The Relapse 

Page 13 of 13

Now Claudia was full of energy for a relapse—the sense of giddy vertigo, eyes-closed-at-the-edge-of-the-cliff—without anyone to relapse with. She could do it alone, but if she did it alone she might wake up in the morning and permit herself to pretend it hadn't happened. She wanted an audience. She wanted someone to see where she was at and say: this is bad. The only problem was this remained unclear. What was it, exactly? The abortion? The fact of a stranger where love should have been?

Claudia got in her truck and drove to her mother's house. The living room light was on and she could see her mother on the easy chair, in silhouette, holding a tumbler of something. This was good, a good sign. Claudia would be joining a dissolve that had already begun. She didn't bother knocking. Her mother opened the door and she said: "I need a drink.

Her mother raised her eyebrows. "You're sure that's a good idea?"

Claudia shrugged. "No."

"I guess we're the same like that," her mother said. "We're not women who solve our problems with tea and yoga. We fuck things up."

"I didn't want us to be the women who fuck things up," said Claudia. "I didn't think we had to be."

"Stay there," her mother said. Claudia knew what she was doing.

She returned with a wooden tray holding two champagne flutes with sugar cubes and a small bottle of bitters. "Remember these?" she asked.

Claudia said: "Of course I do."

Then she was quiet, summoning the taste to her mouth, trying to imagine what would happen when the booze hit her blood. It would be an old guest prowling the halls. The bottle would be done quickly. They'd be trying to tell each other that they needed more without saying so directly. Their voices would be casual: Another?

"I never would have wished it on you," her mother said. "But now that it's happened, I feel closer to you, like we can share it."

Claudia said nothing.

Her mother said: "What about you?"

"I'm not sure," said Claudia. She felt blankness where the feeling, yay or nay, might have been. She'd felt this during the abortion as well. She hadn't been asleep or anything like that. They'd given her something that made her feel relaxed but not numb. She could feel everything hurt but felt at peace about its hurting. She'd liked the sensation. It was a place to direct her attention. Then it had gone away.

She realized that what she felt now—do you feel like we're closer?—wasn't hollowness but resistance. She didn't feel the hurt as something shared because she wanted to live it differently than her mother had—like pushing off from a wall, into a swimming pool, moving her body away from what her mother's body had done, how it had hurt. She wanted to feel better.

Her mother let a few drops of bitters dribble onto the sugar cubes, blooming into small dark pupils, and then she popped the cork and poured the champagne. She handed one flute to Claudia and Claudia took it. She stared straight into her mother's eyes. She said: "Tell me this is okay."

Her mother said: "This is okay."

Claudia could feel it rising then: the vertigo of permission. It's okay. The sanction. She shook her head. She set the glass down and stood up.

"I should leave," she said, and did, knowing her mother would drink the glass she'd left behind.

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Leslie Jamison grew up in Los Angeles and lives in Iowa but likes New York alright, too. Her first novel, The Gin Closet, was published by Free Press last February.

The Ruby Witch | March | The Relapse | Literary Upstart Winner: Penny

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