The four of us stared at it. Crimson and throbbing. The pulpy welt on Charlotte’s knee, purpling at the edges. Red as her freckles. As her hair. As her big fat mouth. And ripe as a dragon fruit. Like you could pluck the bulb from her knee and bite into it like a peach.
“And then they shoved this big plastic tube down my throat,” she said. Charlotte was explaining how she’d gotten her stomach pumped Saturday night after sneaking into a Georgetown college party and drinking for the first time. She said she played beer pong and won twice.
Me and Cath didn’t believe her. That the bruise was from falling out of the ambulance. Cath told me she knew the bruise was from her daddy beating her. Pushing her down the stairs. The stairs with the royal blue rug with the golden lion head at the bottom of the banister we’d named Sheryl the Terrible freshman year.
Charlotte stepped back into her black wool tights, rolling them over her calves, over the dragon fruit welt, and pulling them past her belly button under her uniform skirt. “Blood Mary, are you bored of yourself yet, Lottie?”
We’d started cursing in mixed drinks when Cath found the recipes taped behind her mom’s fancy new stand mixer she’d gotten out of a catalogue, which Mother said was a tacky thing to do.
Sangria. Cosmopolitan. White Russian.
Cath said it meant her parents were drunks. That they stuck up their drinks like that and didn’t bother to lock their mahogany liquor cabinet with the line of crystal glasses on the second to top shelf.
It was Friday evening and I gazed into the mouth of the French’s mahogany cabinet. The lines of delicate, thin-necked crystal glasses. Like swans. Like dancers. Like fancy ladies that we were going to drink out of.
“Mint Julep. I’ll be damned if Charlotte Pietra-Marie Moran gets a taste before us,” Cath muttered, marching around the turquoise kitchen—also tacky according to Mother—in one of Mrs. French’s day dresses, suede and brown and smudge of strawberry lipstick across her mouth. Cath wrapped her hair up in a yellow hair scarf like she’d seen in the magazines and clacked on across the tile in her mom’s nude evening heels with a bottle of gin in her hand, holding it at the fat of its throat and swinging it around as she spun off smoke.
Her parents had gone out to the movies.
“The only alcohol she’s ever had is the Blood of Christ. And most of the time she doesn’t even drink it. Just puts her lips to the fucking cup.”
She mixed the drinks with her pinky finger, like she was Marilyn Monroe, and handed me one of the elegant crystal glasses.
“It’s a martini,” she said. She had read the recipe on the back of the mixer.
I sipped at the lip of the crystal, nail polish and bitter. “Manhattan! That’s jazzy!”
“Don’t know what the olive has to do with any of this, so I guess you just eat one after each sip.” She popped one in her mouth and passed me the jar.
Two and a half martinis in I followed the dust particles floating around the bottom of my lady glass. The gin was making my ankles sweat into my uniform tights.
Cath was on her back on the floor whistling “Where Did Our Love Go” at the ceiling.
“I want something else,” I said. “This tastes rotten, and m’sick of olives. There’s gotta be something good in one of those pretty bottles up there.” They were rosy and shimmering.
“They’ve got wine in the basement,” she said.
“I don’t want wine.”
I remembered how Mother looked after wine. Saggy. Plum-lipped. Draped over the couch like a damp towel.
“I want, that.” I pointed to a silver bottle with a gold top.
“‘Tequila…’” Cath squinted from the floor, “Sounds exotic. Let’s try it.” She scaled the mahogany shelves, still wearing the too-big nude heels, and twisted the silver top off with her teeth spitting it out with an airy pop. It landed behind the couch. She slugged back a healthy sip of Tequila, wincing, “Oh, you’re lovely.”
Cath was hanging off the top mahogany shelf, cheeks red as the dragon fruit welt on Charlotte’s knee, mouth wet and beaming…
When Cath wobbled a bit in the nude evening heels, balancing not, and swiped the crystal women from the second to top shelf as she grasped for sobriety, sweaty palm marks on the dark wood.
And it seemed almost intentional. I saw in her eyes just a flash of crazy. A moment of what Charlotte must see just before her dad comes at her with the belt.
The tinkling of falling ladies swallowed the living room. Their mangled, beautiful bodies on the floor…
“Moscow Mule…” Cath said, eyes glossy and staring at the crumpled crystal.
I observed her.
The smashed women.
The front door clicked with a key.