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Erin tosses the brochure on the floor of the passenger seat, where she sits prisoner to a hangover and the mercy of a friend. “Each New Day—sounds like a cult or an ashram where the Swami is actually some orange-turbaned guy named Phil from New Jersey.”
Meg keeps her eyes on the road. “It’s not a cult or an ashram.”
“Where the hell is this place?” Erin surveys the stretch of brown corn stalks followed by a gang of emaciated cows and a half-burned farmhouse with a No Trespassing sign. “So much for a Starbucks on every corner. I need coffee,” Erin pleads, replacing her snark with childlike woe. “And some more Band-Aids for my knees. Look at me. I’m a mess.”
Meg doesn’t look. She’s fallen for her best friend’s signature pout for years and won’t give in this time. She thanks God Erin survived last night with just a few scrapes.
“We need to stop somewhere. I’m hemorrhaging. If I die, you get my boys, and they’re horrible little people. They almost took out the babysitter at the Y. They can take you out, too.”
Meg loves Erin’s crazy boys, who dart and bang around like pinballs. Erin jokes she’s willed them to Meg along with their guinea pig, SpongeBob PigPants. It’s part of her schtick that her ex isn’t a stand-up dad, but Meg knows he swoops in whenever wine o’clock becomes a three-day bender. He also canceled a trip with his fiancé to watch the boys while Erin “gets help.”
“Pass him or turn down a side road,” Erin complains about a slow truck of doomed chickens. “Or take me home.” Feeling better, she backpedals on her vomit-induced vow to go to rehab. “I don’t need to sit in a circle of sad sacks. It was just a bad night.”
“Do you remember playing beer pong with your neighbor’s college kids? How about falling out of their rec room window trying to make a trick basketball shot?”
“I got some net,” she snickers, “and a few scratches. Other moms were there drinking, too. I don’t see them being forced into a cult.”
“I’m not forcing you. It’s your decision. Each New Day says the program only works if you admit you have a problem.”
“My only problem is a lack of caffeine. I think a store’s up there on the right.”
As Meg slows down, she mumbles, “It doesn’t look very promising.”
Other than a rusty gas pump and a mountain of worn tires, the dirt parking lot is empty. The store’s lean-to roof leans too far on one side. Erin and Meg stand, staring with tilted heads.
“Everyone does that,” a twiggy-limbed teenager says, stepping onto the porch. A buggy screen door slams behind her. She folds her pale arms and leans on a rotted post. “It’s a crooked roof, not the eighth wonder. If I had a dollar for every one of you, I’d have fixed it by now. Guessing you want coffee? Come on. I’m not serving you out here.”
Erin and Meg fall in line behind the girl in cut-offs. Her tee says, “Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite.” There’s not another soul inside the store. The girl tells them to sit at a folding table by the counter while she makes a fresh pot.
“Weird,” Meg whispers as they look around. A cooler filled with beverages, jarred pickled eggs, and tubs of “Aunt Bea’s Chicken Salad” hums loudly on the back wall. The shelves are sparse—a brick of Wonder Bread, peanut butter, rat poison, and some disfigured Hostess treats that remind Erin of the sad hodge-podge she sometimes packs in her boys’ super-hero lunch boxes. She’ll do better, she promises herself as she spots a much-needed box of Band-Aids.
They sit at the table, and the girl comes back with coffee. Up close, she seems older, with marble gray eyes fixed on a shaky Erin. “Y’all want some of Aunt Bea’s chicken salad?”
“Sure. Who’s Aunt Bea?” Meg asks.
“My guardian. She died last year. Got hit by a truck—crossing the road to get the mail.”
“I’m sorry. That’s awful,” Meg said.
“Stupid place for a mailbox.” The girl shrugs. “It’s like people booby trap themselves.”
“What about your parents?” Erin asks.
“Guess some people are better off without them.” The girl shrugs again and walks away.
“I need to pee,” Meg says. “Then, let’s go. We can take the chicken salad with us.”
Alone, Erin puts fresh Band-Aids on her knees. She doesn’t need rehab. She needs to go home, kiss her sweet boys, and ease up on drinking. Hearing the cooler’s hum, she walks over to grab some water. Instead, she spies a purse-size, screw-cap bottle of glistening white wine. A few sips to cure her hangover won’t hurt. Wrapping her fingers around the cold, metal door handle, she feels the girl behind her.
“I had you pegged.”
“Excuse me?” Erin says, turning her head to look at her.
“As a recruit for drunk mommy boot camp. You don’t look as bad as most of those puffy, yellow ones on their way in. I hardly recognize them after. All grins and glow—ordering tubs of Aunt Bea’s to take home and hugging on me like I’m their long-lost child. I don’t know what they do at that place, but if had a dollar for every person that came back better than new, I’d—”
“Have fixed the roof by now.” Erin releases her grip on the cooler door.
Pulling out of the dirt lot, Megan leaves it up to Erin. "Which way?"
Erin looks back in the side mirror at the girl standing alone on the porch. She points to the right and closes her eyes as the girl disappears in clouds of unsettled dust.
|© 2023, Michele Alouf||Go to top