For Round 6 of our contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction where one of the characters tells a joke and one of the characters cries.
At the grocery store, my wife and I spend an hour walking in circles looking for beer. Our new American friends must think that we are suffering from the effects of the war.
Our search yields nothing, so we go to the cashier. In the dictionary, we locate the word "PIVO" and point to the American equivalent: "BEER." The cashier smiles. She turns the pages until she finds the word she wants: "DRY."
My wife and I are horrified.
"Does this mean what I think it means?" Alma says in Bosnian.
"Oh dear God," I say. We have come to a place where you can't buy beer unless it's raining.
Recent refugees, stuck in a small Kentucky town, and no beer? Fate indeed is cruel. But we are good legal aliens. We wait for a rainy day.
This time we go straight to the cashier. Alma, wanting to practice her English, says, "Today is raining. Please, bear."
"Bear?" the cashier says, her eyes open wide.
"Yes," Alma confirms, "bear."
"Where?" the cashier asks, alarmed.
Alma and I look at each other. Why is the cashier asking us where the beer is? While we are sorting this out, the cashier starts yelling, "Bear! There's a bear in the parking lot!"
"But there was no beer in the parking lot when we came in," I tell Alma.
"I didn't see any either.
"Americans are strange," I say.
"Very," Alma agrees.
Everyone else in the store is running to the windows to see the nonexistent beer. Alma and I linger by the checkout lane, waiting for things to calm down.
A tall man comes our way. He introduces himself as Charlie, the store manager.
"Are you the ones who reported seeing a bear?"
"We don't see bear," Alma says emphatically. "We want bear because today is raining."
Charlie looks confused.
Dictionary to the rescue.
"Oh," Charlies exhales, "beer, you want beer. Not bear. He turns his hands into claws and lets out a deep growl."
Alma and I are not quite sure what to make of this, but we are not ready to give up yet.
"It is possible today? Because rain?" Alma says.
"I'm sorry," Charlie says, "this is a dry county. No beer here."
Disappointed, we go home. I call my brother in Bosnia. He and his family are scheduled to join us in a matter of months.
"Listen to me," I say. "Don't come. America is a really weird place."
"What the hell do you mean?" he asks.
"Well, it has to rain in the entire United States if you want to buy beer."
"Don't screw with me," he says.
"Brother," I say, "I wish I was screwing with you. It's this country that's screwing us all."
"Shit," he says. "There's not a job in sight here, but at least I can get beer anytime I want."
That evening I break down. Alma finds me in the living room, vacuously staring at the television.
It's all too much: the war, leaving home, struggling with English, trying to understand the strange rules of our new country. I'm not sure I see a future for us here, and I tell Alma as much.
She takes my hand and places it on her stomach.
"We have to stick it out," she says. "We have to. It will get better.
She guides my hand in circles over her stomach.
"Who knows," she says, a quiet laugh breaking through her sobs, "Who knows, maybe by the time our little American comes to us, we will find you a reliable source of beer."