In the Drink

DW McKinney

First-Place winner of the “wicked short” nonfiction prize

I greet my friend from work, the ever-ebullient hostess offering her home for celebration. We stand in her kitchen as I pull my whiskey from its paper bag and rest it on the counter. The honey color hypnotizes me with its graceful lapping against the bottle’s glass. A frenzy claws inside me, begging to release months of stress. I delay the inevitable by accepting a tour of my friend’s house.


In the living room, Death beckons me with his gnarled fingers. A chorus of his brethren stands behind him. The black pools of their eyes are alert to what is underway. I leave my friend’s skeleton art behind to familiarize myself with all of the doors. It’s important for me to identify the exits and how to reach them during my freefall. 


My coworkers introduce me to their partners. A list of names, Rolodexes in my mind. Linda, Steph, Liz, and so on. I’ve read that if you say a stranger’s name three times, you won’t forget it. But these names are buoys to keep me afloat and anchored to reality. 


We engage in small talk to keep from tripping into monotonous silence. I fill then refill my tumbler with abandon. 


A former coworker spills out of his patio chair. A wave of hands is ready, grabbing hold of the startled drinks awakened in his rise. This Englishman’s frenzied eyes scan the horizon before dancing upward. 


“Who wants to arm wrestle?” he announces. 


A wound reopens inside me. I have a score to settle with him. “I do!” 


Our friends and coworkers encircle us to capture our spectacle with their cell phones. A woman behind me shrieks, “Get ’em, girl!”


We join hands and begin to arm wrestle. The Englishman laughs at my shaking arm. He arches his eyebrows in mock nonchalance then pretends to look everywhere except at me.


“Why wontcha look at me?” My tongue flaps recklessly in the wind. “You got nuttin’ tuh say? Huh? Look at me!” I reach over with my left hand and press down on our joined hands. “I win!”


“You cheee-ted.” His words tilt before plopping onto the ground emotionless.


“Imma Black woman. I gotta be twice as good so I used twice thuh hands.” I am unmoored in the swelling fog gathering at my eyes, but these people need to know that I matter in this world pressing in and stealing the life right out of me.


I wait for the collective hiss of disapproval, but my words are of no consequence at all. I taste the blurred edges of reality and leave the backyard. I want to tell people to hold onto me, but I am ashamed. 


I recite the names again. Linda. The end. I know now that I have drifted off course to a place that I have only known a decade before while mired in depression. I cannot be in that place again. My fingers fumble the cell phone in my pocket. I send my dripping thoughts to my husband—an electronic S.O.S. to my life raft.


While I wait, my feet float past rough wood and screaming metal until I bend on concrete steps. A light crowns me in darting moth wings and warm red. Everything lists to the right and eases left. 


“You okay, girl?” 


A pool of black where a face should be is edged in a feathered cape of platinum blonde. This creature has a name that I can’t recall. Her voice hits me in my chest, and I want to cry. 


I crawl in all directions until I find a door leading inside the house. Day of the Dead’s American Gothic warns me of what I will become. Bodies in the kitchen turn to greet me with smooth faces absent of eyes and mouths. I breathe in vibrant liquid that no one sees. 


A college friend once said that if you can accurately do multiplication tables while drinking, you aren’t drunk enough. My father taught me to recite the alphabet backward in case the police ever pulled me over. I start with the two times tables then drift away near five times 10 before speaking in rhythmic tongues. 


A benevolent ferryman grabs me by the hand. He gives me a glass of water. I abandon it. 


It’s too late for purification. 




DW McKinney is a writer living in Sin City. Her work has appeared in HelloGiggles, Stoneboat Literary Journal, TAYO Literary Magazine, On Our Moon, and others. Discover her on or Instagram/Twitter @thedwmckinney.