Robert Guthrie


Robert Guthrie lives in Little Rock, AR with a pair of red-headed women. Aside from the story featured in this issue, his fiction has appeared most recently in Northwind and Cloud 9 magazines.


The Glass

There was a light on in a back room of the leasing office and only one car parked out front. It was after hours; Schultz had to knock on the front door. A man emerged from the hallway inside, wiping his hands with a paper towel.

We’re closed, he mouthed.

“I need help,” Schultz said, his breath fogging the glass.

The man came to the door and opened it. He had a brass nametag needled through his shirt with the words LEASING SPECIALIST engraved.

“What can I help you with,” said the man.

Schultz was slightly bent over in the doorway, clutching a specific place above his navel. “I need to see your cameras,” he said. “I live in 2813 and I think somebody came into my apartment this afternoon while I was out. Getting some groceries.”

The man was expressionless in the doorway.

“I came home,” Schultz said. “I wasn’t robbed. But things were moved around and I could tell somebody came in. I could just tell. And so I was hoping maybe there was surveillance or something I could look at. A camera from the main entrance. I know what kind of car to look for and I could just—”

“Hold it,” the man said. “What are you saying? Somebody broke in your apartment?”

Came in.”

“You missing anything?” the man said. “Personal items?”

“No,” Schultz said. “But things were re-arranged. Somebody definitely came into my apartment. The coffee mugs—”

“Re-arranged,” the man said. Schultz was standing at the threshold, holding himself. “Do you live alone?” the man said.

“No,” Schultz said. “But mother’s gone. For the weekend. Look if I could just see the cameras it wouldn’t take me long. I know her car and I know what time of day it was.”

Schultz took a step inside but the man blocked him with a shoulder. “We don’t let tenants see our cameras unless a crime’s been committed,” the man said in a different voice.

In the doorway Schultz recoiled. The tissue surrounding the scar had begun to tingle and he was hugging the place above his navel, fingers depressing the corrugated ribs of his jacket. Lately Schultz had imagined the scar rupturing. He would dream of the incision rising from him like a volcanic ridge and swelling with pressure and then bursting open with a hiss of rank air and bile, and he would wake up with his hand over it, shouting like a child, his mother’s feet coming thump-thump down the hall.

“Come back when you haven’t been drinking,” the man said.


Earlier in the day, around two o’clock, Schultz went to Kroger because the dog needed food and he'd almost finished the bottle of merlot he'd bought that morning. He was gone for roughly thirty minutes; he didn’t bother locking the apartment door. When he came home, everything was in its place except the glass he’d been drinking from all day, even his copy of Style lying exactly as he remembered, fanned over the couch armrest, reading glasses perched on the open page. The wine glass was nowhere to be found.

He fed the dog, and afterward stood in the kitchen with the new bottle of merlot still bagged in his hand. Blurring his eyes, he tried to see if the glass might present itself in his periphery. He thought maybe it was one of those cases like when you're looking for sunglasses and it turns out you’ve been wearing them all along.

It was possible, too, that he’d hidden it before he left, but when he hid a glass it was always in the same place: underneath the bed in the guest room, specifically the northwest corner by the nightstand. He checked there and crawled around the bed pulling up the rest of the skirt, and then checked the bathroom because he thought he might have peed just before Kroger. It was hard to remember. A whole bottle since breakfast and the day had lost its shape, the hours floating, non-serially, each its own thing. He looked in the linen closet.

The glass had to be in the apartment. He would have had to transfer the wine from a stemmed glass to a travel cup because the holders in his car wouldn't accept a stemmed glass, and besides he almost never drove with wine unless his mother was off-duty and hanging around the apartment. He went out and checked the car anyway, to be sure, and came back cursing himself for having wasted the effort. You would have remembered pouring it from one cup to another, he told himself. You're not that bad off.

He looked underneath the couch and walked out on the patio to see if he'd left it by the dog food. He checked the bathtub and the dishwasher and the mirrored medicine cabinet, even though he knew a glass wouldn't fit inside of it. He looked inside the freezer and checked all the drawers in the fridge and wondered aloud if this was the day he’d finally managed to hide it from himself.


Around three o’clock, Schultz considered asking Mrs. Jackson, the next-door neighbor, if she’d seen his mother come around since lunch. Most times his mother flew to places like Chicago or Dallas and Schultz could leave wine out comfortably until the comprehensive apartment cleanup, normally launched about ninety minutes before her scheduled landing time. But this time she was only thirty minutes down the highway at her brother’s house, helping with his garage sale. He couldn't think of why she might have come home early but the idea wouldn't go away, and in fact the more he considered it now, the more logical it seemed. She lived there, too, had as much right to enter as he. She would have barged right in and seen the wine glass and left without remembering what it was she'd come for. Shultz was certain of that: She would not have remembered what she came for once she saw the wine. And that would explain the total absence of clues in the apartment, the way everything had seemed untouched when he came back from Kroger, everything but the glass itself.

