Sarah Rose Etter

Vodka Father

Your vodka father is asleep in the chair. His belly is round and the television is speaking to it, blaring commercials at the center of it. Your vodka father’s salt and pepper hair a mess, spread out and up, always rioting.

“Tired of slicing your own fruit?” the television screams. “We’ve got the solution!”

You look at your vodka father’s face and your heart is full and nervous.

Your vodka father has made a big blossom out of what once was his nose, a cartilage swollen, fat with gin, wide, too wide. Which is why you have the scalpel, which is why now is the time, because if not now, when will you do it?

“All of this can be yours for the low price of $10.99!” the television screams. “Act now for a surprise gift!”

A memory:

Thirteen years old, in your winter coat, in the living room. The television is blaring to you and your vodka father, who sits on his sofa. Your vodka father holds the glass and the lights are off, all things blued. “Can I sleep over at Jessica’s?” you ask your vodka father.Your vodka father regards you in the blue glare blare. His eyes are watery and dull shimmering.“You look like a fucking rabbit,” your vodka father says. “Why don’t you go eat some carrots you little fucking rabbit.”You nod, as if you know that’s what you should be doing. That night, you sleep on your own bedroom floor, taste of carrots in your mouth, a little rabbit still in a winter coat.

Your vodka father is good at many things including: political debates, the consumption of ice cream, the devouring of newspapers. Asleep, your vodka father is good at one thing which is snoring.

“Tighten your glutes!” the television screams.

The scalpel is a small, sharp thing. You stare at your father’s face and you are full of love latticed with shame.

“Ten minutes a day and you’ll have the best thighs on the block!” the television screams.

The gin blossom has been, for years a destroyer. It marks your father in grocery stores and gas stations, at weddings and at funerals, all over the world, even in London. One glance at his face and everyone knows there are bottles hidden in the toilet, behind the living room curtains, under your bed.

“All of your friends will want to know what your secret is!” the television screams.

You move closer to your vodka father, move closer with the scalpel. His breath smells sour sharp.

You picture a life without the blossom and move your hand closer to your vodka father’s face.

“CHOP! DICE! COOK!” the television screams. “SIMPLE AS THAT!”

The first incision is the worst, drawing the blade to your vodka father’s nose and pressing it into the skin. Your vodka father twitches in the black out from the pain, but does not wake.

A memory:

Fourteen years old, in the passenger seat of your vodka father’s convertible. He swerves the car over the hills and to the cemetery. The sun is there, it is out. You get out of the car with your vodka father. You walk through the old tombstones while your vodka father shouts out death dates. “1913! 1908! 1898!” You scream numbers back, looking for the earliest. “1916! 1884! 1911!” In the end, your vodka father finds the winner, your father finds the oldest tombstone, screams “1879!” In the car, your vodka father puts on a very sad song and hums and smiles. The volume is loud, loud. He navigates the car to the ice cream store. You both buy vanilla, don’t speak as you eat it, drive home.

You slice the excess from your vodka father’s nose, try to remember the shape of it before liquor years.

You pretend you are a sculptor when the blood comes, try to tell yourself you are making art from him. You cut with tenderness, cut with a perfect future in mind.

“Why wait?” the television screams. “You can change everything now!”

A steady hand is crucial. You take deep breaths and cut into the left side of his nose, making it mirror-match the right side, which is slender now, free of the bloat.

Capillaried skin falls to the bulge of your father’s belly, a blood and flesh snow building into drifts.

When you are finished, you move back, stare at your father’s face. Although it is mangled, already bruising, you have done it.

“Satisfaction is guaranteed. Don’t like it? Send it back and we’ll refund your money,” the television yells.

Your father keeps deep sleeping, snoring through his normal nose. Your father is no longer marked.

When he wakes, everything will be new. When he wakes, when he heals, you will stand next to your new father and your new mother on green front lawns.

A neighbor will take your picture then, the three of you, together, in the sunlight, your perfect parents on either side of you, everyone easy smiling.

Sarah Rose Etter's fiction collection, Tongue Party, was selected by Deb Olin Unferth as the winner of the 2011 Caketrain Competition. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Salt Hill Journal, Barrelhouse, The Black Warrior Review, The Collagist, and more. She currently lives in South Philadelphia, where she co-hosts the Tire Fire Reading Series with Christian TeBordo. Learn more about her work at

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