I’m rich, bitch! The life insurance check came in the mail with the letter from the unemployment office approving his request for an extension of benefits. Deandre kicked the door shut and tore open the Banker’s Life Insurance envelope with shaking fingers that irritated him. He felt nauseated too. Damn. Already? It was only nine a.m. He tossed aside the letter of condolence that also inquired about his own insurance needs. It landed on the floor among the clothes, toys, dust bunnies and dried blood stains.
The check was made out to him for one hundred thousand dollars. He looked at it for several minutes, holding it up to the daylight, counting the zeroes, and checking to make sure it was real. It was. Deandre started laughing. Alive, his father hadn’t been worth two damn, dead flies. His laughter turned into a cough and infiltrated the quiet of the small living room.
“Hey, Angie!” he called. “Leandre! Shalondre! Get your asses out here!”
Leandre wanted a new Xbox. Shalondre, his baby girl, wanted everything. Angie wanted another car. It was going to be Christmas in July, but no one answered or came running like they usually did when he called. Before he got too confused, he noticed the blood on the wall along with the kids’ dirty hand prints. That’s right. They were gone.
After Tuesday’s harmless spat, Angie had taken his kids and left… in his truck. Ain’t that a bitch? He didn’t want CPD to get him on Domestic and drunk driving so when Angie called 911, he left his truck at the house and called his cousin, Mario. Mario had scooped him up in front of Cut Rate’s liquor store two blocks away. He’d brought him back later on that night to discover an empty house and a missing truck.
It wasn’t an unsolved mystery. They were staying with his loudmouthed, skank sister-in-law, Lonnette. Deandre went to the bedroom and got his cell phone. He put the check on the kitchen table and took a picture of it. His fingers were shaking so it took a few takes to get the one he wanted, the one that zoomed in on the check’s amount. He took a funny selfie, smiling his evil villain’s smile, and then he texted Angie the news with both pictures attached. That should do it.
Yesterday, he’d called her and humbled himself. He’d apologized, told her it would never happen again, and asked her nicely to please bring his kids home. She’d acted like the superior, overdramatic skank he didn’t know she was when he’d married her twelve years ago.
“You’re just like your father, Deandre, but I’m not going to be just like your mother. This is it. I can’t take anymore.”
What was she talking about? He was nothing like his father. He looked down at the check. He couldn’t take this to the currency exchange. Nope. He’d have to reopen his checking account. If those punks at Chase were still holding a grudge, he’d take his business to Bank of America.
He couldn’t do anything without his truck though. Angie was a typical female, letting her need for revenge cloud her judgement. If you put her brain in a bird, it’d fly backwards. How was he supposed to get around? He hadn’t taken Public Trans since high school and he wasn’t about to start back now.
It had been three days. It was time for Angie to bring his family home and return his truck. He didn’t want his kids, especially his baby girl, around a negative role model for much longer. Lonnette was a stripper. As soon as he had the thought, he heard Lonnette’s fake-assed wanna be cultured voice in his head correcting him, “Exotic Dancer and performer, Deandre. I studied Ballet as a child, and I’m one class away from my Bachelor’s degree.”
“What-everrr…,” Deandre said aloud in the kitchen the way Shalondre did when she couldn’t have her way.
There wasn’t anything baccalaureate about giving lap dances at Barney’s strip club. It might have been exotic though. He went through his wallet. He had forty-eight dollars. That would get him through until—-Wait-- How the hell did he get forty eight dollars? He owed somebody some money. He was thoughtful for a moment. Oh, well. They couldn’t get paid if he couldn’t remember who they were.
With a burst of energy, Deandre started moving through the house like a battery operated toy. He was wearing a Chicago Bears’ shirt and his cotton pajama pants. Yesterday’s jeans were on the bedroom floor. He glanced at them. Too much trouble. He slipped on the old Nikes without shoe strings that he used as slippers and walked the two blocks to Cut Rate’s. Smart-mouthed Black youth was behind the Plexi-glass counter.
“Gimme a fifth of Goose and a six pack of Bud Light.”
Smart-mouthed looked at Deandre and shook his head. “It’s sad when a motherfucker can’t even be bothered to put on a real pair of pants before he comes out in public.”
“You talk a lot of disrespectful shit behind that glass, but you can’t hide behind there forever.” There was a warning in Deandre’s tone and eyes as he placed his money in the slot under the glass window. “And gimme a pack of Newport 100s… you wangster.” Angie would want her cigarettes when she got home.
“You need six more dollars, Player.”
Deandre caught his sarcasm. He fished through his wallet for another ten and dropped it in the slot. “Keep the change,” he said and smirked. “You’ll need it with your minimum wage making punk ass.”
