My Brother the Penny
My brother was run over by a train. We showed him how we put coins on the track. He sat down on the rail when we left. The big coal train couldn’t stop. He blew his horn over and over. We didn’t know it was about him. When we came back he was as thin as a penny.
Roll me home and put me under the bed, he said.
Mom is really going to be upset, we said.
Pump me up with the bicycle pump, he said.
But that didn’t work.
Pour water on me, he said.
That didn’t work either. We rolled him to school and his teacher said, Just stand him up in the back.
My brother was worried he might miss class and get put back. He could still read out loud pretty well, but it sounded kind of flat. Mom eventually got used to him being in his room all the time. When he slept he snored like crazy, but we got used to that too.
The Waiter’s Mole
Wedged next to his nose with hair poking through was the waiter’s dark mole. Good eve-a-ning, he said, but it was just after noon. He handed us menus and brought water with smudgy lemon. When we ordered he held his chin and tapped the mole as if sending Morse code. The food came and it was wrong, but we ate it anyway.
I am from another country, he said when we’d finished.
Yes, we said, which one?
I am political refugee, he whispered.
Oh? We said. Then it’s good you’re here.
In my country I am having secret operation soon.
A secret operation? We asked, thinking he meant something clandestine.
For this, he said pointing at the mole with two fingers.
Ah, we said as though we hadn’t noticed.
He stood for a moment holding the dishes. When he returned he said, I am allowing now donations, if you are pleased.
We looked around for someone from the restaurant. He stood patiently at the table, smiling, bumping his groin against the corner.
Certainly, we said, we’d be glad to….
He waited as we struggled to retrieve money.
From the bottom of my heart, he said touching the giant mole. But it was clear he thought it was not nearly enough.
I Knew Your Mother
He’s wearing a ratty baseball cap and is sitting near the front door of the coffee shop.
I knew your mother, he says to me when I walk past.
Really? I say, prepared to dismiss him.
He’s disheveled and needs a shave. Somebody my mother would never have associated with.
Yeah, she could have been a model, and she had a good head on her shoulders.
How, I say on the verge of walking away, how did you come to know her?
You don’t believe me, I can tell by your voice.
What was my mother’s maiden name?
Better than that, how about I tell you where and when they met.
All right, I say, not remembering the details of my parents’ first meeting.
This was toward the end of the war, your dad was stationed at a base in Texas. There was a dance in Electra. Your mom lived nearby. Lots of G.I.s but he asked her out onto the floor. The band was playing The Tennessee Waltz.They danced the whole night through, both of them good hoofers. Next thing you know, wedding bells were ringing.
A great story, I say, shaking my head.
How about you buying me a cup, maybe something to go with it? At least worth that, wasn’t it?
Black? I say as I make my way to the counter.
Room for cream, he says.
I’m ordering I hear him say to someone else, I knew your mother.
Ball and Chain
The checks started coming after the roof was finished. Rebate for materials, it said on the first. I set it aside thinking it was a mistake and someone was going to call. Next week another came. Three weeks, a month, two months. More checks.
I looked for the postmark from Nigeria. After a few months I needed a new water heater, a set of tires, and storm windows. First check got cashed, but I never deposited the money. You deposit the money; it makes it easier to find you.
At work they asked for volunteers to take a furlough. No problem, I said to myself, I got the checks backing me up. But one of these days, I said, someone’s going to come looking. You think that stopped me? New car. Trip to Cozumel. Pay off the kids’ loans.
First time I saw him walking down the sidewalk, I thought he was an odd guy from the neighborhood. Sunglasses and a wool top coat. And this was in spring. I saw him looking at the car and the new windows on the house. I went out to say something, he was gone.
If I see him again I’m going to call the cops, I said.
Finally, there was a little note in the door: You can keep all the old money, but give me any new checks. With a contact number. What right does he have? I thought. I’d come to feel like I was entitled.
The car was first. Burned it up. Total loss. Nice car too. Next day another note on the door; a gentle reminder. But still. When the house caught on fire with us in it I knew we had to do something.
We rented a beautiful furnished apartment in a gated community and had everything forwarded. Thought I was in the clear till I saw the sunglasses and topcoat on the street. I bought a gun and waited up. He shot out all the lights and the living room window. The landlord evicted us.
The checks had become a big problem, to say the least. I finally put them in an envelope and sent them to him. All of it, he wrote on a new note. He must have known somehow I kept a couple. And even the old stuff, he said.
We were broke. I had to go back to work. Same company, but in the mailroom. I felt a lot better, though; like a burden had been lifted. Then I saw him standing outside the office, waiting.