kitchen table

Scratch

Claire finished her morning coffee and contemplated the courtyard.  She needed to lock the bikes, pick up the trash bag, put the soccer balls indoors. Sweep.

That done, she began the dozens of phone calls that would be her day.  She was an at-home customer service rep for several online clothing stores. She was paid by the minute for minutes spent on the phone, and that was it.  It was demeaning, demanding work, and she daydreamed about jobs that used zero battery.

She got a call from the school.  Jenny, the seven-year-old, had thrown up after lunch. She was in the nurse’s office and needed to be picked up. Claire checked her watch.  1:10. That kid throws up like a cat.  Just send her back to class, she’ll be fine.

“I’ll be there in 20 minutes.  Tell her to hang tight.” She already had her purse on her shoulder, checked for keys, out the door to catch the B41 to PS282.  She thought about calling an Uber.  If it saved 10 minutes, that would be about $1.40 on the phones.  Not worth it.

She had Jenny tucked into bed with a Gatorade and back on the phones by 2:20. About $9.00 down for the day.

It didn’t help when the building super came banging on the door in the middle of a call.  She got off as quickly as possible.  It was the day after the condo association fee was due.  She had the money — she just hadn’t gotten it to him yet.  There was supposed to be a 3-day grace period, but he never observed it. She handed the money to him and waited for the receipt, as a new call dropped into her earpiece.

She knew right away that it was one of the Lonely Ones.  That’s what they called the people who called just to have somebody to talk to.  They were as depressing as hell.  This one was persistent; this was the second time he’d called today.  She tried to disconnect quickly but gently.  She got nothing for one of those calls.  They’d pretend to have a customer service issue, then 3 minutes in you’d realize they had bought nothing.  She was starting to recognize this guy’s voice.  For the 100’s of customer service reps online at any moment, she had no idea how he’d gotten through to her again.  She wrote it off as coincidence, but it was strange.

The third time she recognized his voice, she called a Manager.  “I think this guy’s got my number,” she told him.  He got through to me three times this morning.”

“Is he saying anything perverted?”

“No.”

“Then just ignore it,” he counseled.  “He’ll give up.”

Cold comfort.  If he’d gotten her direct number, what other information did he have? Her address was on her employee record.  Had he hacked into it? She was torn between soothing her imagination and asking legitimate questions.  She decided to talk to a manager if the guy called again.

It was a different shift Manager next time she called.  “Hey, this really seems off,” she told the woman.  “He’s gotten through to me 4 times now.  Dan told me to ignore it, but if he’s gotten my line, what else does he have? My address?”

“I hear your concerns that he may have your address. But can you be 100% sure it’s the same person?  That’s highly unlikely.  I will follow up with you in a few days,” and the line went dead.

Claire tried to rationalize her fears away.  Her door was tripled deadbolted.  She’d never had any trouble in her apartment.  It was a small building in Park Slope that had been cut up into tiny condos.  She and her two girls lived there, in two bedrooms, one bath, one kitchen, and a hallway lined with cases of their stuff.  The scene revolved around the kitchen table, where all the papers from school, half-eaten snacks, books, notebooks, hair ties, backpacks, salt and pepper shakers, pens, markers, and furry toy animals, were piled every afternoon after school.  It all had to be swept aside at dinner time, for them to have somewhere to eat.

Lily, the older one, was due home at 3:45. The school bus dropped them off, and they let themselves into the outer door of the building.  Claire could see the bus out the kitchen window. She ducked her head out the door of her apartment where she could see down the stairs to the street door.  Once the door locked behind Lily, she was back on the phones.

Suddenly Lily was asking in a fear-sharpened voice “Who are you?”

Claire disconnected the call and leapt to the apartment door.  A man wearing vintage coat and hat was mounting the stairs behind her daughter.

“Come inside Lily,” Claire tried to sound calm.   She slammed the door and snapped the locks shut.  Her heart was pounding as she cursed herself for not getting a sample of the guy’s voice.  Was it her caller? No way was she going back out there to talk to him. He wasn’t behind Lily as she came through the door. Was he in the basement?

She thought about calling the police.  To say what? There was a guy in her hallway?

“Mom, who was that guy? Somebody you know?”

“Probably somebody visiting.  I don’t know. No, not somebody I know. I gotta get back to the phones honey.  Make yourself a snack. Jenny’s in bed.”

