Fiction © Copyright 2016 by Sara Jacobelli
(Note: The narrator is a young man in his late twenties.)
People ask me about my family and I just say. I’m an orphan.
I felt safest in the blanket forts we made, a nightly ritual of pushing the two sets of bunk beds together. The smell of stale blanket, stale kids, spilled milk and crumbled cookies always made me feel more secure, as if the noise and fighting couldn’t get to me. I’d gather up all my toys, stuff them in a pillow case: Legos, little cars and trucks, plastic dinosaurs, army men and pirates. When it was time I’d grab the pillow case, which also held a canteen of water and a roll of pennies, and run away. A cartoon character careening down the road, singing my favorite song. This old timey song Mom liked when it came on her Oldies radio show, “King of the Road.” Third boxcar, midnight train, destination, Bangor, Maine. No phone, no pool, no pets, I ain’t got no cigarettes. Mom taught me those words when I was three years old, sitting on her lap. She’d ruffle my hair and say, “That Roger Miller sounds like a nice man. The way he sings those words. Don’t you think so honey?”
I grew up fast. Seen more shit by the time I was seventeen than most folks forty years old. Had a woman tell me one time I’m an Old Soul. I’m a grown man now, with a red Camaro sitting outside, the car keys in my pocket, a wallet stuffed with credit cards and cash. A tank full of gas. I can leave. I can go anywhere. I love my freedom.
But at nine I didn’t know how to leave, or where to go. I was the oldest, it was my job to protect Mom and my brothers. The boys would look at me when Pop went crazy. He yelled at Mom, hit her, called her a bitch and a whore, threatened to burn the cabin down with us in it, to shoot her and shoot us kids. He’d threaten to leave and we’d whisper, “yes yes yes yes just leave” under our breath, into Davey’s soft stinky stuffed animals because Davey was the youngest and still had stuffed animals. Mom would say, “Go!” and Pop would open the door and stand there. Sometimes he’d open the car door and sit in the driver’s seat smoking and glaring. He’d slam the door and start the car up and drive down the dirt road, then spin the car around and drive back.
We’d close our eyes, not four boys really but one, hope without hope without hope that when our eyes opened he’d be gone. If he was gone for good it’d just be Mom and us. Mom would sit out front on the little porch and make coffee on the camp stove because the cabin stove never worked. She’d light a cigarette and turn on her radio and let out one of those long sighs and we’d gather around her like fire flies and say, “You don’t need him, you have us.”
But that never happened. We’d open our eyes and he’d still be there. Six feet two inches of whiskey breath and Camel cigarettes, beard stubble and bleary-eyed anger and a hatred behind his eyes I never could figure out. “We’re just kids, leave us alone,” I always wanted to say but never did. Whenever I’d open my mouth to say something to him, or even to scream, my mouth filled with sand and nothing came out, you could hear nothing but Mom crying and my brothers sniffling. He’d pull us out of our blanket fort one by one like scrawny cats and smack us around, but we were too little and skinny and not much of a challenge. He’d get bored and drop us on the floor and go after Mom.
I always thought we were better off in the apartment, at least the neighbors called the cops sometimes and Mom got a break for a few minutes while he talked to the cops. They never arrested him. It was always the same routine. “You know how women are,” Pop would say. “You know how they are.” And the cops would look bored and their radios would squawk and they’d drive off.
I’m lying about that orphan bit. I have one relative left. He’s in prison. I hope he rots there. When I hear he’s dead, I’ll stop in a tavern and toast him with a Jameson’s. Not that cheap shit Seagram’s Seven he drank. I’ll hold the glass up and say: Good fucking riddance.
People ask me about my family and I say. I’m an orphan.
Leaving isn’t easy when you care about others. Me, I don’t get tangled up with folks. I like going to bars. I like the temporariness of life in a bar. You meet someone, you drink, you become friends or enemies or lovers to the sound of the jukebox. Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t last. You leave.
I might meet a woman now and then, but I don’t stay. I’ll enjoy her warmth and her smile and her smell. Sometimes one will even say she loves me. And that’s tempting. I see those couples in cafes eating French toast and planning vacations. But that’s not my life.
I’m always ready to hit the road. No boxcars. I drive my own car. No wife, no family, no pets, no house. And I like the old fashioned sound of the radio and those stations that still play those old tunes, whether you’re on the highway or on a lonely country lane. King of the Road. That’s me.
“King of the Road” lyrics and music by Roger Miller. 1965.
Photo Credit: “Faded Box Cars.” Wikipedia.org
ClipArt. “Man Wearing Hat.”