Tory Mae graduated with a B.A. in Creative Writing and Literature at Wheaton College in 2015, where her full-length play entitled Can-Swiss was performed in the annual New Plays Festival. She is currently working a collection of short stories, as well as a novel that is set to be completed later this year.
THE WHISKEY WON’T KEEP YOU WARM
By Tory Mae
"You should go out and get some groceries."
"Oh, dear. Now? I've been cooking all afternoon, and I just put the pie in the oven."
"Perfect timing," Pop said. “We’re out of eggs and bread. I would have gone on my way back from the bank, but my stomach knew dinner was about done.”
“Can’t it wait until after dinner?”
“It’s only a short drive into town. You will be back before you know it.”
"Well all right..."
“Would you drop off the check at the church while you are out? It’s only across the street from the store.”
“Of course, dear.”
Ma took the oven mitts off her hands and placed them on the countertop. She started to grab the wooden spoon from the drawer to stir her stew, but Pop took it and stirred the pot himself.
"I will keep an eye on dinner. Take little Cheryl with you, she could use the ride."
Ma sighed. "Well all right.”
She poked her head into the living room where Cheryl was playing with her Raggedy Ann doll in front of the brand new color television.
“Cheryl!” she called out. “Come on, we're going for a little ride."
Six-year-old Cheryl put her doll down and raced to the door.
"Oh boy oh boy oh boy! I love car rides! Where are we going? Are you getting me something? Can we get me a new toy? Please?!"
"We'll see my little Cherry pie."
Ma grabbed the keys off the hook, took Cheryl's hand, and walked to the Buick. The smell of a fresh cut lawn lifted her spirits. And as she drove past each white picket fenced lawn, Pop sat at the kitchen table and planned.
He reached into the back of the freezer and pulled out a Baskin Robbins cake. There was a small box of candles he had hid in his shirt pocket that he pulled out and stuck into the cake. He checked the stew every few minutes, using the wooden spoon for taste tests, and made sure shut the oven off when the pie was done so Ma wouldn't have to worry. He thought about taste testing the pie too, but decided it wasn’t the proper day to annoy his wife. She did so much for the family, she deserved a nice evening.
As he heard the car pull back into the driveway he pulled out a Bing Crosby record and set it on the turntable. The familiar songs flowed through the scratchy speakers, and small pops showed the record’s age. With each pop and crackle, Pop thought back to their wedding night, and their first dance as man and wife. Pop danced around as he flipped off the lights and lit the candles on the cake.
Cheryl entered the house first, pulling Ma along, who was carrying a carton of eggs, bread, a Charleston Chew for Pop, and a new box of tinkertoys.
"Happy birthday to you..."
* * * *
"Yes?" he asked, not looking up from the Sunday Comics.
They were sitting at the kitchen table, Pop with his paper and coffee and Ma staring at her hands. She switched from drumming her fingers together to wringing her hands every five seconds.
"I have some news for you."
Ma stared at him and crossed her arms.
Pop flipped the page and chuckled at the comic.
"Will you stop reading the paper for two damn seconds so I can tell you that I'm pregnant?!"
Pop put down his paper.
"I'm pregnant, Fran. It must have been my birthday."
"I'm so sorry, dear, I know we didn't plan this. I can try and find a job somewhere so we can have a little extra money. There’s an office in town looking for a new secretary. If you want, I can go down there and apply. They’re desperate, so they’re willing to pay an extra quarter an hour, you know, if we need it. I'm so, so, sorry dear," Ma's voice began to shake.
Pop folded up his newspaper, stood up, and left the room. Ma began to weep.
A squeaky voice piped up behind her. "Am I gonna have a little sister? Oh boy!"
I awoke at 7:01.
Why is it that I always wake up earliest after a late night full of drinking, I wondered. Such a damn paradox.
I stood up and stretched my back. Two hours of sleep, maybe three, and twice as many drinks and I felt like I could run a marathon. Or maybe a mile. Maybe I was still drunk. Christ, when was the last time I'd run? I looked down at my gut peeking out over my belt. Whiskey weight. At least I wasn't fat.
