© 1998 Robert M. (Bob) Leahy

2110 E. Crosby Road
Carrollton, TX 75006
(972) 416 - 6098

Approximate Word Count: 3,835

 

 

 

A Matter of Practice

 

Colby Joe Sutton closed his bedroom door as quietly as he could and then tiptoed over to the desk where he set the bottle down. He didnít want his older brother, Derrick, to know he was raiding the liquor cabinet. Just the same, he wasnít going to go to his first high school party without trying liquor ahead of time.

Colby was afraid of getting sick--like he did when he first tried chewing tobacco--in front of all his friends. At least only he and Derrick knew how sick he got. And Derrick got sick, too. But, with practice, he learned to chew without getting sick. And he could do it with alcohol, too.

"Hey, Colby?"

At the sound of his brotherís voice, Colby flinched. His desperate grab nearly sent the bottle crashing to the floor. He just did catch it as it dropped over the edge of the desk. He barely got the bottle stuffed in his pack as Derrick opened the door to his room.

"Colby?" the tall, sixteen-year old asked.

The high school freshman tried to ask Derrick what he wanted, but his throat was too dry for words. And since he had not taken a breath since Derrick first called his name, he gasped in panic.

"Something wrong?"

Colby tried to recover, brushing a shock of his brown hair up from his forehead. He swallowed hard, and managed a, "Nothing," in reply.

"You sure?"

Colby nodded.

"Dad and mom said theyíd be gone by the time we got home from school."

Colby stared at Derrick.

"They just wanted to be sure you knew."

"Okay," Colby answered, turning back toward his desk.

"You sure thereís nothiní wrong?"

"Nothingís wrong," Colby replied. "Now leave me alone."

"Okay, Little Bro," Derrick said, backing away and pulling the door shut. "Pardon me for caring."

Colby exhaled in relief when he heard the door click shut.

It was several minutes before he dared to move. He retrieved the bottle from his pack and sat down at the desk, holding the bottle in his lap. He studied the bottle. The red label against the brown liquor looked cool to Colby. Heíd heard some of the older guys say you had to be tough to drink it. Only the real D-dudes could handle it. He set the bottle in front of him on the desk, fumbled for a cigarette. Cigarette tucked into the corner of his mouth, he ransacked his desk drawer looking for a lighter. There were two way in the back. Once the cigarette was lit, he inhaled deeply, smelling and tasting the mentholated smoke as it worked its way down his throat. Smoking used to burn his mouth. But no more. The older guys said the scotch would, too. But he would learn to handle it.

When he exhaled, the stream of white smoke hit the neck of the liquor bottle and curled to either side. He smiled, enjoying the fingers of smoke swirling up on either side of the bottle. His friends thought he was cool the way he blew smoke rings. A big one that just kind of floated in front of his face followed by a series of smaller ones that passed through the larger one, pulling it apart. Even Amy Holcroft thought that was special. D-dude.

But it had not always been that way.

He and a bunch of his buddies first tried smoking when he was ten. He gagged on that first puff. Everyone laughed at him. He was humiliated. Colby didnít finish that first one, his mouth was too on fire. But then he practiced. And soon, his mouth didnít burn too much. Still, when he smoked around his buddies, he faked inhaling. His throat couldnít handle it. He learned to push the smoke from his mouth through his nose. It was a weird feeling. But it didnít hurt much. And people thought he sucked it all the way down. He learned not to swallow the spit in his mouth, the little flakes of tobacco. And, once heíd switched to menthols, his throat didnít feel as raw.

Even his parents could see how cool he was when he smoked. They quit nagging. But Colby knew his mom didnít approve. He suspected his dad was impressed by his smoke rings, by how gown up he looked with the cigarette hanging from his mouth.

Just before he stubbed out the butt of the cigarette, Colby opened the bottle of scotch. He sniffed it. It didnít smell too bad. He dipped his finger in the bottle and tilted it forward. He licked the tip of his finger. It was kind of sweet, he thought.

Holding the bottle with both hands, he brought it to his lips. He hesitated for a moment, exhaled, and leaned back, letting the liquor pour almost straight down his throat. When the scotch hit the back of his throat, he felt it burn. But he kept pouring. It burned all the way down. And, when it hit his stomach, his body jerked. Colby spewed liquor when his throat closed with the spasm. The amber liquid splashed out across his desk. His insides were on fire. He shuddered with another spasm as he choked then coughed.

"Man," Colby Joe said, staring at the bottle in his hands, still trying to catch his breath. No one would think he was a D-dude seeing that.

He couldnít really taste anything. But he could feel the heat. It was a different sting than from the cigarettes. Different in his stomach than tobacco juice.

