This Thursday, Berlie is the first to arrive at the Inn, guiding her mom by the hand. She pulls out the stool next to my father and pats it, and her mom sits and orders a Seabreeze. Berlie pulls a pack of Marlboro Lights from her bookbag, packs it tight against the underside of her wrist, tears open the plastic, and hands it off to her mom. She reaches into her uniform’s vest for a Zippo. She lights her mom’s smoke and sets the Zippo on top of the bar. Then she smoothes down the side of her mom’s head, fixing her hair, before she comes to join me at our table.
“Been here long?” she says.
“Since I got out of school.”
“Shit, Jay. You all done with homework?”
I nod yes with my eyes. We’re both in sixth grade, but she goes to St. Francis, so she gets twice as much homework.
She looks at my father. “He in the bag?”
“He’s telling Exeter stories.”
“Yeah,” she snorts. “He’s in the bag.”
Thursday is Kids Night here at the Inn. Not to say that if you came on any other night you wouldn’t find us here, playing Uno or doing our homework, at the big round table to the left of the jukebox. But there’s something about Thursdays that draws the amateurs in, and the voice on Kids Night keeps spreading, and some of those amateurs soon enough become regulars. From our table, we watch them file in, the parents pulling their kids, and they look like yachts tugging their dinghies—like old, beat-up yachts; yachts that have seen better days.
“New meat,” Berlie says. “Check out those wieners.”
I look up from my comic and sip my O’Doul’s. A father and son, both wearing glasses, walk into the Inn. I shake my head and go back to the comic.
Ten minutes later, a blonde mom and her daughter.
“They’re kind of hot,” I tell Berlie.
“Skanks,” Berlie says. “Pure airheaded skanks.”
This is how it always plays out: The kids squeeze into our table and if we’ve never met them before, we shoot them a quick round of questions. Name. Grade. What school they go to. Favorite Lord of the Rings
character. Pick one: divorced or abandoned. The Lord of the Rings
is a trick. If the kid actually watches those movies, we make him or her cry. If the kid doesn’t watch them, we make him or her cry anyway. Berlie’s the best at getting this done. She’ll make anyone cry, even her mom if she gets out of line. Then, if the parent doesn’t take the crying kid home, if the parent instead orders another drink and tries to buy the kid off with quarters for pinball, one of us will feel bad and give him or her a tour of the Inn. That’s usually me. I introduce them around. If they ever come back, we don’t make them cry. If they keep coming back, they become one of us. Even if they become one of us, that doesn’t make them our friends.
* * * * *
Berlie made quick work of the kid with the glasses. His name was Bernard, and his mom had gone on a business trip.
“She’s not coming back,” Berlie told him. “It’s what happened to all of us, kid. Dad’s here to find a new wife.”
That’s all it took. The second Bernard opened his mouth, his dad dropped a ten and led him away. Artie, the bartender, had just begun to pour his martini.
“Is that a new record?” I asked.
“Nah,” Berlie said. “Remember Lassie?”
I barked, and we laughed. That girl’s mom never got to order a drink.
“What a sleaze,” Berlie said. “That guy in the glasses. His wife’s out of town, and he goes on the prowl with Bernard.”
“You would’ve made a cute couple,” I said. “Berlie and Bernie.”
“What’s his excuse? At least my mom was drunk when she named me.”
* * * * *
Now, Berlie’s working on the blonde girl who she’d said was a skank. Her name is Ash and she’s a grade older.
? Your name is Ash
? Like the shit you put in an ash
tray?” Berlie picks up an ashtray and holds it up for effect.
“No! Like Ash-ley
“Oh,” Berlie says. “Ash-traay
.” She begins to shake the ashtray around. There’s ash and butts flying everywhere.
“I heard you: Ash-tray
! Is that make-up you’re wearing, Ash-tray
? Are you trying to look as cheap as your mom? Because I don’t think that that’s possible.”
See what I mean about Berlie? She’ll tell anyone anything. That’s why I love her, though sometimes she takes it too far, which makes part of me want to punch her and part of me love her even more than I do. Ash breaks down and takes to bugging her mom. Her make-up starts running.
“What’d I tell you?” her mom says.
Ash says she wants to go home.
Her mom pushes out of her stool, grabs Ash by the arm and begins to lead her away. Berlie seems to think she has won, but instead of walking all the way out, Ash and her mom go into the Ladies’.
Berlie frowns. “I don’t want my mom hanging out with that slut,” she tells me.