Ma wasn't awake yet. Maybe there was Vicodin still in her system, that shit could knock even the worst alcoholic on his ass. I figured I might as well follow up on my initial plan for the morning despite the minor change in scenery. She may be passed out in a damn hospital bed, but she was still my mother. The last time I was with her in a hospital I had put her through hell and back. I mean, it wasn’t my fault my head was so big as a baby. It was the least I could do to make this time around more bearable. I ran my hand along the side of the bed pressing each button until the nurse came.
"You rang?" she asked.
She looked agitated. I wondered why.
"Do you serve breakfast in this place?"
"Not for you. You can make your way to the cafeteria if you want a bite," she said.
"Christ, not for me, although I could use a glass of water," I said, rubbing my head. "No, breakfast for the one in bed." I jerked my thumb towards Ma.
"We do provide a basic breakfast for our patients, sir. When she wakes up she can call for our basic breakfast tray."
I took a step closer. I looked her in the eyes and smiled. "Now tell me, miss, what could I do to have a full breakfast right in front of her for when she wakes up?"
"That'll be ten dollars."
Ten dollars? I snorted. Weren’t hospitals supposed to provide the utmost care for their patients? They may be injured or dying but they at least deserved a proper breakfast.
Goddammit. No sleep, a hangover forming, and now I was out ten bucks. I pulled a crumpled bill from my back pocket and placed it in the nurse's waiting hand. She attempted a smile and walked out.
A few minutes after the nurse left, Cheryl began to stir.
"Go back to bed, she's not awake yet," I said.
"No, but you are. What kind of a daughter would I be if I let you escape?"
My hands flew up and slammed back down against my thighs and I sighed. It was too damn early for this.
"For fuck’s sake Cheryl! I-”
“As your older, more responsible sister, I have to keep an eye on you. Our mother is eighty-eight years old with no husband. She needs us, Jack. She took care of us when we were kids. Now it’s our turn to take care of her. I recognize that you may not know what responsibility is, or what it means, but it’s time to learn.”
“Look. I drove all the way up here. I’m not about to turn around and go back now."
"You never know with you," she said, crossing her arms.
I lowered myself back into my chair and we sat in silence. Cheryl drummed her fingers on the arm of her chair. I sat there twiddling my thumbs. Literally twiddling them, not just the damn expression. Cheryl picked at her nail polish. I counted ceiling tiles. There was a reason everyone loved family gatherings, huh? Props to the minority of the population who actually enjoyed them.
The room remained sterile and silent until the nurse returned. The "full" breakfast consisted of soggy eggs, extra toast and jam, breakfast sausage, and a large glass of orange juice.
"I could've made something better than that," I said to Cheryl.
"When was the last time you cooked a full meal?" she asked.
"About a month ago."
Cheryl thought for a moment.
"You know, I bet your breakfast would’ve be better. Not like she'll know the difference. At least you didn't have to go to her homemade Sunday brunch for five years. You should see the way she hacks over the stove."
I chuckled. "Why do you think I live in Boston? No one ever made you stick around."
"Well someone's got to take care of her."
I nodded my head and sat back. My lips began to chap and I realized how desperate my body was for water, or another drink. As soon as I stood up, Ma began to stir. She moved just a bit under her sheets and her eyes squinted open. She poked at the tray.
"What, now what is this in front of me? Now, ah, where are my, someone give me my glasses. I can't see a damn thing!"
Cheryl rushed to Ma's side and put her glasses in her outstretched hand.
"Thank you dear," she said, patting Cheryl's hand.
She put on her glasses and stared at the tray, blinking a few times. She rubbed her thumbs along her pointer fingers and I stared, wondering why the elderly always did that.
"Oh, oh! Oh, thank you. Breakfast in bed, how wonderful."
"Happy birthday, Ma," I said.
“Jack! Oh thank you so much, dear, it’s so nice to see you.”
Cheryl leaned over and kissed her head on her good side. "Happy birthday. How are you feeling?"
"What do you think? My leg is killing me. And my head is pounding."
"We've got that one in common," I muttered.
"Breakfast ought to make you feel better," Cheryl said.
Ma took a bite of her toast.
"Thank you very much, I appreciate it."
"Do you remember what happened?"
Ma took another bite.
"No," she said, bread crumbles bouncing off her tongue. "Not quite. It was an accident. I don't know if you've noticed, but I've gotten old," she laughed. Crumbs dropped from her mouth.
