lj idol season nine | week 26 | 830 words
Crabs in a barrel
"You ain't never gonna be nothin'."
Pa rails at me, all greasy-undershirt, stink, and liquor. Pa ain't nothin', neither.
The shack we live in is broken boards and dirt, on his Daddy's Daddy's land. It ain't no farm, but for a pair of apple trees out back. The earth is rock-ridden and mean, not giving up more than an old shithouse hole and a well. The land ain't good for nothin' but shelter.
Ma up and left us when I was hardly more'n seven. I barely remember her. Pa says it was 'cause of me, 'cause I was trouble. I told him I'd be good, but it must've been too late, 'cause she didn't come back. It's been just Pa and me ever since.
Used to be, Pa worked—or says he did. Now he sits around the house and drinks, and jaws on about wanting a color teevee 'stead of the old black and white one. Most of our money goes for liquor, so I cain't see that happening. I say ours, but I mean mine. Pa took me outta school when I was twelve, said his back was done with workin' and it was my turn now. I didn't care much for school anyway, though this ain't exactly better.
Most days, I come home to an empty whiskey bottle on the floor and Pa yellin' at me.
"Where the hell you been, boy?"
"Shoulda been here five minutes ago. You think I cain't tell time?"
"I better see supper on the table afore six, or you know what'll happen."
The belt. Or his fist, maybe. Either way, it ain't good.
I rattle around the kitchen, find cheese and eggs in the fridge. Still cold—damn fridge ain't died yet, but it's goin'. I fix up fried-egg sandwiches for the both of us, and open a can of peaches. "Supper's ready."
Pa comes in, looks at what's there. Might get a beating if he don't like what he sees. Cain't do much about it, with him drinkin' away most of our money and eatin' the rest of what I buy durin' the day. Pa grunts, and sits down to eat. I guess he'll let this one pass.
After supper, I do the dishes real slow, hopin' he'll pass out soon enough. Pa gets ornery when he's drinkin', which is pretty near always. I keep my distance the best I can.
I finish up, and step into the front room. Pa's there, just watchin' me. "You're just like her, you know. Every worthless bone in your body. You and your ma ain't no use to nobody."
He talks like this most nights, but that still don't make it any easier to hear. "Yes, Pa."
Pa shakes his head and turns away. "Shoulda kilt you when I had the chance…"
I go out and sit on the porch, maybe for hours, 'til I hear Pa's snores and know he's out.
He's still sleepin' it off in his armchair when I get up in the morning. I go quiet-like, so's I don't wake him. Pa's always madder than heck before he's had few.
Work is about the same as always. I ain't much for talkin', and you cain't hardly hear anything over the saws and drill presses anyway. People are friendly enough, though. Jimmy stops me afore I leave, asks do I wanna go out for a beer with the rest of 'em. I wish I could, but Pa'll be waitin'. I thank him, and head on home.
"Late again," Pa says as I walk in the door. His eyes are powerful red and he's up out of his chair, so I know he's worse off than usual. "Talkin' to one of them town whores, I bet."
"No, Pa," I say.
"Don't you 'Pa' me, you sumbitch little shit!" Pa cracks me a good one across the chin, and keeps goin' at me with both fists.
I raise my arms up in front of me. "Pa!"
"Shoulda took you out and dumped you in a ditch when your Ma left," he says, aimin' a kick at my knee.
"Goddamn it, Pa!" I punch him right in the face, first time I ever hit him back. He just gets madder, and so do I. I keep beatin' on him and beatin' on him 'til he's down on the floor, and then I slug the side of his face so hard, it whips his head around.
Then Pa's quiet for once. And he ain't movin'. I shake out my hand and just look at him.
Pa's eyes are staring off at the wall, nothin' inside 'em, and that's when I know he's gone.
I get up slowly, him lyin' there and bleedin' onto the rug. I sit myself down in his armchair, and after a minute, I pick up the bottle of whiskey next to it and help myself to a drink.
Pa ain't never gonna drag me down again.
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