William E. Allendorf
There suddenly seemed to be such an emptiness in his life. The
bottle told him that he had wasted everything. Without promise
of redemption, the beer spoke to him of an aborted life under the
sight of an indifferent god. The beer made him puke and weep,
until the man could take no more. He hung his head and poured
the remaining half-bottle over the back of his neck and scalp.
It felt like the first right thing he'd ever done, and the beer
stopped telling him things. He laughed at the beer, and then
lay back and fell asleep.
He awoke at the edge of the parking lot where he had passed out
the night before. His feet hung out over a cliff overlooking a
wood. He stretched and tried to shake off the hangover, but it
hung on tenaciously. He stood up and threw the empty bear bottle
into the trees below, perhaps in an effort to expel the last
trace of the evening. While he busied himself with the matter of
brushing his pants and making his appearance more sensible, his
ears listened for the bottle to crash.
The trees sensed the bottle as it left his hand. A neat little
hole opened in the canopy just large enough to accommodate the
missile and after it had passed through, the canopy closed around
it. An adolescent locust caught the bottle. The tree bobbled it
from one limb to another and then popped it up and over to a
older hackberry that was still trying to wake up. It caught the
hackberry off guard, striking a solid blow that was surely felt
to the heartwood. The blow did no appreciable damage to the
bark, and managed to snag itself in a lower crotch.
The hackberry shrugged off the blow and then flexed itself so as
to pop the bottle out of the crotch and onto a flat spot on one
of its wiry limbs. It held the bottle there, spinning it for
balance, and then, to the applause of the other trees, bounced it
up, and passed it between two leafy limbs in a quick fake to a
tender little redbud that shrieked and cowered. The fake gave
the hickory just enough of a back swing that, in powering through,
it smacked a sizzling shot back to the locust. The shot was
perfectly aimed so as to pass between two small limbs--either one
of which would have shattered had the locust had time to flinch.
All the locust did was stand in its place, petrified. The bottle
arched down the hillside into the waiting grasp of a good-hearted
elm, who had seen the play developing and had been given plenty
of time to set up. The elm lobbed the bottle back up the hill
over the crown of the still trembling locust.
A happy game of Keep-away ensued among the older locusts. The
bottle danced around in the canopy from here to there, never
quite making it above the crown. The ears of the man at the
cliff were by this time quite perplexed at the constant tinkle of
glass on wood that seemed to be coming from all over the woods
below. His brain told him that he was still drunk; what was left
of the beer told him that he was hopelessly crazy. Meanwhile, the
bottle was being thrown back and forth as one locust after
another missed a catch and made it into the hot seat. Finally a
simpering little sapling got cornered in an unlucky pass, and
without a bigger tree for protection, panicked and threw the
bottle up for grabs. The man's eyes saw the bottle pop straight
out of the canopy fifty yards across the slope from where it had
disappeared, bounce off a forsythia bush, and roll down the
exposed slope into the waiting clutches of an old shrub of
utterly unidentifiable lineage, who had had enough of the fooling
around, and wanted to get back to some serious contemplation.
The man decided to listen to the beer and walked away from the
cliff--to go quit his job and die robbing a convenience store.
Further down the hill, the slugs were gathering around the embers
of a fire left by the bums. Amid the empty Hormel cans and cat
bones, they hunkered down to listen to the stories still
smoldering in the clearing. The bums had left some choice
morsels hanging in the air. There had been talk of the '39
World's Fair, of a hot steamy night with an Indian woman in the
Yucatan, and of running nitro to the mines in Kentucky. The same
voice had told Ike a joke just before D-Day.
"That's a fine story, soldier," Ike had said, brushing away a
tear that had tried to well up while he deciding how to laugh.
"I'll tell it to Rommel when I see him."