Claire thought to herself as she steamed some broccoli, no surprises here, just a random guy in the hall.  Everyday the same. Same, same, same.  So she turned to the kids and said, “I have a surprise for us! Can you guess what it is?”

“The Aquarium” Jenny voted.

“Shopping” Lily right on cue.

Lily looked tired and down.  “Shopping it is. That’s exactly what I was thinking!”

“Saturday?”

“Yeah, soon as you get up.”

“How much money can we spend?”

“That’s a very good question.  I’ll check.”

There was $197 in checking.  She’d paid the bills but there were groceries, which was easily $180 for the three of them. If they did beans, let’s say $150 for groceries.  “$47”. Monday was payday. Shopping first then the grocery store.

“Can we go to Børn?”

“Yeah sure. But if we go to Børn we gotta go to the resale shop that’s right there.”

“I’m not buying anything there. You can always tell.”

“What’s her name from Sex and the City got half her outfits there.  Designer tops and resale stuff on the bottom.”

“She’s skanky.”

“That’s girl shaming.  And yucky language. Let’s watch some TV then you both go to bed.”

As soon as the kid’s light was out there was a sharp knock on the door.  Claire looked through the peephole and saw a man in Lycra pants and a helmet.  Jesus. I want to hear his voice, but I don’t want to engage him. 

“What do you need?” She decided to be direct and hopefully, forceful.

“I don’t want to freak you out but your husband asked me to give you a message.”

It’s not the same guy. Not the guy in the hall earlier, not the guy on the phones. Relief and trepidation.

“Okay.”

“I’ve been waiting till the kids are in bed so I could give you the message alone.  He asked me to get you alone.  There’s a couple thousand dollars in a locker at the Port Authority.  He wants you to have it. He says the combination is the date of your first kiss backwards. It was lawyer money but he kept some of it for you.”

Tears ran down Claire’s cheeks.  Her husband was in for four years, she’d heard from his lawyer.  Maybe parole but don’t get your hopes up.  She hadn’t seen him since he’d been arrested for dealing dope.  He was over the limit for possession, because nobody got 4 years for pot anymore. Saturday just got more interesting.  Børn, resale shop, Port Authority.

~~

Of course they couldn’t afford anything at Børn.  That $47 had to go for both kids.  They got a haul at the resale shop, even a new butter dish to replace the one that cracked.  At the Port Authority, Claire looked nervously around, half expecting some gangster or cop to pull her aside as she fumbled with the combination.

“What is it, Mom?” Lily asked when she pulled a messenger bag out of the locker. Claire took a quick look.  It was cash all right, and lots of it.

“It’s some money your dad left us,” Claire said.

“How much?” Lily was right on it.

“This is for savings.”

“I thought Daddy was in jail,” Jenny’s eyes were round and concerned.

“He is.”

“We finally have some money and it’s going in savings?” Lily was all about the injustice.

“If we’re careful there might be some left when your Dad gets home.” Besides, there’s a good chance your Dad owes this to somebody Claire kept to herself

When the Department Manager called her again to get an update on her scary caller, Claire had to report that she hadn’t heard from him. “See, nothing to worry about,” she was smug about it.

Claire didn’t know how they were going to make it without Jack’s paycheck.  He was a construction manager and pulled in $90,000 a year, but they didn’t have any savings. He’d dealt a little weed on the side to pay for truck enhancements.

The guy he got his weed from turned him in.  The cops were moving up the drug dealer chain as rapidly as they could, hoping to get to bigger and bigger dealers. Jack was selling ounces and dime bags out of his freezer.  His dealer had gotten him to store a couple extra pounds, putting him over the legal limit for possession.

Claire was doing the math on their budget.  She could sell the condo.  They had a 3% rate on their mortgage, which was killer.  The payment was $1800 a month, and she still barely made it last month, and that was with no McDonald’s or date nights.  Jack had sold the truck to pay for his lawyer.

Claire stood sideways and looked at herself in a store window.   Even with the $4,000 Jack had left them, the only way she could afford to live in that condo was to get a roommate with benefits.  She and the girls could share the big room, and have a roommate in the kid’s room, but it was more fun the way Claire was planning it.  She’d have to get her jeans and boots out and go to the bar, where she could find another Jack to help pay the mortgage. Some guy who would be good for four years till Jack got back.  Claire didn’t look that far into the future, but in the back of her mind, that’s what she was hoping.

