How I Deal with Life.....

How I Deal with Life.....

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Do or Die: A Short Story

I get home from work and she’s still sitting in the recliner where she was when I left this morning. She’s watching Jerry Springer on the flat screen television she bought at the pawn shop a year ago. The volume is up as high as it’ll go. The smell of cooking oil is heavy in the small, dark apartment. She barely looks at me and I go into the kitchen to see what there is to eat. A grease stained paper towel covers a plastic plate. Two fried pork chops sit in a congealing mass. There’s a covered pot on the stove. I lift the lid and peer inside. Rice and tomatoes mixed together. Her favorite. I put one of the pork chops on another plate, scoop a glop of the cold rice and tomatoes next to the pork chop, and place the plate inside the grease filmed microwave oven. I punch in one minute and forty seconds and then press the start button. I retrieve the glass pickle jar from on top of the refrigerator and dump my day’s tips onto the pile of loose change already inside. The coins clink and clank like tiny chains. I put the top back on the pickle jar and spin it closed.
            Chants of “Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!” blast from the television.
            ”Hey! That shit is too loud”, I yell.
            “What?” she yells back.
            “Too loud!” I scream back.
            “Who’s proud?”
            Oh, hell. I go into the living room, pick up the remote from the coffee table. The dark wood varnished table is covered with white discolored rings. She refuses to use coasters. I turn the television volume down until I can finally hear myself think. The picture on the screen shows a short man licking whipped cream off the body of a fat woman in a bikini while Jerry looks on with the microphone in his hand.
            She looks up at me. “Why’d you do that?”
            “Too loud”, I say and go back into the kitchen. She follows me, shuffling her feet in her once fuzzy pale blue slippers. The slippers are now as worn as she is.  I grit my teeth.  I hate it when she shuffles her feet.
            “I cooked pork chops”, she offers.
            “I saw.”
            Rice and tomatoes too.”
            “I saw that too. Thanks.” The microwave dings. I reach for the plate and burn my finger. I grab a dishcloth and carry the plate to the table.
            I place the plate on the red and white checked plastic table cloth. It’s seen better days, like everything else in this apartment. I grab a mismatched fork and knife from the drawer next to the sink and down. My head hurts. She sits across from me in the only other chair at the table.
            “Your day go good?”, she asks.
            “It was okay”, I answer. I hold the piece of meat down with the fork and saw into it with the knife. It’s like trying to saw into a cowboy boot. I stuff a piece of the pork chop into my mouth and crunch on a piece of fried fat. I shovel some of the rice and tomatoes into my mouth. This shit is going to give me heartburn. She knows that.
            “Marty called”, she says.
            “Oh, yeah. What’d he want? More money?”
            “No, he just wanted us to know that Linda is out of jail.”
            “For how long this time?”
             She lights a cigarette. I glare at her.
            “I told you I don’t want you smoking in the house”. I say.
            “Sorry”. She takes a puff and then drops the cigarette into a cup on the table. The cigarette hisses out.
            “And don’t use cups as ashtrays. That’s just nasty.”
            “You ever gonna be nice again?” she asks.
            I get up and scrape my almost untouched food into he trash can. ‘Probably not”, I tell her.
            I go into the bathroom and peel off my work clothes, and then my panties and bra.  I fill the tub with hot water and ease my aching body down into the rust stained tub. Chants of “Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!” blast from the television again. She can’t hear worth a damn. I slide down until the hot water covers my breasts. I soak the weariness out of my body while the water cools, and then I slip my head down until I am submerged. It’s quiet under the water. Peaceful. I feel like the Lady of the Lake. I come out of the water just long enough to take a breath and then slip back under. I wish I could stay here forever. But I have to take care of her. I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t know how I got elected for this shit job. Hell, she’s not even my mother, she’s Rich’s, but he’s gone.  He left me his Mama and a house going into foreclosure.      
            “Damn Skippy, you did, Rich”, I say out loud. I have been talking to myself a lot lately. I wonder if that’s normal.
