I tell him again to shut up.
"Somebody's gonna come in. You want that?" I ask. "Do you?" Maybe he wouldn't mind a few more whops against his head, but mine's had enough. "Sleep, Justin," I plead. " Please."
"He's a freakin' idiot," he continues from his bunk, beneath me.
"Don't say bad words," I remind.
"I didn't say fuckin'," Justin corrects me.
I give my mattress a pound when Justin's voice cuts through the dark again.
"She's so stupid."
"Shush," I say.
"She's a stupid bitch, like he said."
I tell Justin to take it easy. "Hey, " I remind him. "She's our mom."
He's quiet again and, then it's me that can't take the silence. I say, "You don't understand."
I've been telling him that for years now. I try to make it sound like in those years when it was just me and Mom, or maybe even before that -- when it was just her -- that something happened and that's the reason for it all. The way she is. But really, I don't understand it either.
I am about to say something else when the door jerks open.
"You two need to shut up," our mom says.
"Yes, Mommy Dearest," Justin says.
If we're okay with her, she'll say, "And don't call me Mommy Dearest or I'll beat your asses," and then we'll all laugh.
A dark figure standing in the doorway, she tells us, "Shut the fuck up" and snaps the door shut.
From his bed, Justin is about to say something more. But, turning toward the dark wall, I tell him, "You heard her. Please, shut the fuck up."
Justin falls to sleep. I can't; not until their voices travel down the hallway to her bedroom. The headboard starts knocking against the wall but I don't know if he's banging her or banging her head. Then, maybe to comfort me, she giggles and I can relax a little and I tell myself it's okay to sleep. For now, we're safe.
Justin's gonna have half his face swollen tomorrow morning, but mostly he's upset about the moonpies.
Mom got paid today and when she and Ted came back from the grocery store, they had their staples: the cigarettes, the beer and peanut brittle; there was cereal and milk, bacon, a carton of eggs and pounds of hamburger to keep me and Justin; but there were no moonpies.
When Justin was a baby, he drove Mom crazy with his crying. Once, him on her hip, she plowed through the kitchen cabinets until she found something, a stray MoonPie. She broke off a piece and shoved it into his mouth. Justin sucked at it, the marshmallow and chocolate smearing around his mouth. He grinned. He shut up.
So every grocery trip, Justin gets MoonPies, though Mom has been forgetting lately.
"She didn't forget his beer," Justin had whined earlier. "And he's an idiot."
"A fuckin' idiot," I told him so he'd know I was on his side.
"Not like my dad."
"Nope," I agreed. "Not like your dad."
Sam was Justin's dad. Justin never got a chance to know him cause he split or our mom told him to leave before my brother was born. Sometimes, Justin wants to hear the stories about Sam; how he taught me to make rockets with the empty toilet paper rolls; how he insisted on telling me a story every night before I went to sleep; how he waited, open arms, at the end of the slide.
The stories make him happy. And me. I don't know anything about my dad. He split or our mom told him to leave before I was born.
What I've never told Justin is that he's here, not because of Sam, but because of freaking George Washington.
I came home from school and Mom was sitting on the couch, a cigarette trembling between her fingers, the ash close to an inch long. Something was up. We were too poor for her to waste a menthol.
She bit her lip.
"Just say it," I blurted. Were we being kicked out of the mobile home? Where we going to be without water again? Was she putting me up for adoption?
"It's about Sam," she said.
Was he back? -- but her eyes were wet and red from crying, so that couldn't be it.
"He left me with something besides a broken heart."
I wandered into the kitchen, hoping he'd left her money for some groceries.
"I'm having a baby," she told me. "Maybe." She stumbled off the couch, scrunched the cigarette in the tray and wandered around the living room.
"So what do you think? Would you like someone here to play with -- a brother, maybe?"
As long as he eat much, I didn't care. I folded the end piece of bread in half and shoved it into my mouth.
"You are no help to me," she said.
She dumped her purse out on the floor, fishing through change. She said, "Call it."
"Call it," she'd ordered me. The quarter flew in the air.
The dry bread clogging my throat, I croaked out a word.
Heads. Heads. Heads, and Justin's here now.
- - -
The Hamburger Helper is boiling on the stove and we're sitting in the kitchen when they come in.
"Did you get them?" Justin asks. Mom promised this morning that she'd get the MoonPies after work.
From the couch, Ted gives him an angry glare.
"Yes, Justin. Damn you'd think. . ." Mom says and she comes to the table with a box, setting it down.
Justin stares at it in disbelief.
"What?" Mom asks.
"Oh, Justin, that doesn't matter."
"Damn straight it doesn't!" Ted says, charging to the table. He rips open the box and slaps a MoonPie in front of Justin. "Eat up," he orders.
And we all watch as Justin picks it up , removes the wrapper and takes a bite of the yellow moon. It's too much, and I can see the tears in his eyes as he chews, trying to force it all down.
About the author:
Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz is a fiction writer and poet. Her work has appeared in various online and print journals, as well as two anthologies "Sudden Stories: A Mammoth Book of Minuscule Fiction," from Mammoth Press and "One Paycheck Away," from Main Street Rag Press. A former news writer and college writing instructor, Mintz now writes full-time, working on several chapbooks and a novel.