Ace Boggess

I head over to the Speedy Minute Mart to pick up chips, dip and soda for Allison’s AA party. My sweet, sad, sensual girl and her baker’s dozen sullen-but-just-as-sad-for-being-sober new friends. . . . “Some party,” I'm thinking. “No booze tonight. Not even a beer.” Of course, she doesn’t fit in with the lot of them — her bright blonde hair a halo compared to their darkly pointing devil horns of eyebrows, her young skin smooth and pink while theirs, weathered from age and experience, burns with brooding brownish gray that fills in the potholes on their cheeks and foreheads. She’s not like them in what she’s survived, either. She’s never beaten anybody in a drunken fugue, never tried to kill herself under the influence, never so much as lost a job after showing up blitzed or not showing up at all. She’s in the group as part of the plea deal she made for her second D.U.I. She probably is an alchy like the rest. But she takes the whole routine only as seriously as she needs to for passing a year clean and sober so she can get her record expunged. And she expects me to play along, to stay straight with her, help her out.

I cross the street — head bowed, hands tucked into my leather coat’s pockets. A brownish-red pickup passes me with windows rolled down despite the cold air. Some awful country song about tears in bears blares from the stereo, the bass turned up crazily loud and humming with feedback like the Columbus hipster cowboy inside’s listening to angry rap instead of that sad, depressing crap. Shaking my head, I slow-step across the four lanes to the convenience store.

“Hey, Man,” a young voice says. Can’t tell at first if it’s a boy or girl, so I turn to look, wondering if I’m about to be mugged or hit up for cash with some line about needing “to catch a bus” or “fix a tire” or whatever banner crack kids fly these days. “Hey, Man. Come here a minute.” Two boys, about eighteen or nineteen, stand in shadows by the building. They’re bundled in parkas, freezing. One’s got his coat unzipped as if trying to be cool in the cold, showing off an OSU sweatshirt underneath. He’s the one summoning me. “Come on, Man. Won’t bother you. Please?”

It’s that intense yearning in his voice that makes me go along. I smile at him a bit awkwardly. “What’s the deal?”

He nods, shrugs, looks at his friend who looks away, then turns back to me. “Sorry, Man. Don’t want to give you no hassle. It’s just, well. . . .”

“Spit it out, Kid. It’s cold as hell, and I got a warm girl to get back to.”

“It’s like this. We’re having a party for a couple girls, too, you know? And we saw you heading over here and, well. . . .”

“You want money? Can’t help you.”

“Not that,” the second boy says, his tone effeminate, nasally.

The OSU-sweatshirt boy says, “We got money. We were wondering if maybe you’d go in and buy us some beer. We’ll give you ten bucks, plus the beer money. All we want’s a case of anything, okay? Something not too rich for a couple college men, but bottles.”

I laugh, kind of condescending. “I could get in a lot of trouble for that. How old are you boys? No, don’t answer. Better if I don’t know.”

I remember being eighteen and in college, standing beside a liquor-store entrance or waiting nearby in a car until some old wino walked by so I could bribe him to buy me and my buds Jack Daniel’s, Jim Beam, tequila, or whatever the night demanded. I never felt seedy to be the kid in need, but I sure feel edgy on the other end. Still, it’s karmic. You always tip the waiter so you get the tips when you’re on the clock. “Give me the cash, and be quick about it.”

The quiet boy reaches for a money clip packed with green.

Should’ve asked for more, I think. I take the money and head for the door. As I step inside, the first sound I hear’s a jingling bell, followed by Christmas radio music, and the frustrated clerk behind the counter whining, “I just can’t do it. It’s against the law, Mister. Don’t you understand?

Shit. I wonder if I’ve been busted, look up and see an old man in a camouflage coat and cap smacking his palm on the counter; his face like a lunar landscape, eyes shadowed craters on that moon; hands covered with old-time brown working gloves with half the fingers missing.

“Now, Buddy,” he groans at the clerk, “I need this," His left hand pats a twelve pack of Milwaukee’s Best, "And I’m giving you all I got.”

