by Bethany Browning
“I’ll be right over,” Ursula said when she got the call. Her sister-in-law had found a tea tin in her son’s room filled with pills.
“Snapped a gel nail opening that thing,” Alexis said. “But I knew it wasn’t right. Why would a sixteen-year-old boy have a rusty Twinings box in his underpants drawer?”
Then, “I don’t even know what the hell these things are.”
“Probably ain’t vitamins,” Ursula said before she hung up.
Ursula wasted no time getting into her car. She rehearsed her speech on the six-mile drive down Crawdad Lane where Alexis lived with her three teenagers. “There’s no overreaction to finding out your child is using or selling,” Ursula said over whatever song was playing on her car radio. “He’ll lie. All addicts lie. They steal your wallet and help you look for it. I’d know.”
Alexis’s husband—Ursula’s fool brother Jed—had blown town not long ago with a hostess from P.T. Shenanigans, and Alexis had been struggling to keep her kids in line. “They walk all over me now Jed’s gone,” Alexis said once. “Come and go as they please.”
Ursula had tried to warn Alexis before she’d had three kids with the village idiot, but Alexis was pathologically incapable of looking out for herself. Ursula knew it must have been difficult for Alexis to call her, to admit she needed help. But Ursula understood why Alexis picked her, and she wanted to try to do right by her. They were family.
She continued her rehearsal. “Set boundaries. Any more drugs or alcohol in the house and he’s out. Take his car keys. Cancel his phone. You ready to do that?”
Hearing herself say it out loud made her laugh. There was no way Alexis was even close to being able to do that. Alexis plowed through a sixer every night, and those were just the beers she admitted to. Ursula didn’t have the right to judge. If she’d been married to Jed and given birth to those three dumb-dumbs, she’d drink herself senseless, too.
Ursula pulled into the driveway and finished up. She wanted to sound legit. “There’s help for families of addicts—meetings every hour. If you’re ready, I’ll go to a meeting with you right now.”
She let herself in. Alexis looked like a kid herself sitting at the dining room table, pushing the tea tin back and forth between two open beer cans.
“Ooowee. That’s full.” Ursula picked up the tin and gave it a shake. “Kids home?”
“It’s just us,” Alexis said. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“You count them?”
“Can’t count that high.” Alexis let out a wry laugh before taking a swig of Natty Light.
Ursula gave her speech like she’d practiced. Ignoring this won’t make it go away. Dishonesty is a side effect. Every one of those pills represents a lie.
“Brayden’s never lied to me before,” Alexis said.
Ursula had to stop herself from rolling her eyes. Her nephew Brayden was your typical teen boy: sullen, shifty, probably unclear on the concept of consent.
“He’ll lie his face off now,” Ursula said. “He’ll say he got them from a friend or he doesn’t know what they are. He’ll tell you it was just this once or that he found them in the bushes, or someone put them in his backpack as a joke.”
“I can’t imagine him doing that,” Alexis said, her voice weak. “Did you do stuff like that? When you were… struggling?”
Ursula hid vodka in the toilet tank and under the porch. Spent the grocery money on benzos, Adderall, Ritalin, ephedrine. Let her own kids go hungry.
A wave of remembered lies washed over her, and she had to steady herself even though she was sitting down.
Her voice came out thin and scratched. “Yeah, Alexis,” she said. “I lied to everyone. Hid things, too.”
“Even me?” Alexis took another draw on her beer.
“Remember that time I borrowed money to pay my ER bill?”
“You had a mini-stroke. Awful.”
“No. I was having withdrawals. I took the cash you and Jed gave me and bought a month’s worth of Klonopin and a carton of menthols.”
Alexis’s brow furrowed. “You paid us back, though.”
Ursula took Alexis’s hand in hers. “Not until I got clean. Hospital still hasn’t been paid.”
“That’s the worst thing anyone’s ever told me.” Alexis started to cry. “I’m glad you’ve changed.”
They sat in silence for several minutes.
“You say there’s a meeting for parents every hour?” Alexis asked.
“There’s one in forty minutes at the Baptist church on Hawthorne.”
“I’m two deep now. Can I still go?”
“Two’s nothing,” Ursula said. “This is an emergency.”
Alexis picked up the tin. “I’m going to flush these down the toilet.”
“I wouldn’t,” Ursula said quickly. She held out her hand and Alexis, so trusting, handed the tin to her. “You’ll need proof when you confront him.”
“Of course. You’re so smart.”
Ursula observed patiently while Alexis walked down the hall, looking dazed. She waited until Alexis closed the bathroom door. She heard the click of the lock.
Ursula picked up the tin again and marveled at the weight of it. Careful not to damage her nails, she used the fleshy tips of her fingers to pry the lid off. The sight took her breath away.
Xanax. Sweet little darlings.
She grabbed a generous handful, rattled them around in her palm for a second, swallowed two, and shoved the rest deep into her coat pocket. She replaced the lid and put the tin exactly where it had been on the table.
When Alexis reappeared, Ursula was already standing by the front door.
“Proud of you,” Ursula said.
“I’m proud of you,” Alexis said. “A good example.”
“I can come by any time,” Ursula said, putting her hand on Alexis’s back and ushering her through the door. “I mean it.”
Image by Artbystevej