Before I can return to my comic, Artie walks out from the bar and comes to our table.
“Will you stop scaring my tips away?” he says to us both. “That last one left without paying.”
“They’re just in the bathroom,” I say.
“Yeah, and that other dude left you a ten,” Berlie says. “Pay up. We want half.”
“Thursday’s like fucking daycare in here,” he says, and walks back to the bar.
We’ve had these conversations before, and it’s all in good fun. Artie says he was a Bar Kid himself once, and it’s pretty obvious he loves us. He never charges for refills on soda, and he gives us the keys to the pool table whenever Danny, the owner, is gone. On other days of the week, if just Berlie and I are around, we gossip with him about Thursday: who came in and all that. What parent went home with what parent, and what went on with the newbies. We make bets on whether or not some will come back. Mostly, we argue about what it is about Thursday that brings them all in. Artie says there’s less guilt felt on Thursdays. That if you’re going to slip as a parent, it’s better to slip on a Thursday, because then you have the weekend to make it up to your kid. The weekend has movies to see, state fairs to go to, go-carts to race. Berlie and I say it has nothing to do with the kids. It’s not about guilt. The thing about Thursday is that yeah, it’s close to the weekend, but if things turn out all wrong, if your kid can’t handle the Inn, it wasn’t like you’d thrown away a Friday or Saturday. It was only a Thursday that had gone down the drain. Weekends meant babysitters and sleepovers, trips to grandparents’ homes, free nights for the folks.
The other thing we talk about is all the people we’ve had these past couple of months. We’ve had whiny kids and prissy kids and kids who won’t say a word. There’s been kids in smart casual and kids with bruises too obvious even for kids. There was the girl who wore a shirt that said Diva and asked for a Sprite in a snifter, which she proceeded to smash on the floor. Since then, all kids get served in a plastic. There was the boy who punched his mom hard in the tit when she said to relax, and none of us knew which way to look. There was a girl who played “It’s My Party” sixteen times in a row on the jukebox. When she left, there were twelve times to go, and Artie had to unplug the damn thing. There was the boy in a little league uniform who locked himself in a stall in the Men’s Room for hours. There’s some kids who don’t know about sex, so we tell them. There’s a few who still hope a missing dad will come home, so we shatter that hope. It’s what we do. Some of the shit that’s gone down is too sad to tell you. Let’s just say the moment a father raises his hand, he gets eighty-sixed from the Inn. We don’t take to that shit around here. What goes on at home, though none of our business, is a whole other story.
* * * * *
“Fine, I promise! But you gotta hold up your
end,” Ash’s mom says, a little too loudly, as they walk back to the bar.
“We got a briber,” I say to Berlie.
The mom walks back to the bar, but Ash stays behind, hovering by the payphones and pinball. Her make-up is fixed. She picks up a phone and dials without dropping a quarter. She pretends to be talking to someone, and she laughs and nods, laughs and nods, all this while looking around, scoping out the whole place. When our eyes meet, she hangs up. I feel bad, so I get up and go.
“Where you going?” asks Berlie, and I don’t need to tell her.
“Hey,” I say to Ash. “Who was that on the phone?”
“That was my boyfriend.”
“He got a name?”
“Ah.” I pause for a second. From up close, you can still see the stains left by the crying. “You wanna play pool?”
Even before I asked, I already knew she would say she doesn’t know how. It’s my job to say I can teach her. Then, it will be her turn to pause and my chance to lead her away, shy and almost reluctant. Berlie will glare at us as we walk past the table, but she won’t say a word. This is how it always plays out with the girls.
* * * * *
I show Ash how to steal a free game by sticking a cue down the left middle pocket and using it as a lever to release all the balls. Danny’s not in, but I don’t ask Artie for the keys to the table, because that’s not as impressive. I teach Ash how to rack, alternating solids and stripes, leaving the 8 in the middle. I hand her one of the child-sized cue sticks, sawed in half, and I mold her hand into a pretty tight bridge. Then, I let her break. For five minutes or so we speak just of the game: how I have to call all my shots and she doesn’t, how I swear I’m not letting her win. She lasts longer than most of them. But, after a while, she drops the cue on the felt and begins rolling the balls with her hand: first, aiming them at the pockets and missing; then, tossing them at the stick and watching them slide into the corner, hugging the rail all the way.
