Proofby Alisha Karabinus
That awful, sour stink wasn't there, and the sudden strikes of anger, the unpredictable flares of temper, those were also missing, so there was no reason for Delilah to crawl over every inch of the house looking for all the old clues―bottles buried in the middle of the garbage, aluminum cans crushed down to nothing and wrapped in paper bags, a bent bottle cap embossed with one of the old familiar logos. But she did it anyway, though there was never anything tangible, no real evidence, only a strange sort of loosening that showed in her father's face and in his shoulders, in the way he held the knife when he stood at the counter slicing bell peppers.
Delilah's husband wasn't home to see any of this, not her father's odd behavior or her obsessive search, and she was grateful for that, so grateful that little thank-yous kept marching through her head: at least Marlon isn't home, at least Marlon is in Chicago. Because not-drinking was the only condition Marlon had set when her father moved in with them. Not-drinking was the only thing that kept him in the vicinity of the straight and narrow. They couldn't afford to go through any of that again. Marlon was up for a promotion that might keep him at home, finally, and they had the girls to think about. April's softball camp. Tori's rehearsals at the children's theater. A normal routine no one wanted to disrupt.
For days, Delilah wanted to give up searching, but couldn't quite manage to stop. She was ready to believe that the changes in her father could be from something else―cold medicine, Alzheimer's, gamma rays, her imagination―but she still caught herself sneaking around the house, inventing unnecessary chores, scrubbing baseboards and counters, cleaning, organizing, hiding, watching. She kept telling herself that it was necessary. Backsliding was inevitable, because her father was just like his mother, her grandmother, who always cleaned up her crumpled white cigarette butts, who hid vodka in the toilet tank and gin behind the year-old saltines in the back of the pantry where no one would notice the green glass bottle. But what she didn't know was whether or not he had always been like that, sneaky, denying, or if she had made him that way by repeating all the things she had heard and not believed when she was growing up. My house, my rules. My way or the highway. Her threats were empty, too, because for him it really would be the highway, or maybe the shelter or a patch of concrete under the river bridge. So she prayed instead, prayed that everything would just stay okay, and while she prayed, she prowled around the house, looking for signs. Things she had read about on the Internet. Likely hiding places. Behavioral signs. She made a lot of lists. She liked crossing items off, liked showing the scratched-through lists to Marlon. “See,” she’d say. “See, everything is okay. He isn’t drinking.”
She was scrubbing the refrigerator door and listening to the girls running and screaming in the back yard when a splash of silver stole her attention, a glint down in the shadows under the fridge. Delilah stared at it for a long time before she stripped off her pink gloves, kneeling on the linoleum. It was a pull tab, no doubt about it―evidence, a silent silver tongue of proof. She traced one finger through the dust webbing the floor, then over the clean aluminum tab. Outside, the girls were laughing, clapping their hands to a song she didn't know, and Delilah could not move, could not make herself pick up the tab, though it was exactly the thing she had been trying to find. Marlon discouraged her from buying soda for the girls, and he wouldn’t drink it himself, of course; water for him, always water or milk. There were no cans in the house. None in the kitchen. Only this. Under her knees, the floor was hard, concrete under vinyl; the edges of the tab were sharp. Pointed. Incontrovertible. Her hand shook and, quickly, she flicked the tab deep into the darkness, where she could no longer see it, and she stood, brushing off her hands.