Five o'clock. Seemed like it had taken forever for the ancient analog clock to flip to that number. As it did every night, the jazz station kicked in on the radio. Charlotte turned off all the lights in the house and began to sway to the cool sounds of Harry Connick, Jr. Light streamed in through the Kmart blinds.
Petey had finally gone to sleep on the couch. His ragged Spiderman underpants the only thing that kept him from complete nudity. Charlotte didn't bother feeling his forehead. The pockmarks were so vivid on his skin you could practically see his fever.
"Don't bring him in!" the nurse at the clinic had cried when Charlotte had called to make an appointment. "It's chicken pox! It's going around. He'll be fine, but if you bring him in here he'll infect every sick kid who comes by. He's gonna have to miss some school."
Keep him home. Easy for her to say. As though she could just wave a wand and make Mr. Abjuwaral not mind that she wouldn't be working her shift at the liquor store all week. "I got someone come in here yesterday looking for work," he had said ominously. "Maybe I'll call him back." But he hadn't said she was fired. There was promise in that.
"Five o'clock, baby," said Charlotte, to the air more than her sleeping child. She stepped over the toys and dirty laundry strewn along the floor and headed to the kitchen cabinets. "We're expected in the Rainbow Room at 5:00." Three steps later, she was in her kitchen.
Opening the chipped and peeling cabinet, she pulled out her crystal martini glass. It had been her present from Glenn when they were still together. Must have cost him a week's pay. She paused for a moment to admire its carved facets. Giving it a quick rinse under the rusty faucet, she then opened the frost-full freezer with Petey's rainbow picture on the door and popped the glass inside.
Turning back to the sink, she reached underneath and found her stepping stool. Charlotte dragged it over to the pantry and stood upon it. Reaching up to the highest shelf and moving a pack of Cheerios, she felt her way to the tall bottle. The Absolut bottle fit her palm nicely as she pulled it down, followed by the squat heavy bottle of Cointreau. Mr. Abjuwaral really ought to take better track of his inventory, she thought without irony.
Petey cried and it made her jump, but he only scratched at his rashy skin and rolled over. "It's all right, baby," Charlotte murmured, too far away for anyone but her to hear. Her eyes were gleaming as she poured the vodka and Cointreau into the silver cocktail shaker her mother had bought her for Christmas. "I don't know where you get off asking for such things," Mom had said. "You live in a mobile home, not the goddamn Rockefeller mansion. You don't even have a dining room table!"
Mom had never seen the Thin Man movies. Mom had never listened to The Count Basie Orchestra. Mom didn't know you could live the lush life in the comfort of your own mobile home, every evening at five o'clock.
Charlotte added the splash of cranberry cocktail and the lime juice over the ice, and then went into the bathroom to shake the drink so as not to wake up Petey. "It had to be you," she sang quietly along with the radio. "Wonderful you."
The mildewed walls were receding already, so effective was the ritual. Usually she had to do this with cartoons on, Petey staring dazed at the set. But tonight was so good. So quiet. She was relaxing before the alcohol even touched her lips, which were looking a little pale now. Charlotte grabbed a tube of red lipstick and applied a careful smear, taking the time to blot them on some toilet paper.
Back in the kitchen she pulled the chilled and frosty martini glass from the freezer and strained the pink concoction into it. Grabbing a paring knife, she cut a strip of peel from the squeezed lime and curled it into a twist to garnish her glass. She held the glass up to the light coming in through the blinds and admired the sparkle of the crystal. The glistening of the drink. "To us, baby." She took a deep sip and felt the familiar warmth spread through her body.
Setting it down and taking a deep breath, she reached over for her pack of cigarettes. She was Nora Charles, done up in mink, and William Powell was extending his silver lighter before she even got her cigarette to her lips. Cigarette lit, she exhaled over her shoulder and looked into Nick Charles' eyes as he made a witty quip about the folks at the next table over. A small dark form sat up, casting a long shadow over the floor of the Rainbow Room.
"Mommy?" said Petey. "I itch."
About the author:
Leslie Irish Evans contracts out at $12,000/hour as a literary muse. Since business has been slow, she has been forced to write her own stuff. Her work has appeared in several e-zines including The Blue Review and The Story Garden, and is slated to appear in Snow Monkey. In her spare time she co-stars with Smacky the Mouse at www.theleslieshow.com . She is currently at work on her first novel. No, really.