Here’s the latest version, for those who are interested


Love, Abby-Cat


Tonight her mom came home drunk. She started yelling. First at the things she tripped over, then at her. Abby couldn’t remember what her mom was saying, mostly because she wasn’t listening. She just picked up her sweatshirt and left to go to Roxie’s house.

Abby used to go to Roxie’s after school until her mom was done with her airline classes. Although their friendship originated from convenience, Abby still went to Roxie’s house after her mom finished the course and became a flight attendant for Jet Blue.

She called Roxie on her cell to make sure she was home. It’s a Wednesday night, of course she’s home.

“Hey Rox, is it cool if I come over? Mom’s not doing too good tonight.”

“Yeah, dad and I are just watching the Godfather. We’ll pause it till you get here.”


Abby decided that she’d stop by Val’s Burger to pick up some chocolate milkshakes to take to Roxie’s. She had been there a couple times and they had the best shakes in town. It was on the main road on the way to Roxie’s house anyway and it was safer to walk that way at night.

            Val’s was a small, airstrip type family restaurant nestled between the post office and towns barber shop which had a candy cane light out front. Abby’s mom used to meet friends at the café across the street. Abby used to like Sylvia, the friend who would buy her 10 cent baguettes to keep her from being loud while she and Abby’s mom chatted about sex and shopping. Abby still loves baguettes.

She crossed the street to Val’s and walked in just as a man brushed past, his fingertips holding the door just long enough for her to squeeze inside with a breathless “thank you sir.”

The milkshakes were handmade and thick, so they usually took a while. Abby knew that, so she waited until after she placed the order to call Roxie. She knew her best friend couldn’t tell her ‘don’t bother, we have stuff here’ if she was already there waiting for the order. “Three chocolate mama shakes please. – Yeah, that’s to-go – Thanks.”

Abby sifted through her purse for some cash. How does so much crap fit in this small purse? Keys, cell phone, Chap Stick, Band-Aids, tissues, Altoids; her money usually settled at the bottom of her bag. She told herself she’d get a coin purse someday, but she never remembered when she was at the mall. Abby was glad no one was waiting in line behind her as she counted her change.

She plopped down in a cherry red booth, avoiding a ketchup glop on the table as she put up her elbows and called Roxie’s house. “I’ll be there in a bit, I just stopped for some shakes. Your dad still likes chocolate best, right? – Yea, go ahead without me, I’ve seen it before – I know how it starts. – K, see you soon.”

The walls inside Val’s restaurant were a photo collage of customer birthdays and sponsored little league teams. Abby almost hit her nose on a plastic cover when she leaned closer to see if the blurry oval face in one of the pictures was someone she knew.

Abby carefully walked the remaining three blocks; balancing the flimsy egg-carton cup holder with the three shakes. When she got there, Roxie’s dad, Jack, took the straws Abby had clamped between her teeth and grabbed the shakes, holding them easily in his large hands.

            “Hey Abs! You’re just in time, the big guy’s about to find the horse head in his bed,” he smiled and headed toward the kitchen.

            Roxie came up and gave her a hug. “Hey Abs, how ya holding up?”

            “I’m all right; mom’s just having one of those nights.” Abby saw Roxie scanning her face. “No, she wasn’t swinging tonight.”

 Roxie averted her eyes. “Sorry.”

“Hey I saw a picture of your brother’s baseball team on the wall at Val’s. I didn’t know he ever went outside,” Abby smiled and Roxie stifled a laugh.

            “Hey, only I’m allowed to make fun of Mr. Recluse.” She shoved Abby lightly. “But yeah, he played on the team for like – two weeks – before claiming he was allergic to grass.”

            Roxie’s brother was two years younger than she and wasn’t the athletic type. He actually wasn’t very fond of anything other than his computer and the mini D&D models which he spent hours painting. He was quiet like Roxie’s mom and Roxie was more like her dad: athletic, energetic, joked a lot, and didn’t mind bloody movies.

            “So where’s your mom?” Abby asked when they gathered in the kitchen.

“She and Josh flew down to L.A. last night to help set up for the festivities,” said Roxie, pouring the shakes into tall glasses. Abby had squeezed one of the cups too hard when she was trying to balance it walking over and the lid popped off – the shake oozed over the edges.

            Roxie’s grandma was turning 97 and she was still kicking. The whole Williams family decided it was a good age to throw a party – slash – family reunion. Just in case. Roxie had a huge extended family, most of them living in Southern California. Abby had never met any of her own extended family beyond her grandparents on her mother’s side. She often wondered if she had any cousins.

“Roxie’s got an away game tomorrow,” said Jack. “So we’ll be driving down Friday with Rosco and Sasha.”

