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Old Whiskey Nose

Lana leaned back against the sloping concrete, listening to the sound of water leaping over rocks and discarded tin cans in the rain-swollen creek. She lifted the camera and photographed the huge nests nestled between the beams and girders overhead. She carefully photographed last night’s graffiti, noting the distinctive artistic styles and color choices of her favorite local artists. She wished she knew the people behind the spray cans, but they worked under cover of darkness and rarely claimed credit for their creations.

Lana tucked the camera back into her bag and enjoyed the juxtaposition of sounds: water flowing through the creek, birds squacking and chirping as they squabbled over food and territory, car tires on the reinforced concrete overhead. Missing were the sounds of children’s laughter, people in animated conversation, dogs barking – it was very different, down here, than up in the park. Lana was loathe to admit it, but the first time she’d come here, she’d half expected to spot a dead body floating in the water, caught up in a tangle of wire or debris at the bottom of the slope.

She nearly jumped out of her skin when snaggletoothed T woke up and shouted at her, unintelligibly, from the bankhead abutment. T was harmless, and smarter than he looked. Smelled cleaner than he looked, too. But he was missing half his tongue and a portion of his lower jaw; he kept his teeth and a section of crumbling jawbone in a can of chaw to remind him not to do that to the other side. A large man, T was terrifying to those who didn’t know what an empathetic soul lurked inside the tattered body of a once burly man.

Lana always brought a bag of sandwiches down here with her. She didn’t dole them out to the poor wretches that camped here on the slope; despite the gnawing hunger, they had their pride. Lana would just set the bag down, take out a sandwich, and begin to eat. If anyone cared to join her, she had plenty to share. Gradually, quietly, T and Maude scootched down from their perch at the top of the slope and sat next to her. Lana rummaged in the paper bag.

“Turkey and provolone sound good to you, Maude?”

Maude nodded, her clear, round eyes fixed squarely on the bridge of Lana’s nose. Maude wasn’t used to people remembering her, calling her by name. She reached out tentatively, like someone who thought the treat would be yanked away and replaced with a slap on the hand.

“And…” Lana peered into the bag and pulled out a sandwich bag marked with a “T”. “How about chicken salad, today, T? No chunky veggies, just the way you like it!”

T nodded and smiled. “Hangk goo.” It was an effort, but one he earnestly wanted to make.

The three sat in companionable silence, munching their sandwiches. “Oh! I almost forgot.” Lana reached into her bag and pulled out two bags, one for each of her friends. In the bags were boxes of juice, milk, and a few protein bars.

Smiling with gratitude, Maude reached out and patted Lana on the arm. T opened his mouth to speak, but Lana interrupted. “You’re welcome. It gives me pleasure.” She smiled at T.

The sudden clatter of wheels on concrete, three racing blobs on all sides, and a loud teenage whoop of exhilaration made the three jump and turn in different directions. Lana put a hand on her camera, but didn’t pull it out of her bag. Maude shrank into Lana’s side, willing herself to be invisible. Three wiry teens hopped off their skateboards simultaneously. One failed to stick the landing and rolled into the muddy, shallow water at the creek’s edge. All three uttered a stream of profanities, and Lana couldn’t tell whether they were high on life or hyped on X, but they were wired and moving with ungainly legs in an erratic, loping ways that made Lana, T, and especially Maude nervous.

“Hey, whatchoo starin’ at, Ol’ Whiskey Nose?”

“Leave ’em alone, Ry, they’s just a bunch o’ scared rabbits–”

“Dirty, useless bunch o’ freeloaders.” Ry picked up his board and gestured with it as if he meant to throw it at Lana.

“What’s your problem?” asked Lana. Her protective instincts kicked into high gear and she moved quickly between the boys – especially the one they called Ry – and her friends.

“You people crappin’ up the neighborhood. Him – huhhuhhuh–” Ry mocked the sounds T made when he tried to speak. “All you alkies.”

Alkies? You think I’m an alcoholic?” asked Lana, still angry but honestly perplexed. Ry’s face was red and twisted with anger. “Ry? That’s your name, right? I don’t drink.”

“The hell you don’t. I know that look.” Ry ran a hand through his hair and twirled the skateboard on its end against the slope. “Those little lines on your face–Old Whiskey Nose. That’s what Dad used to call it, like it was s’posed to be cute.”

“Your dad drank?” asked Lana, inching closer.

“My dad was a mean drunk.”

“Well I’m not, Ry. I don’t drink,” Lana said. “Those little red spider veins? That came from pushing ten pound babies into the world. Three of them.”

“Where are they now, Bitch? Child Protective Services?” It looked as if Ry needed to punch something in order to hold back the floodgates and not cry. He desperately wanted not to cry.