“At least I got a job, motherfucker!” Smart-mouthed shouted, his voice up an octave, eyes wide with outrage behind the glass. He rudely sent Deandre’s bag through the spindle. Deandre checked his bag to make sure his bottles weren’t broken. He looked at Smart-mouthed. “Minimum wage and a small dick, your future’s not looking too bright.” He grinned and turned away.
Smart-mouthed Black youth was really angry now. “Fuck you!” he shouted at Deandre’s back. “And a liver is a terrible thing to waste, you drunk bastard!”
Deandre gave him the finger backwards and sauntered to the door with an old school swagger, letting it slam extra hard on his way out.
When he got home, he kicked off the Nikes, went straight to the kitchen and fixed himself a vodka on the rocks. As an afterthought, he squirted a couple drops of orange juice in the glass and checked his phone to make sure he hadn’t missed Angie’s call. He hadn’t, but he had the patience of Job which was why he was still married to her crazy ass. She was probably sleeping late when she should have been up fixing his kids’ breakfast.
It was time for The View. He turned on the television and sat down in his chair. Somebody was filling in for Whoopi Goldberg again. Damn! Whoopi hadn’t been on all week. They claimed she was in the hospital, something with her back. That’s what they claimed. He hoped Whoopi wasn’t in rehab. That show wasn’t shit without her and there was nothing sadder than an addict. He pressed mute on the remote and checked his phone again.
“You’re just like your father…” Deandre still couldn’t believe Angie had spoken that lie aloud. His father was an abusive drunk. The only thing they had in common was they both liked Lazy Boy recliners. She had a lot of nerve anyway, the chain smoker who was addicted to Nicotine.
He was a damn good husband and father. He provided for his family. He wasn’t on disability because of his fucked up liver. He’d been driving a rig since he was eighteen. He’d never been to jail, never done drugs, never smoked weed or cigarettes.
Hell! He’d never drank alcohol until recently and he for damn sure had never put his hands on a female… until...
He was a good man, a family man, still is. When he got laid off, almost two years ago now, he wasn’t scared. He knew he’d be back on the road in no time-- a driver with his experience. Somehow things just didn’t pan out. He couldn’t find another trucking job. Nobody needed a driver, not even locally. He shook his head in wonder as he thought about it.
One of his former co-workers, an old Jewish dude, used to say, “We make plans and God laughs.” That shit was true. The more he searched, the harder it got and time kept passing. Eventually, their emergency fund was gone. He was responsible.
He’d always kept a year’s emergency fund just like Suze Orman recommended.
“You’re just like your father…” Really? Angie was crazy.
Everybody was crazy. Who the fuck did they think he was? He wasn’t accepting some low paying job at Walmart or McDonald’s. He was a CDL class C trucker with all of his endorsements. He’d made thirty dollars an hour plus thirty-five cents per mile. He’d seen almost all fifty of the United States. He was a family man. He was a homeowner. His wife was a stay at home mom at his insistence. He wasn’t some ex-felon trying to catch a break.
Angie was the one who’d changed, not him. She’d changed when they repoed her Camry. So much for true love. They couldn’t keep her car, his truck, and pay their mortgage, utilities and credit card debt. Something had to go and it couldn’t be his whip. How would he look for a job? Damn. She loved that Camry. He’d tried to tell her it was temporary. He’d get her another one, a better one. Did she listen? HELL NO!
He wasn’t sleeping all that well. Then he wasn’t sleeping at all, and her big mouth didn’t help. She’d started disrespecting him… in front of his kids. He couldn’t have that. That shit was out of the question. She could not be allowed to disrespect him in front of his kids. Before he knew it…it happened. It shocked him too.
Angie was intelligent once. After that first time, he thought she would shut the fuck up, but noooooo… He had no intentions of ever doing it again, but she kept yakking, kept going until he had an edge, (and he’d never had an edge) until he needed, “A little something to take the edge off.” That was the pathetic way his old man had always put it.
He checked his phone again. Nothing. It was charged. He made sure. Angie still hadn’t checked her phone. So what if he enjoyed his Goose and his beer? So what? He could do without them, but why should he? It wasn’t like he was an alcoholic or a crackhead. Anyway he still didn’t have a job yet.
He felt warm. He got up to turn on the air-conditioner in the window. Damn! He stepped on something little and sharp. He hopped back to his chair and checked his bare foot. It was a tooth. It was a front tooth. It wasn’t like Shalondre to lose a tooth without telling him. Whenever she lost a tooth (she was six and losing a lot of them lately), Deandre always put a dollar under her pillow from the tooth fairy just like his mother had done for him. She must have forgotten. He put the tooth on the cocktail table.
“You’re just like your father…” Angie didn’t know what she was talking about. She really didn’t. His old man was not only a drunk but also evil for no good reason. He drank Johnny Walker Red. He didn’t care if they didn’t have food as long as he had his Red. He’d get loaded and put his Lazy Boy right in front of the television blocking its view. They only had one television.
