Tuesday, November 18, 2014

MB Caschetta's Guide to Books & Booze

Time to grab a book and get tipsy!

Back by popular demand, Books & Booze, originally a mini-series of sorts here on TNBBC challenges participating authors to make up their own drinks, name and all, or create a drink list for their characters and/or readers using drinks that already exist. 

Today, MB Cashetta shares a deleted scene from her novel Miracle Girls, which released November 11th. Too funny that it's also the booziest scene!


An extra-dry gin martini on the rocks is the drink. Barely even a drop of Vermouth. This is what 10-year-old Cee-Cee Biancos father drinks. Its also, coincidentally, what my father drank. The other recurring beverage in Miracle Girls is Benadryl, which Cee-Cee’s family constantly feeds her to take the edge off her visions. In this way, father and daughter are equally stoned throughout the first third of the novel.

The Kirkus review of Miracle Girls points out the basic set up:

In upstate New York, young girls go missing, nuns are revolting, Nixon is resigning, and young Cee-Cee Bianco has visions of the Virgin Mary in this polished debut novel. Ten-year-old Cee-Cee has a broken family: Father Frank goes on drunken benders, mother Glory runs away for weeks at a time, middle brother Roadie is wracked with guilt over his burgeoning homosexuality, and eldest Anthony is a little off. Cee-Cee and Baby Pauly cling to each other, as close as twins.

The scene that got cut during the final edit, in which Frank is in a bar getting sloshed, and Cee-Cee is lying on a pool table drowsy with allergy medicine. Cee-Cees mother has taken off again, and Frank has paid the local cabbie to pick his daughter up at home (it is Christmas break) and drop her off at the Blanches Iron Door, the bar he frequents. She has a fever:

Frank has Cee-Cee lie down on an empty pool table, bunching up his coat for a pillow. She can see the shiny jukebox, squat and solid with its silver chrome and bright blue lights, behind the mismatched tables and chairs shoved onto the dirty square of plastic flooring. If her head didnt hurt, shed get up and use Blanches secret stash of quarters.
The bar is empty.  Under Cee-Cees limp body, the green felt is comforting.
Frank takes a barstool. Gin with a splash, Blanche. Extra dry.
No kidding. Blanche takes a wad of bubble gum from Cee-Cees mouth and feeds her two baby aspirin, covering her with a red-and-white checkered tablecloth, plastic on one side, fuzzy on the other.
I feel hot, Cee-Cee tells her.
Well course you do, baby, Blanche says. Thats why Old Blanche never prays.
Over Blanches pink turtleneck, a red sweater is stretched tight. Near one shoulder, one reindeer says Ho, Ho, Ho in white stitching.
Close your eyes now, bunny. Blanche smooths her hair. Dont go worrying yourself about Jesus, Mary and Joseph. They can take care of themselves.
            Frank produces a bottle of the magic pink liquid and tosses it to Blanche. Give her some Benadryl.
You cant just go around drugging your kid, Blanche says. And then you wonder why she hallucinates angels and talks to God?
It calms her down. Frank shrugs.
Blanche sighs, gives Cee-Cee a sip from the bottle.
Under the dark beams of the old bank ceiling, Cee-Cee is swimming in and out of a heavy sleep, catching snippets of the conversation.
            “It’s this damn economy…And some new kind of bomb…”
            “Hell of a thing…” Blanche snaps. “A bomb that can drop itself.”
            Cee-Cee kicks off the tablecloth, uncomfortable.
             “I grew up on that base,” Frank is saying.
            “…fancy severance package can’t be all bad.” Blanche comes around from behind the bar and touches Cee-Cee’s forehead, checking the fever.
            Cee-Cee tries to tell Blanche about the names Glory called Frank over Christmas dinner: Whiskey-dick, Asshole, Bum.
            “What’s the matter? Can’t get comfy, kangaroo?” Blanche flicks on the TV. “Try the boob tube for awhile. That always puts old Blanche right to sleep.”
            A trio of violins from a daytime soap opera fills the room. It’s not one Cee-Cee knows. A man with a beard tells a blond woman, “Love will kill you.”
            Frank and Blanche stare at the TV as a newscaster comes on with a special report about the girl missing since Christmas Eve.
            A photograph comes on screen: a girl with wavy red hair, freckles, a gap in her smile where Cee-Cee can see the faintest flash of tongue. The reporter describes the pink sweater the girl was wearing when she disappeared.
            “Sure are a lot of sickos around here,” Frank says.
            Kidnapped, says the newscaster somberly.
            “Shame,” Blanche says. “More girls go missing right here in this part of New York State than anywhere else in the country. Heard it on the radio.”
            “Yeah.” Frank says.
            Next on the T.V., a bunch of Vietnam protesters with long hair shout at the camera. They hold up two-finger peace signs and shake them at the screen.
            A reporter interviews a nun in full habit carrying a protest sign about the war.
            “What’s this?” Frank says. “The Flying Nun? She looks like Sister Bertrille.”
            “Those Sisters from Our Lady of Sorrows are always up to no good,” Blanche says. ““Chaining themselves to the gates of the military base when they’re supposed be teaching long division and catechism. Vietnam protesters. How is that God’s work?”
             “Who do they think is protecting their sacred asses from communism?”
            “Aren’t they friends with Marina? The Sisters of Something-or-Other.”
            Frank can’t stand God or Nonnie. “Glory’s mother is a holy roller.”
At the commercial Blanche lowers the volume and smiles at Cee-Cee. “My Norbie sure is going to be glad to see you lying there like a princess when he gets home.”
The green fuzz beneath Cee-Cee’s body is soft. She falls into a dream about red-haired girls in pink sweaters.

