SHERYL J. BIZE BOUTTE
MAY 5, 2012
This is the first and only time I will get drunk.
Here I am, sitting in the back of a bus on the way to Reno with my boss, Parthena, Parth for short, and five other people when a sudden and intense snowstorm arrives as we approach the summit. Hal, the nice old man I have been chatting with offers me a glass of his homemade blackberry brandy to calm my jitters. Although I am not a drinker of the grape, I readily accept his presentation in a small shot glass, one of two he has brought along for sipping on the way to the casinos.
As Hal regales me with the story of how he came to make his own brandy, outside the wind is howling and the snow is coming down with a thickness that only allows us to see our reflections in the windows. I note that Hal is not really bothered by any of this and I think he had probably had a few brandies before he boarded the bus. A husband and wife are sitting three rows up from us, speaking in whispers and huddled in fear. Parth, who is also my daughter’s godmother, is making her way to the front of the bus to assist the driver who can no longer see the lane stripes in the road. The windshield wipers are helpless against the wind whipped snow and we are traveling blind.
With the canyon and river on one side and the potential of oncoming traffic on the other, the driver can’t pull over to the side. We are stuck trying to make it through this sea of white with no other alternative than to plow forward.
From my back perch, I can hear Parth gently giving instructions to the driver. “Go straight” she says. “Don’t cross the line”, she says. Her face almost touching the front windshield, she is guiding the sweaty-faced and nervous driver through the turbulent ambush. Aside from Parth’s voice, the only other noise is the low growl coming from the bus engine as it struggles up the mountain. When oncoming headlights create long seconds of total nothingness, Hal offers me another drink and then another, all of which I accept. As the sweet liquid slides effortlessly down my throat and creates an unfamiliar heat in the middle of my chest, I begin to lose connection to the danger we are in. As we slowly ascend, I try again to look out of the window hoping to catch a glimpse of Rainbow Ridge, the place my parents, husband and I would often stop the many times we took this same highway. I am thinking that if I can see it, it will mean automatic safety, but the window remains a recalcitrant mirror.
After yet another glass of the red liquor, I suppose I have become drunk. Parth’s voice seems farther away and I am starting to think about what kind of drunk I would have been. A belligerent one, like my uncle Matt, who after three beers thought he could take on the world and sing like Nat King Cole? A despondent one, like cousin Pace whom, while rocking back and forth, would mournfully cry out, “Kennedy is dead!” over and over once the Pinch took hold? Or maybe a storyteller like my grandfather, whose tales would get more and more expansive and unbelievable with each sip of Wild Turkey? I am contemplating this when Hal says, “Little lady, let’s polish off this bottle” ,and we do just that.
Storm still raging and Parth still directing, I decide she will save us. I fall into my first drunken slumber and dream about hitting the big jackpot.
I am awakened by Parth’s voice saying,” There you go, you got it!” and realize we are out of the storm and making our descent into Reno. I say a silent prayer and look over at Hal who is snoring and content. I gently shake his shoulder and he awakens and looks out of the window. “That was a bad one”, he says.
Soon we arrive at our destination and one by one we leave the bus, each thanking Parth and the driver on our way down the narrow stairs. I thank Hal for sharing his blackberry brandy and we say our goodbyes knowing we will probably never see each other again.
On the sidewalk Parth begins to look for husband number four, a professional poker player named Cleveland who is waiting for us. He sees us first and engulfs us both in a hug. “How was your trip?” he says. Parth glances over at me and quickly replies. “ Nothing special.”
“Well”, says Cleveland, let’s go. I got us some ‘new money’ from the game I won last night.” He hands us each a thick wad of bills. “You two can have this to get started and I will win some more today. You know how I like to get that ‘new money’ every day.”
With our stake in hand for the games we would play, we walk arm in arm to the casino. With the brilliant sun at our backs, the promises of life and “new money” are as intoxicating as homemade blackberry brandy.