            Roxie was on the varsity soccer team, and her dad was assistant coach. Abby sometimes went to her games and dog-sat the self-proclaimed, but not completely unofficial mascots. Rosco and Sasha are two very large, energetic huskies. The three of them often ran up and down the side lines together and ate French fries when they got tired.

            Abby loved going to Roxie’s games. She hadn’t been to one in a while. Not since the thing with her mom. God, was that really 10 years ago? Damn.

Roxie’s family had dropped Abby off at the apartment that day, after Roxie’s game. She remembered the warm hug from Roxie’s mom, she smelt like Juniper Breeze hand lotion. Abby could still smell it on her sweatshirt when ran inside. She cupped her nose with sleeve covered hands when she caught the air of the apartment; spicy, sour coleslaw and stomach acid. There was the soft metallic aroma of alcohol and Abby could taste the flavor of her mother’s vomit in the air like the hot stale after breath of macaroni and cheese. Abby was seven-years-old when she opened the door that day to find her mother, lying prone on the fold-out sofa in the family room. Why do people call it that? The family room. A chunky, reddish vomit pizza lay next to her, ‘personal-pan-size,’ at the foot of the mattress on the white sheets. Abby doesn’t remember being scared at the time. She remembered being a good Abby-Mouse. 9-1-1. The ladies at the hospital were nice, they gave her an applesauce cup and can of 7-Up. One of them smelled like microwave burrito and public restroom hand soap.   


            Abby got up suddenly, quicker than she realized and scooted the stool back under the lip of the counter.

            “I’m gonna run to the bathroom real quick, be right back,” she said as she slid her shoes off before stepping onto the cream carpet running down the hall.

            Abby paused after washing her hands to smell the Juniper Breeze fragrance on her fingers and then unlocked the door. She walked down what Roxie had dubbed “Memory Lane.” The hallway stretching back toward the family room was plastered with family photos; the trip to Disneyland, Roxie’s preschool graduation, Roxie’s mom and brother, Josh, smiling at a piano recital, Roxie under her dad’s arm – pulled close after winning a soccer game.

            Abby smiled when she saw a picture of her and Roxie dressed up in over-sized clothes. Roxie’s dad had come home from work one day to find Roxie and Abby holding an extravagant tea party in the living room, wearing his wife’s church clothes. He ran to get the camera, took a picture, then told them to get their “hind-quarters upstairs and out of mommy’s dress clothes.”

            Abby ran her index finger along the bottom of the frame, collecting the dust in the grooves of her print and turned back toward the kitchen. She paused in the entry way, wiping the dust on the leg of her jeans, when she heard Roxie and her father talking.

            “Your mom and I talked about it and decided you can bring a friend this weekend. But just one. We can’t bring a whole party with us.”

            “Why not? I thought the reason we were going was to throw a party?”


            Roxie started giggling, a chipmunk sort of laugh, and Abby imagined her father probably threw something at her.

            “You really should call your mother sometime tonight, before it gets too late, to ask about that blouse for grandma.” he said. “So we know if we have to stop by the mall for the other size.”

            “Yeah, I’ll go do that real quick right now, before we start the movie again.”

            Abby thought the conversation was done and took another step, but heard Roxie’s voice again and stopped.

            “Hey, if mom says it’s alright, can I drive part of the way?”

            “Roxie…” her dad said in a playful, warning tone.

            “OK – OK, I was just askin’”

            Abby caught a laugh through her nose. Roxie always used that line. She’d hold her hands up with the perfect timing and say things like, “Hey now, take it easy – no harm – all love,” or “Easy there tiger, put those teeth away, I’m not the hunter here.”

Roxie ran to the study to call her grandma and Abby walked into the kitchen, taking a seat at the counter.  Jack was humming some made-up tune and reading the newspaper by the phone.  He hadn’t noticed Abby come in with her stocking feet. She didn’t say anything right away; she just listened.

After a few seconds, he started to dance a little while turning the pages of the newspaper. Abby felt uncomfortable, like she’d just walked in on her mom and one of her boyfriends making out on the couch. She cleared her throat.

            Jack jumped. “Oh! Abs, I didn’t hear you come in,” he laughed and reached to hand her a straw.

            “Sorry ‘bout that,” she blushed noticeably, accepted the straw and got up to get a glass of water. Ice cream always made her thirsty. She wasn’t sure why.

            “Rox went to call her mother real quick, she’ll be back in a minute,” he said.

            Roxie’s dad rubbed his jaw and Abby noticed the white scar under his lower lip. A couple times she’d found herself looking at it when he was talking to other parents after Roxie’s games. While she and Roxie folded down lawn chairs and packed up the snack cooler Abby heard him tell people the scar was from when his wife caught him.