~~

Claire lined her eyes while instructing Lily to have Jenny in bed by nine.  Lily was 12, and that was old enough to stay at home with a 7-year-old. Claire was doing all the math in her head.  A night out could cost a hundred bucks which she didn’t have.  She’d have to work fast. Her boots were in the far back of her closet, behind the bags of Christmas wrapping paper and winter clothes.

The first guy she met was a house painter named Jason. He was nice enough, but he was exactly as tall as she was. Claire knew one thing, she liked tall. She scanned the bar for heads above the crowd, and caught the eye of a gorgeous dark-haired fellow as thin and muscular as a feral cat.  They made their way over to each other and clinked glasses in greeting.

“What’s a beautiful girl like you doing out on your own?”

“Looking for a sugar daddy to take me home.”

“This might be your lucky night.”

“Are you a nice guy?”

“Nice, I don’t know.  Honest maybe.”

“I’ll take honest.”

“What about you, are you a nice girl?”

“I don’t know nice.  Hungry like a wolf.” It was true, their married sex was spectacular. She missed it.

“Are you divorced?” he laughed.

“That’s a funny story.  My husband is in jail for four years, maybe parole but don’t hold your breath according to his lawyer.  He left me a voicemail.  The lawyer.”

“Brutal.  You wanna go somewhere quieter?

“Yeah, let’s.”

“How about that Middle Eastern place, we could walk from here.”

“Perfect.”

~~

They shared the basics on the way over. She had two kids, he had a dog.  He lived in the neighborhood.  He was an architect, doing contract work.  It was highly paid but had no benefits.

“I can’t stay out all night,” she confessed.  “I left my twelve-year-old in charge.”

“I guess it’s too soon for me to come over.”

“Yeah. We can have dinner.  It’ll be nice.” His name was Andrew, he went by Drew.  He seemed pretty perfect, and he was as good as his word on the honesty front.

“I don’t want kids.  I don’t want to be responsible for your kids.”

“And I wouldn’t expect you to,” she lied to him. “The kids and I have a strong routine since Jack’s been out of the picture.  We’re a unit. We don’t need anybody’s help.”

What’s your nut?”

“1800 for the mortgage, 600 for groceries.  500 for insurance.  $3000 a month.

“And how much do you take in?

“I make 320 a week.  12-80 a month. I can bump that up if I spend more minutes on the phones. And groceries don’t have to be 600. Let’s say 2800 vs 1300.”

This is our first date.  Jesus, Claire thought to herselfBut she felt swept up by his directness and drive to honesty.

“You gotta get a better paying job.”

“I know.  But every minute looking is a minute off the phones.”

“You think you can get $1500 for your 2nd bedroom?”

“Yeah, I do.  I think that’s rent around here.”

“I know, I’m paying $2400 for a shitty one bedroom with no ventilation. I saw it when I first looked at the place, but there was nothing better.”

He was clearly enjoying himself.  Claire not so much.  His directness was like an electric bolt to her brain. She and Jack had been together since Lily. They had their resentments of each other, but they were an inevitable feature. This guy was a challenger.

“You’ll be so sick of us by then you’ll be laughing all the way to bank.” Where did that come from? Claire was lippy, but this whole conversation was so out there.

“I am double avoidant.  I’m not sure I can do a four-year stretch.”

“I see what you’re doing there.  Ha ha very funny. Let’s just see how we get along, okay?”

Claire vetted the hell out of Drew.  She interviewed all his friends.  What were his morals? What were his worse habits? Was he financially responsible? There was a decent period of dating, and the introduction to the children. Claire cheerlead-ed the girls into accepting him. They were thrilled with the dog and tried to get him to play.

Drew paid awkward attention to the kids at first, showing an interest.  They saw through it instantaneously and generally considered him with contempt. But he could afford to take them the Aquarium, to the botanical gardens, to the zoo.  They went to the library and even a dog show together, and restaurant meals! It was like a miracle, this sudden bounty.  Their dad had spent all his money on his truck, and house projects.  They had fun at home, which was awesome, but the kids at school would come in Monday after a weekend of Airborne and Warrior Challenge.

Jack would write a cheerful letter a couple times a year, keeping the girls’ dreams alive of having their real dad back.

Dear Claire, Lily and Jenny,

I miss you guys every day.  I’m being very good in here so I can see you again soon. I hope you are being good too. Love, Your Dad and Husband, Jack

Claire nearly wept to see the girls’ avid attention on this scrap.  It didn’t improve as the years went on.  They tolerated Drew and took the bounty for granted.