As the afternoon wears on, the bar is shrouded in an eerie quiet. Mike hasn’t set foot in a church for years­­, but sometimes the place seems vaguely hallowed to him.
            He lifts his glass: “Amen.”
This moment will soon be ruined by the onslaught of daily drunks and military men from the lab with their briefcases and secrets for a liquid lunch: 9-to-5ersnot his category any more.
Having Cee-Cee nearby makes him feel strange, but also good.
No one prepared him for being a father. He is plagued by the idea that he created four little strangers out of his own body. He thinks the boys look like him, and Cee-Cee is the spitting image of Glory, and therefore of Glory’s mother.
When he and Glory were sweethearts, before they’d even graduated high school, Mike worked in the Caxton Laboratory. It was still called Romeville Labs then. He was the youngest nonenlisted technician in the whole history of the base; younger even than his father was when he first worked there.
After Mike and Glory got married, they moved into a tiny efficiency apartment on the compound. It had a hot plate and a bathtub in the kitchen. When Anthony was born, they upgraded to a family unit. Mike was happy with just the three of them. Things got crowded when Roadie and Baby Pauly came along, but he still somehow managed a pretty good mood.
But nothing was ever good enough for Glory. She accused him of not loving anyone but Anthony. Said he didn’t try hard enough with his other children. Eventually she found the old ramshackle firetrap they live in now. She loved how it was snuggled between two roadways and a creek. Mike thought it was a bad idea.
“The thing with kids,” he tells Blanche, “is that everything ends up being your fault.”
Blanche pours him another drink, fat fingers gripping the glass still steamy from the dishwasher. “I hear Anthony’s in trouble again.”
Mike grunts.
She places the rest of the glasses upside-down on a little shelf behind her. “My Norbert says Anthony will flunk a third time if he doesn’t watch out.”
What does Fat Norbie know? Mike hates being reminded that his kids arent winners. Hes got problems of his own.
“If there's one thing my Norbert knows, it’s flunking. Two birthdays in the eighth grade already; he’s almost 16. Anyway, I enrolled him in that special school, the one with the uniforms and the aides. Starts in January.”
“For Christ’s sake!” Mike is getting drunk now. “Why the hell did you do that?”
“He’s slow upstairs when it comes to thinking.” Blanche stares off toward the window. “Those special programs help.”
“They just need to give a person some space.”
“There’s not that much space in the world.” Blanche chews on a toothpick. “I’m doing something real for Norbert. You should do the same for your kid. They can't spend their lives in high school, now can they?”
The wind howls. Both Mike and Blanche turn to look at the white outside.
 “Maybe if we’d stayed on base,” Mike tells Blanche, slurring, “it wouldn’t have been so easy for the top brass to let me go.”
Glory ended up pregnant with Cee-Cee when they thought she couldn’t possibly conceive again. That’s when all the trouble started. Of course Cee-Cee was a girl, which was more than Mike could handle.
Counting the inventory, Blanche marks down the numbers of bottles in a green ledger. “What’s the matter now?”
Mike lifts his head. “Did I ever tell you about that little intern over at Romeville Free’s gymnasium? Man, was she something.”
“You should leave them young ones alone. “ Blanche sighs. “You told me she stopped taking your calls.”
He chuckles. “The secretary kept saying she was on lunch duty, and I’d say:
‘It’s 3:30! What damn time do these kids eat?’”
