The Quality of Booze


by Robyn Ryle

I liked the days before there were alcoholics. I miss the town drunk. His name was John, but most people just called him the drunk. Or that homeless guy, though he wasn’t. He had a house.

Because I work at the liquor store, I know all the drunks and the exact flavor of their addiction or their salvation. It all depends on your point of view.

We don’t sell much wine, here. A little beer. We sell a lot of the hard stuff, especially to the drunks.

John was a good friend. A good customer. He was kind to small children. Not that they come into the liquor store, but I saw him sometimes around town.

I never said to John, “Hey, maybe you should check out that AA. Maybe you should get some help.” I never staged an intervention. I sold him his gin. The cheapest kind. It smelled like freezer burn. If I had any problems with John at all, it was the quality of his booze.

“You want to try the Tanqueray?” I said to him once.

He shook his head. John didn’t talk much. He came in and set his bottle on the counter and that was all there was to say.

One of the professors from the college in town was a drunk. For a long time, he kept it under wraps. He carried his briefcase in with him. It was a pale tan color and I could smell the leather when it was wet. He stood in front of the wine section for so long sometimes I forgot he was in the store. He’d pick a Chateau something or other and set it on the counter. “Oh, one more thing,” he’d say, like the bottle of whiskey was an afterthought. Like if he’d forgotten it altogether, it wouldn’t matter. I knew he got canned when he started coming in early, at eight in the morning and noon. I knew then they’d found out.

John had a job once, but he couldn’t remember what it was. I didn’t know if this guy would live long enough for that. He stopped bothering with the wine section and went straight for the whiskey.

“How’s it goin’?” I tried to inflect the question with something extra so he’d know. I tried to put some sympathy in there.

John died in a drainage ditch, out on one of the country roads, and everyone thought that was real sad, boo-hoo. I liked the idea of John curled up out there in the grass. It was spring. He had his gin. It was exactly how I thought John wanted to go, so fuck their sympathy.

I wanted to tell the college guy that he wasn’t alone. He was just further along on the conveyor belt that’s taking us all in the same direction.

He stopped coming altogether and I don’t know what happened to him after that. They keep that stuff to themselves at the college. They don’t want us to know.


Robyn Ryle started life in one small town and ended up in another just down the river. She teaches sociology to college students when she’s not writing and is not the town drunk.
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