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October 31, 1941

We set fire to the Nigra church after the Junior-Senior Halloween costume party. Marty Haliburton brought the gasoline. Coby Brueller brought his cigarettes and two boxes of matches. The Bandy twins came with two pint jars of shinney each pulling down the side pockets of their overalls, and we d all had several tastes by the time we did it. Those four boys were the root of all evil in our town for most of their lives. But the rest of us were there, too, just as much a part as the boys who spread the gas and fanned the flames.

 For the most part, my friends represented a few fairly nice girls and about the sorriest collection of humans caught in the throes of pre-manhood ever scraped together. Maggy, Neomadel, and Garnelle made a little half circle with me in the middle. I guess there s something odd, or poetic about me, a girl named Frosty, being in the middle of something burning on a hot October night in East Texas. That bunch of boys and girls would make up about a third of the graduating class of 1942 from Big Thicket High School, but in the fall of 1941 that event still seemed a lifetime away.

 Neomadel dared me to taste the moonshine, and all the kids giggled as I took the jar. It looked just like water. I put it to my lips and just touched it with the tip of my tongue.

Garnelle snickered into her hand.   Coby, don t be pushing that on her,  she said.

Coby looked back at her and shrugged. Nobody s making her drink it, are they? Give it back or drink up, Frosty.  He held out his open hand toward me. They were all watching closely.

Come on,  Beans said.  Gimme a swig.  

I m not drinking after you,  I said.  Just give me a second. I ll take a drink.  

She won t either,  Neomadel said.  I knew she wouldn t do it.  

Nobody has to if they don t want to,  Maggy said.

I guess I wasn t in the mood to be swept aside like that. I guess I had something in my craw that a good swig of liquid might wash away. I opened my mouth and gulped. The fire surged to a pit somewhere below my navel and boiled out the top, as if steam shot from my ears. My eyes watered; my nose stung; my throat closed like a large hand had reached around my neck and squeezed. From somewhere in the back of my head, a little voice said,  She isn t breathing. Slap her on the back; get her to breathe.  

Black sky and grass and stars and dirt rolled around in my eyes, and my face was pressed flat somewhere wet and dark and froggy smelling. 

Sit her up,  the voice said again.

Voices swirling in the darkness argued for a second, then I coughed so loud and long I thought my lungs would burst. After a few minutes, the coughing subsided. I held my elbows tight to my ribs and I could see the kids circling me.

Lookit,  Marty said,  We came to do something and we re gonna do it. You all can horse around later. Pass me that shine.  He took a drink, smacking his lips with a satisfied sigh.   Sissies and babies shouldn t be drinking a man s drink, anyway.  

Coby said,  You girls just take a little sip first,  'til you get the hang of it. Y all doing all right, Frosty?  

I m fine,  I croaked.  Your turn, Neomadel.  

The Water and the Blood - Nancy E. Turner 



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