by Karen Sleeth
Darm 'n Stormy cocktail
I wish my father was an alcoholic like Billy’s dad. They live on the neighbor side of our apartment wall. My dad sometimes dismisses the pounding and yelling saying, “Dorsey’s drinking again.” But mostly when he hears it, it’s like watching the flame from his Zippo flare up and jump onto his cigarette, then smolder there. On those nights, I keep out of punching distance.
Sometimes Billy Dorsey squints out of a bruised eye or indulges a swollen lip but mostly when his dad drinks he stays in their cave-dark apartment. When he does come out, we never talk about it, just make shallow talk and rummage for things to make us laugh.
Mr. Dorsey is a favorite when he isn’t drinking. He draws everyone, except my dad, into Sunday afternoon baseball games. Even the suspendered men and aproned ladies play, just like a family.
Dad likes me even less when we’ve had a rousing game, so I watch the apartment window for the lights to go out, then slip in after I hope he’s asleep.
Last night I sneaked into my dark room and sat eating a ham sandwich Mr. Dorsey gave me. I got to thinking about how different Mr. Dorsey is when he drinks. He’s like that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story. The alcohol is like the stuff Dr. Jekyll drinks to make him a monster. I wonder if it can turn someone who’s already a monster into a nice person? Maybe even make them want to play baseball with their kid?
This morning Dad is reading the paper and I’m sitting beside him on the sofa reading the new Mad Magazine I got for my birthday. Spy vs Spy is hysterical! I laugh so hard I knock over my milk. It splashes Dad. Before I get a chance to think I have a mouthful of shag carpet, the back of my head throbbing.
‘Clean it up!’ Dad seethes through gritted teeth and leaves me face down.
So, it wasn’t too bad, but from now on I can’t have milk anywhere but at the table and I am a menace that destroys everything, which I already know.
Tonight, the neighbor wall ricochets with screams that chase thumps. My dad, still savoring the milk smackdown, thunders over to the Dorsey apartment. I hear the familiar Dad-anger vibrations, the staccato demands, muffled voices. Then, Mr. Dorsey is crying!
When I hear Dad’s returning footsteps, I bury myself under the covers.
I wonder what Dad did to make Mr. Dorsey cry. Did he hit him in a place where no one could see bruises?
I fall asleep thinking that no one blames Billy, he can always rely on his dad being an alcoholic.