Drops in a Bottle (super short story)
Millie couldn’t be certain, but she was pretty sure she had killed him. She took in the scene – the scrawny Christmas tree flipped on its side, stockings in a haphazard heap by the fire, and that damn plate of cookies in pieces on the floor.
A thousand television news interviews played back in her mind. The refrain echoed cruelly, “They seemed like such nice people, we would never have expected this from them.”
They would say the same about her, Millie just knew it. Murder, really? She had never even had a parking ticket for goodness sake. Somehow though, it felt fitting to her. Through all those stories of strangers who had snapped, others shook their heads in confusion. But always, there was a timid corner of Millie who cried, “I understand.”
She crumpled to the ground beside her boyfriend Peter’s unmoving body. To an observer, it would look as though she were leaping toward CPR, yearning for resuscitation. But, her eyes did not even see the body before her.
Instead she saw her life relived.
In true Ebenezer Scrooge style, she was guided among key moments of her life.
First stop – six years old.
Millie was in her childhood home. Patterned wallpaper clung halfheartedly to the walls. She watched herself and her mother as if watching a movie. Her mother, consistently spread thin between the five children, firmly adjusted the bow on Millie’s curled hair.
“But mom,” her high pitched voice whined, “I really don’t want Brittney to come! She’s mean.”
“Oh honey, don’t you say things like that. Even when we don’t like someone, we have to be nice to them. That’s
what a lady does.”
“But I’m not a lady!”
“You will be a lady one day, and no daughter of mine will be rude to her guests. Brittney is coming to your party. And you will welcome her; you will thank her for her gift; and you will tell her you are glad she came.”
“So you want me to lie?”
“I did not say to lie. I said to be polite. That’s very different.”
When Brittney arrived, Millie’s mother stood close by. Millie grumbled, “Thanks for coming Brittney.”
Brittney smiled sweetly and said with a gloat, “My mom made me. I didn’t want to. I don’t like you or your friends.”
Young Millie’s felt anger boiling up inside of her. She started to respond, but her mother gave her an infamous
“Don’t you dare” stare, and Millie’s anger hid under her niceness. “Well, thanks for coming,” she choked out.
Afterwards, Millie’s mom hugged her and said, “I’m so proud of my nice girl!”
As if she were playing a video game, grown Millie saw an empty beaker appear at the corner of the scene. She heard clink clink, and watched as a couple of red drops fell into the beaker.
The world in front of Millie spun. Prone to motion sickness, she closed her eyes. When she opened them, she was twelve years old, watching the end to her softball team’s championship game. Instinctually, grown Millie rubbed the spot on her arm where the pitcher had hit her with the ball – twice.
She felt anger form in the pit of her stomach. That girl had hit her on purpose, Millie was sure of it. When Millie’s team lost, she was ready to go give that cheater a piece of her mind. She balled her fists and charged onto the field.
The coach stopped her, “Millie, you’re a bigger person than that. Just let it go. Tell her good game. Be nice. Sportsmanlike.”
Millie, eager to please, had quieted her anger and shook that cheater’s hand. She wasn’t happy about it, but by golly she was nice.
And clink clink, the beaker was filling up.
Time fast forwarded again. Now grown Millie watched herself in high school, walking along a hallway between classes. Signs for the homecoming dance hung on the wall.
Two giggling girls came running up to Millie, “Oh my gosh, guess who’s going to ask you to HomecomingI?!” one of Millie’s friends had squealed.
Millie had no idea, “Who?” she asked.
“Phillip Brock!! EEEK!” the two girls began jumping up and down in a circle around Millie.
Her face fell, “But I don’t want to go with him.”
Her friends’ eyes opened wide, “Um, you have to. You can’t tell him no!”
“Yeah, that would be so embarrassing for him, you can’t do that to him. And, no one else would ever ask you out ever again.”
“Yeah, don’t be a witch. Think of his feelings.”
As if on cue, jocky Phillip walked up to her, “Hey you wanna go to the dance with me?”
Her friends gazed on, nervousness plastered to their faces. Think of his feelings, she heard in her mind. She sighed, “Sure Phil, sounds nice.”
Clink Clink Clink.
Millie’s memory sped through the next few years, pausing for a “But I bought you dinner,” here and a “No, I love it!” there.
And Clink Clink Clink.
Then, she watched as her relationship with Peter had developed.
He critiqued, “I don’t like when you dress like that.”
She responded, “I can change my outfit.”
Don’t embarrass him, her friends had said.
He argued, “You should make me dinner more often.”
She agreed, “You’re probably right.”
Be polite, her mother had said.
He complained, “You’re a disappointment.”
She insisted, “I’ll try harder.”
Be the bigger person, her coach had said.
She wanted to leave him but she knew what they would tell her. Be nice, put yourself second, make him happy. That’s your role.
So she had stayed.
They had taught her to be nice. Taught her to please others. So, like a dog she turned on her back to submit. Mea culpa, she cried again and again.
And with each cry she heard the clink clink clink. Drops of her anger set aside. Put on hold until they were too much for her to handle.
The beaker was filled to the brim.
And that day. That supposedly joyous December day, he asked her to put aside her anger one more time. But there was no more room.
She worked for hours to perfect her mother’s sugar cookie recipe. Finally pleased with the result, she carried him a plate.
“Bring me some cookies,” he had grunted.
She passed the plate with a polite smile, the filled beaker teetering within her. Millie grabbed the fire poker and
started to move the logs. With a full mouth, Peter had said, “These cookies suck.”
The beaker poured over, and without a thought, she swung. In one swoop, she shattered niceness, watched politeness crumble. She hit the tree, she hit the stockings, she allowed her rage to pour out.
Millie came back to herself now, kneeling on the ground, considering the turn of events.
She heard him moan and she stared. Once again, her ire began to bubble. Still clenching the fire poker, she gently moved its weight back and forth, back and forth, measuring her options.
One more swing. Or….
She buried her head in his shoulder, “I’m so sorry!” she cried. “I don’t know what happened!”
“That wasn’t very nice,” he groaned.
“I know, I’m sorry. I won’t do that again….. I’m sorry….. I’m sorry….. My fault, I’m sorry!”
And somewhere she heard the clink clink of drops in an empty bottle.