GP decided that tonight his family would eat good for a change. He eased the Renault Alliance to the order box; it stuttered and backfired every inch of the way.
“Welcome to Wendy’s. May I take your order?”
He shut the car off so that he could hear. “Excuse me…uh, could you run that by me again?” He could hear the cashier suck her teeth through the speaker, as if she was annoyed.
“Good evening, how may I help you?”
“Gimme six number sevens with large fries…and extra cheese. Make the sodas orange, no ice.” He thought about how Kitchie loved Dave’s chicken. “Uh, let me get two spicy chicken sandwiches and four baked potatoes with cheese. I guess that’ll be cool.”
“Would you like to try our apple turnovers this evening?”
Fuck it. “Yeah, why not? Gimme six and six large chocolate Frosties.” He waited a few seconds for her response.
“That’ll be forty-eight twenty-three at the pickup window. Thank you for choosing Wendy’s.”
GP tried to start the Renault. “Come on, baby, crank up for Daddy.” The engine strained but wouldn’t catch. He pumped the gas and rubbed the dashboard. “Come on, girl. I need you now more than ever.”
He turned the key again. The engine backfired, then came to life. With three vehicles in front of GP, his order would be ready in a matter of minutes.
His car sounded like a Harley Davidson outside of the pickup window. An attractive cashier rolled her cat-like eyes and shook her head. Derelict. She turned her lip up with attitude as she passed him three large bags and two drink-holder trays.
“That’s forty-eight twenty-three.” She smirked and stared at GP.
GP secured the drinks on the front passenger seat, then stomped the gas pedal. The Renault backfired.
The cashier all but jumped out of her skin.
With the power-steering pump broken, it was a difficult task for GP to make the sharp left turn. He jerked and tugged the rebellious steering wheel until he yanked the car onto Euclid Avenue.
He stuck a fry in his mouth and smiled. GP knew that, on this April Fool’s Day, he would be the cause of three beautiful smiles.
Four city blocks away from his home, the Renault had had enough. The engine light came on right before the car stalled.
“Come on, baby, I thought you loved me.” He coasted to the curb. He tried to restart the engine but it refused; it only made a clicking sound.
If he started his journey on foot now, he would make it home long before the food was cold. With a bag between his teeth and two in his hand, he reached for the door handle but hesitated when he saw a Cleveland police car pull up behind him.
“Fuck me!” he mumbled, then lowered the window with a pair of vise grips. Damn cashier could’ve let me slide. Ignorant chickenhead didn’t have to call the cops.
Miles dropped his skateboard on the sidewalk, then stepped on it with an Air Force 1 sneaker.
A fragile image appeared in a screen door behind him. “Miles…Miles, baby, you hear me?”
He removed the headphones from his ears as his broken arm remained at rest in a sling.
“Huh?” He turned toward the house as his mother walked out onto the porch.
“See if you can find your brother. It’s dark. I’m starting to worry; this isn’t like him.” She adjusted the belt of her housecoat and folded her arms.
“Jap is probably somewhere standing next to a tree, testing his camouflage gear. Better yet, he might be with one of his weird friends on some type of mock-military scavenger hunt.”
“I’m serious. Don’t tell me what you think; do like you were told. We have to get a fitting on him in the morning for his graduation gown and cap, and I want him home.”
“Okay, Ma. I’ll check a few places on my way to work.” He started off on the skateboard.
He stopped and faced her again. “If you don’t let me go, I won’t have enough time to check on Jap and make it to work on time.”
She removed a prescription slip from her housecoat. “Drop this off at the drugstore, and I’ll pick it up in the morning. I’m getting low on my heart pills.”
He hurried up the steps, took the slip, and kissed her cheek. “See you later, Ma.”
She grabbed a hold of his cast. “Why don’t you get yourself a car? You can’t afford to get too many broken arms on that thing.”
He followed her gaze. “I love my board, Ma. I’m gonna ride until I’m an old man.”
“You’re still a baby to me; you ain’t considered young no more.”
The officer surveyed the car and shined his flashlight toward the back seat. “What seems to be the problem tonight, sir?”
GP had replaced the large order on the front passenger seat. “Damn thing conked out on me. Four cylinders are supposed to run forever.”
The officer looked at the beat-up car from front to rear. “What year is this?”
“It’s an eighty-five.” GP was starting to feel comfortable.
“Twenty years old is forever for a car.” He pointed at the Wendy’s bags. “Looks like you’re going to be late for dinner.”
“Yeah, I’m pushing it.”
“Well, you can’t leave it here overnight.” He shined his beam on a No Parking sign. “It’ll be towed by morning…which is probably the best thing for it.”
“This is all I got.”
“Come on; let me help you push your headache to that lot.” He pointed.
The officer wiped his dusty hands on a hanky after they had rolled the car onto the lot. “Wendy’s doesn’t sound like a bad idea.”
“Not at all. Thank you, officer.” GP pointed his feet in the direction of home.
