It looks like water, tall glass bottle sweating the moment we get it out into the hot air, a taste so sweet, we can’t get enough of it, and so find ways to get back to the liquor store two or three times a day.
We’ve never seen it sold like this any place else, and think because it looks like water it must be pure, life-fulfilling, like the liquid in the tiny bottles my mother gets from Lourdes.
Dave’s mom sends him for cigarettes and coffee, and instead of buying candy like he used to buy, he goes across the street and gets a bottle of this, and since my first taste from his bottle, I do the same with my uncle’s change, pausing in front of Ollie’s Pharmacy to finish it before making the trek back to the boat store with what my uncles sent me to get, and my uncles, wondering why their coffee is lukewarm when it is still so very hot outside.
I don’t know why we like it so much when most of the other kids in the neighborhood drink coco cola or cherry cola or root beer or one of the strange new brands that taste like grapefruit or nothing at all.
In the heart of summer, the clear liquid somehow manages to sooth something we feel inside, some ache we feel, relieving the boredom we feel living in a neighborhood where most of the other kids hate us, where our families don’t quite fit into the model that people on this side of Crooks Avenue sees as the kind of family that ought to be living here, and we rush through the streets full of rage we inherit from some anger our families felt or that we feel about her families, Dave’s father’s drunken madness haunting him, my mother’s insanity haunting me, a rage that rushes out each time when take out of pea shooters like six guns and carry on like Frank and Jesse James, doing battle in the streets with kids bearing similar weaponry, laying ambush each time we cross some imaginary line onto their turf.
Sometimes, Dave and I just sit on the liquor store stood and sip, letting all that fade, the way a headache fades into the background of lives, the sweet liquid easing down into us, easing out some pain we only vaguely recognize at pain, clear liquid that looks like water but is not water.
Dave says he loves it more than his father loves booze, and lets us buy bottles with the change each time he sends Dave to buy bottles of hard liquor when Dave’s mother is not around. I won’t jinx a good thing by saying anything bad about this, but it reminds me of how often I have to go down to Lee’s Tavern on Saturday nights to talk my drunken Uncle Harry into coming home.
Harry never buys us cream soda; he lets me sip his beer sometimes; it’s not sweet at all.
Each time we go into the liquor store, the man behind the counter knows just what we’ve come for, opening the glass door to the refrigerated display to pull out two glass bottles of the clear liquid, the doors steaming up with frost, but not the bottles.
We’ve lived our lives around these four corners at Vernon and Crooks, coming and going to their stores as messengers for our family, coffee and cigarettes, prescriptions and ointments, booze and cream soda, sometimes not able to get the soda when the liquor store runs out, so we savor it when we get it, trying not to let the neighborhood kids spoil it with their taunts, getting even later for such small slights with our pea shooters when they push us too far. We always have an ample amount of peas to shoot.
We don’t always shoot our peas at the other kids, most days we shoot at the backs of trucks as they make their way up and down Crooks Avenue to and from the highway, many going to the markets on Rail Road Avenue where my father once worked, me, Dave, Little Davy and Dennis, trying to hit the eyes of the painted faces on each truck or some other icon that one of us shouts out to hit, though last week, Little Davy missed the truck and hit the car behind it, a car with its driver’s side window open in the heat so the peas hit a real man’s face, and in a rage, he turned the car around in mid-block, and we ran, fleeing up passed the factory, passed Little Davy’s father’s doctor’s office, passed pretty Sue’s house and mine, and into the boat yard, the car bounding up the drive and squealing to a stop, the big, red-faced man popping out of it like a jack from a box, as we fled down the alley between my uncle’s boat store and Charlie’s gas station where the man would no doubt have killed us if not for the intervention of two of my uncles and three of Charlie’s mechanics, my uncles later making me promise to quit shooting peas at trucks or men, but said nothing about the kids on Vernon Avenue who mock us when we sit on the stoop drinking soda.
We’re always at war with somebody, and sometimes with ourselves, pea shooters better than the zip guns the kids on
street use, though sometimes when we get a big pea
stuck in the pea shooter tube and we can’t get it out, we use zip guns, too. We
tried half peas and soon learned they don’t hurt half as much as the whole peas
do, or go half as far, and so when we want to chase the first
street kids off Crooks and Lakeview only whole
peas will do.
The clerk at the
dele knows what we’re up to when we come in for box after box of whole peas,
his store the only store for blocks has enough or is willing to sell as much as
he does to us. We’d buy cream soda at his store, too, but he only sells the
brown kind, and doesn’t know what we mean when we ask for the kind that isn’t
brown. We think the brown doesn’t taste as sweet although it probably does.
Sometimes, we have to fight our way back from Second Street as the First Street gang lays in wait with their pea shooters and their dirt bombs and their water balloons, attacking us if we come to close to that imaginary line that marks the start of their turf, sometimes, we have to go up to Lakeview and completely around to Crooks, or down to Trenton Avenue to get back to our stoop in front of the liquor store, and sometimes, we use up so many peas in our fight to get back, we don’t have any left, and no money left to buy soda just when we have the most thirst for it, too.