Mary draws a hopscotch with my lucky chalk then tosses it in the grass by the sidewalk. Before I can retrieve it, Mom yells for Mary, my other sister, Jenny, and I to get our asses in for supper this instant. Mom uses her I’ve-already-told-you-twice voice even though this is the first time. We get our asses inside.
During supper, Mom shakes her head and rolls her eyes whenever Pop says something. He finally quits eating, goes quiet and sips his beer. Mom tells us to get to bed. It’s not even dark yet, but Mom’s tone warns the fuss out of us.
To pass the time ‘till we’re sleepy, Jenny and I talk about how long an instant is. We decide it depends on what you’re supposed to do. If you’re running in for supper, an instant gives you maybe a minute. If Mom or Pop tells you to shut up, an instant is less than a second.
After we get that settled, Jenny asks why my chalk’s lucky. I pin a note to my brain to go out to the hopscotch first thing in the morning. I tell Jenny it’s lucky because Miss Gilbert used it. When my sister asks how I got it, I hesitate then tell her I kind of swiped it from school. I ask her to not tell Mom or Mary. Jenny hangs her head upside down to look at me and says there’s worse things.
Getting sleepy, I tell my sister good night and that I’ll keep us safe from below. She says she’ll do the same from above.
The next thing I know, Mary is shaking me and saying we’re skipping out. I can barely keep my eyes open, but I don’t want to get left behind so I pack my stuff in my cardboard box. I hear Mom yelling at Pop for drinking the rent money again.
As I make my way to the car, my box banging up under my chin, I stop at the hopscotch. But it’s one of those extra dark nights Pop likes for skipping out. I’m still searching when Mom says to get a move-on. I tell her Mary dropped my chalk, and I know it’s here someplace if I could just see better, and it’s lucky and — Mom says to stop this instant. I figure I have less than a second and head for the car.
My sisters and I put our boxes in the trunk then climb into the back seat. I call dibs on a window, but end up the monkey in the middle as usual.
Just outside town, squint-bright headlights come at us. When they’ve passed, Pop looks in the rear-view and says Shit. Then he turns off the road and stops behind a tree. Red and blue flash by. Pop counts one motherfucker, two motherfucker, three motherfucker then pulls out. After a couple minutes, gravel crunches. Pop says he knows these country roads like the back of his hand, laughs and holds up his middle finger. I think he means it for the motherfucking sheriff, but it’s aimed right at me.
Pop opens a can. Beer shoots all over the place. He laughs again and takes a swig.
Mom throws her arm in the air and calls Pop a stupid son of a bitch. Mary does the same thing, but not the stupid son of a bitch part. I bet she thinks it though.
Pop says he’s learned his lesson. We’ll never rent next door to the landlord again. Then he puts down his window, tosses out the can and pops another. He reaches the beer back toward me and asks if I want some. Mom slaps his wrist. The can falls in my lap and soaks me. Pop raises his hand to Mom. She says try it. He doesn’t. Mary thinks Mom could take Pop if they ever slugged it out.
The dome light comes on. Pop twists ‘round, grins and tells me it looks like I pissed myself.
I fight bursting into tears. I don’t know if it’s the arguing, beer or because I’ll probably never see Miss Gilbert again. Jenny takes my hand and gives me my lucky chalk. She says she was saving it as a surprise, but can tell I need it now. The stick’s broken in two. Jenny says not to worry — it’ll bring me twice as many good lucks. I make a fist around each piece and squeeze as hard as I can. I want to punch something, but I keep squeezing.
David Henson and his wife have lived in Belgium and Hong Kong over the years and now reside in Peoria, Illinois. His work has been nominated for Best Small Fictions and Best of the Net and has appeared in numerous print and online journals including Potato Soup Journal, Fictive Dream, Pithead Chapel, Moonpark Review, and Literally Stories. His website is http://writings217.wordpress.com. His Twitter is @annalou8.