She slept late again, and they fired her. With a text. Fired her by text. Not even official, but personal phone to personal phone, no disclaimer from lawyer or form from HR.
She slept late this morning and didn’t care. She had enough saved up for a week’s worth of groceries, insurance paid up, car paid off, but there was Shelley. And there was Shelley.
She could never figure out Shelley, asset or liability?, but Shelley always there. Shelley’s bank account always flush, never a negative word from the body, and always a good time. They had fun last night, and both still asleep, well she was pretending to be.
She had roused too many times during the night, too much beer five nights in a row catching up with her thirty-four-year-old bladder that felt to be two. She didn’t know how Shelley managed, could go weeks without a piss. Shelley always complained of constipation, though. She hoped the child wouldn’t get stones, kidney or gall or any of those. The child needed to drink more, more from the faucet.
“Did your Dad get outta prison last month like he was supposed?” Shelley asked without a rollover, words spit into yellow pillow. She could tell Shelley feared bringing up the subject even then.
“Dunno. He didn’t call. I didn’t call. No one else either. I don’t care.”
“You don’t care about your father’s release? The man old.” More spit into pillow.
“How many relatives of yours you helped after prison?” she asked Shelley.
“See my point.”
“None of my relatives ever been in the slammer. They pay their taxes and don’t hit women or kids.”
“No one in the South can say such and mean it for God’s truth.”
“None in my family.” Shelley’s face still in the pillow.
“You obviously don’t know your second-cousins’ in-laws.”
I replayed the scene in my head all morning long. Shelley long gone before Dad came over that night many months later. The child knew I was joking, I hoped. Dad had gotten out five weeks prior. First, he wanted a dental check. I told him I would buy him a nice steak dinner that first night out. “Trust me, dentist first,” he said, “then steak.” It took me a minute before I understood what he’d meant. Tonight was the night. I’d be paying for teeth longer than steak, but this wasn’t cheap either. Best cut in the store, I had it all out on the table, seasoned like I remembered he ate, salt and pepper dead center. He already had some girlfriend, said they’d met in prison.
“What?” My nerves rattled with that sentence end.
“She has this craze for inmates.” He ate fast, then slow. “Some charity case forwarded me her letter.” He asked for more pepper. “Needed another man in stripes, yeah she out in the car.”
“Yeah, just two stones’ throws away, look if ya don’t believe me.”
No need. Where was Shelley when needed in the worst way of all? A big woman, she warmed me every January, would’ve known what to do here and now. I looked at my father. I didn’t know who was sitting in my driveway, much less who sat at my table. Too many years.
“No worry,” he said. “All her family like ours been in jail, prison, halfway places. She a’ight.”
I stopped talking and listening at this point, my hairs at attention.
“Good steak.” He thanked me. “Good steak, good job, better than that steakhouse El Slammer.” He winked.
I said he was welcome, before asking about the dentist.
“Teeth not so good, but they work.”
Food stuck gross around his yellow canine teeth and dark gums. I asked if he needed a sharper knife.
“I have toothpicks, I forget where, but think in the cupboard.”
“No needa worry, girl,” he said without looking this time.
Then he swallowed the gristle hard and looked around the room like he sought someone to kill. He held the steak knife up real close to my face. Something about toothpick had triggered a memory. I wished for Shelley. I wondered if Mom had really gone missing back when I was two and Dad came home late and drunk with lipstick and money, or so I was told by some other kin fresh out of prison. He laughed and chomped on the meat, but I felt like he was chewing on something else and wanted to stomp on something more still.
R. P. Singletary is a lifelong writer from the southeastern United States, with work appearing or forthcoming in Bumble Jacket Miscellany, CafeLit, Ariel Chart, Syncopation Literary Journal, Last Leaves, Stone of Madness, Wingless Dreamer, The Journal, and elsewhere.