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Pepsi

                                    Nickole Brown


1.

Because she thought even fish said something about class.

Mud-blooded catfish, for example—fried up only by men who
mow lawns and nail shingles and make their living with dirt
hammered under their nails,

but bass, bass were wild, wide-mouth, pink throats caught by men
with enough money for a boat, their heads taken off by the working man
who works the other men. 

And trout? We heard about men who ate a fish called rainbow,
but they were freezing their nuts off up north, hip-deep river water,
reciting poetry, casting houseflies across a stream. 

So why would soda be any different? RC was for overall-wearing kids
with runny eyes, a once-a-month Moon-Pie treat after huffing
five miles to the general store. 

And Coke? Chugged by the common freckle-face gal across the river
in Indiana—a Hoosier who hived her hair and squeezed into June Cleaver skirts—
Lord, look at her in her Sunday best; she actually thinks she looks good. 

Pepsi though? Well, Pepsi was married to Joan Crawford,
Pepsi was a bitch who knew how to ash with two taps from a two-inch filter,
not one nicotine stain on her manicured hands. 

Pepsi knew how to walk in Italian leather, how to pin a hair piece
at her crown and let it waterfall into an aerosol nest of
natural, how to glue a strip of lashes to her wink.

Pepsi was a short, zippy drink, and chilled just right, it made a place
for herself in this world, knowing just how easy it is to get a man
and just how hard he was to keep.


 

2.

Because the sound of the first can
                       in the morning was the sound of   nectar
                                  firecracked,

a sugar sent up
           to the sky, a dull liquid
                      kissed with foam, the sound of ready oil
                                 excited by flour,  your gravy being made.

Because in a sweating   glass,
            it cooled
                      her knot of hot sleep
                                to the same crisp

as the air-conditioned room.

Because it was the secret
            of lemon and orange and vanillin
                      tickling the air, a fizz that
                               whispered,

wake up now, Fanny, 
                      your bad flashing night is through.


3.

Because she was loyal—downright militant—to things she loved, Pepsi was all

she would drink. Rarely water, not juice, not milk, and damn straight, no trailer-trash
beer. She might have coffee later, before her shows came on, but this was the drink
that woke her, the drink that kept her up.

Should you fix her a glass, you might get the full Pepsi Lecture, her obsessive
counting game, because there was a hell of a lot she couldn’t control, but she could
control this:

Make it four pieces of ice—not three, and not five. But four. And I don’t want it too full;
don’t make me spill it all over myself. And use a six-ounce glass, not some big suck-o jug,
not a little old juice glass, but six ounces, that big. I want that glass to be plastic and pretty,

something with flowers, maybe in pink, but don’t give me no ugly cup. And it better be clean too; don’t give me no dirty glass, pull it hot from the washer if you have to, but just four—
count them, four—cubes of ice.


4.

Because in the hospital
we lost her
in the deep folds
of a coma
for days,
and when she finally
woke, she was
confused, looked
around, asked,
What are you all here

staring at me for?

Her oldest answered,
Because,
Mama,
we need you.
   

Well,
okay then,

she said.
Quit
being so useless,
standing around. 

Somebody pour me
a fresh Pepsi?


5.

Because it was not water pulled from the well, water from a place with no pipes,
because it was not water so rich in iron that washing with it was like taking a bucket shower
in blood. 

Because it was not a chipped Mason jar filled lukewarm from the tap. 

Because it was not milk with a layer of unhomogenized creaming the top,
because it was not tea her mama set out on the porch to brown in the sun. 

Because it was not Bowling Green, not western Kentucky, and there’s no need
to ever wait again for the mule pulling the ice man. 

No, you have a pocket full of change now, Fanny. It’s 1944 again,
no sense in scuffing your feet, standing outside on the hussy corner of the dime store. 

You walk right in, order straight from the fountain if you want.
You’re in Louisville now, you have yourself a man, and you’ll never have to choke down

anything flat again.


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