Johnny America


Mar­ty’s Day Off


It was day six­teen of the heat­wave, and Mar­ty was fed up. He eyed the red nee­dle of the mag­net­ic ther­mome­ter stuck just above the Frigidaire lo­go. It was sev­en thir­ty in the morn­ing and the red zip was al­ready half a mark past 90.

Mar­ty plopped down the gal­lon of two-per­cent with cal­cu­lat­ed hur­ried­ness. He aimed to an­nounce his dis­plea­sure. His moth­er was stand­ing on an five gal­lon pop­corn tin that was cov­ered with ab­stract snowflakes, look­ing on the top shelf to see if she’d stashed away an ex­tra jar of cin­na­mon. She turned to see if Os­kar would look up from his pa­per and ad­dress their in­creas­ing­ly im­pu­dent son. He did not.

“You’re go­ing to have to eat your oat­meal plain, boys. I can’t find any cin­na­mon.” Mar­ty and Ja­cob both had full mouths. Nei­ther looked up to ac­knowl­edge her declaration.

Mar­ty fin­ished his bowl in less than a minute, then start­ed in on a top­ic he’d re­tread­ed for two weeks straight.

“Dad, quit be­ing a cheap­skate and get the con­di­tion­er fixed.”

Os­kar had been out of work since April, and re­fused to turn to pub­lic as­sis­tance. He low­ered his Post but did­n’t fold it.

“When I get new job, we get new cool­er. You have fan. Be hap­py with fan.”

“Dad it’s a hun­dred and…”

“One day you must go to col­lege and be­come a rich en­gi­neer; then you can have cool­ers even for your closets.”

Mar­ty’s moth­er sat down and reached for the milk.

“Ma, it’s too hot to study and night and dad’s un­rea­son­able. Can’t you use your cred­it card or bor­row from Pe­te or something.”

“We won’t bor­row from banks or your broth­er, Mar­tin. You’re a bro­ken record. Mind your fa­ther and get ready for school.”

Mar­ty’s ju­nior high was a sev­en blocks from their apart­ment; Ja­cob’s el­e­men­tary school a quar­ter mile closer.

“Wha’­do you mean, you’re cut­ting?” asked Ja­cob, naïve enough at nine to re­main un­aware of the many syn­onyms for un­ex­cused ab­sences: cut­ting, skip­ping, hooky, delinquency.

“I think we de­serve a break, don’t you?” Mar­ty demanded.

Ja­cob looked down at his Vans, us­ing his heel to work out a rock from a crack in the side­walk. Mar­ty pulled out a fold­ed-over piece of ruled pa­per ripped from a spi­ral note­book. On it he’d writ­ten an itin­er­ary of times, places, ac­tiv­i­ties, and drawn a pic­ture of a shark.

8:30: W train

9:15: Coney Island

9:25: Beach

12:00 PM: dogs at Nathan’s Famous

12:25: shark tank

3:00: home or else

Ja­cob ummed and ehhed un­til Mar­ty said he’d brought eleven dol­lars in ones plus the twen­ty their broth­er Pe­te had sent for his thir­teenth birth­day, and that he could eat all the hot dogs he wanted.

The west­ern breeze scooped in­to the At­lantic and pulled salt and sea­weed in­to its breath. The hot dog stand was open to the street. It smelled of pork and sweat and ocean. Ja­cob ate three hot dogs and de­mand­ed mon­ey for a fourth.

“You’re a fat pig,” Mar­ty told him, “and won’t have enough mon­ey to see the sharks if you have another.”

“You said I could have all the hot dogs and I don’t care about your sharks,” Ja­cob protested.

Mar­ty punched Ja­cob in the arm, then of­fered a mil­lion dogs when he start­ed to cry.

Filed under Fiction on April 2nd, 2005

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