Cheryl put her hand on her hip.
"Maybe you should cut back on the drinking."
"Hey, don't blame the booze," I said.
"Why? It's never gotten me in trouble before. Well, not that much trouble," she said, and winked at me.
Ma took a third bite.
She pushed the tray away.
One hour of driving, seven hours of waiting, four drinks, and ten bucks later and she was full. Christ.
It was Thanksgiving. It was Thanksgiving and I was sitting in a goddamned nursing home eating one palm size turkey slice that tasted like cardboard and a small ice cream scoop’s worth of stuffing that was stuffed full of all the salt in the world. No wonder America was so fucking obese. The government put too much damn salt in everything. Or the FDA. Whatever, it’s all government bullshit anyway, I thought. I took a bite. We couldn't have had dinner at Cheryl's like she had suggested, oh I don't know, at least thirty times. Oh no. No.
"I would just love it if everyone came to my place for Thanksgiving this year. They cook some fabulous meals!" Ma had said.
"You know, I was hoping we could get everyone together at my place. It will be nice and quiet, a real family gathering. Jack even agreed to do half the cooking this year!" Cheryl had suggested.
I hadn't agreed to that, but Cheryl tried, she really did. Props to her.
"Now Cheryl, I'm not going to live forever you know!"
Cardboard turkey and salt stuffing. Goddammit.
"Wasn't this just wonderful? The food here is so good, I’m so spoiled here," Ma said between bites.
I looked over at Cheryl who elbowed Jimmy in the side as he rolled his eyes and began to open his mouth. He winced, rubbed his side, and winked at me. The kid took after his best uncle, no doubt.
"It was great Mom, thank you for inviting us over," Cheryl said.
"This really was fantastic, Gram. They sure went all out here, it’s such a great setup. You've got it good here for sure," Allie said.
I looked around at the dining room: the tables were mostly empty with plain white tablecloths, with three tables full of grandparents and great-grandparents with their families looking like they’d rather be anywhere else. Oh yeah. Great setup. Allie definitely took after her mother.
If I’d had kids, they’d all be Jimmies. Little Jimmy-Jacks. No one wanted that. One of me was enough. I’d be lucky if I’d ever had a kid like Allie; Cheryl did a fantastic job, with both kids, to be honest. For someone who thought she’d never have kids, her getting pregnant so late in the game was the most surprising, but best thing that could’ve happened to her. I looked up to her for that. Not to mention the fact that her ex had only been around half the time. But there was no way I’d do that good of a job, even if I was tied down with a wife. I did my unborn children a favor by not letting them exist. It was best to let my failure genes end with me.
Ma laughed. "Well I would say you're right about that one, Allison."
My stomach growled. I looked at my plate, poked at the last crumb and decided it wasn't worth it. But these drives up north were always worth it. Everytime. Truly. I stood up.
"Well, I think I'm going to take off."
"Already?" Ma asked.
"Yeah, I want to take off before the turkey hits me and I get too tired to drive."
I had eaten enough turkey for the tryptophan to hit me, right? Not like Ma would know the difference anyway.
"Well all right. You take care now. Thank you for coming up here to see little old me."
"No problem, Ma." I walked over and kissed her on the forehead. "Love you."
"Love you too, dear."
Cheryl stood up.
"I'll walk you out."
Christ. Did quick getaways even exist anymore? I nodded my head, waved, and walked toward the front with Cheryl in tow. No family gathering ever ended without her reprimanding me for something.
I turned around. "Look Cher, I-"
"Thank you for agreeing to this and not putting up much of a fight. It meant a lot to Mom. This past year and a half without Pop has been tough on her."
My shoulders slumped and I sighed. "I know. It's been tough for us all. I hate to say it, trust me, but I think all of us coming here was the best thing we could've done for her. You know, Pop would've hated that fuckin' turkey," I laughed.
Cheryl smiled. "For a second there you almost sounded like an adult."
"I have my moments," I said with a smile. "I'll see you in a couple weeks."
We hugged and I took off. Where to first? Burger King. On fuckin' Thanksgiving. Damn turkey.
