J. L. Laughlin
"Anne, what are you doin'?"
"I'm making him grilled cheese."
"But why are you cuttin' off that crust?"
"He won't eat crust."
"So? This is my nephew, and I won't have you treatin' him like a baby.
What will my sister say when she comes to pick up the boy? "You turned her son into a momma's boy, that's what!"
"John, taken' crust off won't hurt him. He's too young to know better."
The boy sat at the table, picked up his plate and slammed it down again.
"See, he's already gettin' up a fuss. He's hungry, but he won't eat the crust."
"No boy in my family is going to turn wussy. Just give him the damn sandwich and if he's hungry he'll eat it." John took the sandwich away from her and put it on the boy's plate. The boy shoved the plate across the table with one defiant move then pressed his lips together with determination.
"See, what did I tell you?" she said.
"Guess he's not hungry then," John said and picked up the plate with the sandwich on it and dumped the whole thing into the trash.
"Hey, that's a good plate you went and threw in there."
"So, go fish it out. Why are you using a good plate on him anyway?"
"It's all I've got cleaned right now."
"I swear you are denser then that cement in the driveway! Clean him a plate why don't you?"
"I know. I'm just trying -"
"Trying? Trying for what? The dumbest woman in the trailer park? 'Cause I give you that award right now if you like?" He slammed his fist down on the kitchen counter.
"No. I'm trying to clean the inside of the refrigerator before I run the dish washer."
"Who cares about the inside of the fridge? You and me are the only two who ever looks in there. Dense woman!" he said as he walked over to the couch and sat down. He turned on the television and changed the channel to a football game. "See, look what you made me do," he said to her. "I missed the start of the game."
Just then, the boy started to whine. His face turned red, his brow wrinkled with anger, and his lips twisted into a tight pucker. Annie knew he was about to erupt with a scream. She looked over at John who's attention was already focused on the game, then she opened the cupboard and took out a box on animal cookies and put a handful on the table. That seemed to quiet the boy as he began to gnaw on an elephant's head.
John was always saying that she wasn't good with kids. That's why he claimed they didn't have any children. He said, "God knows when you ready," and that she must not be since he hadn't given her a child. It didn't make sense to her. John's sister had been married for only nine month before she had a baby. Annie had been with John for five years and they still had no children.
I guess it's for the best, she thought as she reached into the trash and pulled out the plate. Stuck to the plate were cold pieces of egg from breakfast, discarded almonds from the mixed nuts John had for a snack, and something white. What's that? she thought and took the plate and white pieces to the sink, then ran water over them. As the water washed away the garbage she watched as the white pieces revealed themselves to her; their perfectly round, creamy white, texture was usual, yet familiar. Then she realized what they were. My pearls, she thought as she clenched her fist around the beads.
"John," she said and walked into the livingroom and stood directly in front of the television.
"Hey, move it," he said.
"What happened to my pearls?" she said and held out her and to show him the pieces.
"I don't know. Move your butt, you're in the way."
"My mom gave this necklace to me."
"So? So it's broken. What happened?"
"I stepped on it."
"Stepped on it? How did it get on the floor?"
"Hell, I don't know. Get out of the way before I throw you out the front door."
Annie wanted to stay there in front of the television, stand there all day until he told her what she wanted to know, but the boy was starting to whine again. In the kitchen, she placed the pieces of her broken necklace on the counter and opened the refrigerator to find something to feed the boy.
"Do you want a hot dog?"she asked him and he smiled. Quietly she opened the microwave and set the timer for sixty seconds, but knew she'd have to stop it before the beeper went off , or John would know what she was up to.
She lifted her head and looked at the pearls on the counter and wanted to cry. The necklace was the last gifts her mother had given to her. When her mother died, Annie lost the one person who had ever cared about her.
If it hadn't been for my mom, I wouldn't even have a place to live, she thought.
Before she met John, her mother had bought the trailer for her so she had a place of her own. Then when she meet John, he didn't earn enough money to buy a house, so they just stayed in the trailer park. He wanted to buy a house someday because he hated living there, but it never happened. John also hated the fact that the trailer belonged to her, and the title was in her name only.
Now, the trailer was the last thing her mother had given her that was still in one piece.
"What smells?" John said from the couch.
Shoot, she thought, I didn't think he'd smell it.
"Hey, if you're makin' me a hot dog remember I want my mustard on one side and relish on the other. Don't mix it. I hate it mixed."
"Okay," she said to John, then looked at the boy and whispered, "I'll make your's next."
After she fed the boy, she finished cleaning the refrigerator, and the kitchen, then started the dishwasher. Just as she sat down to rest, John's sister was at the door.