The clerk, like a twin to the quiet boy in the parking lot, shrugs as if to say, there's nothing I can do. He’s wearing an apron, with the store’s name in white letters, over a tee shirt and jeans. In the store lighting, his lips look lipsticked pink. I think it’s an illusion.

The old guy turns around and stares at me like I’m a hot chick or something. He smiles in a way that says, Praise the Lord! I’m taking my dog to heaven! “Hey Buddy,” he says. “Hey Buddy, I’ll give you twenty dollars of perfectly good food stamps for ten dollars so I can buy me some beer.”

“Holy fucking shit,” I hear myself mumble before I can choke back the words. This guy just spit out his line in front of the clerk and video cameras. The clerk shrugs and turns away as if to assure me, “I didn’t hear a thing,” probably hoping like hell to get rid of this geezer any way he can.

“Buddy, d’you hear me? Twenty dollars is twenty dollars, right?"

I reach for my wallet, careful not to mix up the kids’ cash and mine.

“Thanks, Buddy. Knew you was a fine young feller. Could see it soon as you walked in out’da cold.”

If I hear another, “Buddy,” I might kick him in the head. I take his food stamps and head down an aisle.

I pick up a case of beer for the two outside and lug it up front. The old guy’s gone. Relieved, I set the case down and smile at the clerk.

“Oh, no. Not you, too. Didn’t you hear me tell him I can’t sell you beer? It’s against the law to take stamps for alcohol.”

“Sure,” I said. “Got cash for this.”

“Oh, thank high heaven.”

“Yeah, but I got to get some other stuff with the stamps. Just leaving the beer here for a minute.” I head back to the aisles and dig out chips, cheese puffs, dip, candy, Cokes, a can of coffee. As I dump everything on the counter, I glance outside and see the OSU-sweatshirt boy waving for me. “Hold on a sec,” I tell the clerk, hoping he hasn’t seen the dumb-ass kid. “Be right back.”

I head outside where the two have been joined by a third. This one’s not wearing a coat over his preppy black button-down shirt and yellowish turtleneck. Crazy kids, I’m thinking. Gonna get me caught.

The first boy says, “This is our friend. . . .”

“No names.”

“Sorry, Man. Anyway, he’s a friend. Wants to know if you’d pick him up a couple forties of Icehouse.”


“It’s cool, Man. Don’t freak.”

p> “What the hell.” As they say, five bucks is. . . .

Allison meets me at the door. She looks hot and classy in her casual blue cotton dress and blue-black shoes. Her cherry-scented perfume makes me hungry for the taste of her skin. “Where’ve you been?” she demands, scowling. “Took you forever. Thought you weren’t coming back.”

“Afraid I didn’t wanna hang around with these ‘party animals?’”

She smiles — a beautiful sight. “Yeah, guess it’s not a high-energy bash.”

“Nothing more depraved than a bunch of old drunks crying over their apple juice and wishing it was whiskey. Well, sorry I took so long. Got distracted.”

The smile dies. “Distracted how? Sent you to buy chips, for fuck’s sake. Simple. How’d ya get distracted from that?

“Oh, you know. The usual. Had to buy a shitload of beer.”

She scowls and groans. “Funny,” she says. “You’re so goddamned funny I could kiss you. So fucking hilarious. If only it were true. We could drink away our problems. Wouldn’t that be positively evil?” She hesitates. “So, where’s the, uhm, beer?”

“I didn’t want you to get mad, so I drank it all on the way back from the store. Can’t you tell? I’m smashed. Best mechanic in the world couldn’t bang away the dents.”

“Goddamned funny,” she says again. She sniffs once to make sure I don’t smell like a brewery. “Part of me wants that beer.” Then she gives me a wet kiss that chills my lips while I’m standing in the winter air.

“Yeah, part of me, too. The part that has molecules.”

She shrugs. “Guess it can’t be helped. Might as well come on in. You can cry in your apple juice with the rest of us.”

Ace Boggess

. . . of Huntington, WV, is the author of one book of poems, The Beautiful Girl Whose Wish Was Not Fulfilled, published in 2003 (, and several literary novels currently being shopped to editors. His writing appears in Harvard Review, Notre Dame Review, Poetry East, Blue Mesa Review, Atlanta Review and similar journals.