A knock at the door. It was Billy.
“Yeah, give me a minute. I barely sat down.”
Billy slid his keys in his right pocket and plopped down on the mustard yellow couch in the kitchen; it didn’t go with the blue themed interior but it was free. People complained about that couch being there, saying it was out of place but I thought it fit well against that wall. There are only so many places you can put things in a trailer.
“Whatcha drinking tonight?” Billy asked.
My chair creaked as I sat down, “I don’t know, maybe some Bells Winter Wheat. I need to drink more before they switch to Oberon for the summer.”
“Let’s go,” Billy said as he jingled keys in his pocket.
“Just a minute. Let me brush my teeth, man, it’s been a long 24 hours.” I stood up and went into the bathroom and gave my teeth a quick scrubbing. I looked at myself in the mirror; my eyes were puffy and dark. Twelve hour drives sucked. I refreshed my deodorant and grabbed my chain wallet and keys.
Billy was up in an instant and out the door. I locked up and followed. It was a nice day in the beginning of April, much nicer and warmer than any in recent memory. The sun was already far on its western course and released a nice warmth. I was glad I brought my jacket though, because it would probably get below thirty after sunset.
I opened the door to Billy’s black Monte and threw my coat in the rear. I slid into the pseudo-leather seat, shut the door and buckled my seatbelt. He reversed out of the driveway, flinging gravel into my yard. It didn’t matter; most of it flew into a dirty snow bank.
“What CD’s do you have?” I asked.
Billy turned up the volume on the stereo.
We pulled up at Food Parade and parked near the gas station entrance. Billy left the car running as we got out and walked up the ramp leading to the entrance door. We had to move out of the way for two guys with twelve-packs coming out. We nodded as we passed, except for Billy, he slipped through the quickly closing metal frame door. I caught the handle before it shut, barely able to stop it from closing. I pulled it open and was suddenly smacked by cigarette smoke and a weatherworn face. He didn’t have wrinkles; they were more like canyons that time etched deep into his face. I nodded and held the door open for him. He grunted and pushed past; I couldn’t help but notice the pack of Marlboro in his shirt pocket and the twelve-pack of beer under his left arm. I watched him as he walked down the ramp hacking a deep cough.
I slipped to the left, past some more customers waiting in line which Billy was already a part of. I snatched up the last six-pack of Winter Wheat and found a spot behind Billy. The line moved quickly and it was soon my turn.
“An eager 21-year old I see,” the short woman said with a knowing grin, “Can I see I.D?”
“You might be surprised,” I said as I pulled out my wallet and showed her my I.D.
“Twenty-five huh,” she gave back my card, “you don’t look a day over eighteen.”
I paid and left with my special brew. I couldn’t wait to pop the cap and take that first swig of sweet, honey nectar. It was my favorite beer and I wasn’t afraid to drink. Sunshine waned as I strolled to the car. It was colder than Indiana but the warmth felt pleasant. I slid into the car and stuffed the six-pack in the back seat floorboards underneath the blanket placed there for that purpose. I managed to slip one bottle out and store it between my legs.
Billy pulled away and headed down Superior Road.
A little past Dodgeville I cracked open my beer; I let the aroma fill my nostrils, a fine, cold mist floated above the lip of the bottle. I took the first sip. That first lip-wetting taste was heaven. I liked beer; it was tasty and made me feel good.
“I welded the rear-end of the ‘bird I bought,” Billy said.
“Really?” I took another sip, “is that a good thing?”
“It’s got a 454,” Billy barely paused through the four corners, heading towards Painesdale. “Power,” he said in a rough timbre without any interest. “Eric pissed his pants when I took him for a ride.”
“What’d you do?” I took another sip, then a gulp. It was a good batch and went down smooth. The last 24 hours were crazy and had potential to continue for a while longer.
“I burnt the tires up and down the road,” Billy laughed his one quick ha.
I took another gulp. “Where we headed anyways?”
“Agate and maybe some bars.”
“Sounds like a plan,” I said. Another gulp and my first beer was done. The bottom had a nice, frothy texture and whetted my thirst for another.