Kitchie Marie Patterson glared at GP through a set of powerful brown eyes. “Let’s talk…in the bedroom.” She led the way.
GP shut the door behind himself. “Before you start, Mami, I only wanted to do something nice for you and the kids.”
“There’s at least fifty dollars’ worth of food in there, GP. You stole it, didn’t you?” She shook her head with disappointment.
“You and the kids deserve the world.” He stroked her almond cheek; she turned her face away. “I can’t give it to you right now, but one day I will. Until then it frustrates me to want y’all to have things that are beyond my reach.”
“Then get a job—a real job. You don’t have to quit your hustle but get a job, GP. How far do you think we can get on your hopes and dreams alone? This is the real world we’re living in; not some animated world like them cartoon characters you’re banking our future on.” She thought for a few seconds. “Now you’re to the point of stealing again. Yeah, you made the kids happy tonight and saved me the humiliation of throwing some bullshit together, but what’s gonna happen to their happiness—” She pointed toward the living room. “—when you get yourself in some trouble?”
“You act like I steal for the sport of it, Kitchie. I steal for one reason: because we really need something, and I have no other alternative of getting it. I felt like we needed to sit down tonight and share a decent meal with each other, like a regular family.”
“A real nine-to-five will make that possible every night, Papi Chulo.”
He heard something else in Spanish that he didn’t quite understand, but understood she was trying to take this conversation to a place he wasn’t willing to go.
“Listen…my work is honest; it’s what I love to do. I don’t want to go back and forth with you. This isn’t what I intended. All I want to do is see your beautiful smile as much as I can.” He lifted her chin with a finger. “Let’s eat. The food is getting cold. I got your favorite.”
She bit her bottom lip. “Chicken?”
“Dave’s spicy chicken sandwich. Now let me suck on them Puerto Rican lips of yours.”
She stood on her tiptoes to reach his six-foot height, then kissed him on the mouth. “I wish you would shave and get your hair braided; it looks like you gave up.” She pulled back. “GP, you can’t keep stealing whenever it’s convenient for you. One day stealing is gonna get you in some trouble you’re gonna catch hell getting out of.”
“Or get me out of some trouble I’m already catching hell with.”
Greg Jr. took a bite from the double classic. His seven-year-old teeth barely plugged the cheeseburger. “Daddy, I need my own bike. Secret’s bike is hot pink with that stupid, flowered basket on the handlebars. Everybody makes fun of me when I ride it.”
Secret was trying her damnedest to suck the Frosty through a straw. She gave her jaws a break. “Stay off my bike, then, since it’s stupid and pink, punk. I don’t like sharing it with you anyway, you little—”
“Hey, kill the name-calling.” Kitchie stopped chewing and frowned at Secret.
“Little man.” GP squeezed Greg Jr.’s shoulder. “Bear with me; I’m gonna get you the best bike in the neighbor—”
“Don’t be doing that, GP. It ain’t right.” Kitchie swallowed her food. “Okay, fine, tell him you’re gonna get him a bike. But don’t be making these fantastic promises that you can’t deliver. You’re doing terrible in the delivery department. Don’t do him like that.”
“How many times do I gotta ask you not to challenge me in front of the kids?” He wiped the corners of his mouth with a napkin. “When you feel like I said something that should be corrected, talk to me behind closed doors.”
“We can still hear y’all in the bedroom arguing.” Secret kicked Greg Jr’s. shin.
“Ouch.” He tried to kick back but his legs were too short to reach her under the table. “Ma, tell her—”
“Stop, Secret, and quit being so damn grown.” Kitchie focused on GP again. “I apologize, Papi…I’m a little frustrated; that’s all. I still don’t want you to get Junior’s hopes up only to let him down. That’ll hurt him more than getting made fun of.”
GP finished the last of his burger. “There’s nothing wrong with hoping, having faith in something; especially when I know that I can make it happen.” He looked at his family one by one. “Let’s get this out in the open so we all know. Secret, what do you want? What does my baby’s heart desire?”
“Hmmm…I can say anything I want?”
“As long as it’s appropriate coming from a nine-year-old.” Kitchie sipped her soda between bites.
Secret’s expression was thoughtful. “Daddy, I want my own room.” She rolled her eyes at Junior. “Lots of new clothes like my friends would be nice, too. Oh yeah! I want a puppy, and I hope you give me my piggy bank money back that you borrowed last month.”
GP stroked the top of Junior’s head. “And what about you?”
“All I want is a bike, but I’d take a PlayStation if what we’re saying is real.”
“What about you, Mami Chula?” GP blew Kitchie a kiss. “Tell me what you dream of when you close your eyes.”
“This is pointless. I’m not getting involved with this…stuff.” She started on her apple turnover.
“Aw, Ma.” Secret sucked her teeth. “Tell us; we wanna know.”
“Yeah, it’s only a game.” Junior dropped a French fry in his lap. “We’re playing pretend.”
Five seconds passed and GP leaned forward. “We’re all waiting.” He was unsettled by his son’s comment.
