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(A short story of 2840 words)

Sloe Gin


by Fritha Waters

How do people become the way they are? Old age disguises stories of long ago which the young could never imagine. Why does Mabel especially drink when the black thorn is in bloom?

Aunt Mabel was an alcoholic; that much was true. As a child, I would think of her as old; nothing less. To a ten year old the trembling, the forgetfulness and the flighty, short laughter all came under the term of ‘old woman’. She had wrinkled skin and white hair, she forgot how old I was and she would sometimes call my mother by another name. She wore a tangy odour which (as I grew older) I would decipher as alcohol. She had the perpetual shakes but despite all this, she was firmly in the camp of the civilised alcoholic; no crude vodka bottles hidden behind the toilet cistern, no embarrassing habits of wetting her bed or vomiting inappropriately. She simply drank in the morning, drank with a bite of lunch, after eating, mid-afternoon and so on.

Aunt Mabel wore a thin veil of distraction and nothing seemed to truly touch her. Childless and having never married, there were no other people in her life apart from our family and a neighbour who called in once a month to check ‘she was still alive’, (her words). She worked in her garden, she drank, she read detective novels, she drank, she listened to Vera Lynn and Peggy Lee and she drank until she fell asleep.

We would visit Aunt Mabel four or five times a year, they were duty visits but usually a bit more fun than any other of mum's relations. It was the spring visits I remember most, in April and May when the trees and flowers were bursting out all over the countryside. As I grew older, I realised that in these months Mabel would be noticeably drunker…

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