Mouthwash by Jeffrey R. Schrecongost

   

“I need your help, man. Gimme that.”

     John Coree yanked the plastic, half-gallon bottle of Dark Eyes vodka from his father’s hand and took a long pull. The spirit seared his throat, and he relished the burn. He sat down at the Formica kitchen table and lit a Kool.

He looked into the bathroom and saw Carmelita, naked, on hands and knees, her head inches above the urine-splattered toilet. She made no sound, but her brown belly contracted hard, and her body lurched forward each time she vomited the vodka and yellow stomach bile. Thin lengths of her long, purple-black hair held tight to her moist neck.

“I hate you,” she said, then vomited again.

“Shut up,” Joey said. “Beer before liquor, never sicker. Remember?”

Then he laughed, lit a Marlboro, and turned to John.

“You can’t stay here, pal.”

“She’s looking bad, Pop.”

“Pass it over.”

John handed Joey the bottle.

“She knows better. Don’t you?” he said, looking into the bathroom.

Then he slid his left hand into his pale-blue boxer shorts and scratched his crotch.

Carmelita flushed the toilet and tried to stand. She wobbled, grabbed the shower curtain rod, pulled it off the wall, and collapsed into the grimy tub with a thump.

“Help me,” she said.

John stood.

“Sit down, pally.”

“I’m gonna help her, Pop.”

“Sit the shit down. She’s my problem.”

Joey put the vodka back on the table, grabbed a stained, white t-shirt from the kitchen sink, walked into the bathroom, slammed the door, and began shouting at Carmelita.

John picked up the bottle and walked out of the mobile home into the frigid, acrid air. The paper factory was only three miles away, and its stacks belched a foul-smelling hell-broth day and night.

Joey’s voice got louder, but John couldn’t make out the words. He drank the last half-inch of vodka, turned, and lobbed the bottle over the trailer. He lit a cigarette as a chubby, twelve-year-old kid in hiking boots, red sweat pants, a gray sweatshirt, and a beat-up Cincinnati Reds cap approached the trailer.

“Joey home?” the kid asked.

“He’s busy right now. Why?”

“He buys us beer. We want some beer.”

“He’s busy now. Go home.”

“Who are you?”

“I told you to go home.”

The kid shrugged, turned around, and walked back down the road. John counted the kid’s steps until he could not see him anymore. He looked to his right at a green Lawn- Boy push mower with no wheels. A fire-scarred Fender guitar amplifier leaned against the front of the mobile home. Eighteen full trash bags were piled up next to Joey’s rusty, white El Camino.

The screen door squealed.

“John. Get out of that stink, damnit, and come inside. ’Lita’s okay now.”

“Pop. I’ve gotta talk to you.”

“Jesus,” Joey said. “Your step-mom’s piss drunk.” He laughed. “Help me get her on the couch.”

Carmelita was mumbling in the tub, wrestling with the shower rod and curtain. She wore only the soiled, white t-shirt. John grabbed her arms, Joey grabbed her legs, and together they carried Carmelita to the brown plaid couch. John covered her with a musty, blue cotton blanket.

Carmelita reached out from under the blanket and touched John’s hand.

“She’ll sleep it off,” said Joey. “Where’s that vodka?”

“There wasn’t much left. I drank it.”

“Shit. Go in the bathroom and bring me that bottle of Scope. The full one, under the sink.”

“Scope?”

“You deaf? You drank the rest of the vodka, pally.”

John walked into the bathroom and looked down at the shower rod and curtain, then at a framed photo of Robert Mitchum in a cowboy hat above the toilet. He opened the cabinet door, grabbed the mouthwash, and looked at the label: MINTY FRESH!

Joey pulled two cold Hamm’s beers from the refrigerator, placed them on the table, and lit a cigarette.

“What are you waiting for? Hurry up,” he said.

John walked back to the table with the mouthwash.

“Pop,” he said, “I’ve gotta talk to you about something.”

“You can’t stay here.”

“I know. You’ve already said that. But I need — ”

“ — Gimme that Scope. Go over to the stereo and put in that Allman Brothers tape, would you? Eat a Peach.”

John walked past Carmelita. Her eyes were closed. She was shivering. He slid in the tape, and pushed PLAY.

“‘Mountain Jam,’ baby.” said Joey. “’Lita. ’Lita. How did Berry Oakley die?”

Carmelita rolled over, her face buried in the cushions of the couch.

“Motorcycle,” she said.

“Haha. That’s right, baby.” Joey took a big gulp of mouthwash and chased it with a bigger swallow of beer. “‘Mountain Jam’ pal. Sit down, for Christ’s sake. Have a drink.”

“Pop, I — ”

“ — Oh shit,” Joey said, wincing. “This is a fiery combination, pally. Gets right up on top of you. C’mon. Have a snort.”

“Goddamnit, Pop. I hurt some people last night.”

“Motorcycle accident,” Carmelita said.

“Bullshit,” Joey said. “You’re full of bullshit.” Then he took another drink of mouthwash followed by beer. “You can’t stay here.”

John leaned in close and rabbit-punched his father in the mouth.

“You’re not listening,” he said.

Joey raised his right hand and wiped his upper lip. He swilled the mouthwash. His eyes gripped John’s as blood dripped back into the bottle. He spun the cap on and shook it. The bright green liquid turned blue-green.

“You ever touch me again, I swear to God I’ll kill you.”

“Duane Allman,” Carmelita said.

“You’re not gonna kill anybody, Pop. Mouthwash, huh?” he said, nodding at the bottle.

Joey smiled.

“Think fast, pally,” he said, and threw the bottle at John.

John snagged the bottle chin-high, opened it, and drank.

“We’ve gotta talk about some things tonight, Pop. We’ve gotta talk. Because I don’t know if I can stop things from happening. I don’t know if any of us are gonna get out of here.”

John brought the bottle to his lips again and took two more drinks. He replaced the cap.

“Think fast,” he said, and pitched the bottle at Joey.

The bottle bounced off Joey’s chest and landed on the floor.

Carmelita snored.

Berry Oakley began his bass solo.

The Cincinnati Reds kid returned. He knocked on the screen door four times.

“Let him in,” Joey said.

One Response to Mouthwash by Jeffrey R. Schrecongost

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