“I’m done with Lily and Jenny’s attitude,” Drew said one day.  “They treat me like shit.” It was six months till Jack’s release.  He was getting 5 months parole.

“I’ve talked to them, but you can’t instill gratitude.  It has to come from them.  I’m at the end of my rope too. I don’t know what to say to them anymore.”

“How about a swift slap across the face? And if I have to wash one more dish I’m going to end my own life. I don’t know why we have so many dishes; it’s just endless. And Lily hasn’t taken out the trash in the bathroom for 4 days.  It’s stinks like blood. I nearly gagged last time I was in there.  Deal with it!”

Upshot was, Drew the double avoidant lasted the 3 and a half years to put them within a slingshot of Jack’s return.  He left in a mighty huff, but the end result was accomplished anyway.  Claire could put groceries on the credit card till Jack got back.

The girls made a huge welcome home sign for Jack’s return and hung it in the kitchen above the table.  If the reality didn’t measure up to their dreams, Claire was super happy, and that made up for it.  The first two weeks passed in reunion bliss.

Jack hadn’t started looking for a job, and Claire’s calls were getting on his nerves in the tiny apartment. Claire bit her tongue.  She still had $2,000 of the money he’d left them, so they could get by without the second paycheck for a little while.  Claire was worried about Jack’s motivation. Would her ever get his butt in gear? Maybe jail had taken all that out of him.

Jack had connected with a Lutheran Minister in prison, but the Minister didn’t want to talk to him anymore. “I’m sorry Jack but my ministry is with the incarcerated.  I’ve enjoyed our talks.  I’ll give you the number of someone who works with newly released prisoners.”

It was a blow.  The guy had been a lifeline to him; he felt betrayed and abandoned.  One more bitter pill to swallow. He wouldn’t talk to Claire about his experiences. “I just want to forget all that. It was a nightmare and now it’s over.”

Claire pressed him, “Are you glad you’re home?”

“Yeah, hell yes, I’m glad to be home.  It just gets old with you on the phone all day.  I gotta get out of the house, you know?”

“Yeah, you should go out.  Don’t feel like you gotta stay home with me.  Let’s get back to normal life, right?”

Jack went out the next morning with no word to Claire about what might be the plan or intention.  Would he come home drunk?  Claire was putting her money on drunk.  What are the terms of his parole? Claire shook her head.  I can’t be his mother or his parole officer.  I just have to let him figure it out. 

What he came home with was a car.  A Chrysler LeBaron with 156,000 miles on it. Ran like a dream.

“Where’d you get the money for a car?” Claire asked him.

“Guy owed me a favor.”

Claire’s stomach lurched with fear.  “Is this that weed dealer’s car?”

“You’re always so smart Claire. What are you doing with a loser like me?”

“It’s me or the car Jack.  I’m sorry and I love you to death but not with that shit hanging over our heads.”

“This was sitting behind his house, he hadn’t driven it in a year.  Took some coaxing to get it to run, but now it’s golden.  He’s got a new Mustang convertible.  6 cylinder 4 liters.  He could probably get $200 for the LeBaron.  Don’t worry!”

“Let’s make a goal to get a different car and give this back to him.”

“Okay I can see that.  I’m in love with the car though.  Not as much as you, but it’s a close second.”

“There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes.”

“I’m gonna have to get a job to afford LeBaron and you, my two wives.”

Relief flooded Claire’s veins. It was the first time in two weeks he’d mentioned a job. Oh Thank God. “A car widow more like it.”  Claire tried to sound cool. She hadn’t mentioned the $2,000.

The next day Jack went to his former employer.

“They’ll take me back as a carpenter.  If I can hack that, they might move me up to construction management again. They want to see if I can play serious after my little vacation.  Nobody’s still there who knew me, except the HR lady and the owner.  I didn’t get to talk to the owner.”

“What’re you going to do?”
“I’m gonna take it. I feel lucky they’re giving me a chance.”

“Labor’s tight.  Everybody’s got signs out.”

“So why are you still in your shitty job?”

“It’s all I know how to do.  And I’ve gotten 3 raises this year.  Somewhere else would be starting over.”

Jack was sharper than when he’d left.  He’d never be so blunt about her job.  There were lots of minor changes she’d noticed.  He was harder. She was sure she didn’t like it.   He’d always been a happy-go-lucky charmer, now he was Mr. Silent.