One day (Deandre would never forget it) they were watching The Cosbys. It was their favorite show. His mother just told his rotten father they couldn’t see the TV. That’s all she said. She wouldn’t have said anything, but his mother loved the Huxtables.
“Lonnie, move your chair over a little. Me and D can’t see the TV.” That was all she said. She didn’t say it mean. She didn’t raise her voice. Deandre started shaking as he remembered. He’d been shaking when it happened too. His father got out of his chair and turned around smelling like a barrel of Scotch. His mother, realizing her mistake, stood up from the sofa where she’d been sitting next to Deandre.
“What did you just tell me to do?”
“Nothing… Lonnie. I didn’t say nothing.” She moved away from Deandre slowly, inch by inch. She always did, so his father would follow her and forget about him. It worked sometimes.
“You lying to me now?”
“I’m not lying, Lonnie. I didn’t say nothing.”
“Where you going?”
“No place.” She tried to laugh.
“But you moving though,” his father said, grinning and following her, mimicking her small, frightened steps. “You didn’t say nothing, but I just heard your voice, and you ain’t going no place, but I see you moving. I guess I’m stupid, huh?”
“I didn’t say nothing, Lonnie and I’m not going nowhere. Sit down and let me get you another beer.”
His father’s fist moved so fast. Deandre wasn’t sure it had actually moved, until he saw his mother on the floor with blood coming from her mouth. Deandre flew to her like a bird. Blood was on her yellow blouse. Some was on the floor and even on the wall. His mother’s hand shook as it went up to her mouth. She frowned like she’d swallowed something bitter, but when she took her hand away, she was holding her front tooth.
Deandre started crying when he saw the tooth. When his father saw it, he laughed. “Now you can get me another beer,” he said and went back to his chair, laughing.
His mother’s mouth was swollen, bloody. Deandre was shaking and crying…loud, real loud.
“I can’t hear the TV!” his father yelled.
Deandre couldn’t stop crying. He wanted to but he couldn’t. His mother wrapped her arms around him and whispered in his ear, trying to calm him down, but he just cried louder.
“Shut up, you little bastard, before I knock your teeth out too!” He stopped crying then… on the outside, but he was still bawling like a baby on the inside.
This was his father. Angie was comparing him to this man. Dying was the only good thing he’d ever done in his life, and he really should have done that sooner. Deandre’s mother had taken out the insurance policy and paid it every month for decades until she died. After that, Deandre took over the payments. Even when he got laid off, he paid it. If God let death take (way too early) an angel like his mother, he knew the Grim Reaper had to be stalking his father on the daily.
Deandre refreshed his drink and went back to his chair. They weren’t talking about anything interesting on The View, so he flipped through channels with the remote. The Price is right was on channel two. He watched that, and then watched an episode of Disappeared on the ID channel. He couldn’t watch that show too often. It never failed to give him the creeps. Sometimes, he spent days wondering what happened to the missing person and feeling sorry for the family. People couldn’t just vanish into thin air like that. It made him worry about his own kids. It was getting to be noon. He checked his phone again and went back to the kitchen. He needed to conserve his Goose so he got a beer and returned to his chair.
Angie was going to mess around and let the banks close. He felt funny for a moment, not funny ha-ha, or funny sick, but funny strange; like when his mother used to say, “Hush! Somebody just tiptoed across my grave.”
He picked up the tooth from the cocktail table and examined it again. It was big, too big to be Shalondre’s. He couldn’t remember Leandre ever losing a tooth. He was too damn healthy. That boy was eleven and could drink a gallon of milk in a single morning if they didn’t stop him.
Deandre didn’t remember what the fight was about on Tuesday, but it couldn’t have been major. In fact, he and Angie didn’t fight. They argued (like every married couple), had words. He had to stop using that word, fight. They’d had a dispute. That’s it. That’s exactly what they’d had--a heated dispute. Real men didn’t fight women. Bullies and drunks like his old man fought women. Deandre wasn’t a bully and he certainly wasn’t a drunk. He was nothing like his old man. He’d spent his entire life making sure of that. The only thing he’d inherited from that bastard was a preference for Lazy Boy recliners… and well, now the insurance check.
Angie called 911 on Tuesday for the same reason she always called them; she was a drama queen. She should have been on stage or in the movies. She hadn’t called him back yet because she was trying to get up the nerve… trying to swallow her pride.
He was a damn good husband and father—-a family man. He took a swig of his Bud Light and checked his phone. She’d call soon. In the meantime, he’d relax and enjoy his beer. He put the tooth back on the cocktail table, careful not to look at the dried blood on the floor or on the wall.