My father walks through the door. The volunteer fire department’s noon alarm test announces his arrival. Mother has lunch on the table: tuna sandwich with pickle and potato salad. I am home because it is winter recess, what Father insists on calling Christmas Vacation. In the background, the TV is on with the low murmur of the news that’s always sounding but rarely watched.
I am invisible; mother is an outline.
“Ted Horn broke his ankle on the loading platform this morning,” he tells Mother.
“Too bad. Edith will have her hands full now.”
“Jerry Heath tells me he’s got a guy over in Liberty wants to sell his loader.”
“We can’t afford that!”
He doesn’t answer. His jaw cracks as he chews.
Outside, the snow builds. That is what he does, Father. He ploughs our neighbors’ driveways with that curved orange blade fastened across his pickup. In the summer he delivers the same neighbors firewood and mows their acres. He calls himself an entrepreneur.
He likes to use dictionary words that I must look up. He tells people it’s because he’s a voracious reader. For a long time I assumed he must read only at night, in bed, because I had never seen him lift a book.
He looks at me and I think for a moment he might speak.
Crack, crack, crack.
He turns again to Mother.
“When does he go back to school?”
“Not until the 2nd.”
“That seems awful long.”
My best friend lives in Kenoza Lake, which is much too far to walk to, and Mother won’t drive in the snow, even if the roads have been cleared. The irony is not lost on me. Nor is the loneliness that comes with knowing I won’t see my friend until school is back. Her name is Renee and she’s invisible too.
The newsman mentions something about a killing spree. But it is in the city. Another world.
“Pot roast for dinner?” Mother asks Father. He tilts back his head, his thinking stance.
“I suppose so,” he decides. He always makes his decisions seem monumental, even if they are minute. I want to shout.
I want to shout: pot roast or Chicken a la King or grilled cheese sandwiches with tater-tots, who the fuck cares?
In my reverie, I don’t know I am being addressed.
“Where the hell did he go?” Father asks Mother.
I look at him to tell him I’m present.
“Did you hear me?” Still looking. “I said,” he’s already exasperated, “I don’t want you lazing around during Christmas Vacation. I put a shovel by the backdoor. Go up and down the road and see whose walks you can clear. And if they say yes, don’t let them Jew you down.”
Everybody here shovels their own walks. He knows that; that’s the culture, he himself might say. They only pay him to plough because not everyone wants to mount a curved orange blade to their pickup.
“See that he gets to it as soon as he’s done with lunch,” he tells Mother.
“You’ll need your boots,” Mother tells me, obviating further responsibility.
He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. Not just as he finishes his tuna sandwich with pickle and potato salad, but always, every day and every night. He puts his meaty hands on the table surface, about to lift himself. “Well,” he says before, “back at it.” Up now: “The life of the proletariat.”
I do not know that word. The sound of it I do not like. I will not look it up. And I certainly will not become one.
“Back at 4,” he tells her.
“Dinner will be ready,” she says.
J. Edward Kruft has an MFA in fiction from Brooklyn College. He is a multiple Best Short Fictions nominee, and his stories have appeared in Crack the Spine and XRAY Literary Magazine, among others. As a child he had an imaginary friend named Fred Benn who lived in the back of a garbage truck and married a pig. He lives with his husband, Mike, and their adopted Siberian Husky, Sasha, in Queens, NY and Sullivan County, NY. His recent fiction can be found on his Web site: www.jedwardkruft.com