“Watch this,” he said picking up the Mason jar. His hand sprang into action shaking the contents with great vigor. After some heavy handed shakes he placed the jar on the table in front of Clyde and me.
“See that bead?” Our eyes riveted on the clear liquid inside the Mason jar, we watched thousands of tiny bubbles drift to the top. As they disappeared into the surface I looked up into the face of one of Clyde’s oldest drinking buddies. He looked at me with a smile wrapped around whiskered jaws expecting a mirrored reflection on mine. He was disappointed.
“Clyde, would you explain to this boy what that means?” he said sadness dropping over his face.
Clyde picked up the quart jar and shook it again. The beads reflected the light from the bulb overhead as they drifted once again to the top surface.
“That, nef, is as fine a bead as you will ever get with good moon.” He unscrewed the cap and poured a generous helping into his glass following it with a splash of grapefruit juice. His friend reached for the jar before Clyde could replace the cap.
“Lemme show you this,” he said pouring a shallow pool into a saucer. He took the lighter off his pack of Camels and struck a flame which he touched to the liquid he’d just freed from the jar. A flame belched forth licking upward in a soft blue fringed with orange.
“That is the mark of an exceptional batch of moon,” he said with glassy eyed pride. “My buddy back in the woods of Johns Island makes the best corn likker in this county. Got me a gallon for eight dollars. That’s a mighty fine price for one-hundred-eighty proof moon.”
“Can’t that stuff make you go blind?” I asked.
“Hell, nef, I’ve been drinking this over here for ages. Go ahead take a snort.” He slid the bottle across the table to me. I looked at it for a minute or two. It was Christmas. What’s the harm in a drink with a friend at Christmas.
“Oh, what the hell.” I took the glass offered and slopped some of the clear liquid into it.
“Careful, Clyde’s nephew, that’s some of my finest you’re spilling on the table. That veneer can only take so much before it buckles.” He cackled.
I raised the glass.
“Mud in yer eye,” I said mimicking my dad’s toast.
“Whoa! Hold on, nef.” Clyde grabbed my hand. “Put some of this grapefruit juice in that glass. I don’t want you to swallow fire.’
He splashed some of the juice into my glass. I mixed it by swirling the glass. When Clyde nodded I raised it to my lips, only hesitating for a second before pouring a healthy portion into my mouth. The grapefruit juice masked the harsh taste of the high proof beverage. The lining of my stomach reacted to the high octane fuel by bursting into flame followed by my mouth and throat. My entire body warmed ten degrees as my eyes began to go wonky. When I thought my skin would be consumed by the internal pyre the world became a different place. The concern about blindness was lost in the fuzzy outlines my vision took on. The school boy worries about grades and exams dissolved in an aura of rose tinted visions. The uptight boy who had walked into this house disappeared in a flash of smoldering stomach lining.
“Wow!” came exuberantly from my lips. I could swear smoke burst forth and in that smoky haze a smile, akin to Clyde’s buddy’s, crept across my peach fuzzed face.
“Smooth!” I said echoing the antics of comedians on TV.
Clyde and his friend were laughing with gusto and knee slaps.
“Go ahead. Fillerup again, Clyde’s nephew. It’ll put hair on your chest.”
I accepted the offered jar. Grasping the glass surface emblazoned with Mason at a slant was not as easy this time but I managed while Clyde’s buddy looked on worriedly lest I drop it.
“Whoa! That’s almost four fingers in that glass, boy. It being you first time maybe you should show some moderation.”
“No problem,” I mumbled. “I can take it.” I splashed some juice over the corn and swished it.
