made the suggestion that I could stay at home and watch the alcohol for them, babysit the beer, made sure it didn’t run off somewhere. But I swallowed hard and said sure. They assured me we wouldn’t be gone too long. Just to the races. Just long enough to throw some money down.
Mom was usually the better drunk driver of the two, but today, something was amiss. She had swayed slightly on the turnpike and got honked at by a tractor trailer. Dad laughed the first time, but when she did it again a few miles later, he chastised her.
“Debbie,” he said, “quit driving like an idiot.”
She pouted slightly, held her cigarette like a dignitary. “No one’s driving like anything. I just want to get there.”
“The track will be there,” he said. “Let’s make sure WE get there.”
She huffed and looked in the rearview. “Sweetie, you good?”
I nodded. I was daydreaming about saving Zelda. I was doing the math on how many drinks they would be having at the track – the more they lost, the more they put down. I looked up and saw Mom still staring through the rearview.
“Fuck,” she said.
Dad turned. His open mouth spelled it out – red and blue lights. Not the first time, not the last time.
“Well, you’ve gone and done it now,” Dad said. “I should have driven, goddamn.”
“Stan,” Mom whispered.
“Pull over,” Dad said. “I’ll talk. You’re slurring like a goofball.”
The sun highlighted their faces and I remember thinking about how old they looked, how in the kitchen just an hour ago, they looked youthful, like they had just met at a school dance. But now there’s wrinkles, curves, spots where things like gin and bitters hide, and it made them look so alien – like they were a monster that couldn’t scare anyone or anything. They looked like old dogs that would hang out at gas stations and bake in the heat. It was sad. I remember that so well, and what happened next is something I could draw on any canvas with any instrument.
“Well, Stan,” she said, as the cop car whooped behind us.
“Oh, Jesus, don’t you even…”
“Wanna bet? We can make our own race.”
“Awh, hell, Debbie…” Dad smacked his face. The white paint was still on his knuckles, caught in his hairs. He couldn’t even wash his hands properly. But they always knew to make more ice. It’s weird – we notice the talents in people and they never notice it themselves.
“We’re only two miles away,” Mom said.
Dad sighed. He smoked his cigarette. He looked back at me.
“Hey. You know how you like going down hills in your Radio Flyer?”
Dad smacked his lips. “This is the Radio Flyer. And we’re going down together. You ready?”
“Sure, Dad,” I said. “Whatever you say.”
Mom took that as her cue. She sped down the road. The cop raced, too. Here we were – the two finest steeds of our time. Galloping. For glory and honor, for that sacred finish line, for the purse, one for the money. Two for the show. Not everyone can win. Mom clacked her nails on the dashboard some more and Dad sat, clutching his seatbelt, smoking away, like he had intentions on finishing the pack right then and there.
I know what you’re thinking – about me and them. I’m not going to say they were the best parents ever – far from. But they were mine. I had to hold onto that. There, in that spot, as a kid – I had no choice but to stay tethered. I wasn’t sure where else to go. I wouldn’t be sure for a while. Just had to accept it.
We picked up speed. It was such a gorgeous day. I pretended I was in my Radio Flyer, like Dad said. We glided past trees. I felt like I was going to win. I couldn’t think about anything else. I imagined my name in the newspaper – and the thought warmed me.
Kevin Richard White’s fiction has appeared in Hobart, Rejection Letters, X-R-A-Y and Hypertext among other places. He is a Flash Fiction Associate Editor at Barren Magazine. He lives in Philadelphia. His Twitter is @misterkrw.