First Sips

By Rebekah Rossman

Katie is snuggled in her bluebird blanket, sleeping in the crib. She’s a good baby, quiet.  I close her door.

I go to the kitchen. In the cabinet, there is vodka, gin, rum. I don't want rum, my mother' s drink, or gin, my father's. I see another bottle—black name and red seal: Jim Beam. No one I know drinks bourbon. I pour some into a Dixie cup,  mix it with Sprite. I don't know the ratio. I am a 15-year-old babysitter, not a barmaid.

The bourbon burns my lips, my throat. I drink, stunned by how fiery a liquid can be, how dry. The bourbon mutes the carbonation, steals the bubbles from the Sprite. "The more you drink, the less you taste." My father told my uncle this once, in a backyard drinking contest. I swallow more. Tremble. The alcohol is deep and grassy.  I can see it's easy to get lost in its blades.


*          *          *

At 10:21, the doorbell rings. I've been waiting by the window, near the microwave clock. It’s a quiet apartment, with not much to see: a green dumpster, empty parking spots. I have been here forever—or just a second. Time is curvy after three drinks. Minutes walk away. Before, I'd only had beer, but tonight is avant-garde, the bourbon brand new. I am elated, wrapped in wool. I can do anything. I want to do nothing. I'm courageous and chic, slow and terrified.

I know who it is, of course; I invited him—counted down this night. At the door with his twiggy black hair, coiled short for sports. Dark brown skin, oil stain eyes. He wears his football jersey, number 32. He’s our varsity quarterback, 17-years-old—so much older than me. The first time I saw him, the jersey was a magnet. It electrified me.

I open the door. He grins. It’s unnecessary. He might have scowled at me, but I am infatuated—have been—this whole sophomore year. He smells like clean white soap. I carry the stale smoke of a cigarette snuck on the balcony before he came.

I am thrilled he is here, standing in the kitchen. I want the world to know. I want a parade of classmates cheering outside. I want him all for myself.


*          *          *


I'm dizzy and swaying. The room won't stand still.

"Are you drunk?" he asks.

"Yes." I laugh. "I think so."

I lift the cup from the counter, drink more—drink the rest. It doesn't burn like before, not like the first sips.

"Let's go," I say, tugging his arm. I am a child on Christmas morning.


*          *          *


We sit on the couch, and he scoots me up—onto his lap. The first kiss is cloying, candy-like. It pulls the bourbon from my lips, leaves them soft and calm.

His hands move so quickly, so sure. I am fearless, too, I think. But I’m trying to keep up with him, squirming and anxious.  I hear him unzip his jeans, feel him turn me around. I don't know where to put my hands, how to move my fingers.

"Is this right?" I ask.

"Yes," he says. "Lay down."

I put my head on the couch arm, uncomfortable and scratchy—snags of foam cracking the fabric. But I am drunk on Jim Beam and him.  I am drowsy, anesthetized. He takes off my skirt, my bra. We are naked, then—I'm surprised by the quickness of it, my head full of dust.

He is inside me, his penis a Roman Candle, a firework thrusting, exploding. The pain is colorful: cylindrical yellows and oranges, then red.

I am not afraid I think, I won't keen or cry. The urgency aches—but I stay beautiful, silent. It’s all so startlingly quick, so sudden and feral. This night is a movie. It cannot be real. I make a sound like a baby owl, a coo.  I hold my breath.

When he pulls out, I'm burned and bruised; shivering and dark. My insides are like a purple-black sky, an empty, moving, shadowed snake.

"I have to go," he says, his jean zipped, penis soft and hidden again.

He sees the blood before I do, pink and smeary on the couch.

"Why didn't you tell me?" he asks.

"I don't know," I say.

Does it matter? I know nothing, am sure of nothing.

I'm bewildered and broken, blurry inside.  

He says nothing else, pulls his jersey back on—over his head. I am silent; I watch.

It's 11:09 when the front door shuts.


*          *          *


In the bathroom, I vomit—amber-tinted and sloshing. My heart’s a waterslide, my eyes tear. I need to shower, soap away this strange, sticky feeling. Instead, I stand, pull baby wipes from the container on the sink. I use the wipes to scrub the blood from the couch, but the pinkness leaves scallop-shaped circles of stain. The tint remains—it will not scrub out—so I walk, shaky, to the bedroom. Katie is still snuggled in her bluebird blanket, asleep. I close her door.