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Trailer Trash(6)

By:Marie Sexton

“They were slow today,” she said, answering his unasked question. “Ralph sent me home.”

His mom worked as a waitress at a truck stop on I-80. It was a forty-minute drive each way, and the pay was shit. She spent more than half of what she earned on the gas it took to get there and back each week, but there weren’t any jobs to be had in Warren. Besides, they’d gone through plenty of stretches with no income at all. This was better, albeit not by very damn much.

“What’s for dinner?” he asked. Occasionally she’d bring home a leftover hot beef sandwich for him, but there was no takeout container on the countertop today.

She shrugged and ashed her cigarette into the dead plant on the end table. “Whatever you can find.”

He opened the cabinet and stared at the contents as if he hadn’t seen them before. Ramen noodles, the generic equivalent of SpaghettiOs, and a mostly empty jar of peanut butter.

“Do we have any bread?”

She didn’t answer. That meant no.

From the kitchen, he could only see the back of her head as she watched Wheel of Fortune. It came in a bit staticky because the tinfoil-wrapped rabbit ears on top of the set were crap, but he could still see it was the end of the round, when the winner looked through the showcase and used their prize money to buy things.

“I’ll take the ceramic dog for $317,” today’s winner said. “And the color TV for $625.”

Cody wondered as he always did what it would be like to spend money like that. Those people had no idea how lucky they were. Yes, Pat, I’ll take the spaghetti sauce for $3. Not the generic kind with the black-and-white label, but the Prego, if you please. And a loaf of Wonder Bread for $2.50.

Nate probably had bread at his house. Cody wondered if Nate’s mother sat on the couch, drinking her dinner while chain-smoking her way through her second pack of the day.

“The check didn’t come,” his mom said.

Cody stared at the back of her head as her words sank in. Whatever giddiness he’d felt after his time with Nate died a quick and painful death. “He’s months behind. He promised he’d send it.”

“You think I don’t know that, Cody?”

“School starts in less than a month.”

She sighed. She still didn’t look away from the TV.

“Yes, Pat,” the woman on the TV said, smiling her perfect smile. “I’ll take the gold money clip for $120.”

“Mom,” Cody said, doing his best to keep his voice level and rational rather than letting himself whine. “None of last year’s clothes fit anymore.”

“You can go to the Basement. I have a bit of tip money you can use.”

One of the churches in Warren ran a small used-clothing shop out of their basement. Secondhand shoes and secondhand styles. The worst part was, it was all donated by people who lived in town. “I hate shopping there.”

“It’s not that bad.”

She didn’t know what it was like, but he still remembered very clearly the humiliation he’d felt in junior high when some jock laughingly pointed out that Cody was wearing the shirt he’d tossed out the year before.

“I don’t want to buy my school clothes there.” Now he was whining. He knew it, but he couldn’t seem to help it.

“What the fuck do you think I can do about it, Cody?” She finally turned to look at him. The lines in her face seemed more pronounced than usual. She looked far older than she was. “Money doesn’t grow on trees.”

Christ, like he needed her to tell him that. If it did, he figured they’d have a damn loaf of bread. Then again, there weren’t all that many trees in southern Wyoming. Even if money did grow on them, it’d probably all be the same place it was now—up in goddamned Orange Grove.

Cody bit back his frustration. He wished, not for the first time, that he’d quit growing. His toes were jammed uncomfortably into the end of last year’s sneakers. He was wearing the one pair of jeans he owned that didn’t show most of his ankles. He’d mowed a few lawns over the summer, but the money he had left wouldn’t be nearly enough.

His mom turned back to her show. Back to the people who could spend $175 on a magazine bin that was imported from Italy and still ugly as sin.

“You’ll live,” she said.

Pat, I’d like a new fucking life for ten thousand dollars. Just take the money off the tree. The one up by Nate’s house.

He thought about the Sears catalog in his room. He’d spent weeks poring over it, circling things, making lists, adding and subtracting, figuring out how he could get the most useful assortment of clothes for the money his dad had promised to send. Winters in Wyoming sucked, and in the end, he’d decided to forgo fashion in lieu of warmth. Jeans, shoes, and a few shirts of course, but he’d planned to use a large chunk of the money for a new winter coat. Now, he’d have none of it.