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THE LAST TIME THE PIPES WERE DRUNK • by Joyce Chong

The sink had been drinking again, Momma told me. She threw the empty bottle into the garbage and it clinked  against the other bottles. That was always when Pa got mad, storming around the house, yelling and smashing things. Black label bottles were stored in peculiar places; hidden behind bookcases, in my room, I found one in the bathroom once. I had asked what they were and Momma lied and told me they were drain cleaners so I would stop asking. Pa used to only drink after me and Jacob were asleep, then it was in the morning, after work, at night. And when he kissed us before bed, his breath stunk of rotted things and sour whiskey.

A plate lay smashed on the kitchen floor. Momma went to sit on the couch in the living room, mouth set like stone and arms crossed tight. Pa’s tantrums reminded me of Jacob when he was little and I wouldn’t share my new slinky toy. But Pa was bigger than Jacob, and Momma didn’t want us in the room when he got into these moods. We’d stopped watching the television the moment Pa had started yelling, but we only dared move when Momma shooed us out of the room. She looked tired and annoyed, and I was a little worried, but my Momma was strong and had always held her own against Pa, as unsteady as he could be.

In my room, I showed Jacob my marble collection, and told him not to lose any. Especially my shiny cat’s eyes, because they were my favourite. I leaned against my bedroom door, watching as he scrambled to catch any runaway marbles. Then a loud bang came from downstairs. Pa was out to the bar again. I don’t know how Momma did it, but when we peeked our head around the stairway, she was perched on the couch in the same position. A phone in her hand, eyes glued to the television. Jacob and I scrambled down the stairs, desperate to finish our show before it was over. Ma left the couch and went straight to bed without saying a word to me or Jacob.

In the morning, I found Mr. McCarthy in our living room, coffee in hand, whisper-talking to Momma. Every other week he’d see Pa at the bar and have to drive him home. He was a bartender at the Lucky Soles, but I think he knew my parents from way back. My Pa was probably upstairs, sleeping the liquor off. I wanted to know why Mr. McCarthy was here on the living room couch, but my Momma told me to go upstairs with some Aspirin and water.  Mr. McCarthy smiled a little, apologetic smile at me and I left.

Pa lay sprawled on the bed in a diagonal mess of sheets. He was blinking up at the ceiling, already awake. I set the pill and glass of water down on the table quietly. When my Pa wasn’t drinking, he was the nicest man I knew. I closed the blinds so that only small slivers of sunlight could peer in.

“Sorry Pips,” said Pa as he sat up, downed the pill and ruffled my hair.

I nodded, which meant that I accepted his apology but was still mad at him for leaving last night.

Pa pointed to the clock, “Look, you’ll be late for school. Go wake up your brother.”

So I did. Ma couldn’t walk us to school, though, because she was busy that morning talking to Mr. McCarthy. Me and Jacob felt like grown ups, walking on our own to the schoolyard down the street.

When I got home, I found the living room empty. The front door was open, choice cupboards emptied out, and everything my Momma had ever owned had been erased, leaving blank gaps in the walls and the shelves and the coffee table. And the couch. Momma wasn’t seated on the couch, patching up pants or folding laundry like she always did.

The silence in the house tugged on until I heard the sound of glass crashing and shattering from the backyard. From the window, I could see Pa laying on the grass, a broken bottle sat a few feet away from him on the concrete. His face was red, puffy.

Pa kept drinking for days. He’d make me and Jacob breakfast, and we’d go to school, come home and find him asleep on the couch. Soon, Pa stopped going to the Lucky Soles. He said he was sick of the place, so he’d stay home all day, finishing the bottles he hid in the closet, under his bed, in the attic. I figured out that Ma wasn’t coming back, even though Pa kept saying she would. Jacob cried so I let him keep two of the marbles he’d stolen that night. I wasn’t mad because one was chipped and they weren’t that nice anyways.

Then one day, after Pa found Jacob crying again, I saw him standing by the sink, empty bottles scattered across the kitchen counter.

“Whatcha doin’, Pa?” I asked.

“Pipes are getting drunk,” he said, “All the dead goldfish, the sewer rats, the flowers and the trees are getting drunk tonight. But we’re going to the movies.”

Momma never did come back, but that was the last time the sink or the pipes ever got drunk again.


Joyce Chong is a student and hobby writer in Ontario, Canada. Her work can be found in Corvus, Fiction365, and Crack the Spine, among others.


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THE LAST TIME THE PIPES WERE DRUNK • by Joyce Chong, 3.5 out of 5 based on 20 ratings
Posted on January 27, 2013 in Literary, Stories
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  • Rob

    An interestingly done piece.

  • http://samanthamemi.weebly.com/ Samantha Memi

    Wistful sad story, beautifully told; it perfectly captures the child’s way of looking at events. Love the redemptive ending 5 stars.

  • http://www.paulfreeman.weebly.com Paul A. Freeman

    I’d like to believe in a happy ending, but I found the conclusion ambiguous. Did pa give up drinking, as I’d hope to believe, or did he go back on the sauce and never try to give up again?

    I thought this was an excellent piece of writing, especially how the author manipulates our feelings of sympathy for the adults, then reverses those feelings.

  • Joanne

    Very nicely done.

  • SarahT

    I can’t believe the mother left the kids. That’s messed up!

    Maybe the wife and/or the bartending “friend” were what drove Pa to drink to begin with…

    The ending is ambiguous, but I like to believe it was happy…

  • Simone

    Many can relate to the drunken parent. Well-written piece and done nicely from a child’s point of view. Kudos!

  • Joyce

    Thanks for reading and commenting! Yes, the ending is a little ambiguous, but I hope you’ll read it optimistically.

  • http://www.rite2run.wordpress.com Jim Brennan

    Solid, honest writing. Good story.

  • http://astheheroflies.wordpress.com/ Gretchen Bassier

    Great, uplifting ending. I didn’t see it coming, and enjoyed it all the more for that reason.

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