I got home that night two hours later than expected, shoulders aching, but it had been for a good cause. My boss at the supermarket had needed more pallets of groceries unloaded and those extra hours of income would be nice when it showed up in my paycheck in two weeks. I had called Mom and she said she could fend for herself for dinner, so for the next one hundred-twenty minutes, I had maneuvered the heavy pallets of plastic shrink-wrapped groceries from the cold interior of a tractor trailer truck, out to the rear storage area of the supermarket. Mindless, repetitive, grunting work, which suited me just fine.
At home I washed up in the kitchen sink, noted the time. If I ate quick and if Mom wasn’t particularly talkative, then I could have a solid hour of studying wrapped up before going to bed and getting up at four a.m. for my other job, delivering copies of the state-wide newspaper, the Union Leader, to a hundred or so sleeping customers in this part of the state. After wiping my hands on a length of paper towel—the store brand, which I bought not out of any loyalty to the store, but because it’s twenty-two cents cheaper per roll—I went out to check on Mom. She was stretched out in a reclining chair, a knitted afghan spread out over her, her eyes closed, gently snoring, glasses sliding down her nose. I took a breath, my fingers tingling. One of my other jobs, as well. Taking care of Mom. Not the kind of job I had imagined four or so years ago, but one that was dumped in my lap and one I was doing the best I could.
Our home was a pre-fab double-wide, ditched in a series of other pre-fabs in something grandly called Louisiana Estates, and which most of the people around here called Lousy Estates. In a wonderful example of small-town graft, it was built over the objections of some of the brighter residents of Thebes along the banks of the Pawtucket River, which floods out every spring and dumps about a foot of water on the expanses of grassy mud that passes for lawns. Even though Dad has been dead for more than five years, the room still smelled of stale tobacco and bad memories. On the cheap paneled walls were equally cheap photographs, taken at a local department store years ago, showing our family in yellow-tinged colors: me, Dad, Mom, and my brother. And it was like me seeing those photos woke up Mom, for she coughed and said, “Eddie?”
“You get home just now?”
“Just a couple of minutes ago. You eat all right?”
“Yep.” She shifted in her seat, winced. Her right hip is nothing more than two bare bones, rubbing against each other, and one of these days, she should have a hip replacement surgery performed. Yeah, one of these days. She looked up at me and said, “Frank’s coming over.”
She motioned with her right hand. “Don’t sound so angry. He’s still your brother.”
“Yes, but …”
“But what?” she asked.
But everything, I angrily thought. Frank was the reason why I was here, staying home with my mother, working two jobs and studying in fits and starts, trying to finally get my high school GED certificate, when I should have been doing almost anything else, anything and everything.
Frank. Who had doomed me here, to this life.
“Nothing, Mom,” I said. “Did he say what he wants?”
A smile from Mom, who I think still liked to believe that everything was going to turn out all right, that her husband hadn’t died nearly broke, and that her two sons really did get along, despite everything that had gone on between the two of us.
“No, but he said he’d like to talk to you for a bit.”
“Oh.” One of my more favorite words to answer Mom whenever she brings up Frank’s name.
“There’s still some of the tuna casserole left in the fridge, if you’re hungry.”
“Thanks, Mom.” I bent down to give her a peck on the cheek, and went back to the kitchen, fists clenched.
In the small kitchen I sat and waited for a while, then got up, went to the refrigerator. Out came the small bowl with plastic wrap covering it, and after taking the cover off, I plopped it in the microwave. I heated the small bowl three times, and after each heating session, I opened the microwave door and rotated the bowl a bit. The microwave is small and old and doesn’t have a turntable.