The city had put out an advisory. Something was amiss with the water. Unsafe to drink, unsafe to cook with, unsafe to shower in. I'd almost forgotten about the ice. Victor took the whiskey-Coke from my hand and dumped it over the edge of the balcony just before I took a sip. A drink on the house for the mulberry bush by the dumpster.
A hissed curse slipped out of my mouth in the moment before I realized he was trying to help, when I thought he was just being the usual Victor.
The water was okay to drink if you boiled it first, but it was already the kind of hot where we couldn't so much as boil an egg without turning our shotgun apartment into the surface of Mars. (If Mars is hot. Is Mars hot, or is it cold? Being as it’s out in space, maybe it’s cold. But the sunburnt soil, the dust horizon deep in all directions, it looks like it should be hot, doesn’t it?)
Victor’s idea, which he thought was genius, like he was Mr. Wizard or the Professor from Gilligan’s Island or Scotty from Star Trek, was that we’d fill the canning pot up to the brim with water, and leave it to boil while we went out. He’d bought me the canning pot three Christmases ago. I’d forgotten about it, up on a shelf above the water heater with the Panini press and the waffle iron and the rest of the kitchen gadgets he’d bought for me early in the marriage, before he realized it was me, not his mother, that he’d married.
We went to the park. He brought a flask in his pocket that he filled with as much bourbon as he could get into the little hole in the top. “You know, you’re pouring liquor, not going to the bathroom,” I said, putting on my sandals and watching half the booze run out over his hand and onto the floor. We sat on a blanket out in the sun. All of the shady spots were taken. The quick store had been out of Gatorade so we drank the bourbon straight, and I closed my eyes and tried to pretend it tasted like something—anything—else.
Two hours must’ve passed before we got back. The apartment was a desert island. I lifted up the lid on the pot, holding my head back out of the path of the steam. But there was no steam. The surface of the water was still. A few pitiful champagne bubbles hovered up meekly from the bottom of the pot.
“Piece of shit stove,” Victor said, then muttered something about checking the connections, like he knew something about stoves. And if Pizza Hut printed stove schematics at the bottom of every box of pan pizza, maybe he would.
I couldn’t bear it. I reached for a glass, filled it with cool water from the tap.
He reached out and grabbed my wrist. “Are you stupid?”
I slapped him across the face. He backed up against the counter, rubbing his cheek, looking at me like I was the mess of wires and bolts he would’ve found if he’d opened that stove up and tried to fix it.
I lifted the glass to my pursed lips. It tickled the peach fuzz above my mouth. I opened wide and took a drink.
About the Author: Matt Sailor lives in Oregon, and wishes bourbon were as cheap there as it was in Atlanta, Georgia, where he spent most of his life. He has published essays and stories widely, and you can find them all at mattsailor.com. He tweets (mostly about Star Trek) @mattsailor.
Story Song: "The Better End" by Potty Mouth
Photo Credit: Elisabeth Clem/Poppy and Pinecone