Johnny America




When my adop­tive mom los­es her job, it’s my adop­tive dad who freaks. She’s the cash cow, not him. She works for a book pub­lish­er, full-time in “spe­cial mar­ket­ing and sales,” some­times six­ty hours a week. He teach­es three cours­es a se­mes­ter at St. Bridget’s.

“What do we do now?” he asks the night she brings home the news.

“I’ll find some­thing,” she says. “Don’t wor­ry.” The tone of her voice, though, tells me she’s not all that confident.

It’s June, summer’s just com­ing on, and there seems to be all the time in the world. But it goes by quick­ly, her three months sev­er­ance pay sucked up by some pho­ny head­hunter with the promise of a “bet­ter pay­ing job in the tri-state area.” Un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance helps us squeak by. My dad’s been off the en­tire time, and even when he re­turns to the uni­ver­si­ty he won’t be bring­ing home one-tenth of what she made.

“I thought you said you’d find some­thing,” he badgers.

“Times are rough,” she tells him. “We’ll just have to wait it out.”

I’ve con­tributed what I can. But a sum­mer job grilling “ele­phant scabs,” and scoop­ing ice cream for min­i­mum wage at Ham­burg­er Patty’s isn’t ex­act­ly the cush­ion he’s look­ing for. Be­sides. On Sep­tem­ber first Pat­ty puts up the ply­wood and I start eleventh grade.

“Maybe you can ask for a few more cours­es,” my moth­er sug­gests at break­fast one morning.

“No way,” my dad tells her. “They’d have to pay me ben­e­fits, and there’s no freak­ing way.”

What I no­tice is this: as my fa­ther be­comes more and more fran­tic, my moth­er grows more calm. She’s start­ed gar­den­ing again for the first time in years. She gets up ear­ly, reads, and writes in a jour­nal she won’t let any­body see. She cooks, noth­ing elab­o­rate, but it goes down. At night she tells me sto­ries about grow­ing up in north­ern On­tario. “We had an out­house,” she says. “And some­times, in the win­ter, if you spilled wa­ter on the kitchen floor it was frozen be­fore you got back with a rag.”

“Were you hap­py?” I ask.

“We didn’t know not to be,” she tells me.

Then, dur­ing Colum­bus Day week­end, my fa­ther los­es it. He comes in­side the house and toss­es the car keys on the cof­fee table.

“Gas is up to three-six­ty a gal­lon!” he shouts.

My mom and I are sit­ting on the liv­ing room so­fa tak­ing turns read­ing to one an­oth­er from a col­lec­tion of Gabriel Gar­cίa Márquez sto­ries. She looks up and says, “We’ll cut back. We live close enough to town to walk.”

“What about this win­ter!?” he fires back. “With the price of home heat­ing oil through the roof?!”

“We can use the fire­place,” she tells him. “We’ll cut down a tree. If we can’t do that, we’ll break up the furniture.”

“And what will we eat?” he asks, no longer quite so confrontational.

My moth­er re­mains placid, to­tal­ly unruffled.

“Shit,” she says. “We’ll eat shit.”

Filed under Fiction on February 14th, 2009

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Reader Comments

Sylvia, disgusted wrote:

Tai Dong Huai? You’re re­al­ly stretch­ing it, Derek.

Anonymous wrote:

Not writ­ten by a girl.

Tyra wrote:

We like to be known as women, not “girls,” and we can write any type of sto­ry a man can write.

Anonymous wrote:

Not the point.
Re­al women/girls/gals can tell when they are be­ing impersonated.

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