            “One look at those beautiful eyes and she had her hook in me,” he’d say and then hop on one foot like he was being reeled in, “hook, line and sinker.”

            The husbands would laugh at his joke, nodding that they knew what he meant. The wives would look at each other and roll their eyes but Abby knew their hearts were warmed. She watched their glances drift to look at the places on their men where they knew their hooks had sunk in. Roxie’s mom, in swishy warm-up pants and a puff-painted team sweatshirt, would smile sweetly and take her husband’s arm as though she were flattered. But really she took his arm just to get him to stop bouncing around, to stop drawing attention.          

            Abby was good at not drawing attention. Her mom used to call her a “good Abby-Mouse” when she was proud of her for being quiet. When her mom was warning her about being loud she would say, “Nobody loves a loud cat, do they? You don’t want to be a loud Abby-Cat, do you?”

She remembered pretending to be a mouse once in her grandma’s car when she was little. She loved that car; how it had the arm rest that folded out of the back seat and opened up a hole to the trunk. She’d crawled through one time when her mom left her in the car and went to meet some friends at the mall. She’d waited for her to come back and find her gone. She’d waited to hear the wailing and panic-laced screams of a mother who’d lost her beloved child. She’d waited three hours and fell asleep in the warmness of the trunk – curled up on a pile of clothes from the last shopping trip.


            Roxie and her dad were always drawing attention. They were those people you’d heard laughing really loud in the movie theater or screaming the loudest on roller coasters.

            Abby looked at him across the counter, fidgeting with a straw wrapper and reading the paper, still humming. She looked at the scar again. Where did he really get it from?

            Without thinking, she touched it with her fingernail, then drew back suddenly. What am I doing?!

            He looked at her – searching her eyes for a second. She felt 6-years-old again, the age she was when she first met him. He was a big towering stranger, picking her and Roxie up from school. Why are his eyes so sad when he looks at me?

            “My old man.” He said, rolling the straw wrapper between his thumb and index finger. “He popped me one. ‘Cept he forgot to take his ring off.”

Averting her eyes, Abby lifted her hair off her neck and pointed to a mark under her earlobe.

            “My mom, she wears a lot of rings.”

            Jack flicked the balled wrapper and leaned on the counter.

            “I know.”

Of course he knows. How could he not know?

            His eyes traveled past her face to her fingers fidgeting with her sleeve. Fold, wrap, pull, fold, wrap, pull.

            Abby could feel him looking at her. She could remember only one other time when someone looked at her like that – made her feel worth something. Donnie took her out once. They were sitting on the tailgate of his truck. The look that passed over his face before he kissed her told her this: I like you. She’d met him when she was working at Jenny’s, waiting tables. He tipped well. The fourth time he came in was when he tipped the most. An apology, she assumed. He was with his wife that time.

Her eyes traveled from the countertop to Jack’s hand – to his ring.

“How long has it been happening?” he asked.

“I was ten. They had a fight. Dad left, never came back. Mom ran upstairs, nearly stayed.” Her sleeve was getting stretched out. She placed both hands on a glass of water in front of her, watching the reflected light swirl on her fingernails. “Grandma sent me to the store with five dollars to get bleach for the stains. Blood never really cleans out you know.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“On this one show, they have special lights that show blood, even after the guy tries to scrub it clean.” Abby tried, unsuccessfully, to change the subject. “They spray it with this stuff and it always shows up. It’s always there, we just can’t see it.”


Roxie leaped into the room and slid across the kitchen floor in stocking feet. Abby noticed they were the ones she had given her for Christmas last year; brick red, white cloud cats and string lights.

            “Grandma was on the other line with Aunt Janice,” she announced.

“Dear, dear Aunt Janice.” Roxie’s dad clicked his tongue and shook his head.

 He’s back in fun dad mode. I wish I had a switch – a happy switch-like that. One I could turn on and off whenever. Do they all have switches like that?

Abby looked at Roxie, then back at him. Roxie’s dad stretched out his arms as if testing to see how much space he could occupy standing in one spot, or like he was just waking up.

 “Well, do you girls want to start the movie or wait until grandma’s done chatting with –“

His pager went off. “OK, never mind, you girls go ahead and start it up without me, the cavemen are calling.”


Abby and Roxie sank into the plush, oversized, L-shaped couch and started the movie again. Abby watched the screen but didn’t see the pictures. Was it true- what he said about his scar? He was probably just saying that. Roxie would have told me already if it were true.  She glanced sideways at Roxie, who was chewing on her straw; and the pictures flashed in her wide, unblinking eyes. Did she tell her dad about me? Is that why they let me come over all the time? 

Roxie grabbed her arm suddenly – she jumped.