The path to Ma’s room had become too familiar. For someone who lived an hour and a half away, I had spent too much damn time in this damn hospital over the past three and a half weeks. Christ. Thank God she was being discharged today. I turned the corner into the second floor lobby and was greeted by black and orange decorations. Fake cobwebs and spiders littered the room. I shook my head and rounded the next corner to 208.
Cheryl was helping Ma put on her coat over her worn matching teal sweater and sweatpants. Did people stop caring about what they wore when they reached a certain age? I rubbed my forehead.
“Do you need anything else, Ma? I’ve got the car pulled up around front. One nurse looked peeved when I left it there.”
“Fetch me my hat. It fell behind the chair.”
I groaned. Requests were so much nicer when there was a ‘please’ attached to them. I pushed the chair away from the wall and handed Ma her purple and grey felt-like hat. A purple ribbon circled the hat just above the brim, with a flower on the side. How old was this thing? It smelled like moth balls.
Ma snatched it from my hand.
I rolled my eyes. A three-week alcohol detox did not suit her well. Ma would never admit how much she drank. Even when the doctors concluded they found large amounts of alcohol and Vicodin in her system, she still wouldn’t admit to it. The night was “too fuzzy” she claimed. Oh, it was fuzzy all right.
“Get me my walker too.”
I folded my arms and stared at her.
“What’s the magic word?” I asked.
“Get me my damn walker! Please,” she huffed.
Cheryl chuckled and I glared at her.
I pulled my sleeves over my hands and grabbed it from beside the bed. No way was I touching that thing with my bare skin. Cheryl laughed as I almost dropped the contraption. Goddammit. The walked slipped from my covered hands right as Ma’s nurse walked in. Cheryl picked it up and handed it to Ma.
“All right Betsie, are you excited to be going home?”
“What kind of a question is that? Of course I am.”
“Well, I’m very glad to hear that. I have your discharge papers right here,” she said, shoving the papers in my chest.
What was I, Ma’s secretary?
Now remember, Betsie,” the nurse continued, “you have to hold off on the drinking for a bit, okay?
The nurse paused. “Okay. Well, I’m glad you’re feeling better. Take care.”
I turned around to make some comment about the nurse, but Ma was already on the move. Someone was channeling her inner Speedy Gonzales.
“The first thing I’m going to do when I get home is have a nice glass of Chardonnay,” she whispered as she walked past me.
I rolled my eyes and followed her out the door.
I stared in confusion at the worksheet Ms. Brown gave us that day. It wasn’t like the other math worksheets she had given us throughout the year.
“You have three marbles. Susie gives you two more marbles. How many marbles do you have now?”
There were no numbers. Only words. Was this really math? It couldn’t be. Ms. Brown must have given us the wrong sheet. I picked at the worn yellow paint on my desk, thinking. Nothing came to mind. I grabbed the paper and my extra sharp Ticonderoga, leapt off my chair, and went off in search for Ma or Pop.
“Ma? Pop? Where are you?” I yelled out.
I heard a deep voice coming from behind the closed office door. With hesitation, I knocked on the door, and poked my head in. Pop was on the phone, rubbing his forehead with his hand.
“Pop, can you help me?”
He waved his hand and turned away.
“I need help with a problem on my homework,” I asked again.
“Hold on, Bill.” Pop covered the mouthpiece. “Not now Jack. I’m busy,” he said. “Maybe later.”
I jutted out my lower lip and closed the door. Why couldn’t he talk on the phone later? It wasn’t fair, he was always doing work things.
“Ma?” I called out.
I wandered around upstairs, kicking at the floor molding. Voices came from downstairs in the dining room, along with a strange smell. I followed my ears and saw Ma and Cheryl making this strange looking thing on the table.
“Ma? Can you help me?”
“I’m helping Cheryl right now, Jack,” Ma said, not looking up.
“Yeah, Jack!” Cheryl taunted. “She’s helping me make my papier-mâché volcano!”
“But I have a question with my homework, I don’t know how to do it. It’s different from the other homework Ms. Brown gave us!”
“I said not now Jack.”
I walked up to Ma and tugged her arm.
“Jack!” Ma pulled her arm away and sighed. “Go back to your room. I’ll be there in five minutes.”