But he didnít stop. He took a small sip the second time. He let the liquor swirl around in his mouth a while, under his tongue, around his teeth and gums. When the liquid hit the spot where he bit his cheek, it stung. He cringed.

He sipped some more. It tasted like medicine. Maybe sweeter at first. But worse after. When he swallowed, he could feel the liquid trickle all the way down to the pit of his stomach. He had another swig.

"Colby?"

His momís voice roused him a bit. He mumbled something.

"Honey, itís getting late. I think you better get to bed."

He mumbled again. He wasnít sure what he was trying to say. But it satisfied his mother who headed down the hallway without looking in.

Colby was surprised to see that just less than half the scotch was gone. At least it kind of looked half-empty. The harder he tried to concentrate on the bottle, the more it seemed to swim around in front of him.

Maybe he needed go to bed.

When he reached for the cap, he knocked it on the floor. When he bent down to pick it up, he felt dizzy. His head started to pound. He felt the bottleís cap more than saw it, and brought it back up in front of him. He nearly missed the entire bottle when he tried to fit the cap on top. When as his hand slid down the side, it only nudged the bottle over. It took three more tries to get the cap on, but only one to realize it was upside down. That made Colby laugh.

Standing up made him dizzy, too. He lost control of the bottle as he tried to regain his balance. He was lucky. The bottle landed on the bed. He ended up on his knees, but at least he didnít crash into anything on the way down. He stayed on his knees as he crawled over to the closet to hide the bottle from sight. He pulled a pile of dirty clothes over the bottle and half-shut the closet door before crawling to the bathroom to relieve himself. Too bad he couldnít pee on his knees, he thought. And that made him laugh. But he told himself to be quiet or Derrick would hear. He struggled with his belt and the metal button on his jeans. He ended up sitting down on the stool, holding his throbbing head in his hands as he emptied his bladder.

He couldnít ever remember his head hurting so much.

He ran cold water in the sink and splashed some on his face, but it didnít remove the sticky, sweaty film enveloping him. After sitting down on the edge of the tub, he rubbed his hands across his forehead before struggling out of his shirt. The effort made his head throb directly behind his eyes. And pressing his palms against his temples didnít make the pain go away.

Colby woke up lying on the bathroom floor. His head still pounded, and he could taste bile and scotch. When he tried to move, his body responded in slow motion. When he got to his knees, the bathroom blurred. He scrunched his eyes shut, trying to clear his vision. But when he opened his eyes again, the room swirled around him. With the aid of the toilet and the sink, Colby was able to pull himself up. He splashed more water on his face, made a half-hearted attempt to dry off, and made a beeline to his bed. He felt himself falling to the right, and tried to correct it, but he couldnít. His chest hit the edge of the mattress, and he grabbed the blankets trying to stay off the floor.

Sun streamed through his window waking him. Before he tried lifting his head, he felt fine. But the second he raised it off the pillow, the pounding started once again. He tried to swallow, but his tongue wouldnít move from the roof of his mouth. He rolled out of bed, landing hard on his knees. After pulling himself up, he staggered toward the bathroom. He turned the water on in the sink and filled a glass with cool water. He drank it. And then another and another. But the dryness in his mouth would not go away.

He stripped out of his jeans and underwear and climbed into the tub to shower. He braced his arms against the wall as the water streamed down his back. As he leaned back, the hot water made his head feel worse, so he adjusted the water cooler. Cooler. Finally, his head quit throbbing. But his stomach was still jumpy.

He didnít really look at himself in the mirror until he started to comb his hair. His eyes were puffy and red. And the skin on his face seemed a little pale.

Mom canít see me like this, he thought. So, after dressing, he tiptoed down the stairs and headed for the front door. Just before he slammed it shut, he hollered that he had something he needed to do at school, so he was leaving.

Slamming the door was a mistake. The hollering was, too.

He half-ran to the corner to be out of sight if his mother came to the door.

When he reached the park, about three blocks from school, Colby sat down to rest for a minute. Idly, he knocked a smoke from the pack, lit up, and leaned back as he exhaled up into the air. His head was pounding again. But the mentholated tobacco calmed him a little.

Several cigarettes later, Derrick came across the park, heading for school. "Hey, Bud. What are you doing here?"

"Nothiní. Just catchiní a smoke before I hit classes. Want one?" he asked, knocking another one up and pulling it out of the pack with his lips.

"Sure."

Colby tossed the pack to his older brother, then he lit his own cigarette before offering him the lighter, too. His hand was a little unsteady.

"You look like you had a rough night."

"Kind of."

"Dad said you must have had a big test or something, because your light was on when he went to bed."

"Not really."