As I give her the tour, I explain all the things that make the Inn a good place for kids. I tell her about the free refills, the sets of card games that Artie has at the bar. How we used to play Monopoly, but the parents would take their kids away in the middle, so we never finished a game. I tell her about the selection of non-alcoholic beer in the cooler, in case she thinks she’s allowed. Some parents seem to think that drinking them builds a bad habit for kids, so I just let them sip mine when nobody’s looking.
In the dart room, I show Ash where the house darts are kept, and recommend that she use sixteen-grams. I shoot twenty-fives, and I try to hit a bullseye to show her I’m good, but I miss with all three. I know, from experience, that a bullseye impresses more than a triple-20 or a triple-19, even though both are worth more and are harder to hit. She asks if there’s ever been any accidents in this room.
“None that involved kids,” I say, and we leave it at that.
By the emergency exit, I show her the pinball. I pay for a game, and let her play four out of five. I point out how this same machine, at most other bars, only gives you three balls. When the last one slips between the two flippers, I figure it’s as good a time as any to pop the big question.
“So what’s with your mom?”
?” she says. “My mom is dead.”
I look at her, and I don’t know what to say. This is a first.
She looks towards the bar. “That’s my Aunt Roxy.”
“I’m sorry,” I say, and when she turns back to look at me, I look at the floor.
“So which one is yours?”
I look up and point. “That one’s my dad. Button-down shirt drinking Chivas.”
She doesn’t ask anything.
“Wanna check out the jukebox?” I finally say.
* * * * *
Ash and I play the game where you pick a random four-digit number and then check to see what’s the song. We end up flipping through the whole thing and pointing out the bands that we know. She doesn’t know many, because it’s mostly old stuff and it’s her first night at the Inn. She recognizes the Stones, so we play “Start Me Up,” which is 1102. I pick two songs that I think she might like: “A Boy Named Sue” (3301) and “The Name Game” (6204). I’ve always thought it was funny that in “The Name Game,” when you do Art’s name, there’s a part in it where you have to say “fart.” Berlie and I used to sing it to Artie, and the whole bar would laugh. Ash doesn’t seem too amused when I tell her about it.
“So what’s it like?” she asks instead. “I mean, it’s like you live here or something.”
I tell her that mostly I like it, which is not really a lie. The people are nice, the food is all right, and Artie lets me control the remote unless there’s a big game. I tell her I keep myself busy: there’s good light by the tables for comics, and free pool and darts when I want them. Oddly enough, I’ve never felt out of place. Maybe that’s because the Inn is not in. That hip age group is missing: if you’re between sixteen and thirty, we’ll stare you down till you leave.
“Actually,” I say. “Sometimes the hardest part’s going home.”
“’Cause it’s not up to us who we get to go home with.” I look back at the bar. “That’s up to them.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” I say. “Try playing Parcheesi with a six-year-old kid while your dad fucks his mom in the next room.”
“Well,” she says. “My aunt isn’t like that.”
I’m not stupid enough to argue.
When I look, I see that our table has begun to fill up. A half-dozen kids, all Thursday regulars, are sitting with Berlie. Jared, the peewee jock, is beside her, and they’re both laughing at something. What’s even worse is that Jared’s dad is talking up Berlie’s mom, and that they’re laughing too. Sometimes I have no idea how I want things to play out. At the other end of the bar, my dad is buying Aunt Roxy a drink.
“So what’s with your girlfriend?” Ash says.
“That bitch with the ashtray.”
“Berlie?” I say, and act all surprised. “She’s not my girlfriend. We’re friends, that’s all.”
?” she says. “Her name is Berlie
? And she thinks she can rip on me?”
I want to repeat that joke about how at least her mom was drunk when she named her, but instead, I tell Ash that it’s just a matter of hazing. That we do it to everyone. That Berlie’s not really mean.
“Actually, she was trying to do you a favor.” This is how far I take it. “She was trying to get your aunt to take you home so you wouldn’t have to stay here. You know, this thing ain’t for everyone.”
* * * * *
As Ash and I squeeze into the table, Berlie goes back to her thing.
“Hey,” she says to everyone. “Have you guys met Ashtray? She’s Justin’s new girlfriend.”
“Ber,” I tell her. “Lay off for a bit.”
“Ooooh,” she says, and then turns to Ash. “It looks like Jay’s really into you.”
,” Ash says.
,” Berlie tells her.
I give her a look. “Ber,” I say. And, to the others: “Guys, this is Ashley.”
“Call me Ash,” Ash tells them.
