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.