Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler

 

premature fiction

More About William

William couldn’t remember the last time he liked himself. Sometime during college, maybe. After getting that first A in Anthropology. A scrappy, budding young intellectual. Not yet cynical, not yet tired, merely intimidated. No, he did not like himself even then. He was too fearful, too compromising, too obedient, too good. He ducked out of the bathroom mirror before it could do any more damage and headed to the kitchen.

He went over his plans for the day. Breakfast with a joint, hangout on the porch reading an obscure Austrian writer, then maybe a nap. In the evening, maybe some work on that latest freelance project. He felt wiped out. Last night had been the same as every night since he moved back. Instead of sleeping he dreamt, trying and failing each night to wrestle his way out of the inside of a knot covered in black tar. He never woke feeling rested.

Joint in his mouth, lighter at hand, he popped his frozen breakfast burrito into the microwave. The phone rang. He sighed before and all the way through his “Hello.”

“Billy?” It was a woman.

“Yes.” He knew it couldn’t be anyone worth getting excited about. He hadn’t met a woman like that since… well, since Clara.

“Are you alright? Did I…did I wake you?”

“No, no, just deep in a book, that’s all.” The joint felt fatter, heavier, even sweeter in his hand.

“This is Sherri. Sherri Sneed.” The farmer’s wife. He had worked for her husband back in high school, 17 years ago.

“Oh, hi. How are you?”

“I’m good. Thank you.”

“Good.”

“I bet you’re wondering why I’m calling.”

He wasn’t. “Ah, well you got me.”

“I just wanted to let you know-” Was she trying to sound coy and girlish? “Yesterday, I ran into Miriam Ping, you know the Pings, Chinese family who own Harvest Market.” The biggest grocery store in town.

“Sure, I know the Pings.” He’d grown up with their all too beautiful daughters, each one an exquisite torment to his thwarted adolescent desires.

“Well, I thought- I’m not interrupting anything am I?” Sherri was flirting.

“No, no, just making breakfast.”

“Oh, phew. Anyway…”

“Yes.”

“I wanted to tell you that there’s an opening down at the store for a bookkeeper. I know that may not be the same as what you left behind in the city, but, you know, I thought, with your education and brains you could figure it right out and get things in order there in no time.”

He wondered, when was the last time so much encouragement had been so misdirected? Perhaps during one of the many failed campaigns on the Eastern Front. He rolled the joint between his thumb and forefinger. Would she would notice if he lit it now? “Are things not in order over at Harvest Market?” He asked.

“Well, I don’t know… I mean…”

Maybe he could bring this to a swift conclusion. “Well, thanks Sherri, for the heads up.”

“Do you think you’ll apply?”

“I don’t know. The company I was working for has been keeping me pretty busy with freelance work lately. I’m not much of bookkeeper. I have enough trouble with my own money, you know. Numbers. I don’t even balance my check book.”

“Oh, I know. I’m the same way. Terri does all that. I just spend. But I thought maybe you would have learned something about it in college.” Had Sherri gone to college? A year of Junior College back in the early 80s?

“No. I didn’t take any bookkeeping classes.”

There was a pause because that wasn’t all, was it Sherri? You called for something else. You won’t stop now will you? “Well, what kinds of things did you learn there? Your mother always said it was a very good school you went to back east.”

“I learned a lot about history and ideas.” How else do you say it? If he said Liberal Education, she would think he sat around talking about Bill Clinton and John Kerry.

“Really? Like US History? That sort of thing.”

“Yes, that sort of thing.”

“What kind of work was that supposed to train you for?” She asked this sweetly, innocently. Where was she while he was accumulating school loans?

“Oh, I guess anything and nothing.” It felt good to be honest. The microwave dinged. His burrito was ready.

“Oh, was that your breakfast?”

“Yep, microwave says it’s time to eat.”

“Well, I’ll let you go. Just wanted to let you know about that little inside info from Mrs. Ping. I’ll keep my ears open for something else with less numbers.”

“Sounds good. Thanks, Sherri.”

“Don’t be a stranger, Billy. Take care.”

“You take care, too, Sherri.”

“Bye.”

“Bye.” And finally the phone hit its cradle.

Why had she really called? What did she want to know? Was he being too suspicious? Paranoid? He left the joint on the counter and took his breakfast burrito out to the front porch. Looking out on the tree lined street something didn’t feel quite right. None of the local retirees were out watering their lawns, trying to beat the heat. The neighbor kids weren’t harassing their dog. He tried to remember the last time someone had called him before noon. The day he came home to bury his mother.