Peppermint & Gunpowder
by Tony Bowers
It was 2 a.m. The rest of the New Years gunfire had ceased. I gripped the pistol loosely as I aimed it at the alley below.
“Hold the damn gun right!” My father snapped. “Don’t make me look bad.” The laughter and taunts of his friends grew. They were three fools known as the Drunk Brothers. And that’s what they were; all the time. All three were too lean from not eating solid food on a regular basis. They usually woke up to a cold forty-ounce and then proceeded to go about their days.
“No way he gonna hit that can! That’s like a hundred feet away,” Drunk Brother Number Two slurred.
My father made a bet with the brothers that I could drink four shots of liquor and hit a trashcan from the back porch of our third floor apartment with his twenty-two automatic. Fifty dollars was on the line, which was the same as a day’s pay. My father folded his massive arms and told me what was at stake.
The Drunk Brothers didn’t say what type of liquor.
So, my father poured four shots of Peppermint Schnapps, lined up in a row on the porch railing with its chipped and flaking concrete gray paint.
The brothers protested, “A little girl could drink a whole bottle of schnapps,” said Drunk Brother Number Three. But my father cussed them out until they gave in. My hand hung over the first glass as I turned and looked back into the apartment. I imagined my mother hiding behind her bedroom door, too afraid to do anything. I guess I couldn’t blame her. When she didn’t appear, I took each shot straight to the head. They didn’t burn my throat too much.
“Steady yourself. Squeeze the trigger and hit that can.” I saw tornados in my father’s eyes. Whenever that happened, everyone generally got blown away in his anger. It seemed that he was angry most days. I couldn’t really tell you why. He would wake up with a scowl on his face and his shoulders stiff; his jaws tight.
The gun wasn’t too heavy. The silver metal was cool in my palm. I had seen the gun in action a few times before. It once caught a kid, who cheated at craps in the thigh. He was only a few years older than me, maybe even in high school. I was afraid of the pistol. But I was afraid of my father more. It wasn’t a cold night but the air was crisp. Hovering over me like a hank, my father sucked his front teeth. I tightened my grip on the handle of the pistol. The only light in the alley was right over the trashcan. It was bathed in yellow like some treasure in a museum. I closed my left eye and concentrated. The babblings of the Drunk Brothers fell away and echoed like I had descended into a cave. They felt so far away.
Although I was getting ready to shoot the gun and I was afraid, there was a warm peace that eased from deep within me. Wherever this place was that my concentration had brought me, I didn’t want to leave. But I knew I had to pull the trigger and give my father what he wanted. I licked my lips and tasted the slick residue of the schnapps. I pulled the trigger. Pop The shot tore through the night sky as the gun tried to jump out of my hand. The bullet hit the can dead center, and the Drunk Brothers rolled over in disgust. Instantly I was pulled from the quiet peaceful cave and plopped back on the porch. A stiff wind was blowing against my face.
“Now pay me my money!” my father bellowed. They handed my father lumps of bills and cussed bitterly.
“I guess that boy of yours ain’t such a Poindexter after all,” said Drunk Brother Number One.
“Yeah,” chimed in Number Three, “I guess you gonna start claiming him to the fellas down at the pool hall.” All three brothers howled and cackled.
My father shook his head and smiled as he counted the money. I stood there waiting for a high five, or for him to say ‘that was good, boy.’ But he didn’t say nothing. He went on counting the cash. The disappointment fell upon my head like a barrel of bricks. I felt a rush of hot air and my skin smoldered like the bottom of a steam iron left on too long. So many times my father would push or pull and I just went along. It was safer that way. But something was different. I felt like I was about to blow up. I had to let that pressure go. I did the only thing I knew to do.
Still in a shooting position, I squeezed that trigger and lit up the night sky. Silver slaps of lighting accompanied each pop of the pistol. When a bullet hit the trashcan, it jumped, flipped and danced like the tail of a kite in a stiff wind. Bullets struck the ground. The light post; the Johnson’s garage. I kept squeezing; and as each shot exploded from the gun I felt the hot pressure that had expanded inside of me lessen up a bit; then a bit more. Each bullet was a release; me and the gun were one. I kept on until the gun and I were both empty.
The weight of my father’s hand lowered the gun slightly. He slid the pistol from my grip and grabbed my shoulder. I was out of breath and sweaty. My father’s lips moved but I couldn’t hear him. The gun smoke hung heavy in the air like a shroud. The Drunk Brothers coughed and hacked while they stared at me like I was the drunk one. Number One flapped his arms wildly and spit out some words. I looked down at the alley. The Johnson’s lights burst on. Several other houses followed.
My father shoved me inside the apartment. The Drunk Brothers tripped out the front door. My father pushed me into my room and slammed the door behind me. I sat down on my bed and waited for him to return, my body tense with anticipation. Would it be a slap, the belt or worse? But he didn’t come back.
As I laid in my bed; head throbbing, still feeling the weight of the gun inside my hand. I waited for my mother. But she never came. I wasn’t even sure if she was home at all. I sat there for hours; the apartment was so still and quiet, but it wasn’t peaceful. It was like the residue of past tensions reverberated from the walls. It felt like standing next to an electrical tower with its steady hum sounding in the air.
My eyelids began to droop as the sun rose. I thought about that place of peace and how I felt when I was there. Would I have to concentrate with a gun in my hand to get that feeling again? I closed my eyes and focused all my energy, and with all my might I pushed my spirit out toward the sun. It was the only celestial thing I knew about, full of light and warmth and so far away from here. I no longer felt the bed underneath me. I was floating. I drifted right on out my window, past my home, the liquor stores and the burned out buildings; up through the clouds drawing near heaven. I could feel the sun getting warmer, then hot, so hot on my face. I felt a hint of the same peace as before; but there was a sliver of coolness embedded inside my heart. I was in a new place but I knew that things were not different. Because even though I had floated away and peace surrounded me, I could still taste the sweetness of Peppermint Schnapps on my lips and the bitterness of gunpowder in my throat.