Success. Cheryl could do her paper thing on her own, it didn’t look hard. It looked fun and maybe a little messy. Maybe after Ma helped me, I could help Cheryl. I skipped back to my room and sat back down at my desk. While waiting, I doodled on the worksheet. Five minutes passed by. I drew two stick figures, one had curls for hair and the other had no hair. Ten minutes passed by. I drew the boy with three marbles.
“One…two…three…” I counted while drawing.
Five more minutes. I drew the girl with two marbles.
Five more minutes passed by and I wondered where Ma was.
“Wait a second…”
I counted the boy’s marbles and wrote a ‘3’ next to it. Then I counted the girl’s marbles and wrote a ‘2’ next to it. Next to that, I wrote a ‘3’, a ‘2’ below it, and a plus sign next to them. It looked like what was on the worksheets Ms. Brown used to give us!
“What’s three plus two…I know this, I know that I know it…” I wondered.
Five! I had five marbles! I wrote the number five below the question. I did it! Maybe I didn’t need Ma’s help after all. I ran out of my room and down the stairs. Ma was still with Cheryl. They were painting the paper thing brown.
“I did it Ma! I did it all by myself!”
Ma continued painting.
Cheryl and I pulled into Havenwood, and we found a spot right near the front door. Our favorite place in the world. I grunted.
“I can’t stay for long,” I said to Cheryl. “I have a date tonight with this woman I met over the weekend.”
“Oh, is this one a bartender, too?”
I rolled my eyes.
“No. She’s a teacher, for your information. Not like it matters.”
“Wow, you’re branching out. I’m so proud.”
I shook my head.
“Thanks for the support, Cher.”
We walked into Ma’s home. Oh how I loved being here.
“You go ahead,” she said, “I have to grab the pie from the front desk.”
Paper bag in hand, I walked down the hall to Ma’s room. I knocked at her door twice and walked in.
“I’m here, Ma,” I said.
She was sitting on her chair peeling a mostly brown banana. She looked up at me and squinted her eyes.
“Jack! You made it. Oh, it’s so good to see you.”
“Cheryl’s here, too. She’ll be here in a minute.
She shoved the banana into her mouth and small amount of bile came up into my mouth. Lovely.
I placed the paper bag on the side table, the glasses inside clinking. Ma had made it a month free from the hospital without a drink. Well, almost. The night we got back from the hospital, I caught her pouring herself some Chardonnay. I let her have a couple sips before I took it away. How in the hell she managed to sneak wine bottles into her room at the home, I’d never know. The woman had a passion for the grape, I supposed. When I pulled the bottle of red out of the paper bag, her eyes gleamed.
“Oh, Jack! You’re such a dear, thank you.”
A piece of chewed banana fell onto her lap. More bile filled my mouth and I swallowed it back down. My eye twitched.
“Well, we have to celebrate your one month free from the hospital the right way. You’re only allowed one glass though. We both know you’re not supposed to drink while you’re taking your meds.”
“Don’t be silly, I’ll be fine!”
I rolled my eyes. Maybe I’d pour her three extra small glasses. She’d never know the difference.
Cheryl walked in with the pie.
“Guess what I have!”
“You know I can’t see that well! Don’t make me guess. I hate guessing.”
“It’s cherry pie, Mom,” Cheryl said.
The biggest smile I’d seen in months broke out on Ma’s face.
“You kids spoil me.”
I uncorked the bottle, pulled out three plastic glasses from the bag, and poured out the sweet red nectar, one glass having quite a bit less than the others.
Ma looked over from her chair at what I was doing.
“Why are there only three glasses? Don’t forget about Pop. Make sure you cut a large piece of pie for him, too. Cherry pie is his favorite!”
My heart skipped a beat. I looked at Cheryl and she looked back at me, frowning.
“Mom, did you just ask us to save some for Pop?” Cheryl asked.
The three of us were silent for a moment before Ma shook her head and spoke.
“No!” she said. “You must be hearing things. I said no such thing,” she said, still shaking her head.
I poured a little bit of wine from Ma’s glass into mine. Maybe she’d get two extra small glasses rather than three.
“Now Jack, Pop and I won’t be back from Cheryl’s college tennis match until tomorrow morning, okay? It’s all the way in Portland and Pop doesn’t think we should drive at night with a headlight out on the Buick. There’s one of those TV dinners you like in the freezer for later, and cereal for breakfast. You’ll be quite all right by yourself, right?”