“Ohmygod! Did you see that?!” Roxie was pointing at the screen, starring at the horse head bloodying the white sheets.

“I thought you just watched this part,” Abby laughed and pried Roxie’s hand from her arm. “Like- not more than a half hour ago, before I got here.”

“Yea, well…” Roxie sat up, holding her chin high, “so what if I did. It just – um – catches me off guard.”

Yeah, red-stained sheets catch me off guard too.

“Every time,” Abby poked at her.

“Oh, hey…I was gonna ask you,” Roxie switched the subject suddenly. “You wanna come with us this weekend?”

Do I wanna come with you and stay forever? Yes. Please.

Abby stilled, holding her smile, but brewing underneath. There’s no way I could.

“Com’on Abs,” Roxie chide, “you seem like you need a break from home.”

Roxie’s perkiness and the mention of home didn’t sit well together. Abby was starting to feel annoyed.  

“I don’t think-“

The sound of “Everybody Hurts Sometimes” saved Abby from having to answer. She looked at the screen of her cell phone to see who was calling, even though she knew who it was.

While having a cell phone increased her chances of being caller 11 to win concert tickets through her favorite radio station, it also killed any excuse she had of not being reached by her mother. It’s probably a good thing.

Abby didn’t want to answer it. She just sat, listening to the ring tone. Roxie chewed on her straw with her front teeth, looking down, searching her empty glass. Her eyes were sad.

Abby knew Roxie could never understand what it was like to have someone hit you on purpose for no reason; to come to school with a maroon eye, throbbing. But she does understand what it feels like to be bruised and bleeding. Roxie is, after all, a goalie for the varsity team.

Roxie never asked questions and promised not to tell her parents. Abby explained to her how her mom doesn’t mean to – it’s just that sometimes the alcohol makes her mom say and do things she doesn’t really mean. Kind of like when you get in a fight with someone you love – you say things – stupid things – you don’t really mean them. And her mom only drinks when she’s with the people from work because, you know, she has friends too and friends are a part of who you are and “how can she be an example of a whole person for me when I never let her hang out with her friends?”

Roxie once tried to talk her into calling someone and getting some money to move out – away from her mom. “You would be safe,” she’d said.

Oh, yeah! I could be homeless and live on the streets while my mother is home safe in our apartment drunk, choking on her own vomit because no one is their to turn her over.

“I’ve heard of people doing it.” She’d said. “They’re fighters, Abs, they work and they are strong-”

“Or stubborn,” Abby would say. Abby liked the idea that something good could happen to people who were stubborn or who didn’t really ask for anything. She never felt like she really knew what to ask for. Her mom said she knew what was best for her. I guess I trust her.

People always tell you things like “slow down, if you know what’s good for you.” That’s not good, Abby thought, that’s safe. If people always did what was safe way too many people would be unemployed. Three-fourths of what people do for a living is help people who have screwed up.

“I’m not sure I can go this weekend, I don’t have the money right now,” Abby answered. She wondered if Roxie noticed that the guy in the movie just said the same thing.

“You know you don’t have to pay for anything, Abs,” said Roxie, putting a hand on her shoulder, “We’ve got you covered. Besides, it’s only for the weekend.”

Abby had never been away from home for more than a couple days at a time. She’d never cleared a hundred mile radius of her house when she knew her mother wasn’t working.

“I’m not sure, ‘cuz, well, also, my mom was saying to me the other day that she needs me for something,” Abby fingered a loose thread in the seam of the couch and pretended to be interested in the movie. “I don’t remember what it was she was telling me, but I’m pretty sure it was something important – something about grandma needing help with something.”

Abby didn’t see it, but somebody flipped Roxie’s fun switch. Suddenly they weren’t talking about a weekend trip anymore.

“Abby, you can’t keep doing this.” Roxie’s face was serious. A thin crease appeared between her eyes and she looked hard.

Nobody loves a loud cat.

“Abby.” Roxie’s voice was pleading. “Talk to me. I know you know what I’m saying.”

“Sorry Rox. I want to go. I really do. But I don’t think I can. I can’t leave my mom.” Abby shrugged. “That’s life, you know?”

“That’s not life, Abby!” Roxie was loud now. “You just keep calling it that to convince yourself its normal. Carrying make-up or car keys in your purse is normal, Abby. Neosporan and Band-Aids are not normal.”

You’re not normal. What are you thinking ever trying to be normal? Her mother’s voice screamed through her head. Abby wanted to scream back. Give her the bird. Her mother never actually said those words, but Abby knew if she had answered the phone that’s probably something she’d hear.  

Roxie’s dad walked in, cautious, fatherly. “What’s going on?”

They looked at him.

Quiet Abby-Mouse.







  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Twitter
  • RSS

Leave a Reply