White Chips

First published on ShortFictionBreak.com on August 25th, 2016. It was entered in The Write Practice's 5th Anniversary Writing Contest. The theme was “Scar,” and submitted stories needed to be 1,500 words or fewer. 

She lifted her right hand in front of her face and watched as the thick red droplets ran down her fingers and fell off the tips of her chipped sparkly gold nails. She watched last six distinct beads drip then let her hand fall back to her side. The dull slap as it broke the surface of the shallow pond spreading around her echoed in her fuzzy mind. Absentmindedly, she mirrored the rhythm the drops had made and continued to pat her hand up and down, bouncing on the surface tension. She laid on her back on the cold concrete floor in the widening pool. Her clothes soaked up and absorbed what they could, but most of liquid pushed past the feeble barrier.

The crusty trails of dried tears ran from the far corners of her eyes down past her temples and disappeared into her naturally blonde and unnaturally reddening hair. Her face was blank, her eyes dull. Everything about her said I’m not home right now, and I don’t intend to listen to any messages if you’re waiting for a beep.

Her mind was replaying the last few weeks of her life. It was an exercise in futility, but she wouldn’t rest until it figured out exactly where she’d lost control this time. Where was the line? How far could she get away with going next time? The next slap of her hand in the pool around her made her laugh self-deprecatingly. There won’t be a next time, the sound reminded her.

That thought brought her some measure of peace. ‘It’s finally going to be over. I won’t have to hope that next time I won’t screw up again. That I won’t let everyone down again. That I won’t have to apologize again. That I won’t have to try and fail again.’ The smile began to reflect actual hope and happiness.

Then came the sirens.

Her head barely turned as her eyes looked at the broken glass door. The tips of the tiny shards of glass caught the faint light of the yellow street lamp across the street. They looked like scattered sharp pebbles on the shore of a red lake. Off to the side, about a foot from where liquid met glass was a discarded lump of metal and torn fabric. It was one of the lawn chairs she kept in the back of her van for watching little league games. ‘And breaking into closed convenience stores apparently.’ She thought to herself.

The blue and red strobing lights were now close enough that she could see them reflecting off the metal slushy machines. She tried to work up any motivation to move, but just felt tired and dizzy. She heard them pull into the parking spaces nearest the door. She saw the white beams of at least 3 flashlights, and heard muffled sounds, like listening to movie dialogue with a pillow over your head. It caught her attention that the words were blurry. She should be concerned with her imminent arrest, but all she could think was, ‘Why can I hear the liquid splash, but not the people talking?’

The voices got louder and authoritative, but no clearer. She decided to stop worrying about it and stopped her hand from slapping her puddle anymore so she wouldn’t notice the disparity between the two sounds. She watched as the beams of light swiveled around the destruction before landing on her.

“Ah, crap.” said one of the officers, “call an ambulance!” ‘Huh. Now she’s coming in clear enough. Go figure.’ Two sets of feet made their way to her, while the third kept checking to make sure no one else was in the store. The male part of the two was calling over the radio for an ambulance and keeping his eyes averted from her lifted skirt. The other was checking her over to find the wounds and lowering the skirt once it was clear that the legs weren’t the source of the liquid.

“God she reeks,” remarked the male officer. “like a dive bar bathroom.”

“It’s not all just her.” The female responded while finishing up her inspection. “None of this is blood. It’s all the wine off the shelf. She overturned the whole thing, but miraculously she doesn’t appear to have any lacerations.”

Fingers were snapping in front of her face, “Ma’am! Can you hear us ma’am?” The male yelled at her.

She didn’t feel like responding.

The officer reached behind her line of sight and came back with her wine soaked purse. He held it between his thumb and forefinger like a soiled diaper. He upended it and everything clattered out of the top in a disorganized heap. He used the edge of his flashlight to prod the pile until a driver’s license revealed itself.

“It says her name is Sarah Williams.” He told the other officer.

“Sarah? Sarah? We’re going to try to lift you to a seated position.” Then both officers lifted her from under her arms. The room spun and she heard the male retching. ‘Good idea,’ she barely had time to think the words before she vomited all down the front of herself.

The support from one of her sides disappeared and she heard sharp expletives as she twisted and slammed face first back onto the cold cement floor. Her head rang from the second contusion of the night. She felt sharp pain and something hot on her face. ‘I guess there’s blood now,’ she thought and then started to laugh hysterically at her own joke. Her laughter soon turned to coughing since she was breathing in the spilt wine.

 “Dammit Caruthers! You dropped her on the broken bottles!” The female officer admonished.

“At least we don’t need to cancel the ambulance,” he replied blithely.

She was lifted up again, but they kept her face pointed down and away from them. They moved her away from the rest of broken glass and puddled wine and towards a back exit. She watched the red drips follow them as they moved. She felt very surreal as if none of this was actually happening to her.  As soon as she was clear of the debris, they lowered her gently and then cuffed her. Once she was restrained, one officer left to lead the EMTs through the safer back entrance and the other recited her Miranda Rights. She kept waiting for a switch to click, for reality to settle in, for something to actually matter. She was taken away to the hospital, and she was still waiting.

~.~.~.~.~

“That was the beginning of the end for me,” Sarah W told Angela H while unconsciously rubbing the faded scar near her hairline. There was a moment of silence while Katy the Waffle House waitress warmed their white coffee mugs and cleared their empty plates. “The judge made me enter the program as part of my sentence. I picked up my first white chip, but it wasn’t my last.”

Angela’s eyebrows furrowed, “How many white chips have you picked up?”

“As many as I’ve needed to.”

“But you just celebrated a birthday. You’ve been sober seven years.”

“This time.” Sarah shrugged. “It never gets easier, but it does get better. Most of us have to start over a few times. Some need more than a few, but we keep coming back because…” she trailed off leading her audience of one.

“It works if you work it,” Angela ruefully completed the motto, then looked down and nibbled on a sausage patty. When she looked up a couple tears were tracking down her frown lines. “What time is it?” She warbled before clearing her throat.

“We’ve got about ten minutes if you want to make the six am meeting.” Understanding and patience coated Sarah’s words.

Angela looked around the room at all the waiters, contractors, and truckers going about their own lives. She winced as she felt the dull ache which would become a full blown hangover in a couple of hours. She took a deep breath and returned her gaze to Sarah, her sponsor.

“Ok.” Angela H conceded, “Let’s go get me another damn white chip.”

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