I’d rehearsed the lie in my head and was worried it might not bebelievable that the man from Blessed Sacrament who occasionallydropped off stale loaves of Wonder Bread had delivered us somethingappetizing.
Mom opened the freezer and frowned at the shrink-wrapped pepperoni pizzas stacked like bullion in a bank vault.
“Wow,” she said eventually. “Score.”
She let the freezer door fall shut and smiled. In a few hours she would
have to leave for her job as an all-night clerk at the Best Western near the
airport. She had taught herself to sleep without disturbing her makeup.
When she smiled with showy surprise, her expression and dark lipstick
reminded me of the night two years ago when Dad had made a sale and
taken us all to the Putt-Putt out by the interstate. I remembered her
laughing between a stone waterfall and a plaster giraffe.
“And you’re cooking one up for us?” she said, peeking into the oven.
I said yes and showed her the plates in my hand. Her eyes glitteredwith mom-ish pride.
We cut the pizza into thirds and went out to the TV room to joinSam, who greeted the miracle of pizza with a “Heck, yeah.” We ignoredthe TV in silence as we ate. Then Mom left for work, and Sam seemedconfused when I didn’t stay to fight him for control of the TV. Instead Iwent back to my room, where I read my comic in bed and ate a pair ofZebra Cakes, delighted by my own strange luck.
That afternoon Ronny had encouraged me not to chew the square ofpaper before I swallowed it. The corners were uncomfortable on the waydown, and there had been an itch in my throat during dinner. OtherwiseI felt fine. I still wasn’t sure if I planned to look in the toilet for it, but thesmall effort of swallowing paper seemed like a fair trade for the sight ofmy mom pleasantly surprised.
I thought again of that night at the Putt-Putt and then of the last timeI’d seen my father. I was in the passenger seat of his red Ford Tauruswhile he lectured me on the trials of adulthood.
“Once people know you’re poor,” he said, hitting the steering wheel
for emphasis, “they never let you forget it. Doesn’t matter how smart you
are, how hard you work.”
His car smelled like cigarettes, and in the back seat there were laun-
dry baskets filled with crumpled clothes. Mom had insisted he spend
some quality time with his sons, and in exchange he got to crash on our