The car slowed as we entered Painesdale, driving past Jeffers High. A group of girls lingered on the lawn. Billy revved the Monte’s engine as we drove past. The girls paid no attention, none ever did. But Billy still tried, I had to give him that much credit. He forged ahead with his backwards ways regardless.
“They want me,” he said. Billy took a left onto 26 and accelerated as fast as he dared. There was some minor G-force but it could have easily been helped by the steep decline leading out of town.
Now we were in the free zone, the place where we could drink freely without worrying about traffic and cops. I opened my window and tossed the empty bottle out, you had to get rid of them or the open container law could get you.
Billy slipped his arm behind his seat and came back with a bottle of Bud Light.
“Can you open this?” he asked.
“Sure,” I twisted the cap and handed it over. He took a swig and hid it near his crotch. I grabbed another Bell’s and looked at the passing trees. There were still piles of snow in the forest. The sky was darkening and developing a nice orange tinge; it was going to be a beautiful sunset. I used my lighter to pop the top off and ended up hurting my finger a bit, but the pain soon went away and was replaced by a pleasant numbness. I had been trying to manipulate that maneuver for a long time and I still had a hard time getting it right. It had a twist-off cap but it was so much cooler to pop it off with the lighter.
“Are we gonna hit Agate today,” I asked.
“Yeah,” Billy said.
We cruised in silence for a while; the hum of the tires on the smooth road was comforting – much better than the 700 miles of whining and bumpy concrete yelling at me on the trip back from Indiana.
It was quite the time I spent there. It was a long night of drinking and smoking with a bunch of friends that I hadn’t seen in five years. They had turned completely into white trash swingers. Sadly, they subscribed to every known cliché in the book. It felt like a game show, I was a new contestant in the arena and they were ready to party.
Larry and Annie, those were their names. He had always been a worker but not anymore. Not since he hurt his leg in an accident. Now he smoked pot constantly and drank like a fish. Their house was filthy. I was afraid to take my shoes off.
Larry invited some of Annie’s friends over to party. Apparently, stories were told about me that were greatly exaggerated. One of the invited girls was a nasty little whore whose name I don’t remember, I didn’t touch her. She tried to touch me. Thank goodness nothing happened. I drank and smoked and played my guitar in the living room while everybody else got smashed. I left the house as the sun rose and refused to look back.
We cruised through Toivola and headed towards Agate. The shadows were lengthening; I hoped we wouldn’t miss the sunset.
“Dude,” I said to Billy, “I was just pulling up to Larry’s house about this time yesterday. I’ve been up for more than 36 hours.” I took another sip of my beer, it was beginning to get warm so I slammed the rest of it and threw the empty bottle into the overgrown ditch.
Billy sped through the awkward T-turn that led to the second to last stretch of road to Agate; it wasn’t far now, only a few miles. It was a good thing because I had to piss bad. The bumpy roads didn’t help. We finally came to the gravel road that led to the beach.
Orange fire peeked through the naked tree limbs. I was glad to catch the sunset. We turned left past cabins and through the gate that closed the park in winter. It must have been recently opened because there was still snow at the campsites to the left. We drove further, up a hill that doubled back around some trees. Billy stopped the car at the top of the hill which overlooked a small camping site and opened to the west where Lake Superior revealed full splendor.
A cool breeze caressed me as I got out of the Monte and ran down the southern side of the hill that led into a small copse of trees overlooking a small stream that fed Superior. I relieved myself on smooth rocks and thought about the name of the stream. I didn’t know its name, not even a clue. Then I looked west. Lake Superior sunsets are one of the most beautiful things in the world. I shook, zipped-up, and headed back to the Monte. Billy was still sitting in the car. I opened the passenger door, leaned in and slipped out my third beer of the evening.
“Let’s watch the sunset, man,” I said. I shut the door and twisted the cap, slipping it into my front pocket as I turned around. I walked to the edge of the grassy cliff, past an old fire pit, and looked down at the white sand. The wind picked up, giving me the chills. I took a sip and went back to the car for my jacket. I snatched it out of the back seat and put it on. Billy was nowhere to be seen. Must be pissing. I took another drink. The warmth of the jacket felt good.
