Milkshake, White Socks, and Blue Ribbon Beer

by Dan Tunnel

Written by Dan Tunnel
Milkshake and me are like the same person, because that’s what happens to people when they go through something together, they start looking the same, feeling the same about things, thinking the same things, finishing each other’s sentences. What we went through was we watched Daddy kill a guy together, when we were real little, from the kitchen window, it was Saturday morning, it was weird like it wasn’t happening, it was quiet and far away, though they were right in the front yard, and Mom had always come into our room at night tucked us in kissing us before turning out the light said, as long as we have each other nothing bad is going to happen to any of us. When Milkshake first ran off I thought about her eating Tootsie Pops, gnawing on the stick until it was white slobbery mush, a narrow expression in her blue eyes like Milkshake had no idea she enjoyed what she was doing. Or I thought about watching the milk dribble down her chin as she ate cereal, same narrow expression, same mechanical gestures. I always had the feeling like Milkshake could eat an entire bowl of cereal and not even know it and eat another and not even know that too. I really don’t think about it all that much because that isn’t something I’ve really ever been good at, thinking about things, without at least writing down that I’m thinking about things. When I sometimes do, it is so stupid to type—when I think about the milk on Milkshake’s chin it is with a deep sense of loss, but I do. I type it over and over. Milk. Honey Nut Cheerios Deep sense of loss. Then Milkshake really did it, she ran away a few years after high school, and no one knew where she was, heard from her, saw her. We thought to call the police but I told Mom that wasn’t what she wanted because I could her out there, and I knew that though she wasn’t okay, she was doing something she had to do and we had to wait for Milkshake to figure out or not if what she was doing had an end. Families don’t have an end, you return to them in the same seasons. I think I knew she was leaving, somewhere, like you know summer is gone, already leaving, in late July, and it’s still sweaty and the trees are thick green. Sometimes I look at the milk in grocery stores in the back I stand there feeling the chill and it is always something absolutely different from my sister, except that there she is, in the glass, looking back at me hard as the glass is. Does that make sense? Like when you see someone who reminds you of someone else and then all you see is that someone else except you’re not seeing them at all? Sometimes I think like what does milk taste like? Does it taste like white, does it taste like anything? If I could go back to that place ... But she is silent. There is nothing to say. Daddy bashes a guy’s head with a rock, and the guy rumples like a sheet and falls back, a white sheet blanketing the dirt.

One day Milkshake sent an email saying she was wanting to come back so I drove out to the hotel she was staying at to get her. She was sitting outside her room with a backpack at her feet. All the shades on the windows of the rooms were pulled close but I had the feeling—people coming or going in these strange cars that are hard to recognize except for the symbols they bear, no one really knowing why they’re out in this big mess of roads and desert and sky, and the humming coke machines and ice machines and the cash machines and the gas pumps and the telephone wires and the high tension towers and the oil drills and the diners and McDonalds, and I guess I thought of this as being sad as I pulled up got out and gave Milkshake a hug. She felt little in my arms like she hadn’t been eating, and I guess I was also thinking about her being little watching that guy rumple. Being so little seeing something like that must really mess with you. When I let go of her it was weird. She looked the same as she did when she was a kid—I saw I guess what I expected to see. I wanted to talk to her, I wanted to tell her I’d missed her, but the words didn’t come.  After she got in the car we talked a little bit but not really. When we got onto the highway it was already dark and the sky had that kind of light that looks like it’d been transformed in water with a lot of goldfishes swimming in it. Mom and Kate, was in the living room waiting for her. I carried Milkshake’s bag to her old room, set them down and felt heavy and sat on her bed. I thought about that time I caught her behind the garage with a doll between her legs and I could see she had tears in his eyes. That was a few years after Daddy was sent up to the jail in Lawrence, and Neal was coming around our house asking after Milkshake. Milkshake was always hiding when he was around but she’d go to the window and watch him as he walked away and you could tell, it was pretty obvious, Milkshake liked Neal. But Milkshake would never say something like that to anyone. I guess because a lot of people wanted to know us too because our Daddy had killed a guy and a lot of people wanted to know the girls whose Daddy was a murderer and what we were like, like we were the things you read about or saw on TV but sitting in your English comp class near the windows in the back doodling in our Five Stars. We went to see Daddy for the first few years, but he talked less and less before he refused to see us altogether. When he died it’d been such a long time anyone had seen him, seeing him in the casket was like not even seeing him but a doll—and we were getting rid of the doll we’d played with in our imaginations for a long time, and like a kid that puts away his toys, we put away Daddy it was like time to grow up. Inside the casket, he looked much bigger, but I didn’t remember him being so big, it was like they were burying him in a boat. I remembered a little guy, with small shoulders and glasses standing at the foot of the stairs calling after mom. He’d given Milkshake her nickname because when she was old enough to drink from the bottle she’d shake shake the bottle getting milk on her jumper and the blankets in the crib. Milkshake, little Milkshake, that’s what he called her and then we did too. When she was older and she sort of stopped talking we’d say, “Oh are you spoiled?” or “Spoiled milk.” Nobody really understood Milkshake but me, and when I knew she was coming back, I thought hopefully for good, so everyone could see what a good person she is. I felt like I was getting my other half back. It had gotten late. Dusk was splashy and big. Big bloody clouds globbed above the trees. Mom had tidied up the house, made meatloaf for dinner, bought a cake that said welcome home in pink goo that almost tasted like sugar but didn’t.  Mom was going about like she was nervous about Milkshake coming back. She didn’t know what to expect, but she wanted to keep things sort of quiet for Milkshake, didn’t wanna disturb her. But of course that was going to happen. Gunderson and his kids appeared in the yard. The Jenson’s too. Mr Jenson with his sleeves rolled up and his hair slicked back and Mrs Jenson with her holiday red hair and Tommy and Ben, Ben with his braces. Milkshake got out of the car like she was terrified and went around the side of the house. “Is she glad to be back?” Mr Jenson asked. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know. Nobody really said much of anything at dinner. Mom talked about the dancing show she was watching on TV. Kate talked about the kids she was teaching at school, the funny things they said. It was a warm summer night. The air tasted good like summer and we stayed up a long time drinking beer.