I have a confession, I totally did not get a story done for today. *blushes* By way of apology, I give you the first chapter to It’s a Question of College. Some of you know that I’m writing a YA series called All About Bob. This series is a result of a writing exercise I did over a year ago. It’s still rough, I’ll be editing and rewriting after it’s finished. And if you can think of a better title, I’ll be happy to consider it.
This chapter is over 1600 words, so a little longer than normal. Enjoy.
Chapter 1 It’s a Question of College
Bob ran as fast as he could taking the front porch steps two at a time gasping for breath from the run up the hill where his parent’s run down two-story frame house stood. He’d stopped looking at the neighborhood years ago. Dead grass, mattresses with the stuffing coming out, crappy sofas and armchairs on sagging porches were so normal he didn’t even notice them anymore. He raised the rusty hinged top to the mailbox now only loosely nailed to the wall beside the front door. Shit, he thought as he peered inside. She’s already gotten the mail.
He left the top open when the hinges froze in place and opened the screen door, more holes than screen, to open the front door. The glass was duct-taped along three long cracks radiating from the edges from the last time his father slammed the door in one of his drunken rages. He’d stopped noticing that, too. He closed the door quietly. Maybe his mother was up in her room, sleeping off the afternoon binge. School books tucked under his arm, he stepped softly across the worn carpet to the kitchen.
His mother was in front of the stove, stirring what smelled like spaghetti sauce. He rolled his eyes in his head. Of course today she felt like staying a little sober, he could see the bottle of beer, condensation on the outside of it, sitting on the counter beside the stove. And she’s fixing dinner — of all days. He looked on the kitchen table, there was the mail. Just as he was going to fade back into the living room she turned and saw him.
“Bobbie, didn’t hear ya come in.” She reached for the beer and took a long pull, setting it back on the counter with a burb. “Opps,” she giggled. “Sorry.”
“Uh, yeah. Soccer practice is over.” He took a breath and walked into the kitchen. “You’re makin’ supper.” He did his best to look casual as he went to the table and dropped his books next to the mail. The top envelope was the light bill. He didn’t dare search the pile while she was watching.
“I felt like spaghetti tonight.”
He wasn’t surprised. It was about the only thing she ever made. “Great, Ma. Sounds good.” He went to the fridge and opened the door. Inside was two 18 packs of beer, the kind his father drank, three sticks of butter, half a loaf of bread and two colas. He took a cola and shut the fridge door. “I’ll do my homework while you cook.” He went back to the table, shoved up against the dirty white painted wall, and casually knocked the mail to the floor as he picked up his books. He put the books back on the table and crouched down to pick up the mail, being careful to pick up one at a time so he could skim the return addresses. It wasn’t in the pile. Bob stood and tapped them into a neat stack and put them back on the table.
“Sorry about that.” He got his books and went to his room. The days were getting shorter, he had to turn on the lamp on the rickety desk he’d found three blocks away a couple of years ago with a Free sign on it. The chair was from a yard sale. He traded the owner a yard mowing for it. The books fell on the desk with a thump, causing the whole thing to shake. Bob flopped in the chair a sigh escaping. That was close, he thought as he dug a pen out of his notebook. I thought for sure the report card was supposed to be out today. He did not want his parents to see that card. He opened his math text and found the page with the homework problems. Math was his hardest subject so he tended to do that homework first.
An hour later he heard his mother shout from the kitchen, “Dinner!”
He had one more problem to do but decided to do it after supper. His stomach was growling. The two hour soccer practice after school burned the peanut butter sandwich he had for lunch away fast. He was halfway through the kitchen when he noticed his father sitting in the end seat at the table. Bob stopped. “Uh, Hi dad. Didn’t hear ya come in.”
“Nose always stuck in a book,” Ted Kowalski snorted. He drained his can of beer and slammed it on the table. “Get me another one, kid.”
