“Friend” by Nancy Nau Sullivan
Thursdaze (because the weekend won’t come fast enough) features original flash fiction modeled after our Drug Chronicles Series. Each story is an original one, and each encapsulates the author’s fictional experience with drugs. Our print series has anthologized authors writing about marijuana, cocaine, speed, and heroin, but contributors to the web series can focus on any drug, real or imagined, controlled or prescribed, illegal or soon-to-be legalized. Submissions to Thursdaze will be judged on an author’s ability to stylistically emulate his or her substance of choice. Submissions are also limited to 750 words, so try to focus. (They have a pill for that.)
This week, Nancy Nau Sullivan makes a new friend.
Tater. His real name was Willam Francis McKinny III, but he got the name Tater because he was about as useless as a potato on legs when he drank. His best friend Nick Plakowitz named him that soon after the two of them started stealing Jim Beam from Nick’s dad’s liquor locker in the basement that was set up like a pool hall. Nick poured water in the square booze bottle so his dad wouldn’t know.
Tater said, “He’s gonna know.”
“Nah, he don’t want to deal with it. He too busy with that paint business of his.”
Tater shrugged. Nick’s dad never said a word.
They took the Jim Beam—disguised in a soda bottle—out to the graveyard next to the old Dutch Reformed church. They hid behind the large cool stone, mixed the whiskey with grape Nehi, and chased it with Cheetos.
Tater did not like the taste of the liquor, but he got used to it fast. The soda masked the scorch, and soon Tater was running among the gravestones, his arms flung out to take in the green grass and summer day, lifting him to a level that his brain had never seen.
He learned to chase that buzz forever. The first shot was good, like the first puff of a cigarette. They stole cigarettes from Tater’s mom, who liked to start the day with a fresh pack. She threw the half-empties in a drawer in the bathroom. Tater was sure she knew, but the boys were fast. They had bikes. It was summer.
The thing that brought them together also drew them apart. Tater had a new friend: Jim Beam. Nick couldn’t take it the way Tater did. He had many a session in the vomitorium after the two of them met Jim, so Tater went his own way—and oh, what a way he went.
He had black hair and a red beard, and he played the guitar and sang like Robert Johnson. He didn’t look anything like a potato anymore. He was tall and lanky. He played gigs in bars around Chicago—mostly the blues, because that’s what Tater knew best. Mary had left him. He’d hardly ever see that daughter of his now that they were back in Georgia. She said she didn’t know him—never knew him, really, because of that skewed look in his eyes from all the booze and the rotten, sweet smell of something processed. He drawled when he shouldn’t. He couldn’t hold a gig down because he drank beyond the house allowance, and his fingers weren’t so nimble at the picking anymore. He was only thirty-four.
His best friend—and now his only friend—remained Jim Beam.
The bar was dark. It smelled funky—like his mouth, like the one room studio he rented in Bucktown, like the beer he left on the floor all night, the one he didn’t finish at four in the morning. The whiskey was long gone.
He was the only one in the place besides the bartender, who was dipping glasses in soapy water and stacking them aimlessly, unrinsed. The pinball machine cast blue and yellow lights on the floor and on the bartender’s face. Tater’s head felt like it was split in two. He felt like banging it on the bar top to split it for good and end it all. There wasn’t a day he had a clear head, when he didn’t feel shaky like the ground was shifting beneath him.
“Gimme a shot,” he said in a trance, his eyes roving from soapy bubbles to pinging, softly flashing blue and yellow.
The bartender looked up. “Morning.” But he didn’t move from the sink.
“I said, a shot.”
“A shot of what?”
“Oh, fuck, shoot me.” Tater put his head down on the bar and wept.
The bartender dropped the dirty rag he was using on the glasses. “You know, one morning I woke up on the floor behind this counter. I had stripes on my face from the wooden slats. I decided to try coffee instead of my usual picker-upper.”
Tater lifted his head and looked from the blinking yellow and blue lights of the pinball machine to the door where the blue sky and bright sun cast a glow over the summer day, a day so much like the one in the graveyard.
“I’ll have what you’re having.”
In August, NANCY NAU SULLIVAN completed service as a University English Specialist in the Peace Corps in Mexico. She’s also taught English in Chicago, in Argentina, and at a boys’ prison in Florida. Before starting her teaching career, she was a reporter and editor at newspapers throughout the Midwest for fifteen years, and earned a master’s degree in journalism from Marquette University. Sullivan is currently working on a collection of short stories, Dust and Rain: Mexican Love Stories, and is polishing Saving Tuna Street, the first in a mystery series. Her home is in Chicago.
Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Thursdaze flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your submission should never have been published elsewhere.
—Your story should feature a drug, any drug, and your character’s experience with it. We’ll consider everything from caffeine to opium, and look forward to stories ranging from casual use to addiction to recovery. Stylistically, we’ll respond most favorable to stories that capture the mood and rhythm of your drug of choice.
—Include your drug of choice next to your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected], and include THURSDAZE in the subject line. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
About the Drug Chronicles Series: Inspired by the ongoing international success of the city-based Akashic Noir Series, Akashic created the Drug Chronicles Series. The anthologies in the series feature original short stories from acclaimed authors, each of whom focuses on their fictional experience with the title drug. Current releases in the series include The Speed Chronicles (Sherman Alexie, William T. Vollmann, Megan Abbott, James Franco, Beth Lisick, Tao Lin, etc.), The Cocaine Chronicles (Lee Child, Laura Lippman, etc.), The Heroin Chronicles (Eric Bogosian, Jerry Stahl, Lydia Lunch, etc.), and The Marijuana Chronicles (Joyce Carol Oates, Lee Child, Linda Yablonsky, etc.).
Posted: Sep 4, 2014
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