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ALICE IN DAIRYLAND/Jesse Lee Kercheval WHEN THE PHONE RANG, I was in bed under the covers, trying to stay warm. As I ran to answer, I saw that it was snowing again. Td been in Wisconsin, America's frozen dairy land, nearly six years, so I should have been used to it, but I was a Florida girl at heart, and each flake took me by surprise. "Atice Anne?" a voice said. My name came out slurred, like it was AUison. "Mom?" I said. My mother had flown up from Jacksonville to spend Christmas with me, only to collapse in the airport, a dozen tiny bottles of bourbon rolling from her purse. Since then she had been in a special university clinic for her various addictions—alcohol, Vatium. Up to now, though she was only a couple ofmues away, across the lake at the far end of the campus, she had not been allowed to caU or have visitors. "Can you talk? Is Anders there?" my mother asked. Anders was my boyfriend. I was in his apartment, talking on his phone. Although I had a room in a graduate student scholarship house, I did not pretend to spend much time there, even to my mother. She was suspicious of Anders because once, in an uncharacteristic fit of honesty, Td told her that he disapproved of her drinking. "Anders!" I called. There was no answer, but even so, I lowered my voice as I said, "Listen, Mom, couldn't I take you home? Check you in someplace there? It's going to be below zero here tonight. Couldn't . . ." As irrational as this was, I betieved the move north, leaving JacksonvUle, had caused her coUapse, not the alcohol or pills. She had fled winter and her native Munich when she'd married my father and had a horror of anything German. If I could get her someplace warm, I thought, someplace less German than Wisconsin, she would not be sick. "I have to go, Atice," was all my mother said. "I just wanted to teU you I sent you a belated Christmas card. I made it in art therapy class. I sent one to your brother, too." "But Mom," I started. I hadn't yet told my brother Mark that our mother was in the hospital. As a matter of fact, Td lied outright, sending a Christmas present of Florida oranges to his apartment in San Francisco, telling the operator at the grove's 800 number to sign the card, "From Mom." Before I could continue, I heard a voice in the background call my mother's name: "Mrs. Stratton . . ." 186 · The Missouri Review "Tm fine, Alice. ReaUy." Her voice was shaking. "They say I can have visitors soon." She hung up. After talking to my mother, I had a terrible craving for Scotch or bourbon or even a taU glass of gin, none of which I had touched since I had last visited her in JacksonviUe. Td grown up in a house stocked with tax-exempt army Uquor, and my mother stiU kept a mean bar. Look where it got her, I imagined Anders observing. I would have to caU Mark tonight, teU him about Mom before he got her card with its locked-ward address. I stared into Anders' refrigerator for a whtie; he had only murky natural fruit juices. If he were home, he would remind me that my mother's coUapse was thirty hard-drinking years in the making. Remind me that I was the chtid here—though a chUd of twenty-six on her way to a Ph.D. in English—and so was not responsible for how my mother had Uved her Ufe. But what did Anders know? It was Mark and I who were there after our dad left. I stiU remember Mom pulling us through the streets of Madrid, where we'd gone on an iU-conceived, space-avaUable army vacation. In the rain, lost and crying, she'd kept telling us over and over to go to the American Consulate if she dropped dead. Anders had sane, Lutheran parents. They didn't drink or have passports. I settled on yogurt, added...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 186-195
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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