Derrick handed back the lighter and offered a hand to help his brother up. "Guess we better head for school. Bellís going to ring pretty soon."

The brothers flicked the cigarettes out at the edge of the park and walked the rest of the way to school without saying anything.

"See yaí," Colby said as he turned toward the far door.

"Okay."

Colby dazed through school. He was thirsty all morning and rushed to the drinking fountain after each class. When he tried to eat, the first few bites made his stomach feel worse, so he quit. When he got home, he got a coke and crashed in front of the TV.

"Going to wake up for dinner?"

Colby opened his eyes to see Derrick standing over him. The local news was on the tube, so it was after six.

"So?"

"What?" Colby asked.

"What did you drink last night?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Hey, little bro. I know what a hangover looks like."

"Yeah? So?"

"You were right to leave before either mom or dad saw you this morningóeven if they were mostly thinking about Elaineís wedding. They would have been plenty sore if they knew you were drinking."

"I look that bad?"

"Probably not by the time we got to school, unless somebody really looked at your eyes."

"Not much chance there. I think I slept through just about everything."

"Not surprised," Derrick said.

The boys were quiet for a moment. Both stared at the TV.

"What do you say to a couple of burgers?" Derrick asked.

"Okay."

"Mom said we could use the car."

"Great."

On the way to the burger joint, Derrick sang along with the blasting radio.

Colby rested his head against the window of the car.

A bunch of the guys from the high school were at the burger shop. The talk was about the big party the next night. Some of the guys were pitching a football around in the parking lot. Derrick joined in. Colby just watched from the sidelines. When they got home, Colby said he was going to bed. Derrick turned on the TV.

Colby had just opened the liquor bottle when Derrick walked into the room.

"You gonna do that again?"

"Yeah? So?"

"Man, thereís barely a third of that bottle left. You drink all that last night?"

Colby nodded.

"No wonder you were in such bad shape."

Colby tilted the bottle back and took a swig. He felt the tingle in his mouth as he let the liquid swirl around in his mouth. He offered the bottle to his brother as he swallowed.

"How much you been drinking?"

"Not much," Colby replied.

Derrick took a sip of the liquid. Colby watched as his brotherís muscles tightened as he swallowed.

"Burns a little," Colby said.

"Yeah," Derrick replied, a bit hoarse. "How long you been drinkiní stuff like this?" Derrick handed the bottle back.

"Last night was the first time I tried. I wanted to know what I was in for before I got to that party tomorrow and you and your friends got me sick. I didnít want people to laugh like they did with the cigarettes."

"Man, I remember," Derrick laughed. "You were puking green."

"And you guys never let me forget it, either."

"Yeah. Guess not," Derrick said. "Thatís the way it was with me and Johnny Hamilton when we were your age."

"Yeah, well," Colby said. "Iím not going to be laughed at this time. Iím going to practice. He took another swig, letting the liquid run straight down his throat.

Taking the bottle back, Derrick said, "Man, Canít believe you."

"What do you mean?"

"You drank nearly two thirds of that scotch. And itís a fifth, not a pint."

"So?"

"I think you got more drinking done in one night than most of the guys I hang out withófor the hard stuff, anyway."

"Really?" Colby smiled.

"Mostly, we drink beer. Man, we would need about a case to match what you had. I canít believe youíre even walking around."

"So you think Iím ready for my first high school party?"

"You may be too ready."

"Practice makes perfect," Colby said, taking the bottle back from Derrick.

The two finished the rest of the scotch before going to bed. In the morning, they slept late. But when they got up, they tackled the list of chores they had promised to do.

Just before seven, Johnny Hamilton pulled up in his momís van. He honked the horn, and Colby and Derrick came running.

"This is going to be great," Walt Keonig said when they opened the sliding door.

"You bet it is," Derrick said, getting in the seat with Walt.

Colby climbed into the next seat.

"Who else you pickiní up?" Derrick asked.

"Thompson and the Garvey twins. And Lisa and her little sister."

"Gonna be a full load," Walt said. "Letís get ready to party." He pulled out a pint of clear liquid and took a sip. "Want some, Johnny?"

"You know I canít when Iím driviní."

"Boy this party is gonna be hard on you," Derrick said. He took the bottle from Walt. After taking a little hit, he passed it back to Colby.

"Sure you can handle this stuff, Junior?" Walt asked.

"No problem," Colby said. He tilted his head back and poured the liquid straight down his throat. It burned more than he expected. But he didnít let his muscles tighten.

"Looks like Junior's an old pro," Johnny said from the front seat.

With each new pick up, the bottle was passed again. One of the Garvey brothers told Colby to take it easy, but Colby didnít listen.

