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FICTION
Vinegar
Natalie Warther

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The child had a birthday. People came. They ate the cake. People went home. And once again Dolly was alone, staring at a single slice of cake. Of course, the child was there, precious, soft, aloof, which is company, but it’s different. The windows needed washing.

Dolly pondered from her place at the kitchen sink, the room littered with dishes. She hadn’t remembered buying so many dishes and wondered how they would fit inside her cabinets, which were too small. Each dish needed washing, which brought her back to her everyday question, is this what it’s like, standing alone at the sink while the child drools?

When it was quiet, after wine, occasionally Dolly thought ugly thoughts. At times her love for the child was gray, and when she was lonely and needed somewhere to place blame, her mind found the child. The child could do nothing, say nothing, remember nothing of her sacrifice.The child would one day be imperfect, which she could not help. In fact, the child’s imperfections would undoubtedly be reflections of Dolly’s inadequacies, of all the things she could not provide and the places she wouldn’t go.And so their relationship began, mother agonizing over resentment that had yet to come, overcompensating with chocolate deluxe box cake. 

Wine flushed, Dolly slipped on her rubber washing gloves. She filled a pot with water and soap, watching a cloud of bubbles grow tall. Behind her the child squirmed in her seat, chewing on her fingers and swinging her shoes hard against the plastic. Dolly kept her eyes on the belly of the sink, dipping chocolatey forks into the bubbles and stacking plates on the counter beside her.She had served shrimp cocktail, a decision she had since come to regret. The red sauce was a combination of horseradish and ketchup. Afraid it was too spicy she had watered it down, but now it ran across the plates like broth.It practically spelled ‘out-of-wedlock’ onto the cocktail saucers. Her coworkers said it was great, that the shrimp was so fresh, but they also said that the holiday party last year, to which she had not been invited, had been ‘a small thing’, which she had known to be a lie. She couldn’t blame them, and now, as she stood at the sink watching the red paste make blood globs in the sink bottom, she decided embarrassment must smell like watered down Heinz ketchup.

Dolly poured wine into an abandoned glass on the counter, right to the top. A quiet buzz, a dull aching, a deep mud to pull her thoughts through. Leaning against the counter, she lazily untied the waistband of her sundress. The drain guzzled, the faucet pumped out water.

She kept it running, giving half attention to the restless child, who had blue eyes the color of sea glass, a headful of thin silk hair, and a mouthful of pink lips and gums like chewed laundromat bubble gum. When she laughed she’d tilt her perfect grapefruit head back, making pig squeals with her whole body. But the child was not laughing now. 

Instead she squirmed in her seat, sliding her torso down the back of her highchair in contortionist protest. Her baby body was hardly bigger than a bag of flour.She pushed deeper, the corners of her mouth black with dried cake. Dolly watched from across the room as the child began to cry. Her squished clay face crumpled in agony, her little mouth opened in pain, her worm fingers made ugly shapes. Dolly knew she needed to be picked up and held, but did not move across the room to pick her up, instead she thought about how many more times this would happen, how many more times would the child cry, how many moments would she feel pain, how many more times could she chose to not pick up her child before it began to remember. The large pot in the sink overflowed. 

The child twisted, spitting bubbles across her face. Her tiny faucet nose dripped onto the curb of her upper lip, tears and snot running down her flushed cheeks. Dolly took a sip of her wine and watched the cries became piercing shrills. The sounds coming from the child could rip wallpaper off of walls, the look on her face could burn cities to the ground. Had Dolly ever felt the pain this child felt now, untouched and paralysed with fear? How long could a child go without being touched? How long could the windows go without being washed?

She wondered if she shook the child if it would stop. If she walked away would she stop? But no. The child only responded to bright colors and the sound of a rattle and other unintelligent nothings that Dolly would spend money on to keep up with her sensory development. 

The sill beneath the panes was lined with gray dust. Suddenly Dolly could think of nothing else but the spider carcasses and eyelashes and crumbs and pieces of human hair. The child raised her pitch an octave, sending shrills to the ceiling, her flour bag body now a kneaded wet ball of dough. Dolly dragged a chair by its hind legs like a dead deer to the door. The faucet sent bubbles over the edges of the pot.

The screaming child’s cheeks turned to purple apples and it was clear now that she could not breathe, that her discomfort had turned to fear, that she was not taking in enough oxygen.With wine-heavy legs, Dolly lifted her knees onto the chair, then carefully stood to her feet. She gathered the hem of her dress. Lifted it high above her head. Cleared the dirt with a cotton-wrapped finger. The child turned deep blue. She would need to use some vinegar.


Natalie Warther is a young author living in Los Angeles. She is the author of Meloncholy, a self-published book of poetry exploring themes of heartbreak and womanhood. A copywriter in advertising by day, Natalie spends her free time writing poetry, short fiction, and making bread in her kitchen.