The Bottle of Whiskey

Seven miles north of town at 75 miles per hour. In the warmer months, I ride in the back of the 1970 green Ford truck. But, now, I’m squeezed between my older sister and my father, my boots tucked under his gas pedal leg. Next to my sister is my mom and on her lap my little brother. We always sit in the same spots; it’s the only way we fit.

I know the way, even in the dark, even though I’m only eight and can barely see over the dashboard. Turn right on Jennings Road, pass the Jennings farm. I remember stopping there once for a few hours. The reeking silage was so pervasive, so inescapable, I thought I might vomit. Go left at the end of this road and pass the farm with the collie, the one who always tries to bite our tires. Don’t slow down, no need to, he does it every time and we haven’t run over him yet. Turn right and come upon the Reno place. There’s a girl there who is my age named Charla. I think we could be best friends because our ranches are close together.

But, we don’t live on our ranch like Charla does and I don’t see her that often. We live in town. We drive out to here most evenings to check on the place, feed the horses, and on weekends we go for a family ride, shoot guns, hike around, mend fence, or continue the work on the barn and corral we’re building.

Sometimes we kids come out here with just our dad. We play around while he drinks whiskey.

Our ranch. Twenty-four acres of Wyoming sagebrush, giant cottonwoods, grazing range. Just past Charla’s, except there’s one more road to turn on, off to the right. It’s a dirt road, narrow, compressed between sagebrush on both sides, twisty, rutted. Downhill heading into the ranch, uphill going out. A mess in all seasons except summer.

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My father drives too quickly, it seems, on the slippery road, the back end of the truck fishtailing around behind us. It’s an eerie night, the sagebrush limbs wearing clumps of fresh white, snow no longer falling but gusting about in the glow of the headlights. Something’s not quite right. We’re encased and safe, as if we’re inside a snow globe, but the world outside seems shaken, disturbed.

My mom said once that we didn’t want to linger on this road, something about it belonging to the reservation. Most of the land around here was deeded back to the white man a long time ago. But not this patch, this little stretch of road that is the only entrance to our ranch.

We have legal permission to be on it, but not everyone knows that and not everyone likes it.

We round a curve, still heading downhill, almost to the gate now, the metal green ranch gate that we keep closed and locked.

It is then that I see them. Three figures. Bundled up. Dark, ambiguous, despite being illuminated in the headlights.

Across each figure’s body, at an angle, a rifle.

My dad hits the brakes, but the truck doesn’t respond as it should. It slides and slides, silently, in slow motion, stopping, finally, just before the figures that stand in the middle of the road, the figures with rifles who, I now understand, are intentionally blocking our way.

We five stare, in silence and without moving a muscle, at the three vague forms not more than ten feet in front of us. We almost hit them and they must be blinded in our lights, yet they stand their ground.

“Who are they?” my sister asks, moving nothing except her lips. I feel her continued stare out the windshield.

“What do you think they want?” My mom speaks like my sister. I can’t see her, exactly, but I know. I know she’s not looking away from the three men.

The questions, directed at no one in particular, go unacknowledged, unanswered.

Minutes pass. It’s palpable that something is going to happen here tonight.

Slowly, my father leans forward and reaches beneath the seat. I know what’s under that seat. Two items, there at all times, ever since I can remember. I know what he’s grabbing for and I’m scared, but when he straightens up, I see that I am wrong. For in his hand is not the gun that I was sure he was getting. Instead, he holds his whiskey.

He slips the bottle into his jacket and, without a word, engages the emergency brake, opens his door, and steps out into the night.

No one else moves, not us, not the strange figures.

My father enters the scene, stage right, the first movement in this silent film other than the blowing bits of snow. His body angled toward us, I see him speak.

Does he know these people? What is he saying?

“What’s he saying to them, mom?” My sister is the one who asks, too breathy. She doesn’t turn her head when she talks. I know why. Movement seems risky.

“I don’t know, honey.”

The strangers are speaking now and they make slight gestures, but there is no sound, nothing discernible over the engine of the truck.

More time goes by. Nothing is happening. And yet, at the same time, there is so much going on here.

I see then the twitch of my dad’s hand. His right hand, the one nearest us, the one that brought the whiskey from beneath the truck seat. It comes up, slowly, to his chest and into his jacket.

There is an abrupt rush of movement, more action than has occurred altogether in the past fifteen minutes. The three rifles are up, suddenly, in firing position, and pointed right at my father’s head.

I recoil a bit into the back of the seat. Breathe in. Hold it.

My father doesn’t move, doesn’t flinch, other than to finish what he started. His hand comes now from his jacket and, once again, it is not a gun that he brings forth, but the whiskey.

The amber liquid shines in the light and I see that the bottle is nearly full. With a slow thrust, he offers it to the men.

Time stands still, the bottle and the rifles erect, nearly meeting in the middle. And when one rifle comes down, the others follow suit, a gloved hand extends, and the bottle of whiskey is relinquished.

My dad gets back in and locks his door, I notice.

“God damn Indians,” he grumbles.

And he turns the truck and guns it up the hill.

21 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Devon
    Oct 11, 2013 @ 06:10:53

    This is beautifully written!

    Reply

  2. Connie Hanks - ClickyChickCreates.com
    Oct 11, 2013 @ 09:53:22

    I was on the edge of my seat the whole time!

    Reply

  3. Randee
    Oct 11, 2013 @ 14:31:30

    Awesome! Thanks! I was, too, at the time.

    Reply

  4. Jamie
    Oct 11, 2013 @ 20:56:54

    Oh my gosh! I loved this one Randy.

    Reply

    • Randee
      Oct 11, 2013 @ 22:10:52

      Good, glad to hear it! Thanks for letting me know. This is not what I sat down to write, but this is what came out. I really do appreciate the feedback, Jamie.

      Reply

  5. theclocktowersunset
    Oct 12, 2013 @ 08:21:13

    No matter where you are, a bottle of hooch is still a bottle of hooch. Great story! 🙂

    Reply

  6. theclocktowersunset
    Oct 12, 2013 @ 09:20:46

    Mea Culpa

    Reply

  7. Vicki
    Oct 12, 2013 @ 15:45:49

    I felt like I was there in the truck with you, so afraid for your Dad but knowing he would know the right thing to do.

    Reply

  8. writeejit
    Nov 19, 2013 @ 18:51:31

    Very evocative piece of writing. Nicely done!

    Reply

  9. disperser
    Dec 19, 2013 @ 09:25:36

    Interesting story . . . curious if you remember it clearly. Children often, but not always, see either more or less drama than what actually happened.

    Not meaning to call into question the story, just curious.

    And yes; well written and descriptive.

    Reply

  10. Trackback: 20/20 Vision | A String of Pearls
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  12. randee
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 15:14:06

    Thank you for your comment. I am wondering if you meant to put it with this piece, The Bottle of Whiskey?

    Reply

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