Berlie snorts. She rolls her eyes and mouths the word “ash” so that it sounds like she’s shushing a baby. Jared laughs with her. I want to kick his dumb ass, and his father’s dumb ass, and the dumb ass of everyone else in his family. I can’t believe that just three Thursdays ago I taught him how to steal a free game with the cue.
As I introduce Ash to everyone, I show off all the special handshakes we do. I’ve got a different one for each regular. But before I’m done going around, Berlie steals everybody’s attention. “New meat,” she says. We all look at the door.
Her name is Nikki. She’s in fifth grade.
?” Berlie says. “Who names their kid Sticky
The other kids at the table start laughing. Lately, she hasn’t been getting to The Lord of the Rings
“I think she said Icky
, baby,” Jared tells Berlie. “Not Sticky
. It’s Icky
.” He turns to the new girl. “Right, Icky
I can’t even begin to tell you how much it pisses me off to hear him say baby
“Hey Jare,” I say. “Why don’t you go eat a condom from your dad’s asshole?”
He looks as if he’s just been blindsided. “What’d you say?”
“You heard me.”
Berlie doesn’t give up on the new girl. “Hey Icky
,” she says. “That’s Justin. Why don’t you go lick his dickie
“Say it again!” Jared dares me.
The other kids at the table don’t seem sure whether to make fun of Nikki or to look at me staring at Jared. They laugh like they’re nervous. Nikki begins walking away. When there are this many kids laughing at you, you can’t fight back. I’ve never seen anyone do it.
“Say it again, bitch!” Jared says.
But I don’t say it again.
Jared pushes out of his chair. “Bitch!” he says again. He laughs and touches Berlie on the shoulder. “Come on, baby,” he says. “Let’s go shoot some pool.”
* * * * *
Because Artie’s by himself at the bar, it takes him a while to clean up after customers. Jared likes to drink the cocktails that people don’t finish, and he sometimes steals glasses that are left unattended. He just empties them into his cup when nobody’s looking. He’s an idiot: he doesn’t know you shouldn’t mix.
When they come back from the pool room, I’ve got two suspicions: one, Jared is already drunk; and two, him and Berlie were kissing. I’m saying this because she looks all red, and he looks all cocky, holding her hand, almost leaning on her. I look at the bar and I’m worried: his dad and her mom are still hanging out. I don’t know how long till he closes the deal.
“I’ll be right back,” I whisper to Ash, and I go to the end of the bar, where I can get Artie’s attention. Beside me, my dad is telling Aunt Roxy the story of how he came this close
to playing ball in the majors. As far as I know, he’s never picked up a bat.
When I ask Artie for the pool table keys, he gives me the keychain, no problem. Berlie and I once wandered around with the keychain, opening stuff, so I know what every key’s for. There’s only three big keys on the chain: one’s for Danny’s back office, one’s for the entrance, and the last is the stock closet. The smaller keys are for file cabinets, pool, jukebox and pinball. The stock closet is in the pool room. That’s where I’m going.
The first thing I do is open the pool table and release all the balls, so Artie hears the noise and does not get suspicious. Then, I open the closet. I tear the clear wrapper and take two plastic cups from a stack. Then, I open a box of Beefeater and take out a bottle. I pour some into one of the cups, and put the bottle back in the box. Then, I open a box of Bacardi and take out a bottle of that. I pour some over the gin, put the bottle back, and get out as fast as I can. The last thing I do is go into the Men’s Room. I fill the other cup with water and take it back to the pool room. I leave both cups on the floor, one next to the other.
I take the keys back to Artie and go back to the table. I don’t sit down.
“Jare,” I say. “Come here a sec. I gotta talk to you. Private.”
Drunk people are never suspicious, and this is even more true when the drunk is a kid. Jared follows me to the pool room. I tell him I’m sorry and I want to make amends for what I told him before, which he doesn’t seem to remember. It’s not hard to get him to drink. I tell him that when no one was looking, I went into the bar and filled the two cups with Grey Goose.
I dare him to drink faster than me. After my first sip of water, I squeeze my eyelids together and open my mouth. I’m trying to imitate the face my dad makes after a shot of tequila.
“Whooo,” Jared says. “This is some shit.”
“Yeah,” I say. “Okay. Drink!”
I hold the water in my mouth a few seconds, then I swallow and pretend my throat is on fire.
