I remember finding Annie curled on the couch clutching a brick of Velveeta, tearing at the edge — thick teeth marks my father was sure to notice. I told her she was ruining my life. I was fifteen and thought everything my little sister did was ruining my life. Back then I didn’t understand why Annie ate cheese in the middle of the night or why she had stopped eating meat. I didn’t know that my father would be out of work for over two years or that he would learn to hate our president. I didn’t understand the weight of the word layoff and how it had threatened my father each Friday, tightening around him until the day’s close.
For my entire life, he’d worked at Medusa, a failing cement company tucked beneath the Valley View Bridge. He’d once heard a body hit the roof; and, when I begged him for the details, he snapped, “Rebecca Ruth, that’s enough.”
Before he lost his job, my father and Annie often went shopping at Aldi to stock up on frozen meat. She helped him guide the shopping cart down the aisles teeming with sales items, reaching on tiptoes for a package of chicken thighs. You needed a quarter deposit in order to use a shopping cart. Before Annie, I had been the one to return the cart and grab the quarter it spat back at me. I guess I’d grown too old for all of that.
From the couch, I watched my father and Annie lug the groceries inside. He laid their haul on the kitchen table — a fat, raw chuck eye roast and Annie’s chicken thighs spread before him like a king’s feast. He’d nurse a Stroh’s, while Annie sipped watered-down lemonade, sitting to his left, elbows perched on the table, watching him package ground beef in shrink wrap, carefully securing the edges with clear tape. He patted each bundle and said, “that’ll be good.”
After he lost his job, my father became an angry man. Trips to Aldi with Annie became infrequent. Annie stopped eating meat. At dinner, I watched as she took a bite or two of her meatloaf, before mashing the rest into a napkin. I began finding lunchmeat hidden around the house. Ham beneath a cushion. Baloney tucked behind the radiator. A hot dog in the medicine cabinet, lodged behind a bottle of NiteTime, the cough syrup I swigged when I couldn’t find sleep. I was angry, but did my best to hide Annie’s habit — frantic afternoon scavenger hunts for remnants of last night’s dinner. Those afternoons should have been spent on geometry. My teacher said I was slipping and my father was supposed to review and sign each failed quiz. I signed them myself, that quick chicken scratch of my father’s that I’d perfected.
Kat Gonso’s fiction has been featured in Hobart, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Southeast Review, Gravel, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, among other journals and anthologies. Her flash piece “What Home Will Look Like When We Return” won the 2017 Gover Flash Fiction Prize and is featured in Best New Writing. She teaches writing in Boston.
Feel like submitting? Check out our submission guidelines
Image: Ken Winters