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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

Dead Soldiers
by John Tompkins

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In the mirror above her armoire, Nora could see the dead soldiers. They were arranged on Maurice’s dresser behind her. She stood in their bedroom for a moment, the forgotten red scarf limp in her hands. What had she been thinking? She turned around and looked at the empty bottles of Jim Beam, her favorite, and in the back, her small bottle of Gilby's Gin. She realized what a mistake it had been to leave these empties around. But once she had sneaked them into the house full, getting them out empty had proven to be hard. So she had temporarily hid them in her closet. She wondered who had found them.

"Honey, is everything alright?" her husband Maurice called from downstairs, as if on queue. The dinner! How was she going to survive that? They had all been ready to go, Maurice and their two daughters Edina and Sevka. “Hon?" he called again. She had to do something before she heard the tread of his size nine shoes on the stairs. Without taking her eyes off the bottles, she cleared her throat.

"Be right down," she said. Looking at the bottles she realized that it had been a trap. She thought back over the last few minutes while they had pulled their coats on in the downstairs foyer. Her scarf, always left in the right hand coat pocket of her London Fog rain special, was suddenly missing. Then there was Edina stating, after she had watched her mother rifling through the pockets, that she had seen the scarf on her bed. What had she been doing in her mother's room in the first place? But once again she knew this question would remain unanswered. All they would see is that she had started on the sauce again and had been caught, again.

After all the promising she had done from the hospital bed. She remembered her family clustered around her in a ring of concern. She clenched her right hand, it still ached; it had been six months since she had broken it on the dashboard of their Volvo. “It’s totaled," Maurice had said, seeming for just an instant to be more concerned with the cracked up Volvo station wagon. Was he slipping? Starting to be more concerned with the damage she was causing to the stuff around her? Did he see her as a lost cause? She went over to the bottles and picked one up wishing that there were at least one shot left - she needed it. She would have to go downstairs in a few seconds; they would know she had seen the bottles and then where would she be?

"Nora, our reservations are for six." She didn't give a damn about the reservations; it had all been a ruse to maneuver her into a situation wherein she would require the services of a scarf. She wouldn't give them the satisfaction of seeing her beg for their forgiveness and make promises that she would only keep if they got off her back. No, talking about her condition had gotten her in trouble in the first place. This time she knew what to do. As quietly as she could she took the bottles and put them back in their hiding place.

This time things would be different.

"Be right there," she called through the door. She avoided looking at her reflection in Maurice’s mirror as she left the room. This time she would keep her big mouth shut.

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