Blanche smiles. “She got your number right quick.”
 “I always say the wrong thing to women.”
Cee-Cee feels the gust of cold air, a nervous chill that swirls into the warm bar.
 “I have to hand it to you, Mike,” Blanche clucks her tongue. “You have some lousy luck with the opposite sex.”
Blanche’s points over Mike’s shoulder toward the darkened door where Glory is brushing snow off her coat.
“Oh shit,” Mike says.
Glory’s voice: “How drunk are you, Mike?”
Cee-Cee tries to sit up, but Mike’s pink syrup has her feeling slow.
“I hope you’re not too drunk to hear what I have to say.” Glory says, “Because I’m done with you, Mike. I’m leaving.”
Blanche clinks some bottles together and clears her throat. “I’ll be in the back room, folks; inventory.”
Mike stumbles over to the jukebox, taking the conversation to the far end of the room. Cee-Cee has to strain to make out the words.
 “C’mon, Glory,” Mike pleads. “Give me a break.”
“You’re here all day long instead of looking for work!"
Down on my luck is all. I can change.turn it around.
Outside, the wind whips against the building.
Glory’s voice goes soft. “Every person in Oneida County has been laid off from that stupid lab. Who cares? You can get another engineering job. What about Xerox, or even Kodak?  Moonie's been there a long time; he'll help you get a job. Anyway, what kind of work is it anyway? Figuring out better ways to kill people?”
“I need you, Glory.”
“Think about your children,” she says. “What are they supposed to do while you’re throwing everything away?”
Mike cries, not quiet and embarrassed the way most fathers probably cry, but loud with long howling noises coming from his throat.
Cee-Cee tries to roll over, but nothing moves.
Tears muffle Glorys voice. You need a shower, Mike.
Cee-Cee knows that Glory is brushing her fingers through Mikes hair, a sign that she is about to forgive him. The air shifts again, this time almost imperceptibly, from tense and angry to unbearably sad.
Look, heres a twenty. Okay? Glory says. Lets go home, right now. We can call a cab.
Ill get a new job. Mike sounds happy. Well do Christmas all over again, the right way. Things will get better. Let me buy you a drink: We can toast to second chances.
All right, Mike.
Blanche lugs a carton out of the old bank vault storeroom with its wall of safety deposit boxes, plus the little black gun Blanche always talks about. She keeps it in in the first box on the bottom row. Says shell use it if theres any funny business at her bar.
I have to step outside for a minute, Glory says. Let go of my coat, Mike. Just one minute. I have to take care of something. Then Ill be back, and Blanche will call a cab, and well all go home.
“Hurry,” Mike says.
Glory comes over to Cee-Cee on the pool table and gives her a big hug with plenty of kisses.  “Hi, Baby. Are you sick again? I’m sorry about this morning. But now we’ll all go home together, okay?”
Like magic, Cee-Cee’s eyelids unstick. “Hi, Glory. I feel better now.”
“Back in a flash,” Glory promises as she breezes back toward the door.
Blanche crosses the room, stopping to peer through the diamond cutout window of the front door after Glory; she holds a few bottles of whiskey in her hand.
Mike starts talking as if nothing happened. “Damndest thing, Blanche, I had to pee like the devil for the last half hour. And now–––nothing!”
Blanche snorts.
“Poor me, poor me.” He slaps Roadie’s money on the bar. “Pour me a drink!”
Blanche comes around the backside of the bar with a bottle of Beefeater. She collects Mike’s money and fills his glass.
Mike works his mouth into a dry smile.
“Glory gone?” Blanche pours to the rim.
Mike bares his teeth at the whiskey. “Gone is exactly what Glory is.”