“No.”

“Why aren’t you home taking care of them, then?” Ry glared. His friends shifted their weight back and forth and tried to fade into the bridge supports.

“They died, Ry. In a car accident. Their father, my husband, died, too.” Lana said the words matter-of-factly. There was a time she’d have punctuated that with a scream – a long, drawn-out ellipsis of a scream.

“I–” Ry stood there, looking at his feet, the last of his tough-guy act played out.

“I know. You didn’t know. You didn’t know that Maude and T, here, were the first on the scene – that they sat with my babies, right over there… My three babies… they’d be about your age, now. T and Maude, here, held them and comforted them while they died. I was at home–making dinner. They were coming back from some dumb movie. A comedy. I should have gone with them–” Lana trailed off as Maude stepped up and wrapped a warm hand around her arm. T came up behind both women, just stood near them, protectively. Lana squatted down, hunched over, and let out a sob. “I should’ve–”

“Then you’d be dead, too.” Ry knelt in front of Lana, who knew better than to say, What would be so wrong with that? to a teenage kid. “You’d be dead, just like my mom and dad,” he said quietly.

Both your parents are gone?” Lana caught a glimmer of Ry’s pain, crouched and hiding behind the anger.

 

Ry’s anger gave way to something much, much worse. He nodded. “My dad, he was at some bar up the road. Mom took a taxi, tried to get him to come home. The cops said he was driving. He’d never let her drive that car. They fought over it all the time, only louder when he was drunk. Scared the crap out of me when I had to ride home with him from a game, you know? He was always drunk.” Ry laughed a bitter little laugh. “‘I drive better drunk than most people drive sober,’ he’d say. Believed it, too. It was bullshit, of course.” Ry looked up at the grassy hillside that led to the roadway. “They say he hit another car head on, killed a whole family…”

“A whole family?” asked Lana, letting her breath out, slowly.

Ry’s face went white. “Well, no. Another dad. And three kids.”


This is #7 for StoryADay May. I know a thing or two about bringing nearly ten-pound babies into this world; the rest of the inspiration came from a photo walk under a bridge at SH249 and Cypress Creek, where today’s thumbnail photo was taken, and from the fact that I like to turn stereotypes and assumptions upside down.

 

HollyJahangiri

Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; Innocents & Demons; and A New Leaf for Lyle. You can find her books on Amazon at http://amazon.com/author/hollyjahangiri. For more information on her children's books, please visit http://jahangiri.us/books.

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13 Responses to “Old Whiskey Nose”

  1. DoD says:

    You paint a good picture in the theater of the mind.

  2. Marian Allen
    Twitter:
    says:

    Okay, dammit, now my keyboard has tearwater all over it.
    Marian Allen recently posted…Dead Man’s Chest @StoryADayMay 15My Profile

  3. Pierre Laberge
    Twitter:
    says:

    It is a good story, well written. But I have to ask: MUST they ALL be brutal and deadly? Does nothing evver happen that does not make the Lady or The Tiger look chipper? Surely you have the brains, imagination, and experience. Something more Twiligh Zoney than Hitchcocky, perhaps. I dunno. It is good writing, but after a while….

    • How do you think it feels to write them? I keep telling you, I’m just taking dictation… all I can say is, SEND SUNSHINE. I think it’s the rain.

      • Pierre Laberge
        Twitter:
        says:

        Hum. Well, now, let us see:

        youtube.com/watch?v=Zu6o23Pu0Do

        youtube.com/watch?v=cGa3zFRqDn4

        and:
        thisismyjam.com/PeteLaberge

        And also, a touch of the Bard….
        youtube.com/watch?v=GbTLYAiorxs

      • You’d have no way of knowing that second video would leave me sobbing… but thank you, Pete. 🙂 I will endeavor to channel the whimsical and lighthearted for tomorrow’s story! 🙂
        HollyJahangiri recently posted…Spam CaféMy Profile

  4. Pierre Laberge
    Twitter:
    says:

    I’m SORRY! I apologize. And I posted the Johnny Cash version, because his voice is so awesome! And it is a SHORT version of the song.

    Let me tell you a little something. A little Hollyesque story….

    About 30 yrs ago, I lived in a basement apt. Upstairs was a very sick baby. I did not know this. (At that time.) All I knew was that the mother would get up in the middle of the night, and rock the kid for HOURS. And sing “You are my sunshine”. She had a very good voice. But I could hear ALMOST everything that went on upstairs very clearly. Very THIN floors.

    I QUICKLY grew to HATE that song. Because it kept me up! But shortly, I got to know the couple and the kid….

