Clara stares at me, her eyes glinting accusatory question marks. She stands in the doorway and the light that slips between the blinds falls across her face. She looks very tired. “Where were you?” she asks, her voice small yet hard.
“Out,” I say, not lifting my eyes from my lap where I grip a glass with whiskey in it.
This doesn’t bode well with her, and she crosses her arms. “You were out drinking again weren’t you?” I remain quiet and lean back further into my chair. “James?”
“Mind your business, Clara,” I reply unkindly. I tag a swig of my drink and feel the buzz starting to numb my mind. I know I’ve hurt her feelings but I don’t care. I don’t care about much anymore.
“You are my business. You’re throwing your life away!” she shouts suddenly. I would have jumped if I weren’t so drunk.
My mouth presses into a line. “Calm down, woman.”
Clara rakes her fingers through her messy hair and her eyes are bulging now. “I will not calm down. You are destroying yourself, James.” I eye her through drooping lids as she marches across the dimly lit room and shoves her finger in my face. “You will never find your answers at the bottom of a beer bottle. You’re destroying this family!”
For some reason her remark enrages me and I throw my drink onto the floor. It shatters loudly and Clara jumps back. “I don’t care,” I mumble.
A look crosses over Clara’s face, like clouds moving across the sky, and she screams shrilly. Her frustration with me is obvious and she holds her head in her hands and sinks to the floor. She continues to scream unto she dissolves into tears. “I can’t do this anymore,” she whispers over and over.
I feel as if I’m watching an act on a stage, like I’m sitting in the audience, separate from what’s happening in front of me. I’m present, but not, at the same time. Not in the way she’d like me to be. The edges of my vision are blurry now and I feel warm all over. I don’t how Clara can be so upset when it’s so warm.
Clara stops crying abruptly and stands. Her cheeks are wet and flushed. “I don’t have to take this. I know I’ve done everything I could, but you just won’t change. You are drowning in your booze and I refuse to drown with you.” She smiles, and it looks almost deranged. “I’m leaving, and I’m taking our son with me.”
Our son? The words move slowly through my head, like a spoon moving through Jell-O. “You can’t take our son,” I cry, alarmed. “He’s my boy!”
Clara steps back as I stand from my chair. “You lost your right to call yourself a father long ago.”
I’m angry. I reach for Clara, but she sidesteps me and I trip over the coffee table. I crash to the ground and land in a heap. My palms are burning and when I lift them I have to blink a few times to focus. I see bits of glass. “Clara!” I yell.
I hear footsteps racing down the hallway and work to get up but the ground keeps moving on me.
More footsteps and a small voice accompanying them this time. “Daddy?”
I begin to weep. “Don’t take my son.” I flinch as I hear the front door slam and then the car start. “Don’t take my son, dammit! I can change,” I shout, beginning to sob. “I can change!”
I plead in the empty house for a long time, until what Clara says would happen, happens. I grab the whiskey bottle from beside the chair and begin chugging.