The first time they made love since he’d been back, he came like a shot, rolled over and passed out without saying a word.  Claire figured it was to be expected, but it was shocking. He’d always been great to her.

She tried to talk about the changes she was noticing, to the minister for the recently released, “He’s silent towards the kids and doesn’t say a word to me either.  He’s moody and gets pissed off at the slightest thing.  I don’t even know him. And sexually . . . “

Jack was looking like he would murder her, so she shut up.

“That’s all expected.  Jack’s going through an adjustment period.  He needs all his wits about him just to cope with the changes in his environment.  Let him ease back into it.  Keep trying to reach him any way you can. Jack, you gotta meet Claire half way.  Try to communicate more and let her know you hear her.”

Being with his buds on the job, he’d relax and get his sense of humor back, Claire felt sure.  She felt acute need to talk to someone about all this, but there was no one.  She thought about calling the mental health clinic, but you had to go down there and it would mean hours off the phones.  Her sisters were distant and her parents were both dead.

She used to talk to Jack about everything, and he’d half listen. Now she felt so lonely she’d get up in the middle of the night and smoke a cigarette on the stoop.  She didn’t know what to say to get their old intimacy back. This night she decided to approach him sexually again.  Maybe if they could get past their self-consciousness, he’d start to trust her.

He was in bed watching college hoops on TV. She crawled in next to him and was very direct. “I already jerked off this afternoon,” he said. “But come here, we’ll fall asleep together with the game on.”

“How romantic,” she said, hiding her delight when he put his arm around her.

“Just don’t say this is better than sex,” he whispered into her hair.

“Damn I was just thinking that exact thing.”

“It was all a bad dream and now it’s over.”

~~

Jack succeeded in his probationary months at Mortensen Construction.  He was back running crews, doing estimates, managing clients.  Claire barely saw him between when he got home from Mortensen, drank a beer, took a shower, and went to bed to watch TV. He’d stand in the kitchen drinking his beer, where he could talk to her between calls.  He’d bitch about his day while she looked up order numbers.  Tonight he was going out.

“Wait for me.  I’ll be off at 6:00. It’ll be 6:00 by the time you take your shower.”

Jack was pleased at the prospect of showing off his gorgeous wife. Claire was Chinese American, with perfect skin, almond eyes, and long black hair.

“Okay 6:05 I’m leaving without you!”

“I can put my makeup on in the car. Isn’t it great the kids can babysit themselves?”

“Do you trust Lily? She’s 19.  Who knows what she’s up to these days.”

“We talk every day.  She’s into Ulta and Noom and Spotify.”

“And boys.”

“So? What are you her father or something? You want to meet her boyfriend? I’ve met him.  He seems sweet. A little ass kissy.”

“Yeah, I want to meet him.  How’d you finagle that one?” They were in the LeBaron, heading across town to a bar for a Mortensen retirement gathering.

“I’m in this apartment 24/7 on these fricking phones.  You’re right, I gotta think about another job. I’m losing my mind, now the kids are doing their own things.”

“Do you even have to work?”

Claire laughed.  “You really don’t know the answer to that do you? I’ve saved about eight bucks in the last couple months.  We have the condo which is worth a small fortune. And of course, the LeBaron. Yes, I have to work. Lily wants to go to school.”

“For what?”

“Design.”

“That works.  She can go to the community college.”

“For a couple years, then she wants a four-year degree. She’s not in a hurry to start working.  She wants a gap year and everything.”

“Who’s funding this bullshit? She’s 19 & still living at home – that’s her gap year.”

Claire loved it when Jack got fierce.  Even though this was her daughter they were talking about, part of her agreed with him.  Who does she think’s got all this money?

“I’ll talk to her.  I was thinking of giving her $3,000 and tell her that’s it, no more mula from the parents. She can do what she wants with it.”

“I’m 100% on board with that.  But you have to stick to it.  Agreed?”

“I don’t have much choice.  We really have no money. She’s got her heart set on a four-year degree. She’s insecure about her artistic ability. And I would love for her to have the time to grow up. But she’s gotta figure it out because we can’t help her that much.”

