It’s one of those hot days in July. Uncle Lou gives me some money and tells me to go down to Tate’s Corner Store and get him some beer. I tell him, “I’m not old enough to buy beer,” but Uncle Lou waves his hand at me and says, “Tate won’t mind a bit if you tell him it’s for me.”
It’s too hot to go outside. I don’t want to leave the air-conditioning. But the look Uncle Lou is giving me tells me I shouldn’t say anything else, I should just get my butt out of the house and get him some beer.
Halfway down the street I see Auntie Winterbacken walking with a baby. I stop and ask whose baby it is. Auntie Winterbacken is too old to have kids on her own, as far as I know. She just smiles at me and tells me it’s none of my business. I keep on down the street to Tate’s Corner Store. It’s hot though so after the next block I stop running. I’m sweating and I’m out of breath, so I stop and lean up against the wall of one of the rooming houses mom tells me I should stay away from.
I only stop for a second. The last thing I need is for Boo or Lonny to see me standing outside the rooming house and go back and tell mom and pop about it. So I say “Yah!” like people do when they want a horse to run faster and hit myself on the behind and keep on running down the street.
Tate’s store is nice and cold. He’s an old man that laughs a lot and tells a lot of jokes. Sometimes I don’t get what they mean, but I laugh anyway. He gives me gum or candy bars when I do. He laughs when I bring a six-pack of beer Uncle Lou likes to drink up to the counter. He says, “Getting sauced tonight huh?” but I don’t know what that means.
“It’s for Uncle Lou,” I say and show him the money Uncle Lou gave me.
Tate squints down at me. “You sure about that?”
“He sent me.”
“Well he didn’t send you to stand there and sweat all over the floor now did he? Why don’t you grab an ice cream while you’re here and cool off.”
“You can call him if you want.”
Tate waves his hand. “No need for that. I trust you. You wouldn’t want to drink that beer anyway. I remember the first beer I had made me sick to my stomach. Tastes like rusty nails dropped in swamp water before you get a taste for it. How about you grab an ice cream. I’m sure old Lou didn’t give you any money to come down here for him.”
“No he sure didn’t,” I say. I pick out a Dilly Bar because those are my favorite and give Tate the money for beer. He packs it up in a bag and I open up the Dilly Bar and eat it right there. Tate laughing all the while making jokes about his wife.
“Only difference between my wife and a shelf rat is my wife don’t have whiskers,” he says and laughs, and I laugh too ha ha ha even though I don’t get it. Boy the ice cream tastes good. As soon as it’s done I throw the wrapper in the trash and say “Yah!” and run out of the store and back down the street holding the beer in my hand.
I stop outside the rooming house again to catch my breath. I can hear something coming from inside like someone breathing real heavy and I stand on my tiptoes to peek through a crack in the blinds. I’ve always been curious why mom doesn’t want me near there. I peek through the window and I see a big dude probably had to be 400 pounds on top of a real little girl and he was breathing heavy and she didn’t look happy at all. The wallpaper was peeling off the walls and she had a look on her face like he was crushing her sitting on top of her like that. She turns her face and before I can move away she sees me looking through the window. She doesn’t say anything but the way she looks at me makes my heart drop right down into my stomach. I say “Yah!” just about as loud as I can and run faster than any horse in the Kentucky Derby ever ran and I don’t stop until I’m back home in the air conditioning and give Uncle Lou his beer.
He asks, “You want a dollar for running to the store?” but I say, “No thank you,” and go upstairs to my room and shut the door.
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