“Bottoms up,” I said with a flourish and downed the entire glass. My eyes became Niagra Falls as the bonfire in my stomach blossomed with the addition of more fuel. The room took a definite tilt as the flames subsided. My skin grew warm to the touch as the crimson shade crept over my entire body. I saw Clyde looking at me as if concerned but I figured it was the new world I was looking at. Everything took on a warm fuzzy aura. I could feel the smile arching my cheeks. The world was warm and cozy here. Gone was the first impression of seedy surroundings. Gone was the feeling of shabbiness that had met my eyes. This guy’s house was a home of Christmas cheer. He was a gentlemen who just happened to want to sit in his underwear. So what! Everything was wonderful. And the wonder came from that beading, blue flaming liquid held inside that common Mason jar in front of me which I reached for.
“Slow down, cowboy,” said Clyde’s wonderful friend in striped underwear. “I think Clyde’s got a few more places to go and each one will have Christmas drinks.”
“Oh. OK,” I said with the grin of an idiot plastered across my face. I began to lean on the table since the room was tilting more.
“OK. When we goin’ to th’other houses?” I asked Clyde.
“Lemme finish my cigarette, nef. We’ve got the rest of the afternoon.”
“Yeah. Afternoon. How ‘bout a cigarette, unk?”
He slid the pack to me. I clutched at it a second too late. It fell to the floor. As I reached for it my entire body decided to go with me. The floor bounced when I hit it with a loud thump.
“I got ‘em!” I said holding up the pack of Marlboros.
Clyde offered his hand. I grasped it and he yanked me to my feet. Like a pool of water I oozed back into my chair. I beat the pack against my hand to force one of the cigarettes out. Three shot across the table. My perception being slightly off I grabbed for them as they flew past me. My hand closed on air. I laughed hysterically because I was watching my hand close where the cigarette had been.
“Maybe he’s had enough…”
“Could you slip one of those escapees over here?” I giggled.
“Can’t take him home like that.”
I got the impression I was being talked about.
“Well, I don’t want him throwing up on my floor.”
“Not throwing up!” I yelled. “I can hold my likker!” My index finger rose in the air with those words. My bottom slipped from the chair. It was received by the floor with a resounding bam! I giggled.
“I think it would be best if you took him for a long ride. Might want to forget all your other stops.”
“Aaaah, he’ll be all right.”
“I don’t know.”
I was still sitting on the floor thinking what a remarkably lovely red striped table cloth covered his table. It was a wonder I had not noticed it before. Clyde’s shoes needed a shine. I thought I should tell him. Glancing at his friend’s feet I decided not to tell him his toe nails were butt ugly. I giggled again.
“What’s going on down there?” Two heads slowly appeared over the edge of the table above me.
“You have ants,” I said watching the life line moving rhythmically toward a scrap of bread in the corner.
“Yeah, yeah,” said the tosser of bread.
“You want to get back into your chair?” asked Clyde.
“It’s a long climb,” I said reaching for the chair’s seat. “And my legs seem to be made of rubber.” I giggled.
“OK. Guess it’s about time to hit the road,” said Clyde.
He stood and offered me his hand which I took. He lugged me to my feet.
“That could hurt,” I mumbled.
“Huh?” asked Clyde with a hint of anger.
“Hitting the road. That could hurt.”
“Yeah, I think it’s time. OK, nef. Time to go to the car.”
“I forgot how I got in here,” came my answer.
“I’ll point you in the direction.” He turned me and shoved.
“Thanks, buddy. Maybe next time I can stay a bit longer. Hope your Christmas is a Merry one. Come on, nef. Let’s go.”
I ambled toward the door which Clyde opened. Outside the bright sunlight hit me.
“Help! I’m blinded. I told you! I’m blinded!”
“For crying out loud, nef. You aren’t blinded. It’s just the brightness of the sun after being in a dark house. Straighten up. Can’t damn well take you anywhere. Calm down. Get in.” He slammed the door as I settled into the seat.
That was the only stop that year. We rode around in silence for a while. I asked for a cigarette and lit it with the lighter that popped out the dash.
It was a few hours before we arrived back at grandmother’s house. The effects were beginning to wear off by then. A gigantic headache slowly crept in replacing the euphoria with a sad painful pounding that went me to bed early that night.