I nodded. “Yes, Ma.”
“Good. You take care now.”
Ma kissed my cheek and walked out.
The house was silent. I clicked on the tube and turned the knob, flipping through our few channels until I came across a Happy Days rerun. It was as good as any. I stretched out on the couch. What else was a thirteen-year-old to do when he was home alone?
After two hours of watching Fonzie, Richie, and the rest of the Happy Days crew, I yawned and turned off the tube. Whoever said being home alone was the greatest time for a kid was a liar. I sighed, slipped on my new Keds, and went for a walk into town.
As the cold mist began to hit my face, I flipped up my hood and shoved my hands into my jeans. Just because it had been a warmer winter didn’t mean it wasn’t still cold and depressing. I began to regret not bringing a warmer jacket, but decided I didn’t care enough. I could stand to have thicker skin. That, and the familiar brick buildings from Elm Street had already begun to appear. I decided to jog the last stretch into town. My left foot came down into a puddle of frigid water that was deeper than it looked. I pulled my soaked food up, cursed, and covered my mouth, looking around to make sure no one had heard me.
The first shop I came across was the Vans store. I pressed my nose into the glass; skateboards and the new Era shoe filled the window display. I longed for the day Pop would let me get my own board. He said it was “too dangerous” or something. I scoffed and kicked a wall. Tom had let me use his five times, and I’d only fallen once. Maybe I could buy one with my chore money, it wasn’t like they would ever notice. I dragged myself away from the window and walked down the street, jumping off the sidewalk and doing tricks with my new imaginary board.
A door opened on my left and the sound of fast guitars and a growling voice drifted out into the empty streets. I paused for a moment, then walked into the record store. I stood just inside the door for a few moments while my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, and listened to the angry music. It was harsh, unappealing at first. But it was so unappealing that it was fantastic. It was so angry that it made me feel angry. My pulse starting beating faster and I felt the blood rush through my body in a way I hadn’t felt before. I liked it. It was the first time music made me feel something. I walked over to the shelves and starting flipping through the vinyl, pretending I was looking for something. I nodded my head along to the rapid beat as I flipped through rack after rack of records by bands I had never heard of.
After what seemed like an hour, the album that was playing must have ended, because the Beach Boys started singing and I lost interest. I didn’t want to go back to my empty house, but my rumbling stomach said otherwise.
As I walked out, a gust of wind picked up and a piece of paper flew into my chest. I peeled the damp paper from my body, looked at what was printed on it, and cocked my head. “The Ramones” was printed in large block letters across the top with a picture of four guys in leather jackets below. They looked tough. Underneath, it read “Live in concert: February 25th : 6pm Nashua, February 26th: 7pm Boston, February 27th: 7pm Brockton”. My heart sank. I had no idea who they were but they were probably good and I’d missed them by a day in Nashua. I shoved the piece of paper into my pocket and began to walk home, hood up and my head down.
As I crossed Elm Street, I looked up and saw the sign pointing towards the bus station. I gasped, grinned, and ran home as fast as I could. If I left now I could make it to Boston by six.
Once home, I yanked open my desk drawer and took out all my chore money I’d save. I had enough for the bus fare with a little left over to grab dinner. I grabbed a book, shoved both it and my money into my backpack, and was out the door within five minutes.
I ran back into town, popping into the Red Arrow on my way to the bus station for a sandwich for the ride. I made it to the station and bought my ticket as the bus was pulling up. Perfect timing.
While searching for an open seat on the bus, I noticed all the married couples, parents with their kids, and friends boarding and sitting down. I began to grow nauseous and light-headed. What the hell was I doing? I sat down at the nearest open seat, nearly collapsing on the old man the next seat over. Why did I think this was a good idea? Was I crazy? I had to be crazy. The fuzz was going to put me in loony bin because I was so crazy. They’ll be talking about me for years.
“Hey Chuck, remember that kid who went to the big city all by himself? No parents, no idea where he was going, nothin’. He’s still locked up here. Good thing, too. Don’t need that crazy on the streets,” they’d say.
“Yeah Donnie, hasn’t it been ten years now?”
“Oh yeah, kid’s gonna be in here for a long time.”