It gets dark a few minutes before the dinnertime rush. Blanche opens the back door to let her son in. 
Norbie walks fast on the heels of a girl with ponytails and scraped knees. He pulls off his coat and scarf, giving his mother a kiss, then looks across the room. “Cee-Cee! Have you been here praying?”
“I’m sick.”
His looming rubbery face is red from the cold and big as a moon.
“Oh no!” He curls his long pink tongue and rubs his hands together in a special coded motion above his head, as if applying some magic lotion. “This is my best friend, Mary Margaret. She’s real smart. Aren’t you, Mary Margaret? She lives five houses over.”
The girl eyes Cee-Cee’s pajamas and hair. “You’ve been lying there all day? On a pool table?”
Feeling her fever lift, Cee-Cee pops up on an elbow. “Yeah, so?”
“What if someone wanted to play and knocked you off with a cue stick?”
“Hasn’t happened yet,” she says.
Norbert exhales a long, sour breath. “The angels watch over Cee-Cee.”
Mary Margaret twists her cherry mouth into a frown. “What’s that mean?”
But Cee-Cee is not about to tell her anything. She just smiles.
Mary Margaret is skinny and has two jagged front teeth growing in crooked. Her face is small and mouse-like, sharp but pretty, and splattered with freckles. Her brown hair is tied into matching braids behind each ear.
“What grade are you in?” she asks. “Second?”
“Fourth,” Cee-Cee says. “They almost skipped me to Fifth but I wanted to stay with my brother.”
“Public school?”
Cee-Cee nods.
Norbert watches them. “Mary Margaret goes to Catholic school with the nuns from church.”
“My Nonnie lives across from Our Lady,” Cee-Cee says. “She’s friends with the Mother Superior there.”
“Mother Stephen!” Mary Margaret seems vaguely impressed. “She’s the school principal. Do you know she has burns on most of her body? If you get on her good side, she’ll show you the scars—they’re real bad.”
Nonnie has Mother Stephen over for tea and cookies when Cee-Cee and her brothers are visiting, but she has never seen any scars. “I think she’s pretty.”
“Her face, sure, and she's younger than most of them.” Mary Margaret turns to Norbert. “You know what those Sisters are called, don’t you?”
Norbert’s eyes get big. “The Sisters of Christ’s Most Precious Wounds?”
The Spooky Sisters!” Mary Margaret says. “And I’ll tell you what: they are a big pain in my ass.”
Laughing, Norbert lumbers to the bar to pat Mike’s back, as if he’s the genius responsible for all his good luck. “Cee-Cee’s here! I love Cee-Cee.”
“She’s our girl.” Mike raises his glass.
Mary Margaret studies Cee-Cee. “Next year, I’m going to get a pair of platform shoes and wear them at school. Let those holy Wounds try and stop me!”
“Glory twisted her ankle wearing platforms once. She had to rest her foot in a bucket of ice.”
“So?” Mary Margaret says. Then, curious: “Who’s Glory?”
Blanche signals to them. “Dinner upstairs—then I’ll take you girls home. Mike’s in no shape to do anything except sleep it off in the store room.”
Blanche never lets children sleep over, but she will feed just about anyone.
A house on two main highways and a creek that floods every year is her idea of bad news, she always says—and she doesn’t like boys running around like wild Indians, either. She doesn’t let Norbert go to Cee-Cee’s house too often.
Dragging his bad leg, Norbert makes a path through the crowd toward the arched doorway behind the bar that leads to the little apartment above. The Iron Door is alive with customers and music as the afternoon lull draws to a close.
“One of you lesser drunks watch the bar for me.” Blanche tucks the cash box under her arm. “I’ve got to feed these kids.”
“Unwise calling your customers drunks,” Mike says.
“Nah.” Blanche looks around. “You know I think of you as folks with cancer, sorry cases, except some of you still got hair.”
Laughter ripples through the room. It is always cheerful at the beginning of a shift. But these are the very same men, Cee-Cee knows, who will be hunched and silent at the end of the night.
One guy comes around to the back of the bar. “You love us, Blanche. You know you do.”
Blanche leans into the guy. “Pretend to care, my husband always said, may he rest. That’s all people want. And that’s what I do: pretend.”
The guy pushes a dollar bill into Blanche’s psychedelic sweater. “Damn good bartender, your husband was.”
Blanche slaps the guy’s hand away, but pinches the dollar. “What’s this for?”
“For your kid. Because he’s…simple –– or something.”
“Oh, he’s something all right.” She beams.
Blanche herds them up the stairs to the cramped apartment above. “The first rule of alcohol is never get close; you’ll only get hurt.” She nods at Cee-Cee and Mary Margaret. “The second is: never try to fill up a drunk; it can’t be done.”
Holding Norbert’s damp meaty hand, Cee-Cee watches the mole at the corner of Blanche’s mouth disappear and reappear as she talks. She knows what Blanche means: Most of the time, Mike is as hollow as a drum.
Norbert pulls both Cee-Cee’s and Mary Margaret’s hand to his chest, rubbing them together. Blanche stoops, weighed down by her enormous body.
“Can Mary Margaret eat over too?” Norbert asks. He stops on the landing, dropping their hands, so he can rub his knuckles together in the strange familiar motion at his forehead.
“Don’t see why not.” Blanche heaves her body up the steps. “‘Less Mary Margaret’s mother is making dinner at her home?”
“Mom’s got a new baby,” Mary Margaret reports. “No dinners for a while.”
“Dear heavens, another one?” Blanche squeezes by to unlock the apartment door. “Where does that woman get the heart?”
Mary Margaret shrugs. “She stays in her room.”
“You must be a comfort to her.”
“I’m the only one who’s made it so far,” Mary Margaret says. “We’re not even naming this baby until we’re sure he's going to live."
She looks at Cee-Cee meaningfully.
In a flash, Cee-Cee sees the little baby graveyard behind Mary Margaret's house, matchstick stones rising up to mark the graves. She counts: one, two, three, four of them.
Blanche pats Mary Margaret’s bony arm, then caresses Norbert’s cheek until he unfurls his long pink flag of a tongue and wags it outside his mouth.
“Well, I hope you like soup, Mary Margaret, because we’ve got to get our little Cee-Cee here back on her feet.”
“Okay by me,” Mary Margaret says.
Norbert rests his big moony face on his mother’s breast, making Cee-Cee’s heartache exactly in the middle.