It takes five sips to finish our cups. After the fourth, he said he wanted to stop, so I drank what was left of my water and called him a bitch. That did the trick. He downed what was left of the mix and slammed the plastic cup on the ground. I pat his back and we throw our arms around each other’s shoulders.
“I’m so fucked up!” he says.
“I know!” I tell him.
We walk out of the pool room, crooning “The Name Game.” We’re doing Berlie: Banana-fana-fo-ferlie. Me-my-mo-merlie. Berlie.
She looks at me and laughs and rolls her eyes. Then, before we can sit down, Jared is throwing up everywhere.
* * * * *
This is a rule: if your kid makes a mess, it’s your job to clean it. Jared’s dad curses as he cleans up the vomit. Artie is helping, and I feel bad about that. When they saw what happened, most of the parents closed out their tabs and took their kids home. They were afraid we were all drunk.
Jared’s dad gives the floor one last look-over, picks Jared up, puts him over his shoulder and takes off. When it’s all said and done, the only ones left are me, Berlie and Ash, and the whole place still stinks of vomit.
“What happened to him?” Ash asks me.
“He was drinking the leftover drinks people left,” I tell her. And then, as if she were younger than me, I add: “You should never mix up hard liquor.”
“I don’t drink,” she says. “God, that smell is gross.”
“Smells like your mom,” Berlie tells her.
Ash looks at me. “I have to use the restroom,” she says, and gets up.
After she’s gone, Berlie gives me a look.
“You’re such a dick,” she says.
“I just can’t understand what you see in that asshole,” I tell her.
“He pisses you off, J. That’s what I see.”
I give her a look.
She sticks out her tongue.
“You better tell your dad to watch out for Ashtray’s skank mom,” she says. “She’s probably got herpes.”
“That’s not her mom,” I say. “Her mom is dead.”
Berlie waits a few seconds. “Whatever,” she says. “What the fuck did you give him?”
I smile. “Gin mixed with Bacardi.”
“Sick,” she says. “You’re such a dick.”
At the bar, I see that Berlie’s mom is drinking alone, and part of me feels bad for her too. At the other end, things are sailing along for my dad. He’s got the palm of his hand pressed on Aunt Roxy’s back, almost at the part where the back becomes ass. It won’t be long before he asks her back home. I know this sounds bad, but part of me is wondering how far Ash has ever been with a boy. From what she did with the payphone, I know there’s no boyfriend. If that Ryan kid she mentioned is real, he’s probably just a boy that she likes. It doesn’t take much to know that Ash wouldn’t make the first move. She’s lost too much to put anything else on the line. She’s a grade older, but I know that if anything’s gonna happen, it’ll be up to me.
“Ugh,” Berlie says. “I can’t stand this smell.” She gets up and starts walking.
“Where you going?”
“Relax,” she says. “I’ll be back.”
* * * * *
When Ash storms out of the Ladies’ Room crying and screaming, I know I should’ve seen it coming. She goes straight to Aunt Roxy without even looking at me.
“Honey,” her aunt says. “Honey, please. Calm down.” My dad takes his hand off her back.
Ash screams something so fast I can’t understand it. I can only make out the last word, which is “home.” My dad backs up a few steps.
“Ashley!” her aunt grabs her arm. “Ashley, calm down! Remember our deal.”
Ash slaps her arm. She puts both hands in front of her face and starts screaming. “I don’t want anything!” she says. “I don’t care! I know you came here to fuck!” She turns her hands into fists and hits her aunt on the chest. Then, just like that, Ash is out the front door. Aunt Roxy throws down a twenty and goes after her, yelling.
As I follow her with my eyes, I catch Berlie right by the payphones. She’s grinning.
I shake my head, like saying I can’t believe she just did this.
She shrugs her shoulders and smiles. She looks at me like a mom who has just taught a lesson, like she’s saying: “Listen, mister. You brought this all on yourself.”
“Looks like it’s just you and me,” my dad tells Berlie’s mom from across the bar.
“Hey!” Berlie says, loud enough for everyone. “That line’s older than ice! Don’t fall for it, Mom!”
Her mom laughs, and that’s it: the deal is closed.
* * * * *
My father and I live three blocks from the Inn, on a dead-end street off Ramsey Hollow Road. Ours is a big two-story house, though it seems smaller because we never go upstairs. My father sleeps in what used to be the maid’s room, and I sleep on the couch in the TV room. We wear our clothes right out of the dryer. Occasionally he’ll send me upstairs to fetch something—a new checkbook from a drawer in his office, a flashlight from the master bedroom closet—and when I’m up there, it’s like I’m in a completely different house. Everything in it is a relic.
