Midnight Moonshine by Sarah G Lilly
She’s no good for you son. But it’s no use saying so, like so many others have said. No means not much more than that mockingbird singing. Just pretty nothing. Hate to lose them though. and that’s how it is with girls like Stella. They don’t add up to much, but you sure do miss them when they go.
The damp heat filled the streets and the homes and the space beneath the shade trees like a giant, living presence. It squatted over Wilkins Glen and Ranchero, over the junk yards and parking lots and over Clayborn Street and Maynard’s Drug Store. It parted grudgingly as Fulton drove his caddy into Campbell, blasting Chuck Berry from his radio and singing along to Maybellene.
He pulled up to one of five metered parking spots in town and looked both ways to see if the meter maid was anywhere in sight.
Fulton Aloysius Treymore swung his legs under the steering wheel, and over the door and vaulted out of his white Cadillac convertible like the high school gymnast he had been six years ago. He had to. The door was welded shut on the driver’s side after he ran into a beehive at the dump and hit a pyramid of empty oil drums trying to get away from Joe Lewis’ crazy dog Wotan. Thank God he didn’t have the top down that day.
His cotton shirt stuck to his shoulder blades and he mopped his face with his handkerchief. Fulton sang his song undaunted by bees or summer humidity. He knew where there was a cold creek and if you were a good friend of his, he would take you there and pass you a jug of his Daddy’s Secret, the moonshine that burned like fire and lifted you several inches above the Mississippi mud. And tonight he just might end up there with Stella Cruz (damn it! He wasn’t going to consciously think that, so as not to jinx it. )
Fulton Aloysius had bodacious friends. He’d known Connie since they were seven year’s old in Mrs. Pertle’s class. They had finger painted together and made each other peanut butter and apple snacks until Connie told him she was going to get married to Arnold Crosby when they both grew up. They somehow managed to have the same teachers every year until they got to High School, and that was when they both got in trouble for talking (well, laughing, actually) during the State Regent’s test. They both had to take the test again and get consequences from the superintendent. A week later Connie was sneaking out of her bedroom window and Al was riding his bike to the library to meet her. Them being together was just good times.
Connie might not like him taking Stella to cold creek though.
Fulton strode into the air conditioned drug store where Stella was working. He saw her wearing that turquoise blue rayon cashmere sweater that he loved, and noted that her eye shadow matched the sweater.
There she was, Miss Stella Cruz with a blue bow in her dark hair, and her skirt flaring out from her petite waist. She always smelled sweet, and Fulton wasn’t sure if it was the candied peanuts or the dimestore perfumes. But it certainly added to Stella’s perfections and whet his appetite.
She smiled at him and stepped out from behind the counter with her manicure and her Barbie style spike heels, her toes with their shiny red nails displayed like so many mini-twinkies topped with a maraschino cherry.
“Good afternoon, Stella. You look simply delicious”, Fulton enthused.
“Why thank you Fulton, you look kind of scrumptious, yourself” twinkled Stella.
Fulton looked humbly at the linoleum floor of Maynard’s Drugstore, and caught a glimpse of his freshly polished saddle shoes. He smiled not quite shyly at Stella as he stepped beside her with a guiding hand on her waist.
“None of that, now.” She said as she slapped his hand away.
“Right this way, Miss Stella” said Fulton, bowing.
“That’s more like it” Stella laughed, her big white teeth framed by Revlon Red lips. Fulton was mesmerized.
They glided through the drugstore and thumped onto the burning sidewalk. Stella’s nose wrinkled in distaste.
“Ugh!”, she exclaimed, as she stepped into the muggy weather of the street after Fulton and slipped into the caddy as he held the door.
Fulton jogged around the car, put both hands on the welded door and sprang into the drivers seat. He looked expectantly at Stella, but she was busy putting on enormous dark sunglasses and a blue chiffon scarf over her hair.
As he started the caddy, he happened to see a reflection in the drugstore window. It was Miles Ellerby, who worked nights at the drugstore cleaning the displays. Miles was gazing intently at Stella with a look of confusion and disappointment on his open face.
“Can we hurry?” Stella purred.
The caddy blasted off in a slow thunder of pistons and exhaust , and shot down Clayborn Street in a shower of sparks.
“Really, Fulton”, murmured Stella. “It is much too hot for this nonsense. Maybe I should have you drive me straight home”
“Lord, no Stella. I just wanted to get away from that stupid Miles Ellerby, like you did. I’ll slow down now.” They approached the Willow Bridge at about 35 mph.
“Honestly, Fulton. If I sit in this car another minute, I will simply faint. This heat is unbearable”.
“Stella, my dear, it’s time for the air conditioning”.
Fulton gallantly pulled to the shoulder next to a sweltering, grassy field of tall weeds. He switched the car’s cooling system to ‘frigid’ and hopped over the door. He walked to the rear of the car and cranked the motor for raising the hood. It slowly rose over the car, covering Stella’s lovely head with an unfolding beige leather umbrella, Fulton snapped the top in place.
Stella sat in the passenger seat, studying her manicure. Fulton gunned the engine and blasted off a second time, barely missing a teenage possum who had wandered out onto the shoulder wondering what all the commotion was about. The movie theater was in Ranchero, ten miles away, but he couldn’t get there too soon for Stella, and driving home it was a short distance to cold creek. He might just accidentally wind up there.
whump whump whump whump whump.
“Good gracious god almighty,” thought Fulton. “ A blow out. Talk about a buzz killer.”
Fulton released the gas and braked gently. He was in luck. He had just changed a flat Saturday for his Dad, and checked his spare that morning as part of his self-discipline campaign.
Stella moaned. “Really Fulton” She shook her head, as if she was putting up with some impossible flaw in his personality.
Fulton hopped out , ran around and lifted the spare out of the trunk. He swung the jack out of its case in the trunk door and whistled “You are My Sunshine” as he changed the flat. Stella sat in the caddy with the ac on, her bright blue eyes hardening into little glinting ice cubes, her candy colored toes pinching up in her shoes.
Ten minutes later, they blasted off for the third time that evening and ended up in front of Wood’s Theatre in Ranchero. Stella grabbed her ticket from Fulton’s sweaty hand and clicked into the movie theater a couple strides ahead of him, as the caddy’s roof slid into its compartment and Fulton hopped over the door, stumbling after her.
The theater was a box of cool air, smelling of popcorn, cotton candy, and the smoking section that hid behind that red flashing sign. Stella whizzed past the warm lights of the cigarette machine with it’s keyboard of colorful cigarette logos, and pull dispenser rods.
The usher held a flashlight to light the carpeted aisle to their seat in the dark theater. Fulton Aloysius stood tall and protectively as Stella dipped into the seat next to the aisle. He noted with pleasure the turquoise blue net slip that showed when her skirt flipped up. Fulton thought he saw her creamy, sweet knees for a brief second before she smoothed down her skirt.
This thought occupied him until the roaring sound and brilliant technicolor of the screen broke over them like a wave, and the Warner Bros. cartoon began.
There they were, Fulton thought, embraced by the rippling laughter of the audience and the special feeling of being the lucky ones in the civilized cool of the theater. Fulton stretched and gently placed his arm over the back of Stella’s seat. A sharp pain in his side jolted him upright as Stella’s elbow jabbed his ribs.
“What’d you do that for?” he whispered loudly to her.
She stared into the movie screen and whispered out of the side of her mouth. “Behave!”.
Fulton, wounded, leaned back into the plush seat, his confidence shaken. The cartoon ended, and the main feature started. It was “Giant”, with Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. In the light from the panoramic screen filled with a herd of cattle in the desert, Fulton made out the silhouette of a familiar profile in the row ahead of them. It was Cliff Arnold, former football star of Ranchero high school, now brass balled bouncer at the Club Callaloo in Jackson. While the recognition poked him, he thought he saw Stella turn her head slightly in that direction, then glance back at the movie screen.
About 20 minutes into the film, Fulton began to feel a bit chilled by the ac. He fidgeted in his seat. Stella squirmed a tiny bit in hers. Fulton’s mind spun away from Liz Taylor and Rock Hudson and technicolor and into his own personal movie of passion and rivalry starring himself, Stella and Cliff Arnold. For now it seemed clear that Stella had noticed Cliff and glanced in his direction a little too often to be coincidence.
After the film, Fulton stood so that Stella could pass him in the aisle, and she paused in a calculated way while Cliff strode up behind her and playfully placed his hands over her eyes. Stella gave a mock scream and tore his hands away, turning sharply and saying, “Well, now, don’t let it be you, Cliff honey!”. They both laughed, conspiratorially, Fulton thought. He now had to awkwardly fall in behind Cliff to get out of the theater. Stella and Cliff seemed to be speaking a silent code up ahead of him.
They got separated in the crowded lobby and when Fulton found her again she was leaning against the cigarette machine in her adorable blue sweater. Her eyes were twinkling again.
“Oh Fulton”, she sighed. “Don’t you just want a cigarette?”
Fulton replied obligingly, “What brand do you want, Stella?”
“Oh well, I really don’t smoke, but if I could borrow one of your menthols” she said, pointing to the “Kools” button.