In the living room Schultz put the phone to his ear and stood like a tree on the carpet. It didn't even ring. You've reached Louise Shultz's mobile phone. He checked for the glass in the coat closet and guest bedroom and pantry. When he returned to the living room the clouds had moved and there were dull bars of light through the bay window.

Mrs. Jackson, who lived in 2815 next door, was widowed and Baptist. Earlier in the year, when Schultz was still sober, he had found a sympathetic ear in his neighbor: On his mother’s back patio, or in the stairwell between their two apartments, Schultz would often recount to Mrs. Jackson the many trials he’d faced en route to sobriety, the story having an almost sermonic arc and never seeming to tire the old woman, who would listen raptly and say to Schultz God has blessed you with a new liver and life, dear man, and Schultz would get chill bumps from the decency in Mrs. Jackson’s voice. It was like that for some time between them. They learned the names of each other’s dogs, and if Schultz was short an egg or needed a good book he would simply knock on Mrs. Jackson’s door.

During one of his mother’s most recent stints in Chicago, though, there was this one morning, a month ago now, when Mrs. Jackson had almost certainly seen Schultz pouring a glass of merlot through the kitchen window, and since then, things had been different. There had been a fleeting moment that day when the two neighbors’ eyes met through the pane, and then Mrs. Jackson, who was standing on a ladder pruning the Bradford Pear against her fence at the time, had willed her attention elsewhere as if having glimpsed Schultz nude. Since then she had not opened the door as widely when Schultz rang, and said hello instead of well hello, dear. A couple of times she hadn’t answered the door at all, even though Schultz had seen her car parked outside, the familiar stuffed crucifix dangling from the rearview.

Schultz took his phone and fell onto the sofa. Hey uncle gary would u ask mother 2 call me plz...yall having fun? He clutched the phone, waiting. He thought about how his mother had kissed him on the stoop the day before; how, when she suspected him, his mother would make a show out of kissing him goodbye—she would be rough and attendant, almost interrogative—but how Friday there had been a kind of benign absence in the way she’d done it. She was miles from suspecting him. He wondered why the sadness of that was both real and impersonal to him, compelling but somehow not immediate, as if happening to someone else. He wondered if maybe it was so immediate that he couldn’t see it at all, like the certain section of pine tree that was fixed like a painting through the bay window, or the billboards on the shoulder of the road that he passed, day after day, en route to the store. Mrs. Jackson’s face, between two limbs of the pear tree, just when their eyes met through the glass that morning—he saw this now and let it drift past him.


It had to stop. After this it would, after he found the glass. The bottle he'd bought from Kroger, he'd march it down to the dumpster by the leasing office and toss it in. He would find the wine glass and his mother would come home and he would never drink again, not after finishing what he'd just poured, which was really just a few sips—his Last Sips of Wine Ever. He didn't have a choice. If he had a rejection and they took him back in, this time he'd probably expire in rehab because they seldom gave a third chance to the A.L.D. patients. They had made that much abundantly clear, and Schultz had obeyed for thirteen months and nine days until April 17th, the day his mother left for Minneapolis.

Actually he had caved about two weeks before she left for Minnesota. He was on the back patio one day, talking with Mrs. Jackson and staring at the azalea closest to the steps, when something snapped in his mind. Mrs. Jackson had used the word idyllic because they'd been discussing the neighborhood in which Schultz and his sister were raised, the oak-lined streets and community pool that stayed open through Halloween, and there was the pink bloom of the azalea and the snapping in his mind, and time began to move in a way that made the thirteen months and nine days seem like idle gear. He was going to drink again on April 17; the thing inside of him had never gone away. On the patio, his voice rose in pitch and it took less effort to engage Mrs. Jackson than it had before the snapping.

When he was drinking, a day was a comfortable little octagon in which each angle was a glass of wine. When he wasn't drinking, everything was featureless and straight and infinite. That was what Schultz had told his therapist, Rose, at the second clinic his mother had sent him to. Rose had even made him draw both kinds of days with construction paper and markers.

On the table the phone chimed. It read: You got it, having a ball.