            I get out of the tub and dry off and then slip into a t-shirt and my gray sweat pants.
            When I come out of the bathroom, she’s still watching television. Some old seventies sitcom. M*A*S*H maybe? I used to like M*A*S*H.  Yeah, there’s Hawkeye. She doesn’t even look at me as I walk over to the television and turn it down.
            “I can’t hear it now,” she complains
            “Yeah, and neither can the people in Alaska,” I say.
            “You don’t like me,” she says.
            “It’s not a question of liking you, Stella. I’m just tired and the T.V’s too loud.”
            “Rich didn’t care if it was loud.”
            “Well, I’ve got news, Mama Stella- Rich is dead.”
            She flinches like I’ve just struck her with the back of my hand, and suddenly I feel bad. She hasn’t got anyone else, but how in the hell did I end up with her? I hate Rich. If he wasn’t in ParkWay Cemetery, I’d probably kill his sorry ass.
            She starts to cry. Now I really feel bad. I go into the kitchen and open the tip jar. I sit at the table, empty the jar out on the picnic checked table cloth, and start separating the coins into neat piles; pennies there, nickels there, dimes and then quarters. I count the pennies until I have fifty of them and then slide them into the red penny sleeve. I tuck the pennies in tight and then fold the ends of the sleeve. I can hear her sniffle a few times from the other room. I continue rolling coins and try to ignore her. When I finish rolling the pennies, I start on the nickels. When the pickle jar is empty I have seventy one dollars rolled. I get up quietly from the table, careful not the let the chair scrape against the linoleum, and walk over to the kitchen doorway. I peer into the living room. She’s sleeping in the recliner, her head lolled to the side.  
            I go back into the kitchen and kneel down in front of the sink. I open the lower left cabinet door underneath. I push the container of Comet and the squirt bottle of Glass Plus aside, then reach way back into the cabinet until my fingers locate the cloth bag. I pull it out. I take the bag to the table and unroll it. I silently place the newly rolled coins inside with the rest and then roll the bag back up. I kneel down and push it back into the dark recesses of the cabinet and then arrange the cleaners in front again before closing the door. I brush off my hands and silently calculate how much I have now. Let’s see Tuesday I had fifty; I added seventy-five on Wednesday and then yesterday sixty. There was already two hundred and fifteen dollars from the two weeks before. With today’s seventy-one that brings me to four hundred and eighty dollars.  In two and a half more weeks I should have enough, if I work double shifts like I’ve been doing. 
            I only need about a thousand dollars. That’s all, just a thousand, and then I can get out of this town.  Down to the ocean where the rich folks live in Gulf Shores. Where it’s sunny and warm and I can walk on the beach, the real beach, and let the sea water rush over my bare feet, gaze out over the horizon while the sun sets and the sky turns all pink and orange.  I can listen to the sea gulls cry, smell the salt air, and feel the sand between my toes. I might even drink a margarita with salt around the rim. I heard they’re good. I can make a go of it there. I know I can. I’m a good waitress and rich people always need waitresses. Don’t they? Find some cheap apartment. I don’t need much.
            But what about her? I’ll just leave her here. Someone will find her. Someone will take care of her. I just can’t do it anymore. I can’t. I’m fifty-five years old. If I don’t get out now, I’ll never get out. Never once in my life have I ever seen the ocean. When Rich and I first got married he promised he’d take me. But he never did. After six years of trying, we found out we couldn’t have babies. We didn’t talk much after that. Those first six years were pretty good though. The best I ever had. But six years don’t make up for the thirty-three lost ones. I deserve something. Damn right I do.
            I go back into the living room and she’s still sleeping. I go to wake her so she can go to bed. The minute I touch her, I know. I put my hand over her breastbone. No heartbeat. Her chest is still. No breathe moves in and out from her tired old body. She’s dead as a proverbial doornail. The old lady finally did me a favor.
             I look at the television. M*A*S*H is still on. Hawkeye is wearing his Hawaiian shirt. I wonder if they wear Hawaiian shirts in Gulf Shores?




  1. Holy shit, girl! You are brilliant! Had me hanging on every word!

    1. brillant? no. small moments of inspiration? maybe. Thank you for reading my little story!

  2. I'm late to the game, but I like it as well! You do very well at painting a picture and setting a tone. Cheers