    The little girl was born slightly pre-mature (about a month or so). Now… I was born 3 mos and 3 weeks a preemie, in 1956. At that time, that was the outside edge of the “envelope of survive-ability”, or so the medicos tell me. I am supposed to be stupid, blind, deaf, and etc. Well, I can hear (about 75-80%). I can see (Coke Bottle Bottom glasses). The stupid? Dunno.

    But then… I saw the kid. She had “molted” you see. She had had a infection. They gave her drugs to save her. But a layer of water formed all around her skin. A giant whole body blister. VERY painful. And Dangerous. And when it finally pops… messy. It was even worse in 1957 or so, because, you see, medicine was primitive then, compared to, um 1988, when this little girl had it.

    And as a baby, you cannot talk. You can not tell how you feel. All you can do is suffer, and cry. There is not much they can do for the pain, because any drug, might be dangerous. And calculating PROPER doses? Hard…..

    Your parents can try explain it, but you do not have the education, the mental development, the life experience to understand, yet….. So NOW, yes, now, I knew why that kid cried all night. Why her mum sang all night. WHAT else, pray tell, COULD she do????? And I understood.

    I (mean, horrid, nasty, terrible Pete), burst into tears… the mother said, “Oh, she’s not ugly or mis-formed — she’s sick!”

    “I know!” I said. “I had the same thing for about 8 months. I vaguely remember pain, but I was told all about it, later on. Sing all night long! And I am sorry, I thought some bad stuff. Is there anything I can do to help??????”

    There was, of course, nothing I could do. And it hurt. Because I could see and hear that little kid suffer for about 3 months.

    And one of my favourite songs? “You are my sunshine”….

    So, I am sorry. And I do apologize. But maybe, this little story, will take away the pain from that song.

    Maybe in your fruitful mind, some of this stuff above (and below!) will become part of the ingredients for a story.

    And maybe, since it is very personal to you, you may someday give us a hint of why that little song hurt you so much. But hurting was NOT my intent. I wanted to drive the rain away. To brighten your skies.

    WHY????
    Because just before it rains, the clouds come. The air pressure, changes, the humidity rises. And I get Gawwwd Awful Headaches. And when the rain comes, FINALLY, they go away. There is nothing “they” can do. The drugs that might help are very expensive. And on $680 a month, fully taxable, when you have diabetes, high cholesterol, and kidney worries, depression, and fibromyalgia…. You only have so much money for drugs. And the problem is, when you WERE born 3 mos and 3 weeks preemie, your “system” is “fragile”, and easily upset. And a lot of these medications, have side effects WORSE than the symptoms they help to solve. It is nasty if they interact with your existing medications. So my doctor and I have a policy: As few drugs as possible. It is only logical.

    And thus, I like to do anything I can to drive away the clouds, the pain, the daemons, from people I care about. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I fail. Sometimes I can do nothing, for I lack the resources. And now you know why I hate “A Certain Pete”. Because in personality test, I score VERY high on the “Protector Scale”.

    And now you know much more about me than before. And you have enough material, perhaps for a story or 2. But sleep on it first.

    Anyhow. Hang in there. Take care. LLAP.

    PML

    • Pete, you’re lucky tomorrow’s story is written already! Else with “material” like this, you wouldn’t get your wish for a happier story.

      No, it was nothing like that – just the my mom used to sing that to me, and I heard it and missed her. That’s all.
      HollyJahangiri recently posted…Spam CaféMy Profile

      • Pierre Laberge
        Twitter:
        says:

        Well, Holly, I am sorry to hear that. But, you at least have the memories!

        AND: The ideas (if any) can still be used, IF they are any good. And you know, I actually miss that lady singing that song. I have searched all over the net for that exact version, and never found it. Even J Cash only come within about 100 miles…..

        Wanna know why? Partly, because she used her own set of lyrics. (And I was too stupid to write them down!) But, you see, also, like your mum, she added something to the song that no one else can/could: SPECIAL LOVE. She was willing, wanting, praying, desiring, needing her baby to get well. And there ain’t nothin’ that can beat that.

        Not even a Certain Singer, could do it. For even SHE would lack two things: The exact lyrics, and the Great Purpose.

        Anyhow, take care, It is late, and I gotta rest, after a few more emails.

  5. Whoever said that men don’t cry didn’t see me read that story.

    I kinda saw the end coming, but like you with MA’s story, didn’t want to know what I knew.
    Rasheed Hooda recently posted…Reflections and PonderingsMy Profile

    • I try to play fair with my readers; therefore, the clues are usually there and I often worry that I’ve telegraphed the end too soon. I’m always happy to hear that even if you saw it coming, you didn’t quite believe it till you had no choice. 🙂 Thanks, Rasheed!

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