‘A Good Deuce’ by Jodi Angel
From Tin House:
I was on my second bag of Doritos and my lips were stained emergency orange when my best friend, Phillip, said he knew a bar in Hallelujah Junction that didn’t card, and maybe we should go there. We had been sitting in my living room for eighteen or nineteen hours watching Robert Redford movies, where Redford had gone from square-jawed, muscled, and rugged to looking like a blanched piece of beef jerky, and we had watched it go from dark to light to dark again through the break in the curtains. The coroner had wheeled my mother out all those hours ago and my grandma Hannah had stalked down the sidewalk with her fists closed and locked at her side, insisting that a dead body had every right to stay in the house for as long as the family wanted it there. My mother was no longer my mother; she had become Anna Schroeder, the deceased, and my grandma Hannah had been on the phone trying to track my father down. The best we had was a number for the pay phone at the Deville Motel, and only one of two things happened when you dialed that number—either it rang and rang into lonely nothing or someone answered and asked if this was Joey and hung up when the answer was no. My grandma called the number twenty-two times, and the only thing that changed was the quality of the light, and my mother went out, and Phillip came in, and my sister, Christy, packed her things so she could go, and I did not.
I understood why my grandma didn’t want to take me. There had been that time when I was eleven and smart-mouthed and full of angry talk and I had made her cry. I still thought of that sometimes, what it looked like to see her in her bedroom, staring out her window in the half darkness, and how I walked up beside her and said her name and then realized that she was crying. I can still smell the room she was standing in, talcum powder, stale lace, but I try very hard to forget what I said, though it hangs in my mind like the dust caught in the weak shafts of sun. It did something to my heart to see her like that, something that I can’t explain, and it did something to hers, too, I guess, because after that she never looked at me directly with both of her eyes. And now Christy was handed a suitcase and I was handed a brochure for the army recruiter office in the strip mall by Kmart and told I could take my mother’s car over as long as I gave it back when my bus left. Christy was thirteen, and I was seventeen, and what she had was no choice, and what few choices I had were being made for me.
“It doesn’t smell,” Phillip said. He was standing in front of my mother’s room, both of his arms braced in the doorway so that he could lean his body in without moving his feet. From over his shoulder I could see the bed against the wall, and the flowered mattress stripped and the blankets on the floor. The bed stood empty and accusatory, waiting to be made.
It was Christy who’d found her, and I wished it was me—not because I wanted to spare Christy the sight of what she had seen, but because for the rest of Christy’s life she could fuck up or give up or not show up, and nobody would hold it against her because Jesus Christ, you know her mother died, and she was the one who found the body. Christy had a free ticket to minimum. I came in when Christy called for me, but when your mother dies, there is no prize for coming in second. No one was ever going to keep some slack in my rope. The one who comes in second is the one who is supposed to spend the rest of his life cleaning up the mess.
“I keep feeling like I’m waiting for something and it isn’t coming,” Phillip said.
“I wanna go out,” I said. My fingers were stained yellow, like weak nicotine or old iodine, and I thought about all the ways that iodine could cover and stain—clothes and fingertips, forearms that had gone through bedroom windows, scraped knuckles from walls. My grandma Hannah kept a jug of it under her bathroom sink, called it something in German that I could not understand.