Nothing Bad Had Happened Yet

Five of us boys come up thirsty. Maybe it’s the Jap dark, the way it settles into the countryside, creeps along through the rickrack trees and all the snow until we are just barely swallowing. Or it’s the thirst we have from looking at the walls of the barracks and thinking maybe we are the ones who gave up and got caught. But no—if we can thirst, we can act on it. Not that we ourselves have done much in the action department, no, we are strictly mop-up.

Gates—he’s at least fifteen—the hooch is his idea. You can sign out and chew down the sulfa prophylactics they give you even when you are just going off to church, you can walk into town and hope for Parcheesi with your glass of sissy fizz—or you can pay top Jap dollar for a farmer to dig up a stone jar full of pepper juice, a fuel you have never thought to actually drink in your life, Gates tells us—and that farmer, we have heard, can only be roused at the end of this shortcut Gates has heard about.

I don’t like Gates as a rule. He doesn’t like me. As MPs we get more opportunity to express ourselves in these matters and we have, he and I, so I am all for any other plan, except Wheezer, a blond dooser of a lumberjack who I know a little from basic, has drunk this farmer’s homemade wine and makes a sound so happy about it, I fall in.

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