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Authors: Marie Sexton

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BOOK: Trailer Trash
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He found his dad at the dining room table with open folders full of paper spread out all around him. “Where’ve you been?” he asked. Not accusing. Not worried. Just genuinely curious about Nate’s day.


Nate saw the pain in his dad’s eyes at his elusiveness. He and his dad had always been pals. But that had been before.

Before the affair. Before the divorce.

“Did you meet some kids?”

“One. We hung out.”

“That’s good. I’m glad you’re making friends. Boy or girl?”

“A boy. He’ll be a senior, like me.”

“That’s great. What’s his name?”


“What’s his last name?”

Nate knew he was only asking because he wanted to know if it was a name he’d find on the lists of habitual offenders. Nate was happy to be able to honestly say, “I don’t know. I didn’t ask.”

They lapsed into an uncomfortable silence, his dad fiddling with his pen, Nate staring at his toes. He wanted to say more. He wanted to say,
Cody took me to a field where we smoked half a pack of cigarettes because there’s nothing else to do in this goddamn town.
He wanted to say,
He told me everybody from this part of town gets high.
He wanted to say,
You’ve brought me to the shittiest place on earth. Cody says it will eat my soul, and I think he’s right.

What he actually said was, “What’s for dinner?”

“I was thinking Chinese?” It sounded more like a question than a statement. “I noticed a place on Main Street.”

“They don’t have a Pizza Hut or a McDonald’s, but they have a Chinese restaurant?”

“There’s actually a pretty rich Asian history in this area. A lot of Chinese helped build the railroads. I was in the library today, and they had a book on—”

Nate cut him off before he rambled on for ages. “Chinese is fine.”

The diner was like a trip back in time, with little individual jukeboxes at each table. A dial on top flipped the pages, like some kind of storybook, showing them the available tunes. They pumped in a few dimes, just for fun. There wasn’t much pop, but Nate picked “It’s Raining Again” and “One Thing Leads to Another.” His dad hunted for Bob Seger, but the only one they had was “Tryin’ to Live My Life Without You,” and it seemed that one hit a bit too close to home, so he played “Down Under” and “Jack & Diane,” and for a few minutes, it was almost fun.

The food turned out to be better than Nate anticipated, too. They had sweet and sour pork, and ham-fried rice, which they both agreed was way better than regular old “pork-fried” rice. Nate’d grown used to awkward meals with his dad. This one wasn’t as bad as some, but it still felt wrong. His dad attempted to make small talk, as if nothing had changed. As if Nate’s mom wasn’t missing from the picture. As if they weren’t sitting in a ridiculously tiny Chinese diner in the middle of Wyoming, with the wind blowing outside like it couldn’t wait to get the hell into some greener state.

And who could blame it if it did?

“I saw a truck for sale today,” his dad said. “A Ford. A little rusty, but those things’ll run forever. I think it would be a good investment.”

“I’m keeping my Mustang.”

“Once winter comes—”

“I know.”

They lapsed into another uncomfortable silence. They seemed to have those more often than not lately.

“I know you don’t want to be here,” his dad said quietly. “But there weren’t that many jobs to choose from.”

“I don’t see why we had to leave Austin at all. You had a job there.”

“Your mom wanted the house, and I didn’t want to fight her for it.”

“You didn’t fight for

“I wanted you,” his dad said, his voice quiet. “I fought for you.”

Nate slumped, having no good way to tell his father he shouldn’t have bothered. Besides, he’d heard it all before. “Whatever.”

“I couldn’t stay in Austin after the divorce. I just couldn’t. I needed some distance—”

“Well, you got that, didn’t you?”

His dad rubbed his forehead. “I know you think I should have tried harder to make things work with your mom, but—”

“You didn’t try at all.”

“That’s not true,” his dad said with seemingly infinite patience. “You have no idea how wrong you are about that.”

“If you’d really tried, we wouldn’t be here. We’d be at home in Austin. With Mom.”

His dad sighed. He sat there in silence for a moment, and then he dug in his pocket, and pushed a dime across the Formica. “How about another song?”

Cody walked home from the gas station feeling uncharacteristically cheery. Yes, he’d only have a few weeks before school started and the normal social politics of high school took Nate away, but until then, it seemed he had friend. He hadn’t really had one of those in a while.

The three trailers near his seemed more oppressive than usual. One housed Ted, an unemployed alcoholic in his forties who lived alone. Vera from the gas station lived in another, with her invalid mother. And the third belonged to Kathy Johansen and Pete Jessup, who might have made a living selling drugs if they hadn’t used more than they sold. They were arguing like they always did, their shouts easily overheard through the thin walls. Cody heard a crash inside their trailer as he walked past. The only thing louder than Kathy and Pete’s frequent arguments were the trains that came through every other day, shaking Cody’s entire trailer as they passed.

Nate had offered to drop Cody off at his house. He had no idea they’d been right there, practically at Cody’s front door, but there was no way Cody wanted a rich kid from Orange Grove to see where he lived. Nate’d find out more than Cody wanted him to know soon enough.

He was surprised to see his mom’s car parked out front. She was sitting on the couch when he walked in, a cigarette smoldering between her fingers and two empty beer cans on the coffee table in front of her. She should have been at work.

“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
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.

He closed the cabinet door, his hunger suddenly gone. At least he still had most of a pack of cigarettes in his pocket.

“I’m going out.”

She didn’t answer.

He went back outside. The dull sounds of Kathy and Pete’s latest argument echoed around the lot, sounding desperate and pitiful. Cody sighed and plopped down on the steps. He had no idea where he was going. Back to the wagon in Jim’s cow field, or back to the gas station? He could go to the bowling alley and hang with the burnouts. Or out to the rock quarry, just so the cowboys could kick his ass. They hadn’t done that in a couple of years. Maybe this time they’d do it right and put him out of his misery.

It almost seemed like a good idea.

Jesus, Cody. Melodramatic much?

Yeah, he was laying it on thick, but it was either that or cry. The former seemed better than the latter.

He lit a cigarette and looked west, toward the highway. He imagined the distant interstate, full of people who were going somewhere. How many of them had money? How many had families in their car? How many never had to worry about whether or not their deadbeat dad sent the court-mandated payment or not?

At that moment, he would have traded places with any damn one of them in a heartbeat. No questions asked.

Nate had told Cody he’d meet him after lunch, but he ended up going to the field right after he got out of bed. It was a bit after eleven when he arrived, and Cody was already there, a half-empty pack of cigarettes in his hand.

BOOK: Trailer Trash
2.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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