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My father was never more than a handful of photographs. At thirteen, I could count the things I knew about him on one hand:
His name was Joshua Anderson.
He was a pilot.
He had an ex-wife, Lynn.
He had a son, me.
And he left them.
The black and white snapshots I had were in the bottom drawer of my dresser, next to the B.B. gun my mother got me last Christmas.
Every little boy should learn to shoot, she said.
But who’ll teach me?
My mother looked at me like the women at church looked at her (penciled eyebrows raised like the wings of seagulls in flight at the single mother with cropped hair and her teenage son).
I’ll teach you.
I never learned to shoot. I spent all summer fishing beer cans out of the garbage and lining them up on the fence behind our house. I waited for her to come home from work. Hand in my face, elbow on my knee, I sat in the driveway. The beat up green car wandered back around seven every night. Just before the sun was gone.
Not tonight, she’d always say.
My bike was blue and only a little rusty. It was big enough, but easy to forget to put away.
If I drive over that Goddamn bike one more time!
I knew Mom wouldn’t do anything to my bike because then she’d have to drive me places. But I made sure to put it away as often as I could because the kids from school liked to laugh at the lady who drove around town the ugly green Oldsmobile.
In the summers I did what Mom called lolling. I lolled around the house and I lolled around outside.
That’s enough of your lolling, she said. You’re coming with me to work.
I slipped down in the passenger’s seat so my head was level with my knees and nobody outside could see my face.
What on Earth are you doing? Straighten up, she said.
Mom was a waitress. I sat at the counter and drank Shirley Temples. Mom’s friend Val worked the counter. Val must have been at least 15 years younger than Mom. She wore black ties in her hair and painted her fingernails red.
Hey, she whispered.
I looked up. I’d been reading Sports Illustrated and sucking on an ice cube.
Hey, you wanna come back here and help me with somethin’?
The storeroom was dark and musty. It smelled like pickles and mustard. She ushered me forward from behind.
So, whaddya need help with? I asked.
What? she looked a little scary and I thought about calling Mom.
Why am I here?
She ran her red fingernails across my chest and I felt a little thrill. Don’t you want to be? she asked
On my fourteenth birthday, Mom came home early. She must have gone shopping the night before, because when I walked in around midnight she was covered in flour and so was the kitchen.
It looked a little like snow.
What the hell happened here? I asked.
Where the hell have you been? she demanded.
I cocked my head, thinking. I hadn’t done anything wrong. I’d never had a curfew. So long as my bike was away Mom didn’t usually complain. She had started another job—nightshifts at the pharmacy—and wasn’t home a lot anyway.
I was out, I told her and opened the refrigerator. I let the cold wash over me.
I’ve been waiting for hours, she said and slammed the white door shut, magnets rattling.
Why—because—ughkk! She made a sound just like that. Ughkk. And stormed away and slammed her door.
I licked a little bit of frosting off what looked like an iced dust bunny on the table. I traced my name in flour on the floor. B-R-A-D-Y.
In October of my freshman year I started skipping classes. At first it was just to get out of gym and smoke a cigarette behind the bleachers with Andrew Weinburger—
Wimp! Andrew said. Scaredy-cat! Never even skipped a class!
—but I liked the feeling.
It was itchy almost and sent little shudders of excitement down my spine.
We sat in the grass and talked about cars.
My dad’s buyin’ me a car when I turn sixteen, Andrew said. A big one.
My dad said he’s kickin’ me out if my grades don’t get better, Joe Nathaniel said.
Everyone laughed and shoved him around.
My dad’s never been more than a handful of photographs, I wanted to say. But I didn’t.