The thing about English cities is that, unless you’re used to them, they’re incredibly confusing. In America, we like broad, straight avenues. Makes getting around easy. All this windy road stuff may work just fine for the bumpkins in the countryside, but give me a straight road into and out of town and I’ll be happy. The English have entirely too much respect for their history and culture and traditions to do what they should do: bulldoze everything in sight and put every city on a grid. Oh well.
Because the English like to hide their street signs in precarious positions (in Canterbury, one sign is just below the gutter on a roof), it took us an hour to find Lena and Dee’s flat. It should have taken us ten minutes. The building was in a nice neighborhood—the houses were detached and the windows weren’t miniscule horizontal slots and the building itself didn’t look like it was about to fall down at any moment. After driving around for another twenty minutes trying to figure out where to park, we found a spot nearby and The Traveler turned off the car.
The Drunkard woke up and showed no signs of being hung over or hallucinating. “Hey,” I said to him, “how bout them ants?”
“What?” he asked.
“Crawly crawly. Ants.”
He closed his eyes, sighed, and shook his head. “Therapy, my friend.” He reached in his jacket. “Woah, hold the fuck on.”
The Traveler, from outside, said, “What?”
“What the fuck did you do with my flasks?”
“I took care of them.”
The Drunkard was out of the car in a flash and had The Traveler by his collar. “What do you mean, you took care of them?”
I stepped out of the car on my side.
“After you tried to destroy the upholstery in the car, I put them in a safe place. Please, remove your hands from my collar before I unleash capoeira again.”
The Drunkard backed off. He scratched his chin, nodded, and said, “Okay. I’ll find em, though. And when I do? I will drink the fuck out of that absinthe.”
The Traveler shrugged. “Suit yourself.” He slung his duffel bag across his back and walked up to the building.
I put on my backpack and grabbed the sleeping bags, The Student picked up his duffel, and The Drunkard did the same.
We were buzzed in, walked up three flights of stairs, and were greeted by a woman way—waaaaay—out of my league. I mean, not that such a thing has stopped me from trying to chat someone up before, but she was MLB and I was Little League, to illustrate the gap. Blonde, curvaceous figure—about a ten. She wore dark blue jeans and a black tank top. “Hello!” she said.
And the accent! Oof! The back of my neck tingled and, naturally, I went, “Guh.”
The Traveler, the bastard, gave her a hug and they did the European cheek-kiss thing. I sent death thoughts his way. “Lena,” he said, “this is The Student—”
The Student waved. “Heya.”
The Drunkard tipped his ballcap and said, “Ma’am.”
“And The Narrator—”
Seeking to outdo the Drunkard and thus become the alpha male, I took off my cap and bowed. I intended to say, “The pleasure, I insist, is all mine.” What came out was a high-pitched squeak. There was no rebound from that. I sighed.
“Such interesting names,” she said.
The Traveler shrugged. “We get that a lot.”
“Dee,” she called, then followed it with German. German, I’ve always felt, is a semi-terrifying language. (I’ve considered why I think such a thing, and it really boils down to associating the language with Holocaust films.) At any rate, in walked Dee, and, once again, I could only go, “Guh.”
Seeing these two, I made a pledge to go to Germany. Not that I expected to be any sort of Don Juan but hey, it was worth a shot.
We went through the introductions again, and, this time I managed to work out a “Great to meet you.”
The Drunkard poked me in the ribs and whispered, “Nice job, Squeakers.”
“Fuck you,” I whispered back.
“Well, come in,” Lena said.
We obliged. Their flat more homey than ours. Wheras our accommodation had heavy fire doors rigged to slam shut, their flat had a much nicer, more open feel to it. The kitchen was smaller, but, then again, there were only two of them as opposed to the six to eight per flat in Woolf College. The walls were white like ours, but theirs were stuccoed and therefore pleasant to look at. They had a small round table in their dining room, a few chairs, a small TV, a couple of plants. The walls had a few posters of movie stars and musicians. It was, all around, a regular-person flat. I started thinking that maybe I should move out of college accommodation.
We stayed in their living room. Right before I ripped open the plastic confining my sleeping bag, I looked down at the floor and grinned. Hardwood floors! I can’t explain why I liked hardwood floors so much. Just one of those things.
“Hey,” said The Drunkard.
“Yeah?” I asked.
“Did you buy matching sleeping bags? What the hell, man?”
“They were cheap.”
“Fuck that. They had a Jack Daniel’s one.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t notice it. Maybe you’d like a NASCAR pillow to go with your redneck ensemble, Mr. Moonshine.”
The Drunkard, taking a page from The Stalker shot daggers from his eyes.
The Traveler clapped his hands and said, “Well. Lena, Dee, it’s time for the Southern surprise.”
Lena, standing in the doorway, said, “I can hardly contain myself.”
The Traveler dug through The Drunkard’s bags and said, “Thanks for sharing,” as he pulled out a jar of moonshine.
“Woah,” said The Drunkard, “are you kidding me?”
“Nope,” The Traveler said, unscrewing the cap and handing the jar to Lena. “If you smoke, don’t do it until much later on. Also, don’t spill any on your clothes.”
Lena took a sniff and snapped back, her face contorting in such an expression of horror that it should have been in a comic book. “What is this?”
“That’s my moonshine.”
I punched The Drunkard in the shoulder.
“That I’m gracefully sharing with all of you. Without complaining.”
“There’s another jar in the bag, too,” I said.
The Drunkard whirled on me and said, “You bastard.”
Lena took a sip, coughed, handed the jar to Dee, and coughed some more. “Wow, that’s some strong stuff.”
“That ain’t the only strong stuff here,” I was going to say when, naturally, it came out as a cough. I hung my head and sighed.
Dee reacted the same way, and I was about to make some bullshit chauvinist comment when The Traveler handed me the jar.
I looked down at this new, foul beast in front of me. The purple liquid inside—decorated by some blueberries and a couple slices of lemon floating around—reeked of a chemical refinery. Indeed, it smelled much like the industrial part of Knoxville. I looked up at The Traveler, who grinned at me. The Student had some sideways interpretation of a sneer, and The Drunkard was—I think—trying to eye Dee licentiously. Fuck it, I thought. I took a sip, and two things happened.
First, right as I drank and swallowed, the inside of my mouth… well, it didn’t burst into fire. But, I can’t exactly describe that feeling other than it was a fire-y sensation. It was like drinking a strong whiskey for the first time, amplified by about fifteen. I think that there was supposed to a taste to the shine, but all I could get was pain. Utter, utter pain. To think, entire regions of Appalachia drank this like it was nothing. No wonder incest seemed like a good idea to them—they probably lost half their brain cells during one weekend.
Right after taking that drink, I blacked out. When faced with such a new, unheard-of, potent beverage, my mind freaked out. Anyway, the last thing I remember is thinking: “What hath God wrought?”