The Whisky Blot
Journal of Literature, Poetry, and Haiku
There had been an autumn, years before, when Molly had been happy. Her hair had been beautiful then, and she quite often found herself thinking about how it had cascaded over her shoulders when she’d taken it down after work, how she’d so casually twirled it around her finger when she’d had a few drinks, how drunk men looked at it, and her, when she laughed at their jokes. She was sure there had been other times throughout the decades when she’d been happy, but she found herself thinking about that hair, and that autumn, more than anything else.
It was raining in the real world as she grabbed her apron and keys, and she knew that once she opened her basement apartment door the smell of worms would flood her nostrils. It hadn’t rained during the autumn when she had been happy - at least not during her waking hours. If water had dropped from the sky, it must have been the slow, drizzling morning showers that artistic people love, because they’d never been loud enough to wake her. By the time she’d get up to put her hair in rollers, the clouds were always done crying and the worm smell was gone from the world. It had been the only time she’d ever desired to own her own house because she hadn’t been imagining the soggy, writhing chunks of worms that would slide through the yard.
It was autumn now, in the real world, as Molly locked the door and began her march down the sidewalk. The smell of worms writhed its way into her inhale, just as she knew they would. Cosmic tears pelted her dollar store umbrella and she wondered if she would have to stop and vomit.
The town no longer felt like one she knew – and hadn’t for quite some time – but the russet, water-logged leaves reminded her of an autumn a few years after the one in which she’d been happy. The Autumn of John, she thought to herself as she gagged at the smell and tried not to look down.
A limited amount of people knew about her aversion to the smell, and those that did couldn’t understand it. Whenever she told anyone, an air of pretentious astonishment would overcome them. “How could you not love the smell of rain?” they’d ask.
“It isn’t the water,” she’d respond, feeling herself leave the moment, feeling herself melt away into nothing.
John had been different. John hadn’t laughed when she’d told him, on that stuffy September day when she’d been wearing the shorts that everyone seemed to like the best. The radio was on, as it always was when it was slow, and when the weatherman announced a chance of rain, she’d shakily shut the sole bar window.
“It might get stuffy in here,” John had hiccupped from his stool, a minutes-old rum and coke nearly empty in front of him.
“I don’t like the smell of worms,” she responded, turning around to face him, her long, thick ponytail slithering over her shoulder.
John shrugged, finished his drink, and handed her his glass. “Whatever you want, Molly-Cat.”
She’d had sex with him for the first time that night, after her own drunkenness had caught up to his following her shift. The whiskey had started an hour before she’d clocked out and had continued for three hours after, giving her the simultaneous fire and numbness she would need to enjoy herself. It was her first time sleeping with a customer and she thought regret would soon consume her, but it never did.
It rained a lot that fall. After a few storms, John started getting up to lock out the worms before Molly had even realized the clouds were darkening.
Three months of sweet rum breath, closed windows, and unwashed sheets went by slowly and easily. The warm weather lingered that year, something everyone but Molly seemed pleased about. It didn’t even threaten to snow until the day before Thanksgiving, and the first flake didn’t fall until after midnight. John was drinking and waiting as Molly was cleaning and stocking. She looked out the window, at the cascade of white and the blanketed road.
“So you like winter?” John asked, his words starting to slur together. She gave him a questioning look. “Just wondering,” he shrugged. “No rain in the winter.” He took a sip. “No worms.”
Molly could have sworn her heart stopped beating, only to begin again, pushing brand new blood through her veins. “Do you want to come to my aunt’s tomorrow?” she blurted, clenching her fingers around the rag in her hand.
John’s face – red from the rum and puffy from the coke – melted into a slow smile. His eyes held their drunken glaze, and Molly wondered if they would have lit up had he been sober. “You asking me to come to your family Thanksgiving, Molly-Cat?”
Later, when the bar was clean and the doors were locked, they kissed as the snow fell on top of them. They were going to drive separately and meet at her place, as John had insisted on going home to get his best flannel for the big day. “Gotta make a good first look,” he said, brushing flakes out of Molly’s hair.
“First impression,” Molly corrected, realizing she’d never been this happy in her entire life.
It didn’t last, as rain replaced the snow as soon as she got home. She stared out the kitchen window, her heart rate climbing as she told herself that the worms wouldn’t be able to penetrate the icy ground, that the crystals would stifle their smell and freeze their bodies. She closed her eyes and placed her head on the cool glass, repeating to herself that John would be there soon. When she looked outside again, the snow on the road had mutated into a gleaming sheet of ice.
In the real world, Molly was so lost in the overgrown path of her memory that she didn’t recall a moment of her walk to work, only snapping out of her head when her hand collided with the metal door handle. She jumped, her eyes darting around the dumpsters and linen bags. Reaching into her purse, she pulled out her thermos and shook it. No slosh. She must have drunk it all on the walk, and, judging by the taste in her mouth, vomited it all back up.
“Thanks to the smell of the worms,” she whispered to herself, gagging as she refused to breathe in through her nose.
She hadn’t been scheduled to open today and started taking tables before checking if her coworkers needed any help. The twenty-something girl with hair like Molly had once glared at her as she greeted the twelve-top of deacons. “It sure is wet out there, eh Molly?” one of them asked.
“It’s keeping things green,” she said with a closed-mouth smile.
Her shift went as it normally did. None of the other servers spoke to her, and she begrudgingly told herself that tomorrow she’d have to do some side work. She figured that the twenty-something with bouncing hair and giant eyes would have no trouble convincing the owner to fire her, and that was not something she could afford.
They ran out of hashbrowns at ten. The coffee machine threatened not to work at eleven. A man that looked like John ordered a tuna melt at noon. Molly bummed half a fifth from Ken the cook at one. At two, she hit $100.
Later, walking home in the still-raining world, she wondered if she’d been wrong about the autumn in which she’d been happy. There couldn’t have been two of them, and she remembered being happy with John. But it had rained a lot, and she swore she recalled a stretch of weeks without the smell, could envision herself with brilliant hair and bright eyes and no worry over the worms. She stopped at the liquor store, her mind arguing with itself about when things had happened. She bought a handle for herself and a fifth for Ken. There could have been two autumns without rain, she thought as she left the store. She stopped at the trash bin at the end of the parking lot and held her head over it, opening her mouth and gagging. Nothing came out.
“It rained the night John died,” she whispered as she stood. She knew his car had slid and spun and flipped, and remembered watching the rain ice the road as she waited for him.
What year was that? How old had she been?
She took a swig from the fifth. Ken wouldn’t mind.
When she got home, she told herself, she’d look at the obituary. That way, she’d know at least one of the autumns in which she might have been happy.
Lilia Anderson was named after a great-great-uncle she never met. Raised in the land of the lakes, her stories often center on stubborn people in stubborn towns. She currently lives in Denver, Colorado with a lot of books and a very handsome man. Her writing can be found in 86 Logic, Feels Blind Literary, Blood & Bourbon, and more.
Follow Us On Social Media
Help support our literary journal...help us to support our writers.