I watched the sky. The setting sun painted the clouds awash with soft hues of oranges and yellows. Superior stretched away until it met the sky.
I took another drink. It was such good beer. I had a sudden urge to feel the cold sand between my toes, so I took off my shoes and socks and ran down the sandy, pebble-strewn path that led to the beach. The cold sand felt exquisite. I dug my toes in. The sun sank. Breathed deep.
I slammed the rest of the beer and let the bottle fall to the sand.
“Let’s go,” I heard Billy yell.
“Are you crazy?” I yelled back. The wind picked up. “I want to see this.”
I watched as the sun edged closer to the horizon. I pulled my jacket close. The sun reflected off the rippled lake and shone like a brilliant lamp. I always wished I had a camera at times like this.
A revving engine interrupted my reverie. Billy was ready to go and I needed to go too. I picked up the empty beer bottle and tossed it in the fire pit as I ran by. The air was chill anyways. I grabbed my shoes and socks and jumped in the car. Billy drove away before I could buckle my seatbelt, let alone get comfortable.
I slid my sand covered bare feet into my shoes as we passed the gate to the park.
“We’re going Kyles,” said Billy.
“Are we now?”
Ten miles along lonely, quiet roads. Night fell as we reached the bar; we recognized one of the two cars in the parking lot as Tattoo Ted’s. The other must have been the bartender. Billy pulled the car into the gravel parking lot and killed the engine. A few stars began twinkling in the sky as the fresh night air refreshed my lungs. A light breeze wafted by and brought with it a fresh smell of spring that relieved my shoulders. It gave me the strength to step into the small building.
We went up the wooden steps and in through the dilapidated screen door. I don’t know about Billy, but I was smacked in the face with a strong smell of urine as I stepped inside. It almost made me puke. The bathrooms were wide open and had obviously not been cleaned for longer than was good.
Tattoo Ted was sitting on a stool at the bar near the front of the building. A television tuned to some sort of sport hung on the wall in front of him. I sat a few stools down from Ted and Billy left a stool between us, effectively placing me in the middle. There was a T.V. on the right side of the bar tuned to a different channel, something about snowmobile racing across water. Then I looked in front of me and saw a small girl wearing an orange tube top. Never had there been a female bartender here before. Never. Billy must have known she was working tonight. He knew things like that. There would be no other reason to come here on a Tuesday night. I sighed and ordered a Miller Lite. She plopped it in front of me. I opened it. It tasted like piss. I put the beer down and looked around.
“What’s been going on, Billy?” I asked.
“Any new cars you been looking at?”
“No.” He took a drink of his beer.
I turned to Ted. “What’s happening, Ted?”
He looked at me. The tattoos around his eyes outlined them to great effect. He had two teardrops under his right eye, a throwback to his prison days. He was bald.
“Not much, man. Just drinking.” He went back to his beer.
I looked in front. “So, what’s your name?” I asked the bartender.
She leaned on her side of the bar, looked me in the eyes and said, “Why do you want to know?”
I paused. She stared at me.
“Somebody once told me it’s a good thing to ask the names of people around me.”
“Oh,” she said and stood up to her full five-foot-nothing. She opened her mouth.
“Wait a second,“ I said, holding my hands up, suddenly feeling new. “I don’t need to know.” I looked at Billy, “Let’s go.”
“Let me finish my beer,” he said.
“Are you sure you want to finish that skunky beer?”
He looked at me. Looked at his beer. Frowned. Slid off his barstool. “Let’s go then,” he said. He put his hand in his pocket and hit the button. I heard the Monte start up. We left silently and got in the car. We sped off down the road. I reached for another beer but paused with my hand on it. I felt the rough bottle cap and thought about all the caps I had opened over the years. And just realized that I would never open another.
“Billy, that’s it, man. I’m done. I’ll never drink again.”