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The 13th Toast

Story by Amy Sparks (Read author interview) June 15, 2008

Art by Robinson Accola

Today is January 5, 2004. It is a cloudy, misty evening. Shawna will be visiting me tonight.

Shawna says that I need to learn more adjectives. Everything I tell her is so clinical, so matter-of-fact, she complains.

Facts are my business. I record information. Just the facts. Some of my colleagues have a flowery phrase or two, but I know that they didn’t come up with those. It was someone else’s creation, etched on their hearts as part of a permanent record.

Shawna explains these phrases to me. She tries to teach me new words to add to my sadly limited vocabulary. I try to humor her, because her infrequent visits break up the monotony.

We have an annual ritual. Shawna arrives just before midnight. She sits on my shoulder, pours herself a drink from a silver flask, and raises a toast to a man from her past. Then she tells me stories from her life until the tears flow too steadily for her to speak. She’ll finish her drink, and fly off to who knows where for the next year. We’ve been doing this for 12 years.

Each year, she toasts a different man. I am confused as to why these men deserve such tribute. From the stories she tells, they sound rather unsavory. I would expect her to drink to forget them, not drink to remember. Maybe this year I’ll ask her.

As if on cue, Shawna floats into my sight just before midnight. She lingers in front of my chest before taking her perch on my shoulder. The years have been kind to her. She still looks as young and delicate as the day we first met. Her long, blonde hair, almost white, tumbles over her shoulders. Her tall, lean frame has a dancer’s grace. She wears the same floral print dress, but it never seems to fade or wear. Even her expression is the same—a small smile, mixed with sadness.

“Well, here we are again,” Shawna declares. Usually our ritual starts with some sort of greeting phrase. “I was just visiting my mama. She truly amazes me. She’s 76 years old now, and even though she looks older, she’s still the same Mama I’ve always remembered.”

Shawna knows I love hearing about her mama. I feel a connection with this woman, whom I’ve seen but never formally met. When she comes to visit my neighborhood, she focuses more on my neighbor. She never wants to see my face.

Shawna pulls a silver flask and goblet out and begins to pour. Each year, I try to notice where she puts the goblet while she’s traveling, since she doesn’t carry a bag. I still haven’t figured it out. I’ll have to pay more attention while she’s putting it away later. She sniffs the beverage approvingly and swirls it in the glass, like a fine burgundy. Shawna told me that the patrons at the restaurant where she used to work always drank fine wines, finer than any she could afford, and she liked to watch them swirl the wine in their glasses before taking their first appreciative sip. She’s perfected this move over the years. In the first three years, she’d spill some of her drink by swirling too aggressively. She crosses her legs and rests her elbow on her knee as she gazes thoughtfully at the goblet.

“Tonight, I drink to Bubba Cowell. I last saw him on November 14, 1991. He and I went for a drive in his pickup truck. After a few beers, he decided he started to get rough with me, and I wanted him to stop. When he realized he wasn’t going to get any from me that night, he pushed me out of the truck and drove off. That’s when everything changed. My life as I knew it ended, and my new existence began.”

She lifted the glass into the moonlight. “So Bubba Cowell, I drink to you. Without you, I wouldn’t be who I am today.” She drank deeply, then ran her tongue slowly over her fangs to savor every drop of the blood. Once the flask was finished, she hopped off of my shoulder and turned to face me.

“I won’t be coming back,” Shawna said wryly. “I made Mama promise that it would all end tonight.” She caressed my chest, tracing letters with her finger. “I always went to Mama’s house for dinner on her birthday. Even after I was bitten, she drew me back each year by offering too sweet of a meal for me to pass up—revenge. That first year, I was surprised to see Bobby McAllister’s dripping corpse in her kitchen when I arrived. I couldn’t believe that she had remembered him standing me up for a date while we were in high school. I tried not to indulge, but I couldn’t resist that lovely, fresh, dripping blood. She told me that she wouldn’t rest until I had tasted all of the revenge to which I was entitled, and each year she delivered on that promise. Finally, this year, she gave me the sweetest gift of all—Bubba Cowell’s head on a platter. I told her she’s given me all there is to give.” She smiled to herself. “Besides, she’s getting too old for this.”

She walked over to my neighbor and whispered, “Goodbye, Daddy,” as she traced the letters of his name. Then she walked back over to me, with tears silently streaming down her face, as she traced my message for the last time:

Shawna Willis
April 16, 1970-November 14, 1991
Beloved daughter of Clara

About the Author

Amy Sparks is an IT Manager and mother of two from North Carolina. She is a former associate editor of SmokeLong Quarterly whose work has appeared in Green Tricycle. She is returning to the world of flash fiction and also working on her first novel.

About the Artist

Robinson Accola creates artwork for SmokeLong Quarterly as needed.

This story appeared in Issue Twenty-One of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Twenty-One

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