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For what seemed to be the hundredth time, Andy concealed the numbers and figures she’d scratched down on a paper napkin with heavy lines of black ink. In times like this, she regretted dropping out of high school.
She worked as a waitress at Applebee’s five nights a week in seven-hour shifts, a job that barely paid eight dollars an hour. Her father juggled two jobs daily, both paying him minimum wage. Andy jotted the numbers down on the napkin, avoiding the numerous coffee stains and smudges from a hideous peach lipstick. Her desk lamp taunted her, flickering and dimming uncontrollably as if urging her to replace the bulb with a fresh one that she could not afford. Give in, it tantalized. It’s just one little light bulb. How much can it cost?
Her fingers drummed against her worn wooden desk in quick taps, leaving remnants of purple nail polish upon the hard surface. When did things start costing so damn much? Not only were the basic water and electricity bills piling up, but debts from her mother’s myriad of doctor visits and chemotherapy treatments were also left unpaid. As the number of dues increased, so did the illegibility of her writing. As time elapsed, they all blurred together until each one looked exactly like the one before.
“Dammit!” Andy crossed out the futile calculations, the tip of her pink Bic pen piercing the napkin in the center of dried ketchup. All efforts were hopeless; her family would eternally be buried in thousands of dollars of debt. She hurled the pen at a Jim Morrison poster across the room to release her sheer aggravation. Of course, the impulsive action did not ease her tension whatsoever: her family was still up to their heads in unpaid bills, and now she had a conspicuous hole in the poster of her favorite musician.
Within moments, the front door opened; her father, Joseph Clemmens, had returned from yet another tiresome day of work. Andy lifted her sore body off of the stiff block of a chair and walked in the direction of his lumbering.
“We need to talk, Joe.” She stated in a firm, I-mean-business tone. Their glazed-over eyes met as he lifted his shaved head- his solution to his inability to maintain a clean patch of hair. The foul stench of vodka filled Andy’s nostrils. Though Joe had been a social drinker for as long as she could remember, his alcohol consumption had increased as of late. While she and her sisters drowned their sorrow in either work or sports, their father treated his with hard liquor. The permanent bags under his eyes confirmed his state of desperation. The Clemmens discovered too late that in reality, sleeplessness was a side affect of cancer for all members of the family.
“It’s late, Andrea. Please, whatever you need to say can wait until tomorrow.” Joe looked away and began to untie his muddy boots. Appalled by his indifference, she crossed her boney arms and squinted at him. The action was a sure sign that a discussion would indeed take place that instant, whether he liked it or not.
“We’re in serious trouble, Dad. I’ve tried to think of a way to pay off our debt, but it’s hopeless: you’re already working nonstop, my boss turned down my request for a raise again, and Meg and Kim are in school most of the day-” Joe stood up and put his blistered hands on the girl’s shoulders.
“Baby Girl, do you ever sleep? You’re nineteen, for Christ’s sake- enjoy being young. Live a little.” Joe kissed her forehead and walked into the kitchen, ignoring Andy’s gaping mouth.
“‘Live a little’?” She snapped as she trailed his footsteps. His never-ending collection of cheesy one-liners weren’t going to work on her this time. “How can you say that when you know as well as I do that we are about to be evicted?” Joe gave no response. “Seriously, Dad, how are you not freaking out right now? You and I can not possibly pay off these debts, and you just don’t seem to care.” Beads of sweat slid down her forehead like rain, gluing loose strands of strawberry blonde hair to her face, and blood rushed to her cheeks. Joe’s attitude toward their monetary situation was unfathomable. It utterly infuriated her.
The fatigued man reached into the back pocket of his filthy jeans. Slowly he pulled out a bulky stack of scrap paper. As Joe handed her the wad, however, she realized he was not giving her worthless garbage but money, and a lot of it. For a moment, she was speechless. Holding her breath, she flipped through the stack and counted the money. Fifty dollars, two hundred dollars, five hundred dollars. There had to be at least a thousand dollars in the palm of her hand.
“Is it real?” She whispered. Her father burst into guttural laughter, but Andy could not decide whether or not she should weep tears of joy or run out of town. Joe often disregarded the law in order to improve his family’s quality of life. The previous year, when Meg caught the flu at school, he’d stolen the medicine the doctor had prescribed from the local pharmacy because the Clemmens couldn’t afford to buy it. He had always been rash and illogical like that, but his wife could always bring out the common sense deep inside of him. Now, along with her death, Andy believed that whatever sense he had died with her too.
“Dad, where did you get the money?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“I said, don’t worry about it. What, do you think I robbed a bank or something?” Andy bit her tongue so as to prevent herself from saying yes.
“Can you please just tell me where this money came from?” Her voice was soft and cautious. His refusal to give her an answer proved that something was wrong.
Joe gripped the kitchen counter. “I’ve just been doing some things in addition to work. Nothing special.” He looked into her eyes and instantly looked away. Was that fear she detected? His knuckles here turning white, and she could see that his hand was trembling.
“Stuff. What kind of stuff?”
“You know,” he mumbled, lifting his hand to the back of his head. “Like, selling old junk at the pawn shop on Maple Street.”
“What old junk?”
“Just junk, Andrea! Jesus, can’t you just leave it be?” His voice rose, like it did when her mother would rightly accuse him of lying to her about going to the bar after work. They always argued once they thought her and her sisters were asleep, but Andy heard them every time.
She fervently waved the stack of money in his face. “You do not get this much money selling old crap! You tell me the truth- what have you been selling?” Under pressure, Andy knew he would crack.
Unable to hold his ground, Joe quickly murmered, “Margaret’s jewelry.”
For Andy, everything stopped. The money fell out of her stiff hand to the cold tile floor as the meaning of his words slapped her in the face. Margaret’s jewelry. I’ve been selling your dead mother’s jewelry, the last things you had that belonged to her.
Andy clutched her stomach and turned over the sink. In any moment, she swore she would be sick.
“The necklace,” she begged. “Promise me you did not sell Mom’s necklace.” Joe did not have to respond; the tears in his eyes were enough.
An invisible knife stabbed Andy in the heart. She wanted to die, wanted all her pain, sorrow, and wrath to flood out of her wounded soul like blood.
“I’m so sorry, Baby Girl,” Joe whimpered. “I know how much it meant to you, being your mother’s favorite necklace and all.” It wasn’t just her favorite necklace, Andy mentally argued. She wore it on her wedding day and every day since. Even the day she died. “ I’m so sorry,” her father repeated, and reached out to stroke her hair. “So, so sorry.”
“Don’t touch me.” Andy whispered. Fat tears streamed down her face, and she realized she was crying for the first time since her mother’s funeral.
“Andrea,” Joe coaxed and ran his shaking fingers through her messy hair.
“Don’t touch me!” She swatted away his hand. “Don’t you dare try to calm me down and tell me that everything is going to be alright. Nothing has been alright since Mom got sick, and nothing ever will be again.” Joe quivered with grief. Though he shared her pain, he left his daughter alone in the dark kitchen to grieve.
Overcome with emotions she had so long suppressed, Andy melted onto the floor and hugged her knees to her chest.
“Is this it, Mom?” She whispered. “Is this how it ends?”
Andy remained silent as she gazed at the blank kitchen wall, knowing her mother would never respond.