His sister wore a red suit and black heels. Annie liked John's sister. She always dressed in fancy clothing, smelled like designer perfume, and spoke in a soft sing-song voice.
"How was my big boy today?" she said and picked the boy up to give him a hug.
"He was good, like always," John said from the couch.
"Thank you for watching him again. Annie, you really helped me out."
"It's not problem," John said.
Annie smiled. "It's really not a problem."
"I hate to ask, but can you do it again next Friday? I'm sorry but-"
"Yeah, she'll watch him," John said interrupting his sister."It's not
like she has anything else to do around here."
"Is it okay?"his sister asked directing the question to Annie.
"Thank you. Well, let me get him home. I've been standing on my feet all day. You'd think working at the cosmetic counter at Hillerd's would be easy, but my corns are killing me."
"Go home and rest," Annie said as she picked up one of the boy's toys and handed it to him.
"Thank you again," she said as she left.
Annie turned and looked at John who was still spread out on the couch, his feet hanging over one of the armrest, and an empty beer bottle still in his hand.
"Why can't you be more like your sister?"
"What?" he asked.
She smiled. She didn't think he would hear the comment.
"Don't be sayin' nothing bad about my sister."
"Better not be."
"What's got into you?" he said as he rased his head up and looked over at her.
"Why don't you make up dinner. That ought to make you feel better."
It was getting late, she decided and she had planned on making spaghetti. It was her favorite meal, especially when she made the sauce from scratch. "Can you get down the big pot for me?" she asked him but he did not answer. She looked back at John, but he had his gaze fixed on the television again. "Why do I even bother."
"What?" he asked.
She got out the step stool, took the pot down from the top cabinet, and filled it with tomato sauce. As soon as the sauce started to bubble, she dumped in fresh cut tomatoes, sausage, mushrooms, and garlic. Then, she did something she shouldn't have. She put in onions in the sauce, just like her mother used to do. John hated onions. Maybe he won't notice, she thought. That beer must have dulled his senses by now.
John was right about one thing, cooking did make her feel better. There was something therapeutic about standing over the stove, stirring a simmering pot of hot food, its heat brimming up to her face, washing away the stress.
"That smells good," John said in her ear.
She snapped around, startled by him standing next to her.
"I thought you were watching the game."
"I told you it was over. Didn't you hear me? You goin' deaf too? Deaf, dumb, and fat . . . now I know you're the lowest of the trailer trash."
"I'm not deaf."
"Hey, did you put onion in there? You know I won't eat it if it has those onions in there" he said as he took the spoon from her and started slapping at the sauce to see what was in it.
"Stop it you're going to make a mess."
"Oh, forgive me," he joked. "I didn't mean to upset the queen of the traitor park."
"I wish you'd stop calling me names."
He only laughed at her. He laughed so hard that he had to take a deep breath to say, "I know. I know," he said and took another breath. "Get this Annie, you know what they say?"
"Who? What?" she said confused.
He laughed again then told the joke. "You can take the trash out of the trailer, but you can't take the girl out of the park."
"It's a joke. You get it? You're never leavin' here," he said laughing harder now.
She stood back, put her fists on her hips and said, "You're eating the spaghetti."
"Yeah, after you fish out them onions."
"No. You'll eat it with the onions."
"Like hell I will."
She didn't answer him, she only continued to stare him down. That's when he lost it and started yelling at her. "You think you can tell me what to do?" he shouted. "Who do you think you are woman?"
Again, she didn't answer him. He began to yell louder, but she no longer heard what he said. She could only look at him. His words were inaudible, and his insults flew past her without effect. Now, and all she saw when she looked at John was the boy's face. His face was red and twisted, with the ignorance of a child.
It was then that she realized that the trailer wasn't the only thing left from her mother, there was one more thing that her mother had given her and she would not let John break it, not anymore.
She reached up and with one hand and grabbed the back of his neck, and with her other hand she grabbed the back of his pants.
"Stop it, that hurts. What are you doin'? Annie? Stop it!"
Before he had a chance to fight it, she pushed him to the front door, opened it and shoved him down the stairs to the ground. He tried to pull himself up but stumbled back down in the dirt. He sat there with a look of shock on his face.
"Why'd you go do that for?" he asked.
"Don't you know? I'm just puttin' out the trash."
© Jodi Laughlin
Jodi L. Laughlin is a single mother with two small daughters. She attends Virginia Wesleyan College full time as a Philosophy major. Her current philosophy is to better her life through education. She has published several short stories for woman's magazines such as True Romance.
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