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Distilled Spirits: Ch. 13 — Sidney

October 15, 2013

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 4:  “Need a Lift to Happy Hour”


Sid checked his phone—6:56.  Four more minutes.  No one is ever expected to work during their last five minutes on the job.

“I don’t understand the rabbits,” James said, sipping his pomegranate juice on the other side of the dining room table.  “What do they mean?”

Unfortunately, Sid’s ‘boss’ was a precocious10-year old assigned Of Mice and Men in 6th grade, probably by a teacher tired of being prodded by him or his mom.

“Why not chickens?” James asked.  His highlighter was an inch above the page.  “My teacher said the rabbits might be a symbol for . . .”

Sid stopped listening and glanced over the kid’s shoulder, out the bay window of the South Harbor high-rise.  The sun was still holding out against winter and Sid thought he was a green light across the water on the shipping piers.

“Why do the rabbits have to mean anything?” Sid said, rubbing his eyes.

“Huh?”  James looked like 2 + 2 no longer made 4.

“Why can’t they just be rabbits?” Sid asked.

He heard a laugh from behind him in the kitchen.  The kid’s mom had come home without Sid noticing.  Cupboards opened and closed, loudly now—she was putting groceries away, and Sid stopped himself from checking his phone again.

He recalled part of a thesis to a paper he once wrote for a friend who paid him $50.

“Forget about the actual rabbits,” Sid said.  “They could be anything.  They could be chickens, and nothing would change.  It’s the idea, the promise—that farm that Lennie and George are after, but never reach.  The thought that their happiness—their safety from Steinbeck’s America—is out there somewhere.  If only a few breaks go their way.  If only someone gave them a hand, everything might turn out okay.”

“But, but what if my teacher asks me what the rabbits symbolize?”  James chewed on the end of his highlighter.

“Tell her—tell her Steinbeck was a sex-addict.”

“Okay, that’s enough for today,” James’s mom said, walking into the dining room.  The tall woman had a long winter jacket draped over her arm and she smiled at the two of them, trying not to look tired.

“Evening, Mrs. Robinson,” Sid said, standing up.

“Hey Mom—do I have time before dinner?” James started shoving books in his backpack.  They had already worked through his math homework that he actually needed help with.

“One hour,” she said.  “Go play.”

The kid’s door closed a moment later, shutting out whatever 10-year old kids did these days, and his mom waved Sid into the kitchen.

“Please.  Please don’t call me that.  I told you,” Laura said, leaning against the counter.  One paper grocery bag hadn’t been emptied and two short glasses sat beside it.  “Top shelf this week.  You’ll stay for a minute, right?”  She slid a bottle out of the bag—it was some kind of bourbon that Sid had never seen before.  “I’m too young to be divorced and drinking alone.”  Her smile changed subtly but Sid ignored it.  She liked to play her games, but she paid very well for Sid to tutor an already bright child.

“One drink,” Sid said.   “I’m expected back for dinner.”

“Girlfriend?” she asked, licking her lips.

Sid shook his head.  “A friend.”

“You know,” Laura said, opening and sniffing the bottle, ”Steinbeck wasn’t a sex-addict.”

“Well, now your kid has something new to Google,” he said, trying to keep a straight face.

Laura paused with the bottle over one glass, and then poured.  “You’re good with kids.”

“I’m good with American Lit,” Sid said, taking his drink.  “Less so with math.”  He looked around the spacious kitchen that must get professionally cleaned.  “I never knew video game consulting could pay so well.”

Laura laughed and added another splash to her glass.  “Not as much as I’d like—Greg left me this condo for James.  He’s much nicer as an ex-husband.”

“I’m sorry,” Sid said.

“Don’t be,” she insisted.  “Sometimes two people work better apart.”  She frowned, crossing her arms.  “Why don’t you ever talk about yourself?”  Her drink hovered beneath her mouth.  “You have a cute girlfriend?”

“I, uh . . .” Sid trailed off.  “I think so.”

“One of those relationships, huh?” Laura said, shaking her head.  “Take some advice—”

“Mrs. Robinson—“

Laura’s eyes narrowed.  “Career advice. If it happens to apply to . . . well, here it is—take what’s within reach, Sidney.  And don’t let go.”

“Career advice?” Sid wondered aloud.  “How can that help me—”

“You never told me you were in the business,” Laura sad, indicting the framed Chrono Trigger artwork on the wall with her glass.

“I’m not.  I haven’t worked in two months.”

“And you haven’t once asked me for a job.  For anything,” she said, biting her lip.  “You’re either stupid, or the most genuine person left in this city.”  Out of her jacket’s inner pocket, she pulled out a rolled-up collection of papers, bound with a  rubber band.  She tapped it against her palm.  “James talks about you sometimes—he likes you.  He made me curious.”

Sid took a long sip.

“I looked up some of your games,” Laura said.  “They’re hard to find.”

“They’re not entirely my games,” Sid said.  “I just write—well, except for Toothpick Saga on STEAM.  I made that in college.”

“A $3.00 game,” Laura said.  “I hope you didn’t spend it all in one place.”  She slid the paper bundle across the counter and Sid picked it up.

“What’s this?”

“That,” she said, “is an early script to an indie-dev RPG.  Decent budget.  It borrows from the Japanese and—well, the gameplay doesn’t matter.  I want you to look it over.”

“You want me to—”

“Read it.  You’ll tell me what you think after James’ session on Thursday.  I can’t pay you,” she said, “and this is actually illegal.  But I might be able to find real work for you.  Just read it.”  She opened a cupboard and took out a box of pasta, glancing at Sid while turning on the cold water tap.  “Feel free to leave now—I have to get dinner going.”

Sid left his empty glass on the counter and slipped the bundle of papers into his briefcase.  He thanked Mrs. Robinson before leaving, but she was already studying a cook book.

The elevator ride down seemed to take forever and the old man working behind the receptionist’s desk gave Sid a knowing look–when he couldn’t have known anything.  Except how many people visit Mrs. Robinson’s condo.

Sid stepped into the night air and flipped his phone’s airplane mode ‘off’, reminding himself that he hadn’t written anything substantial in months.  That this job could be Lennie and George’s farm.

He had a text and a voice mail waiting for him.  He read the message first:

ERI:  I don’t know.  Why do we have to define what we are?  Why can’t we just keep doing what we’re doing?

He closed the text.  Every immediate response sounded stupid in his head.

The voicemail was from Cait:

Hey Sid, I bet you don’t even listen to this message . . . ummmmm . . . Don’t forget—you said you’d handle the food and drinks if I did the decorations for the Halloween party.  My vote is for cheap food and good booze, but, uh, yeah, haha, you knew that.  You’re home for dinner tonight, right?  Drew’s at a conference for a few days .  . .  We can talk about Eri.  You’re screwing it up, aren’t you?  I said I’d help you with her—she’s really easy.  I mean, simple—she’s easy to figure out.  Ummmm, text if you’re late.

Sid walked to the bus stop that would take him home, scrolling through his music library–looking for a certain Beatles song.  He hummed the chorus, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

Friends, and a flirtatious 40-something divorcee.




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  1. Distilled Spirits: Ch. 12 — Glenn | Devon Claytor

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