“She’s a smart kid, she’ll figure it out.”

~~~

At the bar the boys formed an impenetrable scrum.   Claire fiddled with her beer mug and looked around for one of the wives to talk to.  There was a woman at the bar in a flowery sleeveless top and jeans – she went over and said hi.

“Hi. I’m Minnow.” She was already three sheets to the wind.

“Nice to meet you.  Minnow, wow, is that a family name?”

“No, I get that a lot though.  My mom named me that because, it’s a long story. I’m 4th of 7. Dad used to tease her about swimming with the minnows and getting PG that way.”

“That’s hilarious. Which one is yours?” gesturing towards the scrum.

“The fat one in the too-small t-shirt.”

“That’s all of them, isn’t it? They’re all a bunch of fat fucks.”

“Which one is yours?”

“The fit one.”

“Ooh that’s Jack, you’re Jack’s wife? He’s a real flirt.”

“Yeah, but he doesn’t mean anything by it. We’re solid.”

“He should be more careful; someone might get the wrong idea.”

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous.”

“He was in prison for a while, wasn’t he? What was that like?”

“It was rough when he first came home, but we got through it.”

“I mean what was prison like?”

“He never talks about it.  ‘It was a bad dream and now it’s over’ was all he’d say.”

“Jesus.”

“I know. What’s your husband’s name?

“Dave.”

“How’s Dave like Mortensen?”
“But I mean did he get raped and beat up?”

“Jeez.  No, it’s not like it is on TV. I don’t know. Can we change the subject?”

“Oh sorry,” with sincerity.

“No, it’s not my favorite subject.  He works like a demon.  Passes out an hour after he’s   home.  Specially in this heat. Gotta love him.”

“I wish tubby would pass out.  He’s always so frickin ready it’s ridiculous.”   They laughed together, drawing a few looks from the scrum of husbands.

“You and Dave should come over some time.  We’ll have a blast.”

“Yeah, Jack’s got his number. Dave was miffed they moved him up to management so fast.”

“Yeah, but he’d been there before.  In the before times.”

“What was he in for anyway?”

“Skip it.  We don’t talk about it. Nothing serious. He did three years seven months of a 4-year sentence.  It was no big thing. Yeah, we should go out some time.”

~~

On the way home Claire grilled him.  “Why’d you tell the guys at work you spent time in jail?”

“It was prison, not jail.  And it makes them respect me more. You done time, you’re mean, you’re tough, you know what’s going on.  That’s how they think.  It’s not my fault. Running those crews is like herding cattle.  You got your cattle prod in one hand and a bucket of grass in the other. Any little advantage I’m taking it.”

“Yeah, well Winnow or Minnow or whatever her name was asked me if you got raped.”

“What’d you say?”

“I said yeah you’re the rapyest guy in town.  I told her to change the subject. What was I supposed to say?”

“Tell her I’ll rape her if she wants me to.”

“Yeah, she said you flirt too much too.”

“She can mind her own business.”

~~

Big news, Lily was getting married.  That’s where a chunk of the $3,000 was going. JOP then dim sum for everybody to celebrate. Jack didn’t like the guy. Claire called it, he was an ass kisser, but he had a good job as a sales manager for a big payroll company. Not enough to support Lily while she got her degree, but between the two of them they just might pull it off. Jenny was psyched she got her own room, finally. At 14 this was an epic windfall.

Claire decided to switch to cleaning apartments.  She could get $45 an hour and it would keep her in shape.  She could get done by the time Jenny got home, and would even have time to make dinner.

She didn’t mind cleaning — dust and vacuum, clean the bathroom and the kitchen.  Piece of cake. It would only take seven hours a week to match what she was making on the phones.  That was like four apartments.  It made sense.  She could work four mornings a week, clean eight apartments, and bring home 640 a week, exactly double for the phones.  She could go to all of Jenny’s after school stuff and cart her around after school.  She was driving the LeBaron, Jack had gotten himself an F150.  “Gotta start small.”

~~

“I’m gonna drop the LeBaron back at his original papa’s house,” Claire announced one evening after dinner.  Give me the address.”

“Why?” Jack sounded wounded.

“Because it barely starts anymore. Someday it’s not gonna start and then we’ll be stuck with junking it.”

“Shut your mouth! We’re not junking the LeBaron. I don’t know the address, I just know where it is.”

“Drive it to work tomorrow.  I don’t need to go anywhere.”

“It probably needs a carb adjustment.  I’ll see how it runs and take it over tomorrow.”

And so it went, day after day, week after week, year after year.  They were both glad to be together, they were both getting older.  Jenny at eighteen had a full ride to CUNY. It seemed like, as a family, they were gonna make it all right.

End

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