In Blanche’s apartment, they turn on the lights, start a fire in the stove, and open several cans of soup. Blanche parks Cee-Cee on the sofa with an afghan and flips on the local news.
On a tiny black and white set that looks like it was made for a doll, the newscaster gives an update on the kidnapping. A piece of pink sweater was found on a chain link fence down by the railroad tracks.
The missing girl’s name is Eileena Brice Iaccamo.
Blanche clucks her tongue. “Don’t those Iaccamo kids go to Catholic school with you at Queen of Sorrows, Mary Margaret?”
“A bunch do,” Mary Margaret answers. “There’s about a million of them, all with Irish first and middle names. The older ones go to public school at Romeville Free.”
“Missing girl’s 14, the paper says. She must be up at the high school.”
Mary Margaret hovers close by, waiting for Cee-Cee to look up from the T.V. “Last year this girl in my neighborhood disappeared. In the spring, they found the snow piled up right over a set of fresh bones. Turned out to be a dead dog though. She was never heard from again.”
Cee-Cee chews a fresh piece of gum.
Mary Margaret watches for signs of weakness and comes up with a lie: “She was my best friend.”
Norbert chants in a loud voice: “They have to find this missing girl. They have to find her.”
Cee-Cee can see someone pulling a girl out of a ditch. “Jesus brought St. Martha’s brother back to life. Maybe you should pray for her.”
Mary Margaret bites her nails and frowns. “You don’t believe that crap.”
“Why not?” Cee-Cee says.
Mary Margaret thinks this over. “We could be best friends. You’d have to wear my neckerchief and call me on the phone.”
“How would I get your number?”
 Mary Margaret pulls a pen out of her bag and writes her phone number on Cee-Cee’s hand.
The anchorman’s confident tone agitates Norbert. He crosses the room, thighs rubbing together in his gigantic green corduroy pants. He stands near the TV and shifts his weight from good leg to bad leg.
Blanche watches her son as she stirs the soup. He will be okay because he is giant and almost already a man. “Remember, girls, it’s just as unsafe in some houses as it is outside them.”
 “Do you think they’ll ever find this kid, Missus?” Mary Margaret asks.
Though the pale sun is almost entirely burned out in the winter sky, Cee-Cee feels it blaze in her heart when Mary Margaret turns and smiles.
 “Don’t worry, baby.” Blanch say. “They find everyone sooner or later.”

MB Caschetta is the recipient of a W.K. Rose Fellowship for Emerging Artists, a Sherwood Anderson Foundation Writing Award, and a Seattle Review Fiction Prize, among other honors. Her work has appeared in the Mississippi Review, Del Sol Review, 3:AM Magazine, New York Times, and Chronicle of Higher Education, among other literary journals and media outlets. These days you can occasionally find her drinking a gluten-free beer, waiting for the day when sorghum will taste as good as hops, but she doesn't hold out much hope. Mostly she drinks tea. Miracle Girls is her first novel.

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