I was for sure crazy. I’d never been to Boston before and I didn’t even know where the band was playing. What if I got lost? What if I missed the last bus back, and Ma and Pop came home to an empty house? They’d kill me. Aw man, they would really kill me. They’d go back to having the one kid they always wanted. I stood up in a panic; I had to get off the bus. As I stood, the bus lurched forward and began to pull away from the curb and I nearly fell over the seat in front of me. The blood rushed from my head and I sat down. I was really doing this.
Once I devoured my sandwich, I began to feel myself drifting off. Man, the nerves must’ve taken a toll on me. I slipped off into a slumber, listening to a wet snore coming from the old man next to me.
“Next stop: South Station.”
The driver’s voice came on over the intercom and I snapped awake. Sleep made long bus rides so much easier. I cracked my neck and yawned. Night had fallen while I was asleep, making the ride seem longer than it was. I drummed my fingers on my legs, anxious to figure out what my next step would be.
The bus pulled to a stop. This was it. I had no choice but to get off and see if I could find my way to the concert. Unless I stayed on and went right back to Manchester, but what was the fun in that? I wasn’t going to let this be a waste of time.
I got out onto the street pulled out the flyer I’d shoved in my pocket earlier. I walked up to some man and showed him the crumpled flyer.
“Hey guy, do you know where this is?” I asked.
The man ignored me and kept walking on. I walked up to the next guy and asked the same question.
“Go home, kid.”
Three more people and all the same response. A panic grew in my chest. I pulled my jacket closer to me and sat on a cold, metal bench. It started to snow. I was going to die here.
An unknown amount of time passed by before I looked up. I saw a guy with a mohawk and a jean jacket with patches sewn on. One said Black Flag, whatever that was. Another had a white skull on a black background. I jumped off the bench and caught up to him.
“Excuse me, do you know where this is? I asked, showing him the flyer.
The guy stopped walking and looked me up and down.
“What’s a kid like you doing going to a punk show?” he paused. “I’m headed there now, you can come with me.
My eyes lit up and the nauseous feeling I’d had for hours passed.
“Really?! Thanks so much!”
The walk wasn’t far, maybe fifteen minutes. The guy was quiet and ignored me, but he let me keep pace with him and that was enough for me. We made our way to a narrow street, lit by just one streetlight. He led me to a door that opened up underground, and held the door for me.
I ducked my head and stepped through the doorway. My tour guide pushed past me and disappeared into the claustrophobic crowd. I walked into a fog of secondhand smoke, stumbling down the stairs as my eyes were still adjusting to the dim, red-tinted light. Some grungy sounding music played over the speakers and the crowd chattered to each other while they waited, excited and anxious.
This was it. I made it. I couldn’t believe it. How I had got to some unnamed underground club in Boston from my house was beyond me. I was sure I was crazy, but maybe it wasn’t a bad thing. Crazy had gotten me to my first concert. I bet it was gonna be good, too. If they were anything like what was playing at the store before, anyway.
I pushed my way into the crowd, but a tall guy wearing a leather jacket with spikes blocked my view. In fact, a lot of guys blocked my view. Man, I was short. Was I out of place here? Everyone else looked so much older. Before my brain could think too much, the lights began to lower and the crowd cheered, drowning out my thoughts.
Out walked four silhouettes carrying guitars and drum sticks. I could barely make out their faces in the lighting. Two guys plugged in their guitars, one got behind the mic, and the fourth sat behind a drum kit that had already been set up. He hit his sticks together and once he hit the kit and the other guys strummed their first chord, the lights flashed on and everyone cheered, throwing up fists and punching the air.
The music was fast, but they weren’t as angry as that band that was playing at the record store. Pop would hate it. Despise it. The guys’ long hair danced around as they played on, sweat flying into the crowd. I could feel the drums vibrate from the dirty floor through my legs and into my heart. It was perfect. The outside world didn’t matter. It didn’t exist. The small, overcrowded room was all that existed. My heart soared and I felt like I was floating.
I was home.
“Won’t you stay, Jack? Pop should be back soon. I know your father has been busy with the bank, but it would be nice if you spent time with the both of us,” Ma said, glass of wine in hand.
READ PART I IN THE JUNE ISSUE
READ PART III IN THE AUGUST ISSUE