“This is foolish, GP, and you know it. If it must be known, what I want more than anything in this world is for my marriage to defy time.” She began to blush, then the reality of their current situation hit her. “I want us to have a bigger house—bought and paid for. I’m not big on having a lot of money, but I wish we could at least be comfortable and able to send you guys to college when it’s time.”
“Your turn, Daddy.” Junior balanced his chair on two legs.
“The first thing I want is to be in a position to give y’all everything you want. And I want to always be able to protect y’all from danger. Comfortable might be cool for your mother, but I need our bank account to be sitting on at least a million. Of course, I want the Street Prophet to get recognition on a national level, a Saturday morning cartoon or something.”
“Take the French fry out your nose, boy, before it gets stuck.” The look Kitchie cast across the table put Junior right in line.
Someone knocked at the door.
“I’ll get it.” Secret pushed away from the table.
Kitchie grabbed her by the pants. “Make sure you know who—”
“It is before I open the door.” Secret finished Kitchie’s sentence. Secret stood in front of the door. “Who is it?”
“Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes,” came from the other side of the oak.
Secret pulled the door open as far as the chain lock would allow. She studied both white men in their jeans and button-down shirts.
One had a clipboard with a large envelope fastened to it.
“Where’s the microphones and TV cameras?”
The bigger of the two men laughed. “That’s only for our grand prize winners. Third place doesn’t get that type of publicity. Is Kitchie Patterson in?”
“Yes, would you hold on a minute?” She freed the chain lock and ran into the kitchen. “Mom, Dad, you’re never gonna believe who’s at the door. The Publishers Clearing House people. Ma, you won.”
Kitchie looked at the ceiling. “Gracias Dios.”
The Patterson family rushed into their living room.
The smaller, balding man was unplugging their TV from the wall outlet.
The other man thrust the envelope toward Kitchie. “Your Rent-A-Center bill is overdue. You’ve been ducking us for over a month now. We’re here to collect or repossess.” He turned to his coworker. “Set that down and go around the corner and get the van.”
“Don’t you people have an ounce of feelings?” GP stepped between Kitchie and the envelope.
“Sometimes it’s an ugly job, but it pays my bills. If you would tighten up on your payments, I wouldn’t even be here.” He slid the envelope under GP’s armpit. “Straighten out this five-hundred twenty-three dollar bill and I’m out of here.”
GP sighed. “I don’t have it right now.” He heard Mr. Reynolds’s antagonizing voice in his head loud and clear. You’re a bum, Greg. That’s all you’ll ever be.
“Then I’ll start with the kitchen set and work my way through here.” He pointed to the furnishings.
The Patterson family watched through a window as the two men loaded the last of their furniture into the van. Kitchie fought to hold back the tears.
The bigger man came back inside with sweat beads on his temples. “Mrs., I’m sorry. Would you please sign here?” He passed her the clipboard and put his finger on the spot where he wanted her signature. “Would it be possible for me to trouble you for a glass of water?”
GP stared at the man as if he had asked for blood.
“Junior, get the man something to drink.” She scribbled her name on the form.
Moments later, Junior returned with a tall glass of water.
The man drained the glass. “Ahh, now that was good and cold.” He turned and left.
Kitchie surveyed their bare living room. Secret was sitting on the radiator, finishing her meal. So much for having a decent meal like a normal family. She went and stood beside GP at the window. “Publishers fucking Clearing House. They cleared us out all right.” She and GP watched the Rent-A-Center van drive away. “Papi, this ain’t an April Fool’s joke. You need to do something. This is only a prelude to what’s next.”
GP dropped his head and heard Mr. Reynolds shouting at him for what had to be the millionth time. You’re a worthless piece of shit. Your mother should have swallowed you.
Kitchie walked away. “Maybe a glass of cold water will calm my nerves.” She turned on the faucet to fill her glass. The water was lukewarm. She checked the refrigerator. No water jug. No ice. “Junior!” She put her hands on her round hips. “Where did you get the cold water from?”
He looked at Secret and they laughed. “Promise you won’t get mad, Ma.”
She returned to the empty living room, hands still on her hips. “Boy, what did you do?”
“Everybody knows the coldest water in the house is in the toilet.”
© 2010 Oasis
Push Comes to Shove
The bills are due again for Greg “GP” Patterson, but this time, they won’t get paid. He and his wife are facing robbery charges after a simple assault gone bad. After a few days in jail, the Pattersons risk losing their children forever.
Luckily, Aunty Jewels bails them out, but GP must make some serious moves if he is to provide decent shelter for his family again. A visit to Squeeze, a villainous loan shark, leads to killer interest rates and a murderous default penalty. Nevertheless, GP accepts the terms.
When he gives Jewels the loan money to flip in a high stakes credit card scheme, she gets robbed for every single dime. Now GP has to figure out how to pay his debt and gain the respect of his family again, but Jewels has already figured out how to make everybody pay.