It's The Poison'd Cup  


I havent had a single drink, I swear!
No, you havent. No, you havent! You havent had a single drink; youve had more than a bottle, obviously.
Julias voice got even, by the end of the sentence. Or so she hoped.
The air was thick with the smell of liquor, it was hard to breathe. She felt her head start aching, to add to the heartache. She could hardly stand the smell now; she thought she had lately developed a kind of organic intolerance of it. So she put the vacuum cleaner back into the closet, though shed cleaned only half the carpet, and sank down onto the sofa next to her husband but as far from him as the length of it would allow her to.
Julia, what is it you want from me? Mason inquired, giving her a mistrustful glance full of spite. I am never good enough, am I? Just what is it you want from me name it, but do not pester me continually; I cannot bear it any longer!!
She knew better than to reproach him at such moments, but really, it was too hard to keep her temper in check. A thousand times she had secretly sworn to herself she would not kick up a row with a drunken man; there was absolutely no sense in doing that. Only desolation to come as a result, and more and more uncalled-for insults every time. And still, here she was, doing it again. Julia gritted her teeth and tried her hardest to keep silent.
She wouldnt cry, either. A womans tears is a mighty weapon against a man, if not overused; the wifes tears all the more so. And still, she had blown it. This weapon had no effect on Mason any longer. She could cry as much as she wanted; weep, howl, or scream her head off. No effect whatsoever. So why waste tears? She fought them back.
Not a word, huh? So I dont deserve anything, not even a word from you. After all Ive done for you. After Ive spent myself on you.
Julia sighed. Why dont you just have a rest now? she suggested tentatively.
Mason looked horrible. She hated his red puffy face, and the blood-shot muddy eyes. She hated the smell. She hated his staggering movement. She hated his slurred speech. She hated to be in the same room with him. And yet, he could be so handsome when sober; so brilliantly witty; so wonderfully considerate. She needed to concentrate on this side of Mason.
He lay prone on the sofa. I love you, Julia. Youre the best thing that has ever happened to me. Youre the love of my life. I need you. Please
Words, words, words, as his favorite Hamlet put it. Once Julia thought shed die of happiness the moment she ever heard such words from him. And now they rang hollow. Most probably it was the truth, but the words still were empty. They had no effect on her.
Please stay with me. I need you. I need you by my side. Now. Please.
It was unpleasant to breathe in the air he exhaled. She automatically pulled back.
Okay, I see. I am repugnant to you. Mason sighed with what she interpreted as a mixture of self-abasement, annoyance and strange satisfaction.
What was she to do? She could say he was indeed repugnant to her, in this condition. Or else, she could say she still loved him.
She could say a million different things, but what was the point. She had tried telling him all this, a million times. A million nights shed spent without sleep, listening to his hang-over groans, making up reasons that would convince Mason that, by drinking, he was ruining their life: ruining his health, ruining her love for him, and his reputation, and his career, and the respect of his friends and family. She had even resorted to pointing out the effect his alcoholism had on their daughter. Useless. So she just shook her head and got up.
Julia sat in the rocking-chair, rocking slightly. The movement usually calmed her down, and God, did she need all the comfort she could get now.
The pain of seeing such an admirable mind going to waste; the pain of feeling the greatest love decaying; the pain of getting stuck between her alcoholic father and her alcoholic husband, and the exquisite pain the fright the genes would show in Samantha. It was all a bit too much. Julia clasped a pillow to her bosom as she usually did when she needed comfort, and went on rocking steadily, watching the fire.
One good thing that came out of the therapy they had tried was that there was no guilt, to add to all those kinds of pain. Julia was clear of guilt now. She knew now that whatever she said or did could not cause those periods of hard drinking; and whatever she could have said or could have done would not prevent Mason from boozing up. That was just a small drop in the ocean of pain, of course, but it helped. She still felt useless, out of control, but she knew now it was typical. Nothing to write home about. She almost giggled: definitely nothing new she could tell her mother, who had been an alcoholics wife herself. And a widow now that her husband, Julias dad, died of cirrhosis. Too bad Mason was not impressionable enough to get scared and quit drinking.
Oh no. She needed to forget about the man who had passed out there on the sofa. Julia tried to concentrate on something else. Samanthas progress at school? It was a good subject, but it immediately brought back the fears concerning the genetic information they had passed along to their daughter. Her law practice? She had been waiting for Mason to come home today so impatiently, she needed his advice on a very tricky case she was handling. But he definitely was in no state to give advice now. Whatever subject Julia would try, it all got back to Mason, damn it.
She was staring at his shell with unseeing eyes. God damn you, Mason. Why do you do it. I know it is sickness. It is a disease, just like any other. I have been told it is the same as, say, a rash, or vomiting; one cannot and shouldnt be angry if this happens, for the sick man cannot help it. An impartial observer cannot help him. A loving wife cannot help him. A suffering child cannot help him. No one can, if the drunk does not stop himself. God grant that he do.
Julia pictured alcoholism as a monster living in Mason. A monster, craving offerings a tad too often. A monster who itself created stress and pressure to push the man to the bar-stand even if nothing stressful was really happening. She pictured Mason drinking her tears and her blood instead of spirits. And Samanthas.
Julia the man on the sofa stirred. She turned her head slightly. Yes, Mason?
Julia, do you hate me?
His voice sounded a bit more like normal now, after half an hour of unconsciousness. Julia shook her head; she did not want to speak up.
Right, he couldnt see her.
No, Mason, I dont.
Do you do you love me still? A plaintive note in his voice that used to break her heart. Julia winced.
Yes, I do, Mason.
Will you love me? Evermore?
Well, this was a hard one. And yet, even this had come up before.
I dont know, Mason. She took a long pause. I find myself caring less and less every time. I just cannot hurt as much every time, you know. My instinct of self-preservation in action.
Julia knew Mason could hardly understand her now. She went on with it just out of respect for his wits that he used to display. That would probably be short-lived, if Mason went on at this speed. Oh God, what a waste.
What a terrible thing, dependency.
Mason sat up moaning, and then said with sullen resentment, You incite Samantha against me.
Julia rolled up her eyes and tried to compose herself. She counted up to a hundred and then spoke up. No need to, honey. She has her head screwed on the right way. And she knows herself she hates seeing her daddy like this. Unintelligible, foul, repulsive. Maudlin at one moment and aggressive at another.
How do you know? Mason whispered. He did not make much sense, now. But Julia still answered.
I know. I have first-hand knowledge, remember?
Mason cast down his eyes, and Julia knew he was ashamed. She also knew there was no counting on that.
Julia his voice betrayed the self-disparagement he felt. Please. Help me.
What do you want me to do? she said quietly. She had been through all this.
Please. Help me to the bedroom. I dont want Samantha to see me like this.
Julia stood up, came up to her husband and propped him up.
I am sorry, he mouthed.
She nodded. I know, Mason.

/Olga Lissenkova/

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