She didn’t enjoy the taste of sweet tea, though her daddy insisted in his syrupy drawl that sweet tea was the right tea to drink, that any other type of tea—white tea, green tea, herbal tea, iced or hot—was the wrong tea to drink. Sweetened black tea always honey, he’d say. Okay, she’d say back.
Whenever he picked her up from school in his molasses brown beaten minivan, the two of them always made stops for tea, to quench their thirst, and what better way than sweet tea. Pit stop, he’d bark, pulling up behind the corner store. You wait here, he’d say, I’ll wait, she’d say back. The first time she had tasted tea her father insisted she’d love it, that it was his favorite as a kid, that sweet tea went with everything, she sucked the straw, nodded her head heartily, pretending she liked the taste of tea, when really, the tea was too much, it was too sweet, but who doesn’t like sweet? Her daddy couldn’t get enough of sweet, so she’d beg him to buy her a tea whenever they stopped—and there was always a pit stop—get me a tea too, Daddy, she’d shout out the cracked window, as he’d teeter towards the door of the corner store. She was never sure if he heard her, he never turned around or waved at her, but always, always, he stumbled on out with a brown-bagged bottle in one hand and tea in the other. He would reach in and hand her the tea, then walk towards the back and open the trunk. He’d slam it shut and hop in the driver’s seat, thermos in one hand and gripping the wheel with the other. Let’s go, he’d say. Let’s go, she’d say back.
They drove like that, the two of them, sharp turns on narrow streets, swerving, jerking wheel, her daddy swigging his special tea in the front seat while she sipped her sweet tea in the backseat. Weaving road, crossing in and out, empty roads led to more empty roads, accelerating, he’d howl and hysterically laugh, it’s like we’re on a racetrack now, he’d say, eyes wild as he looked back at her, her undrunk tea tucked in her lap, she’d nod, giggle, the Styrofoam cup filled to the brim with tea in both her little hands, nails bitten to little cuticles, pink nail polish chipped, she’d clutch that sweet tea, sitting in that backseat, seatbelt unbuckled because the strap was too tight it choked her. They were on a racetrack now.
When they reached the finish line, a dogleg left into their pothole packed driveway, she would feel exhilarated, giddy, hands shaking, her Styrofoam cup full of sweet tea, dripping onto her fingers all over her chipped pink nail polish on her nail-bitten beds and her daddy would bring that brown beaten van to a stop, but she’d feel stuck for a minute, as if she were still on that racetrack, swerving and swigging faster faster faster, sticky sugar radiating off her.
Victoria Provazza holds an MFA in fiction from Sarah Lawrence College. She currently lives in Stamford, CT and teaches writing at Fordham University and Sacred Heart University. Her work has appeared in Story|Houston and Driftwood Press, among others.