It’s a hot day in July. Uncle Lou gives me some money and tells me to go to Tate’s Corner Store and get him some beer. “I’m not old enough to buy beer,” I say, 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 Uncle Lou is giving me a look that tells me I don’t have a choice and I better get my butt up and get him some beer.
Halfway down the street I see Auntie Winterbacken pushing a baby in a stroller. I stop and ask whose baby it is. Auntie Winterbacken is too old to have kids on her own. She just smiles and says it’s none of my business. So I shrug and keep on down the street to Tate’s. I run to get there faster. It’s hot though so after the next block I stop running. Sweating and out of breath. 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 there and tell mom or 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.
Ice Cream and Different Sweets
Tate’s store is nice and cold. The air conditioner over the door rattles and drips on the floor. Tate is an old man who laughs a lot and tells a lot of jokes. Sometimes I don’t get what they mean. I laugh anyway. He gives me candy or sodapop if I do. He laughs when I bring a six-pack of the beer Uncle Lou likes to drink up to the counter. “Getting sauced tonight, huh?” He says, and 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?” Tate smiles. “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. You wouldn’t want to drink that beer anyway. I remember the first beer I drank made me sick to my stomach. Tastes like rusty nails dropped in swamp water before you get a taste for it. You grab an ice cream. I’m sure Lou didn’t give you any money to come down here for him, did he.”
“No, he sure didn’t,” I say. I pick out a Dilly Bar because they are my favorite. I give Tate the money for the beer. He packs it up in a bag and I open up the Dilly Bar and eat it right there. Tate laughing and 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. “She’s always hungry.” 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 under my arm.
I stop outside the rooming house again to catch my breath. I know I’m not supposed to stop there but I’ve always been curious. There is no one else around. I can hear something coming from inside like someone breathing real heavy. I stand on my tiptoes to peek through a crack in the blinds. I peek through the window and I see a big guy probably 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 before I can move away and she sees me looking through the window. She doesn’t say anything. She just looks right at me. And the way she looks at me makes my heart drop right down to my stomach.
I say “Yah!” 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.
“You want a dollar for running to the store?” He asks.
“No thank you,” I say, and go upstairs to my room and shut the door.
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