I gave Cara a blanket—nothing more valuable than a blanket—and we drank gin that wasn’t really gin but that’s what we called it. It was clear, or almost clear, and tangy because Cara put blackberries in it. She said she made it out of vegetable scraps, spider legs, witches’ tits, gale force winds, potato bugs, and a little bit of tree bark. The tree bark was essential to the process, she claimed. Mostly I suppose it was just corn mash and vegetable scraps, which we could have fed to the pigs but didn’t. The pigs lived on fish guts, eggshells, chicken gizzards, and other such delicacies and seemed happy enough to forfeit the potato peelings, or whatever, so that Cara could get drunk on her birthday.
She made her gin in a series of tubs and sealed-up buckets in a corner of the barn. I don’t know how. It wasn’t the kind of thing I could ever know. I can knit a blanket, though. And I can repair shoes. I think the gin pretty much made itself out there, and Cara just shepherded it along. She knew how to do things other people didn’t know how to do. Or maybe it was just her hands. Her hands knew what to do in just about any act of creation. She always had various projects on the go. Once a week she hauled her wares into town and set up shop in the market yard beside the burnt-out courthouse. For a while I went along, too, but then I stopped. I couldn’t anymore. So I contributed to our good in other ways.
Cara poured out two glasses. I had never been a drinker, but living together here would have been impossible without these rituals of abandon. Cara drank three to my one, but it didn’t seem to affect her. It started in on me right away, though. Strong stuff! Probably quite poisonous. Alcohol, of course, was poison even when it wasn’t cultivated in an old barn, but who had time to worry about whether a drink might kill you or not? It was Cara’s birthday. Once again, winter had failed to eliminate us and here we were, ungrateful but alive.
So then, said Cara. Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
Oh, you know, running marathons, feeding the ducks in my duck pond. That sort of thing.
She laughed. Ten more years of this was such a horrifying possibility that laughing was the only way around it.
Oh, now. I’m sure you’ll be all settled down by then. Married, couple of kids. Maybe even a tiny baby clawing at your tit.
I took a big, eye-popping gulp and let it scour my insides before saying, That is the goal.
Yes, well … speaking for myself, I just can’t imagine gestating a new person inside my body, you know? She spoke in her most earnest, birthday tones. No, I just don’t think I’d be much use at that sort of thing.
Probably not. Anyway, what would be the point of it?
As if submitting himself as exhibit A, Dan barged into the house and sat down in his chair, which was situated between the two of us, and clamped his huge half-hand around the gin bottle and raised it to his lips. No glass for Dan! His hand was scarred horribly and the dirt was ground so deeply into the skin it would never come clean. No matter how many lies people told with their mouths, hands told the truth. Cara’s knuckles were chapped and red, mine were riddled with painful chilblains, and I’d cut and burned myself more times than I could remember. Dan was missing two fingers. And yet here we sat, telling our tales.
Hey, it’s my birthday, said Cara, cluing Dan in. He looked at her, his eyes watering. I could almost hear the cogs trying to turn in his brain. It was terrifying to behold. Where would it lead? Then he got up and plucked Cara right out of her chair as if she were an infant and dashed out the door with her. She was so surprised she didn’t even have a chance to scream.
Dan loved Cara. He really did. She was like an older sister to him, while I was just some dust in the corner that knew how to cook.
I sat at the table, alone now, watching them out the window. Dan had Cara in his arms, whirling her around in the yard, faster and faster. She was hollering, pounding him on the neck, but she was laughing too.
Plenty of gin left in the bottle.
I took a swig and then set it down and laid my hands on the table. They were ugly hands, marked up with tiny scars. Old wounds. I held my breath, remembering where each of them came from, and waited for something to break.
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