Fulton deposited six quarters and pulled the rod and a pack of “Kools” shot into the bottom tray. “Here you are, Stella” he said. He felt a little passion again for a second as she put the cigarette between her Revlon Red lips and he flashed the cigarette lighter into flame. Stella inhaled deeply.
They walked out of the theater into the 90 degree Ranchero, Mississippi night.
“It’s hot”, Fulton ventured. “ I know a place that’s really cool and comfortable right now”
“Well. I can’t see the point of going to a bar tonight, Fulton.” Stella said with petite authority. “I have majorette practice tomorrow and I’d like to be fresh. You know how things are at Beaumont. I’ll lose points if I’m late.”
Fulton did know how things were at Beaumont. Cliff had flunked out there after losing his football scholarship for improper off-campus conduct with a couple cheerleaders. He wasn’t sure how, but he dimly sensed Cliff factored into Stella’s reluctance.
“Well it’s a really pretty night, and the moon is rising at 10:07 over the Willow Bridge. Have you ever been to the cold creek?” He asked.
“Oh, Fulton, have you even looked at how I’m dressed? I’m not some little farmer’s daughter in raggedy cut-offs. Take me home”
She seemed genuinely upset now, and Fulton wondered at the mystery that is femininity. He put the car into gear and noticed the ac felt frosty.
The black night sped away from the headlights on the road and Fulton and Stella flew toward Wilkins. Before long they pulled into Stella’s driveway ..
Fulton pressed the retract button for the roof and hopped out as quickly as he could, but Stella beat him to the punch and opened her own car door.
“Dear God, it’s melting tonight” she said as her high heels clicked onto the porch. Fulton felt smaller than his 6’3” in the puddle of porch light.
“I had a swell time, Stella” Fulton said, catching her hand. “Can we do it again next Saturday?”
“I’m pretty sure I have to wash my hair, Fulton” Stella said. “Maybe I’ll see you at the drug store.”
Fulton sighed. “Goodnight then, beautiful lady” he said.
“Goodnight, Fulton” said Stella, shaking his hand and looking past him into the blackness.
Fulton swung his legs over the welded door and drove into Wilkins Glen, where his family lived. He parked in the driveway and hiked up the stairs into his apartment over the garage. He was opening the door as he saw his Dad’s head poke out the front door below.
“Have a good time, son? I heard Liz Taylor is sizzling”. He called.
“ I wouldn’t know, Dad. I’m going to bed”
“Well goodnight then” his Dad said humbly, and they both went to bed.
Al came in and took off his shirt in the oven like dark space of the garage apartment. He opened the refrigerator to try to get some cool air on his chest, but only his navel and mid section had access to the cool fridge air, and he felt perspiration beading on his face and neck with the effort of getting undressed. He grabbed an ice cube and ran it over his shoulders when a gentle knock came at the door.
He opened it without turning on the light, and there was his Dad, in shorts and a T shirt.
“Al, it’s too hot to sleep”, he said.
“Let’s go down to the cold creek. I think I can get it frozen this time.” He held up a gleaming blue bottle in the moonlight.
Fulton smiled in spite of his deep discouragement and the oppressive humidity, which had now slicked his body over with oily wetness.
“Okay, but you’re driving”, Fulton said, recalling the unfortunate collision at the dump that directly followed his most recent encounter with cold creek and moonshine. His Daddy’s quest to freeze pure alcohol had always resulted in failure, but like a dogged alchemist he was constantly seeking ways to manifest his vision of a kind of moonshine slushie.
Fulton rummaged in his laundry basket for a pair of swimming trunks, which he squeezed on over his damp body. The humid darkness held them both close for a moment, smothered in a moist hug that felt like the clammy , crepe skin of a dear maiden aunt.
The two of them flowed down the stairs stepping quietly with respect to some dim memory of others sleeping, and melted into the seats of the big , safe Buick sedan that closed around them like a cashbox. The night felt dark green outside of the car and smelled faintly of pond water as they approached the creek . The car radio played “Your Cheatin Heart” by Patsy Cline and a kind of summer magic settled over them. When they got close, his dad turned off the radio and the headlights and they drove by the moon and the parking lights. The sound of the crickets and frogs throbbed around them.
Leonard Wilkins Treymore looked over at his son and approved of the fruit of his loins. He had loved his mother passionately and loyally for 30 years, and felt thankful their love had created this being. He was grateful for the companionship that helped him bear the loss of Fancy and yet reminded him constantly of her. He glanced down at the doctor’s bag he was carrying, nearly missing the turn off.