By the time the van arrived at Millerís farm, the occupants had drained two bottles. "Are we primed or what?" Walt screamed, jumping out of the van.

"You and Junior are," Johnnie said, grabbing Waltís arm and holding him steady. "How much did you drink before I picked you up?"

"Hey, Iím fine, Mr. Desnegated driver."

"Yeah. I can tell."

Colby was feeling fine when he got out of the van. He was walking without any problems, and heading toward the bonfire. Derrick and Johnny helped Walt over to the barn.

Just behind the main group of kids around the fire, someone Colby really didnít know was leaning on a tree. He was holding a scotch bottle. Colby knocked out a cigarette and lit it, and walked up to the kid and offered him a smoke. In return, he was handed the bottle.

After pouring some of the alcohol straight down his throat, he handed the bottle back. "Nameís Colby."

"Mick," the kid said. He tried to imitate Colby, but his throat closed off and he started to choke.

"Youíll get the hang of it, kid."

People were already watching him drink. And Colby liked that. People he didnít know came up and handed him a bottle.

"Can you drain whatís left in this one in one belt?" someone asked.

Colby took the bottle and studied it. The quart bottle of gin had about two inches of clear liquid left. "You besha," Colby said.

"Maybe youíve had enough," someone said before he could down the gin.

"Am I shtill shtaniní?" Colby asked, raising the bottle. He poured the bottleís contents down his throat, shaking it when it was empty.

Both Colby and Walt had to be put back in the van.

"Can you help me with Walt," Johnny asked Derrick when they and the two sleepers were left in the van.

"Sure, no problem. Then you can help me with Colby."

Walt woke up when they started to lift him out of the van. "Iím going to regret this when my mom gets me up for church," he said. "Help me around to the back, will you. If I go in the back way, I donít have to walk past my folksí room to get to bed."

A few minutes later, Johnny and Derrick were struggling with Colby. They banged into walls, nearly dropped him on the stairs.

"Guess itís a good thing your parents ainít home," Johnny said.

After locking the door behind Johnny, Derrick returned to Colbyís room. He took off his kid brotherís jacket. But he became worried when Colby didnít even groan as he pushed him this way and that trying to pull the boots off. He noticed that Colby was just barely breathing.

"Wake up. Wake up," Derrick screamed, slapping Colby. He tried to get his brother up on his feet. But the kid was just dead weight. Nothing stirred him.

Derrick dragged Colby into the bathroom. He splashed water on his face. But Colby didnít rouse. If anything, his breathing weakened.

"Come on, Colby. What am I going to tell mom and dad?"

Derrick stood over his little brotherís slumping body. "What am I going to do?" he asked his reflection. "What am I going to do?"

Derrick dragged Colby to the steps, turned around, and got in front of him, pulling him up over his shoulder. "Weíve got to go to the hospital, Colby. Weíve got to. What are mom and dad going to say? Man, what are they going to say?

Derrick was gasping for air after getting Colby into the back seat of the car. "Hang on, Colby. Weíre on our way." He gunned the car down the road. He didnít stop until he skidded to a halt just past the emergency room entrance.

"Hey, you canít park there," a policeman said, approaching the car.

"Help me. Help me," Derrick screamed, jumping out of the car. "Itís Colby."

Derrick watched as Colby was loaded onto a gurney and taken into the hospital. Somebody grabbed his arm and started asking him questions. He didnít know what they wanted. He couldnít think. "Heís going to be all right, isnít he? Heís going to be all right?"

He remembered sitting down in the hallway. He didnít know where Colby was. He didnít know what was happening.

The next thing he knew, a man in green stood over him. "Son? Son?"

"Huh?" Derrick asked, trying to think about where he was. "Colby?"

"Did you ever get hold of your parents?"

"What?" Derrick asked. "What about Colby? Is he all right."

"Your parents. You were going to call them," the man said, grabbing Derrick by the shoulders.

"I called them at my auntís houseÖ." His voice trailed off.

"Do you think theyíre home now?"

"I donít know," Derrick said, trying to think. "Why? Whatís happened? Whereís Colby?"

"Would you call and see if your parents are home, Son?"

"No," Derrick screamed. "Heís going to be all right. Heís going to be fine. He was just drinking a little."

"Son," the man in green said, again grabbing him by the shoulders.

When Derrick looked at him, the man continued. "Call your folks, Son. Okay? Just call your folks."

Derrick started to cry. "Heís gonna be all right. Heís just had too much to drink. Just a little too much. Heíll be okay."

When Derrick looked up, the man in green was gone. And he knew it was too late.

 

 

The End



Revised Text placed on
The Leprechaun News WebPages
16 July 98

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