Tired and dirty, Jimbo sat in the center of an empty kitchen, determined to drink until he felt normal again. Empty cans of Miller Lite surrounded the legs of the folding chair on which he was perched, a chair more accustomed to the vagaries of family gatherings and picnics at the lake than hard ceramic tile.
Wrapped around him was the cold blanket of plaster, wood, and tile where he’d spent most of his forties and fifties. The floor creaked and the doors squeaked; the roof leaked when it rained. The furnace belched out occasional but alarming gouts of foul-smelling smoke. And yet, one hundred and thirty-seven payments more and it would have been his. His and Melissa’s.
He stood, decided against another, then charted a course for the mostly empty fridge anyway. The door swung open and the light came on, faithful as always. His stomach rumbled a little, more in protest at all the alcohol than because of any real hunger, and Jimbo reached for a pint of potato salad bought on impulse two weeks before and just as quickly forgotten, at least until now. Now, at this moment, Jimbo was thankful for that tired old potato salad. It was a lifesaver.
He supposed those fucking crooked bankers were to blame. Them, and that glad-handing President of UAW Local 547, who’d sold out to the Chinese with all the reluctance of a twenty-dollar whore. Or maybe at the end of the day the fault was Jimbo’s Dad, who’d taught him the ethic of hard work and a dollar earned, and then keeled over from a heart attack just two years past retirement.
Since the silverware had been packed long ago, Jimbo reached in with the middle finger of his right hand – what Melissa had once called her tall man – and scooped out an awkward C of potatoes, mayonnaise and mustard, which promptly and ignominiously splatted to the floor. Jimbo stared at it a moment, then headed back to his folding chair. No matter. The bank would clean up the mess.
He tossed his last beer in one long swallow. His breath hitched and a small groan escaped him. He abruptly hurled the empty at the kitchen cabinets he’d installed three years before. The can bounced and fell to the granite countertop, then rolled off with a weird metallic clatter to strike the sixteen-inch tile laid just a few months after the cabinets and counters. Melissa had loved her kitchen.
He closed his eyes to listen to the echoes of his children, their shrieks and laughter, the teenage arguments, the occasional tears. His son had offered to come help pack, but Jimbo had shrugged him off, reluctant to face the sudden note of condescension in the young man’s voice. Jimbo’s daughter had been oddly silent through the whole thing.
Somewhere in there was the voice of Melissa, the girl he’d married twenty-seven years, three months, and four days ago, but to that he refused to listen.
He’d tried to work it out; had called her new cell number, one reluctantly supplied by his daughter. He hadn’t quite begged. Are you sure about this? Really sure?
Jim. We’ve been through all this already. Just leave me alone. And then silence.
She’d left only two hours after the cheery red, white and blue For Sale sign was unceremoniously planted in the front yard. It looked like some alien metal tree sitting out there, with its jaunty FORECLOSURE sign dangling from the rusty bottom. See you in court, asshole had been Melissa’s final comments as she drove off to an appointment at her smarmy attorney’s office for a quick renegotiation of her ’til death us do part contract
The boxy yellow moving van he’d rented that morning waited expectantly in the drive. A bed frame, a few clothes, nightstand and mattress. A nineteen-inch TV set with a blurry picture. A few books. Melissa and the bank had taken the rest. At fifty-six years old, just three years before his Dad’s retirement age, Jimbo didn’t have enough to fill a fucking Ford cargo van.
Jimbo stood up, gently set the keys on the counter, and walked outside. In the drive, he waved to his fat neighbor, faithfully dragging her cans to the curb on a Wednesday night. He put the cargo van into D, passing by R with but the slightest regret. As he pulled the van into the garage, Jimbo figured it wouldn’t fit. He was right. The sudden crump of collapsing sheet metal followed by the squeal of wood against paint announced that the top of the twelve-foot cargo van filled with all of Jimbo’s earthly belongings had sheared off the molding at the top of the garage door. No matter. The bank would fix it.
Jimbo pulled the garage door down behind him, climbed in, and started the engine. And while the garage that was no longer his filled with good old Detroit exhaust fumes, he pulled out the pink lease agreement from his shirt pocket along with the pen he’d copped from the rental counter and wrote out instructions for the new homeowners – how the screen door needed fixing, and the furnace filter had been changed just the week before but they should stay on top of it anyway, lest gouts of unpredictable smoke ruin the dinner party his wife had been planning for weeks. That done, he set the pink form on the seat beside him – where his wife would now be sitting if there was a God – turned on the radio, and with a resigned grimace tipped his head back to sleep.
Kip Hanson lives in sunny Phoenix, where he chronicles the life of an exiled Nordic Warrior King at http://misterass.com. He’s been published in Bartleby Snopes, Every Day Fiction, Full of Crow, Six Sentences, A Twist of Noir, and a few others, and also makes a few bucks on the side by writing boring technical articles (but don’t tell the IRS). He writes to keep the flying monkeys away.