Fulton called it out, “Hey, Dad, we’re here”, just as he had in the early days when they came here for family picnics. Leon was going so slow he didn’t have to brake to turn. The warmth seemed to pull them along, and by now, both father and son were aching for the cool. The men sauntered out of the car and walked carefully through the mud, considering they were “regulars” . They found a place at the foot of their favorite tree, a natural bench really, formed from the root of the Willow tree that had grown over a boulder washed away in some forgotten flood.
Now the father and son sat side by side, dangling their feet in the cold creek, letting it’s cool creep up their bodies, cooling their bones. Leon opened the black bag and brought out an insulated aluminum thermos. Then he lifted out the blue moonshine bottle with “Daddy’s Secret” stamped on the label.
“What’s the idea here?” Fulton asked .
“Dry ice”, said his Dad, tapping the thermos with his finger. “You just put a piece in the moonshine, and by the time it evaporates, it’s frozen the alcohol “, Leon grinned. “I read about it in “Southern Life”.
“I don’t think that article was journalism, Dad. Wasn’t that in the “New Fiction” issue?”
“Well, yeah, alright, but my granddad used to talk about it too. So I think it’ll probably work.”
“Okay”, Fulton said, sliding into the moonlit creek. Silver-gold ripples broke around him as the water accepted his body like a kiss. Fulton splashed back into the cool. “Dear God, it’s heaven!” Fulton moaned.
“Yep, it’s almost as good as sex”, his Dad said as he pulled the dry ice out of the canister with tongs and dropped it into the alcohol. Immediately, it began to smoke, and Fulton shouted “Look out , Dad!”
Leon continued to drop long shards of dry ice into the bottle resting on the tree root. He stood up and jumped back a bit as the bottle began to rock and sway and smoke shot out of it’s mouth nearly twenty feet in the air. The smoke continued to pour out of the bottle, a quantity of it puddling on the tree root then growing into a shape almost feminine as it spread over the water. The moonlight reflected on the water sparkled through it and seemed to give it life. Gentle, familiar laughter filled the hollow.
“That sounds like Fancy” Leon whispered.
“Of course it’s me.” said a voice that seemed to make the stars shiver. “You think I didn’t know about your moonshine midnights?” She laughed again.
“Mom?” said Fulton.
Well, I hope so. Now I’ve got your attention, I hope you’re listening.
She’s no good for you son. But it’s no use saying so, like so many others have said. No means not much more than that mockingbird singing. Just pretty nothing. Hate to lose it though. And that’s how it is with girls like Stella. They don’t add up to much, but you sure do miss them when they go.
Fulton Aloysius, you’re better off without her. Because fate is about to deal you a great opportunity. And if you miss out on Margaret Roberts you have to be a bigger fool than your Daddy. And I know you’re smarter than him or I wouldn’t be wasting my time with you, would I?
. “Forget her, darlin,” the familiar voice said as it seemed to evaporate into the trees. A little laughter shook the tree braches and the voice was gone and the mist with it.
The quiet was staggering. Leon spoke first. “ I knew she was something pretty special” he said, kind of shivering in the heat.
“We’re not drunk, are we?” Fulton said.
“Well, I need some medicine now” said his Dad, as he swirled the bottle and leaned his head back, and the drink oozed out like liquid jello. He opened his eyes in pleasure and awe. “It worked,” he grinned, passing the bottle.
Fulton awoke the next morning to a ringing sound pounding painfully into his head. He grabbed the alarm clock and slammed it on the night table until it stopped ringing. He dropped two alka seltzer tablets in a water glass and filled it in the sink. The sound of the water running hurt his head. He took a sip and fell back into bed. He was awakened by the sound of a horn honking. It was Connie. After five minutes he heard her pounding up the stairs.
“Goddamnit, Al! If you make me late one more time” she hit the landing and swung open the door for emphasis. Fulton weakly raised a finger to his lips without opening his eyes.
“You lousy slob!” she yelled. She put both hands under his armpits and hauled him to his feet. Fulton stumbled toward the shower. Connie made coffee.
A half hour later, he opened the glass door of the downtown office storefront and made his way to his desk without raising his eyes above the floor. The office was quiet except for the beeping of a phone that was off the hook. Fulton took it off the desk and replaced it on the cradle.
The bell behind the door rang and the glass swung open. A slim figure entered, shadowed by the early morning sun at her back. Gently curling brown hair in a halo of light framed the angel face of a girl about 23 years old. Her white blouse, tied with a red scarf at the neck, dwindled to a narrow black pencil skirt that stopped just below her knee. Two long shins, one slightly bruised, ended in white arches above the black pumps on her feet. She smiled, looking all together like an adult version of a girl scout, preparing to sell cookies.
“I’m Margaret Roberts” she said curtly. “The new intern from Tulane.”
Fulton smiled, and it hurt in a good way