Grandpa made peach whiskey. The peaches fermented in a barrel he kept in the dining room near the pot-belly stove. The house smelled like fruity corpses. Grandma said he couldn’t drink all the whiskey, he had to save some. He promised her he’d save it for their anniversary party, for the guests. She checked the bottles in the cellar, they stayed full. She was glad. One morning, she heard a noise in the kitchen, before milking. She caught him. He was filling the bottles with water, topping them off. She opened all the bottles, every single one. A salamander slithered over her bare foot. She poured the bottles, all of them filled with water on the cellar’s dirt floor. Her snot, her tears, the water, seeped into the ground.
On what would have been our tenth anniversary, Teri the Terrible moved in with my ex-husband. She made unfair rules for my daughter, Molly: no reading in bed at night, no basketball in the morning, no drinking soda only unsweetened ice tea because that’s what Teri liked.
When I was very young we still used the outhouse. In the winter, we used a chamber pot in the cellar. I was afraid to go. The spiders down there were large, colorful, and vicious. Fat salamanders oozed themselves out of the cracks and plopped to the floor. Until we got indoor plumbing and a real bathroom, I had accidents. Grandma hand-washed my pants and hung them to dry next to the pot-belly stove.
The school nurse called. I missed the call. They called Molly’s dad. Teri answered the phone. Molly had an accident, the nurse told her, she’d laughed so hard at recess she wet her pants. Teri said Molly could walk home from school. Molly told me later how on the way home she tried to hide the wet spot with her backpack. She told me the day was half over so Teri said she didn’t have to go back to school and Molly could go with her shopping instead. She told me Teri bought diapers. I cried into my pillow all night.
The cellar door swelled and no longer shut all the way. Bugs and salamanders were getting into the kitchen. There was a salamander in the lettuce we picked for dinner. I helped Grandpa remove the door, sand, plane, and put on a fresh coat of paint. He showed me how to sand with the grain. He drank whiskey from a half pint bottle he kept hidden in the rafters of the work shed. We put the door back on its hinges and Grandma said she could smell the whiskey. She said I should tell her where he hid it. I only shrugged.
I imagined horrible things. When I was making my coffee, I imagined punching Teri, breaking her nose. When I clipped my toenails I imagined torturing her, clipping off bits and pieces. I imagined car wrecks with semis. I pictured her dead.
Molly tells me everything. She says, “Mom, you know how I hate chicken noodle soup, right?” I tell her I know this. She tells me how Teri made chicken noodle soup the whole time she was at her dad’s; for lunch, dinner, and even breakfast.
I don’t know what to do. “It’s okay,” she tells me. I yell at her to shut-up. I can’t bear her acceptance. I reach for her, my baby, “I’m sorry,” I whisper.
I snuggle with Molly on the couch. I love her so much. I remember when she was an infant, how the top of her head smelled like alfalfa and clover. Like the fields. And the fields smelled like earth. Like South Dakota. Like the dirt floor in the cellar.