You’d be surprised how long of a walk three blocks can be when you’re walking with two drunks that have, once again, settled for each other. Sometimes it seems like my dad lacks the capacity to walk and tell a story at the same time. He needs to be looking at whomever he’s talking to, and, perhaps most importantly, he needs that person to be looking at him. He will always stop to pee by a parked car. Berlie’s mom will always mention the moon, which makes my dad stop and look up. On nights without a moon, this usually takes longer, because he’ll stand there searching, waiting for the clouds to pass. Tonight there is no moon. He’s looking at the darkness. A kitten glides out of a lawn and onto the sidewalk that we’re on. Berlie’s mom picks it from the ground and holds it like a baby. The cat lets itself be held.
“Look Ber,” she says. “What do we have here?”
“I see,” Berlie says. She pets the cat’s head. It meows.
“Let’s take him home,” her mom says.
Berlie doesn’t answer. She keeps petting the cat.
“Can we?” says her mom. “Let’s keep him, Ber.”
My dad is still searching for the moon.
“No, mom,” Berlie says. “You know we can’t.”
* * * * *
When we finally arrive, I go to the cabinet in the hallway bathroom. I take out a roll of condoms from a box, and then step out and hand them to my dad.
“Here,” I say, and he nods. Then, he and Berlie’s mom walk into the bedroom. Berlie and I go to the TV room and sit on the couch.
“Long night,” she says.
“Come on,” I say. “Tell me what you told Ash.”
“Me? I didn’t say shit.”
“Right,” I say, knowing this will be the last of it. I know her well enough to know that she will never tell me. Just like she will never tell me what happened in the pool room with that asshole Jared, or what’s happened on those Thursdays she’s gone home with other boys. I know her well enough to know that if I press, we will end up fighting, and even then, she will not tell me.
She rubs my knee. “I think we should fill out our excuses,” she says.
We’ll be late for school tomorrow. Our parents will fall asleep after they’re done, and they will not wake up in time to take us. By the time we drag ourselves from bed, it will also be too late. We’ll have to take a cab. There is a drawer in the kitchen with cash for things like that. There is also a letter saved on my computer, which goes:
To Whom It May Concern:
Please excuse _________________ for being late this morning, due to family circumstances that could not be avoided. I hope it is not too much of an inconvenience.
Thank you for understanding.
Since my mom died last semester, everyone at school has been pretty tolerant of my tardiness. Not that I worry about it often, but next year I’ll be starting junior high, and nobody will know me, so it’ll be hard to get away with shit like this. Perhaps my dad will return to work this summer. As for Berlie: as much as the nuns hate her lateness, the bitch still gets all As.
I hit print and both letters come out, mine on top of hers.
“Should we have something?” she says.
“Yeah,” I say. “Please.”
She gets up and mixes a scotch and water, half-and-half. We both sit on the couch and sip from it. When it’s done, she puts it down. Then, she leans her back into me and turns her head and kisses me and shuts her eyes. Now, I’ve kissed other girls, and believe me, Berlie kisses different. Her kisses are soft and controlled, precise, with a little bit of tongue. I put my arms around her waist and hold her. She begins to run her hands down the middle of my stomach.
“Ber,” I say. “Not tonight.”
She opens her eyes. “Yeah,” she says. “I’m starving.”
I suggest pizza, but it’s already too late.
“There’s always the Seven,” she says, and goes to the cash drawer.
* * * * *
Yeah, that’s us, walking across the Ramsey Hollow Bridge on our way to the 7-Eleven at two-thirty in the morning. Our parents are asleep, together, and we’re starting to get chubby from all the fast food we’ve been eating. Black humor is our thing, and our virginities we lost before we knew we even had them. Just look at us. That’s Berlie, in the uniform, microwaving the same sandwich she’s microwaved a hundred times before. And that’s me, throwing rocks at all the Stop signs on the way back, trying to chip off all the red. Just look at how awake we are tonight, how beautiful Berlie looks as she picks that kitten off the sidewalk and begins to carry it home. Our bellies are full, our excuses are printed, and we’ve got cab fare for the morning. All that’s left to do is forge their stupid signatures.
Kevin A. González’s stories have appeared
Virginia Quarterly Review and
Best New American Voices. His first book of poems,
Cultural Studies, is forthcoming from Carnegie-Mellon University Press next spring. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin.