Sixty Seconds (Ariel Ranieri)

“I don’t drink.” I stub out my cigarette in the ashtray and don’t make eye contact.

“Smoking’ll kill you,” she says. “Drinking just gives you liver disease.”

I don’t want to have this conversation right now, on the back porch of my McMansion, on this pleasant summer evening. 

To the ashtray I say, “I do bad things when I drink.”

She laughs. It’s bright, like dusk. “That’s the point of drinking.”

I grimace. Fish another cigarette out of my pack. I grab the lighter because I see her hand flinch and I don’t want this Stepford Bitch in this Stepford Subdivision lighting my cigarette. 

It’s my backyard and I’ll light my own goddamn cigarette, thank you very much. 

Flick. Vrooosh. Shuzh. Aaaaaaaah. When you have an addictive personality, succumbing to a cigarette is so much more flattering than seeing the look on your husband’s face and the raw welt on your daughter’s cheek. 

“I hit my kid when I drink,” I say through my cigarette’s filter. “That’s why I don’t drink.”

There. I said it. I’m the only single woman in this goddamn suburban wasteland, and it’s time everyone knows why.


I hit my kid when I drink.

I wait for the inevitable: Gosh, it’s gotten late! Charles/Dan/Mike/Rob will be home any minute. How about we continue this… some other time?

She’ll tell her husband and her friends, who will tell their husbands and their friends, and then like a pandemic me hitting my kid will have infected the whole goddamn development.

This just in.

She gazes at me. She has the most lovely gaze, like a deer blind. Hooded, but you know the crosshairs are trained on your left eye. When she shoots, your brain will explode out of the back of your head.

But your hide will be intact.

Then, a flick of a smile like a flick of the wrist. She sips her martini. 

“Maybe you didn’t want a kid.”

And I confess, I’ve never heard that one before. “What?”

She motions toward my cigarette pack and I give her one. When she slips it between her lips she leans in. “Light me?”

“You shouldn’t hit your kid. No matter what state you’re in.”

“No,” she agrees, and inhales. “You shouldn’t.” She exhales. “I’m just saying.” Her eyes trace the crush of my teeth into my lower lip. “Maybe you didn’t want a kid.”

I sit and stare out at the yard. There’s nothing in it. With Adele the toys were everywhere, strewn, a cacophony of pastels. She had a dump truck that was Breast Cancer Awareness Pink. When I think about it now it makes me want to turn up my lunch. Why can’t a girl have a fucking yellow dump truck like everybody else?

“We don’t have to talk about it. I shouldn’t have mentioned the drinking thing.”

“I didn’t want to hit her.” My throat is closing in around me. “It’s not like that was my agenda. I just… She was so much. In that moment. She was so loud, and present, and I just…” I inhale night air instead of cigarette smoke. “I just needed a minute.” I shake my head. “Sixty seconds.”

She exhales. I watch the smoke vanish into the dusky light. “This country loves the idea of women. Such wholesome creatures, every single one of us. When we’re not in the boardroom directing multi-billion-dollar mergers, we’re baking an apple-cinnamon-peach cobbler with a gluten-free crust for our daughter’s frenemy’s school birthday party while we never coast on our fucking Pelotons.” She shakes her head. “They set us up for failure, and then when we fail they paint us as villains. If we’re not Maria von Trapp we’re skinning puppies for a new fur coat.”

Her eyes catch mine. “My guess is that you love your daughter very, very much. And also, fuck that whiny, needy little bitch.”

I blink a thousand times. “Yes,” I breathe.

She turns her gaze out across the lawn like a sprinkler. For a moment she’s quiet. “Sometimes I smack my husband.” Sucks the dregs off the cigarette and stubs it out in the ashtray. “I don’t mean to. But sometimes he’s just such a little cunt.”

The last three syllables could cut glass. Anger so innate it must be braided into her DNA. 

“What do you do then?”

Her lips kip to the left. “I have a martini,” she gestures with her glass, “and I chill the fuck out.” I watch the cold, clear liquid disappear down her throat. When she sets it down again, there are twin droplets on her lip and on the lip of the glass. “Just sixty seconds.” Her eyes bore into mine and mainline her carefree fury into my soul. “Just long enough to breathe.”

I can feel my heartbeat pounding in my ears.

“I need another.” Her eyebrow arches. “Join me?”

I swallow. The things that happen when I drink are universally bad. No one has ever solved world hunger or poverty or the imbalance of freshwater resources while drunk.

No one.

When I drink, I hit my kid.

But then, 


maybe I didn’t want a kid.

Maybe I wanted a drink, but not a kid.

My shoulders relax. My lips kip to the left, just like hers. “Yeah,” I say, and stub out my cigarette. “I’d like that.”


Favorite Drink: Tanqueray martini — stirred, never shaken — no vermouth, served up with olives and a twist.


Ariel Ranieri is a writer living in Traverse City, Michigan. She mostly writes contemporary romance, but occasionally busts out bizarre, dark miscellany and science fiction. She is a Chicagolander by birth. 


image: MM Kaufman