All morning long you’ve been wanting to drink. Your husband notices, rubs your shoulders as you cook Saturday breakfast for the kids, watches you as you see them out the door to their grandmother’s car. He’s been so kind, doing all the driving, running the shuttle to soccer practice and karate class, dropping you off at your job. Your co-workers tell you how lucky you are, call him a saint. One threatens to steal him away, so often it’s no longer amusing. Those people could have died you know they say when you leave the office. How is she not in jail? Ten months until you get your driver’s license back, then you’ll find another position, somewhere people don’t have time to gossip. You are tired of all the eyes on you, the delicate concern that burns like a hot blade. You want it all off you, every glance and every well-meant comment and especially the smug prayers being said on your behalf. Most of all the guilt is beginning to drown you: the broken couple in the courtroom, your weakness translated into their misery. It hurts to be in the same room with you.
If only there was some way you could sleep for a year, waking up clean and light. Or take a vacation and leave yourself forgotten at home, like some piece of overlooked luggage. You could return from either trip with a new face for the world to stare at. If you could just get away for a time, your soul would be repaired.
Seventeen minutes until the noon news. Another knife to murder the time.
In addition to Panoply 18 months ago, Robert L. Penick’s work has appeared in over 100 different literary journals, including The Hudson Review, North American Review, and The California Quarterly. He lives in Louisville, KY, USA, with his free-range box turtle, Sheldon, and edits Ristau: A Journal of Being. In 2018, he won the Slipstream Press chapbook competition. More of his writing can be found at www.theartofmercy.net —