Fiction — September 7, 2015 8:28 — 0 Comments

Sour Cream Girls – Gen Del Raye

The TSA agent doesn’t know how much a Port Ellen 1981 costs, and he doesn’t care. All he knows is that the bottle is more than three ounces. That much is clear.

It’s not for me, she tries to tell him. It’s too expensive for me.

Ma’am. Ma’am. You can’t bring that through here.

Please, she says. Look at the label. Look at it. See?

On the bottom of the label is the price tag that she had been planning to forget to remove. She sees the length of it, the shear column-inches of the zeros and she starts to feel faint. The TSA agent is waving at her for her attention, his open palms swishing past her gaze like windshield wipers. He’s very good at waving, this man. He gets her attention, and holds it.

Ma’am, you cannot take that much liquid. You can either bring it to the airline counter to get it checked in, or leave it in this bin here.

He points to a grey trash bin full of Dasani and Fiji Water. She wonders if, having seen the price, he’s secretly hoping for the second option.

But I bought it at the airport, she says.

Then you can go back to the store and try to get a refund.

She knows, and he knows, that this will never happen. She remembers the look on the face of the clerk when she pointed out the bottle. Maybe they’ve been making money off this racket for years. She wonders how they know about the husbands who buy copies of Whiskey Advocate to hold in front of the cover of the Maxim they buy outside the subway on the way back from a bad day at work. The could-have-beens of cryptic emails, unexpected meetings in the boss’s office, bleeding into the fantasy, she supposes, of a new body, a new girl, new life. How do they know that in the 50 Whiskeys to Try Before You Die, the Port Ellen is number one? How do they know that of the 10 Ways To Know You Don’t Have to Look Anymore, one of the ways is that she makes an effort to understand your interests and your hobbies? She doesn’t know. She doesn’t know how they know.

Ma’am, you’re holding up the line.

She looks over her shoulder for a little sympathy. Blank faces staring steadily at hers, the directness of their gaze the measure of their anger. Damn them. She wants the sympathy she doesn’t deserve. For the money she didn’t spend. For the credit card they don’t know she used, the gentle pleading with the clerk – it’s his name but it’s a joint account, she told him. We’re married, see, and I want to give him a surprise. The naked amazement on her face when it works. That fairytale feeling. The world on her side.

And now the TSA agent stepping so close she can smell the static electricity on his uniform. That sweaty, metallic smell.

Why don’t you step over here while you make up your mind.

Moving backward, shoulders hitting hers as they go by. A kid with a Spiderman backpack. A college student who looks too young for a blazer with padded elbows. Memories seen and quickly forgotten like rain falling into the ocean. Or like mercury through a duck, the way a science teacher once told her that if you feed a duck liquid mercury it comes straight out the other side.

She looks at the bottle. One and a half amber pints of forgetting. Isn’t that what it really is? In the same way that a defibrillator is a thousand volts of new beginning. Or a mastectomy is half a pound of concealed regret. The surprise. The hug. The orange glow of every man’s dream held in place of the emptiness of her chest. The gentle sloshing of twenty-four ounces of translucent mercury. Maybe she should do it naked. Make the image clearer.

She twists the cap. She doesn’t notice what she’s doing until she hears the seal break. The TSA agent glances at her but it’s too fleeting for him to understand. She looks down and she sees that her hands are like the girls in the magazines – slim, smooth, like sculptures made from sour cream. And like those girls, they know what to do. Wringing the neck of the bottle like a hunter with a wounded bird. The crack of bones coming apart. The puff of raw, depressurized air.

The cap comes off. She throws it away. She sees it roll past little Spiderman, the boy considering whether to pick it up, his mother oblivious, dragging him away.

Her hands bring the bottle to her face. Should she sniff it? She could tilt her neck and sniff it the way she’s seen it done in the movies, her face taut, her breathing delicate. But she’s not sure she wants to know how it smells. It could smell like loneliness. It could smell like quiet grief. Like buried disappointment – sweet, decaying.

She takes a sip. She swallows. She doesn’t taste so much as feel, and this more than anything convinces her. It feels like red-hot eels swimming down her throat. A heavy heat, antiseptic, like iodine over a stove, seeping through her stomach, making her want to pee. She laughs a little. The TSA agent glances at her again. This time he watches for a few seconds, but then he looks away.

Another swig, longer now, so long it feels like drowning until she has to come up for air. Except even the air is changing. Becoming denser. Both cold and hot. Like menthol in her lungs.

Another swig, another gasp. People are noticing her now – the woman by the conveyor belt chugging fancy whiskey straight out of a bottle. Someone might even be cheering her on. It’s hard to tell. The memories are difficult to hold on to. The TSA agent might be reaching for her shoulder. She might be raising the bottle again, easier now that it’s so light, sucking at it like a baby, drinking it dry. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t care. She has it now – the forgetting – and it’s worth it.


Gen Del Raye grew up in Kyoto, Japan and lived there until he was eighteen. He has spent more time than he cares to remember waiting in line at airport security, but he has never been caught with over three ounces of liquid in his possession. Currently he is studying marine biology in Hawaii. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Kentucky Review, Pithead Chapel, Petrichor Machine, and others.

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The answer isn't poetry, but rather language

- Richard Kenney