Ken Weaver received his MFA in creative writing from the University of Maryland - College Park and his M.S. in physics from Cornell University. He has taught creative writing both at Maryland and in a remote Miskito village in Nicaragua. His work has recently appeared in Juked, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and Twelve Stories. He also writes regularly about craft beer culture, and his first book, The Northern California Craft Beer Guide, will be published by Cameron + Company in May 2012. For more on him and his work, see his website.

We’ve published two more stories by Weaver: “Laguna de Vuelo” and “The Escape Artist.”

Wood Liquor

posted Feb 8, 2011

Jacinto’s decision to switch from ethanol to methanol was purely economic. Backing heavy sacks of sugar and maize all the way from Punta to home, Punta to home, Punta to home, often stole the greater part of his day: leveraging prices, choosing durable sacks, sidestepping the unlabeled plastic bottles that seemed to pursue him like mice. Plus, Marietta’s calling of him. “¡Jacintito!” she would tease him each time he passed. “¡Tus chinelas – tan celosa!” And it was true: the streets had never been kind to his shoes. Her voice would linger as he lugged each fragile sack along the streets of Bluefields, the dirt-path wheel ruts where the sidewalk ended, the steep hillside home… But beyond this. Beyond the barbed wire and rusted panels marking the boundaries of his small property, there were almendros, pinos, ceibas. Trees for a hundred kilometers inland, uncut and unguarded. Free. The decision had been easy.

When the boys arrived the next afternoon with empty plastic bottles from the dump, Jacinto paid them double and had them wait. The zinc paneling was too tall, but they had heard him hammering on something that sounded like a thick metal drum, shaking the panels, distilling thunder instead of guaro. Jacinto reappeared shortly with the last of the old stuff, presenting buckets of filled bottles for them to sell. He then returned to work, readjusting the emptied sugar sacks covering a fresh-cut woodpile, conscious everything would change after this. The modification would steal two of his days, and his yard was littered by pieces of the vivisected copper still. The dugout wooden dory that he used for cooling the distillate had been cleaned and left drying upside down atop two plastic chairs. He looked forward to whipping the boys when they returned that night: empty buckets, empty pockets. As drunk as his field mice.

A two-hour boil. Three days to ferment. Then again, with the vapors condensing in the tube as they hit the cool well water lining the dory. Jacinto took a mouthful, spat. Same taste.

When Jacinto appeared over the hillside, the barrachos were waiting. “¡Fuente!” they yelled, “¿Dónde te quedas?” Jacinto pointed with his lips in the direction of home, as if he’d been resting. It had been over a week; the drunks had found other sources. Rum for six córdobas in Fátima. Chicha, five. Even in the morning sun, the weight of the two buckets and the pole across his shoulders seemed too much. “Cuatro.” Their eyes opened like bright pink bulbs.

He sold in Punta, Tres Cruces, Old Bank. It was late when he reached Marietta’s. “¿Guaro?” he offered. “¡Jacinto, sus chinelas!” They were new; an extravagance. “Tan celosa.” He held his hand steady as he poured the clear liquid into a bright, plastic cup. Finally, he thought. As they spoke, the very first of the barrachos in Punta began to imagine snowflakes falling, slow at first: white splotches against vision that increasingly blurred, then left this world for good.