Bob got the beer as his mother drained the spaghetti and put it next to his father’s plate. He took the empty and tossed it into the trash. When he was ten he’d learned about recycling in school. That night he’d picked up his father’s empty aluminum can and rinsed it out and set it on the drain board.
“What the hell ya doin’,” his father had screamed at him from the kitchen table.
Bob walked over to his father and explained. He knew his father, a sanitation worker, would understand. Ted reached out and cuffed Bob in the head leaving a red mark across the left side of his face. “Don’t be a smart ass. That recyclin’ is a bunch of shit. Just something to make my life miserable.”
Bob never tried it again, at least in the house. He got a glass of water from the sink and sat down at the other end of the table. His mother, Marcy, sat on the long side of the table, between them. She put the pan of pasta in the middle of the table. No bowl for her. That was one less thing to wash.
After Ted and Marcy dished up their food, Bob put some on his plate. His mother passed him the green can of parmesan cheese. There was only a teaspoon left in the can. Bob sighed to himself. Sighing aloud would only get him a slap. He wound the pasta onto his fork and took the bite. The pasta was overdone and mushy. “Good dinner, ma,” he said as he went for the next forkful. It was food and would fill his belly.
Marcy drank some beer, burped, and said, “Thanks, Bobbie.”
Bob had tuned out his father’s detailed description of his miserable day on the garbage truck, his thoughts were on the report card his mother had. He tried to think of a way to tell them he really wanted to go to college. His soccer coach thought it could be done. Bob didn’t want to work on a garbage truck like his old man. There had to be something better. They were half way through their plates of spaghetti when his mother pulled an envelope out of her sweatpants pocket. “This came in the mail today.” She put it next to Ted’s plate.
Her husband eyed the envelope. “What the hell is it? A bill?”
She grinned at her son. “It’s Bobbie’s report card.”
Bob’s stomach sank. He’d managed to keep them from seeing his report card all last year. Why the hell didn’t she stick to her routine!
His old man put his fork down and picked up the envelope. He pulled the two page computer printout from the envelope. “What the hell is this shit? When I was in school ya got an actual card.”
Marcy giggled, her thin graying dirty blond pony tail swinging behind her head. “It’s all computers now, Ted.”
“Bullshit,” he muttered as he peered at the small print. He flipped the page, read it, then slapped it on the table. “B’s and C’s. I always knew you was stupid.” Ted picked up his beer and drained it. “Get me another one, stupid.”
Bob picked up the empty, dropped it in the trash and got the new one, putting it beside his father’s plate. His stomach was churning the spaghetti as he sat back down. “I’m doing better this year than last.”
He father eyed him across the table. “I don’t remember any report cards from last year.”
Bob kept his face neutral. “No? They weren’t that great. Nothing to remember.” He picked up his fork and twirled spaghetti around with it.
Ted snorted. “I’ll bet.”
Bob choked the rest of his plate of food down. His father wouldn’t tolerate wasted food. Marcy picked up her empty plate and her husband’s. Ted got up and went to the living room after draining his can of beer and getting a fresh one.
“I think you’re doin’ good, Bobbie. Don’t pay him no mind, school was never his favorite.” She rinsed the plates and put them in the sink, grabbed a beer and went to watch TV with her husband.
Bob scraped the rest of what was on his plate into the trash. His father wouldn’t know. He never touched the trash. That was Bob’s job. He rinsed his plate and put it in the sink. Then he dug the left over spaghetti out of the pot and put it in a bowl and covered it with plastic wrap. He rinsed the pot. He left the dishes for his mother. She tried to have him wash them one night a few years ago and Ted exploded. That was women’s work. His son wouldn’t do women’s work. Bob shrugged. He’d prefer to do the dishes. At least then they wouldn’t be sitting there for two or three days.
He picked up the forgotten report card, tucked it into his shirt and went to his room. His parents had already forgotten about it. Bob would forge their signature and take it to school in the morning.