Page 11 of 13When Claudia was young, her mother had often pulled her out of school to watch matinee movies in a heavily air-conditioned multiplex by the marina. Claudia loved these afternoons, sheening her fingers with popcorn grease in the darkness. The two of them always stuck around to finish the last kernels after everyone else had left, impersonating the actors' voices. At the time Claudia thought it was because they were having so much fun but now she realized they'd been scared to return to the bright rest of the day. Claudia thought of her friends back in their fourth-grade classroom—trapped at the helm of blunted pencils, learning the difference between Native American tribes—and felt the thrill of being elsewhere. She always felt guilty slinking back to school the next morning.
"You understand me better than anyone," her mother told her once, when Claudia was eight. She'd been weeping in a ruptured and leak-sprung way that Claudia now understood as drunkenness.
She got Claudia drunk for the first time when she was nine. It happened the first New Year's Eve after her father left. She made champagne cocktails with sugar cubes and Angostura bitters. Claudia loved watching the cubes darken and soften in the base of the flutes, sending up their sugared selves in tiny grains through the tiny elevators of upward bubbles. She could still remember the heat in her mouth, sudden and mysterious, her tongue flushed and fizzed with champagne. Her father called as the clock struck twelve and Claudia's mother asked her not to pick up the phone, a request Claudia granted not from pity but because she didn't want to watch the grief her father's voice would provoke across her mother's face. She did remark that her father must have stayed up late—three am in his time zone—just to call them precisely at midnight. "And that's supposed to make up for it?" her mother said. It was a question to which Claudia—still ignorant of it, the philandering her mother would describe years later, and all this philandering was meant to symbolize—had no reply.