Schultz put his face in his hands and opened the Kroger bottle and poured himself a new glass, convinced now that the one he was missing was somewhere in the apartment. Thank God, he said. The clock on the microwave read 3:49. He searched the base cabinets and car again. Four o’clock and he was worried that his mother had not rejoined Uncle Gary yet, that the message he’d received from Uncle Gary was not necessarily representative of everyone’s feelings, that his mother had simply left something, come home to fetch it, and was very likely driving along Highway 10 now with his wine glass between her legs.

“It worked,” she had said to him, when he was still in the hospital and bloated from the steroids, the cut sewn mean and spider-black above his navel. “It worked, Raymond. They gave you a new one.”

He remembered how foreign, almost homely, she’d seemed to him in that moment; he was just awakening to the room, the ventilator freshly out of his throat, and his mother, tired and careworn as she hung over him, was neither kin nor strange.

“You didn’t leave me,” Schultz had whispered, blinking up at the face.

“Shhh,” she had said. “Course not. It’s still you and me, Raymond. Still us against the rest.”

His scar was tingling now, and he pulled his sweater so that the fabric wasn’t touching it. He looked behind the picture frames on the foyer table but not at the photos inside the frames.


At twilight the family upstairs started moving around; Schultz could hear the ceiling sigh with their weight, and he wondered, as he searched the apartment again, how long the sighing had been going on and how differently he might have responded to it if he hadn’t lost the glass. It might have led him to read on the patio, he thought, or maybe to leash up Humphrey and take him for a walk. He thought that if he had the glass it would be Saturday again and he would simply hear the sounds of the day and react to them on his own terms.

He went to the kitchen and leaned apelike on his fists and through the window watched the blackbirds twist in a rope above the power lines. Mrs. Jackson did not appear to be home; there was nothing but gray light inside her apartment and the silhouettes of furniture. Schultz was pushing the hair from his eyes when something in the sink below startled him: Three of his mother’s coffee mugs, each turned upside-down and shoved against the others in a kind of clover pattern. His back straightened. The arrangement seemed at once foreign and offensive, like a stranger’s handwriting; he wasn’t certain he’d ever seen three mugs organized just so in their kitchen, or why he hadn’t noticed them until now. His mind wanted the mugs right side-up and maybe even filled with hot water to mitigate risk of coffee or lipstick stains. That was his preferred method of dealing with his mother’s mugs: Either he filled or submerged them in hot water but in either case they were always right side-up because they wouldn’t get clean otherwise. He left and re-entered the kitchen to see if the mugs leapt out at him as they had on first sight. He did this exactly four times, trying to pretend he didn’t know the mugs were there, but each time they were more conspicuous, clashing with the wallpaper and cabinets, commanding his eye, the whole kitchen shouting she was here.

He brought the phone to his ear.

You’ve reached Louise Shultz’s mobile—

He tossed the phone on the countertop and wept in a way that sounded like laughter. A few minutes later he thought about cameras and then his jacket was on and he was trudging across the pavement, fingers laced over navel, almost expectantly.


The man had come out on the stoop. There was no moon and he was using his hand as a visor against the floodlight, looking at where he thought Schultz was. The scar was really smarting now. Schultz walked about fifty yards and when he turned again the leasing office was dark and the man’s taillights could be seen passing through the main gate.

He walked home quickly. A child passed him on a bicycle; Schultz could not see the child but in watching the reflector blink and swerve across the pavement, he had a vision of his sister, long-legged and standing on the pedals as she biked uphill to their house, Schultz trailing behind, wet-headed, draped in towels. Come on, Raymond. Race you home. Mrs. Jackson had used the word idyllic; the word enough came to Schultz now, as in: It was enough back then just to follow his sister and never catch up, to go home and play checkers on the porch with his knees pulled up to his chest. He thought that at some point the little things had stopped being enough. He tried to imagine this point as a black dot along an x-axis, from which a separate, dotted line, representing his life ever since, deviated in a wobbly plunge, like a crack snaking through brick.

On the sidewalk he tried to call his mother and hung up at the snippet of white noise that preceded her recorded voice. Pocketing the phone, he unlocked the apartment and walked into the kitchen. The bottle from Kroger was half-empty. He found the glass he’d been using since Kroger and filled it to the rim and took a long slug, the wine having no discernible flavor now, tasting like his mouth.

The mugs.

They were still in the clover shape but for whatever reason seemed wholly inoffensive. He asked himself if he had ever truly noticed the mugs or if he’d just told himself to notice them. Through the blinds he could see that Mrs. Jackson was home: She was sitting in her recliner, only her right profile available. Schultz looked at the mugs and asked himself if he’d already gotten used to seeing them in that shape, like when a new billboard pops up along the highway and after a few hours you can’t remember what was there before.