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Worthless Junk: Revised Edition
For what seemed to be the hundredth time, Andy concealed the numbers she’d scratched down on a paper napkin with heavy lines of black ink. Her fingers drummed against her worn wooden desk in quick, frustrated taps, leaving remnants of purple nail polish upon the hard surface. Sighing, the young woman stared at the figures strategically jotted down on the used napkin. Amid the asinine conglomerate of coffee stains and smudges of a hideous peach lipstick, the dollar amounts were meaningless to her. Beside the pathetic scrap, Andy’s 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?
“Damn it!” Andy crossed out the futile calculations again, 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. The basic water and electricity bills continued to pile up. Those extensive fees from her mother’s myriad of doctor visits and chemotherapy treatments would not disappear, despite her family’s deliberate neglect. Yet Andy worked as a waitress at Applebee’s five nights a week in seven-hour shifts, a job that barely paid eight dollars an hour, and her father juggled two jobs daily, both paying him minimum wage. As the number of dues Andy wrote down increased, so did the illegibility of her writing. Every number blurred together and became an ominous splatter.
Andy hurled the pen at a Jim Morrison poster across the room to relieve her aggravation. Unsurprisingly, 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.
The creaking of the old front door pervaded the walls of Andy’s room, followed by the hard thuds of tired feet. Joseph Clemmens had returned from yet another day of work, yet another fifteen-hour shift that rewarded him with an unfulfilling salary. How could Andy slap him in the face with this financial blow? How could she look her father in the face and tell him his arduous efforts were just not good enough? Andy hoisted her sore body off of her chair and walked in the direction of her father’s lumbering.
“We need to talk, Joe.” Her tone was somber, her expression austere. Andy was not started by the foul stench of vodka that filled her nostrils; she’d grown accustomed to her father’s form of therapy. While she and her sisters drowned their sorrow in either work or sports, their father treated his with hard liquor.
Andy’s glazed-over eyes met his as he lifted his head to face her. Sleeplessness was remained a tacit side affect of cancer for the entire family.
“It’s late, Andrea,” he whispered. “Please, whatever you need to say can wait until tomorrow.” Joe looked away and began to untie his muddy boots.
“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…”
“Baby Girl, do you ever sleep?” Joe interrupted her, seemingly unaware of the desperation in Andy’s voice. He stood and squeezed her tense shoulders with his blistered hands. “You’re nineteen, for Christ’s sake- enjoy being young. Live a little.” Andy’s mouth gaped as she silently watched her father walk to the kitchen.
“‘Live a little’?” She snapped as she trailed his footsteps. His never-ending collection of cheesy one-liners would not placate 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 as he examined the contents of the fridge. “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 Andy’s forehead like rain, gluing loose strands of hair to her red face. Her hands trembled out of frustration. Too infuriated to speak, the young woman watched her father remove a plate of meatloaf and take a mouthful of the soggy leftover. Between chews he said,
“I’m not freaking out because I’ve got it all under control.” After processing Joe’s words, Andy laughed.
“Under control? Joe, have you been listening to anything I’ve said? We are in a financial death trap! There’s no way out!”
“I said,” he sternly inputted. “That I’ve got this under control, Andy. I’m handling it.”
“Okay, then how, exactly, are you ‘handling it’?”
Sighing, the fatigued man reached into the back pocket of his filthy jeans and pulled out a folded envelope.
“Here,” he said, extending his arm towards her. “Open it.” Doubtful, Andy snatched the envelope out of his hand. She carelessly dug her thumb under the corner flab and tore it apart. A thin rectangle of paper fell to the floor. “Careful!” Joe quickly cried. Puzzled, Andy skeptically bent to the floor, only to discover that the flimsy piece of paper was a check. A check for three thousand dollars made out to Mr. Joseph Clemmens.
“Oh my God,” she exclaimed. “How did you get this?” Immediately, Andy searched her father’s face for any sign of guilt or shame. He had always been rash and illogical, which he demonstrated by stealing flu medicine from the pharmacy when Meg fell sick the year before or badgering the men working at the gas station for charging him what he felt was an unfair, steep price. His wife could always bring out the small ounce of common sense deep inside of him. Andy feared, however, that when her mother had died, whatever rationality he had died with her. Again, Andy asked, “How did you get this?”
Joe avoided his daughter’s cold eyes and instead took another bite of his dinner.
“I got a promotion. Came with a big salary raise.” His quiet tone suggested that even he was unconvinced by his pathetic fib. Beyond mollification, Andy heaved a sigh.
“I know you’re lying to me, Dad. You need to be honest with me.” Growing more and more uncomfortable, Joe dropped his plate on the dirty, tiled counter and focused his attention towards the wall.
“I’ve just been doing some things in addition to work,” he mumbled, now running the plate under the sink. “Nothing special.”
“What kind of stuff?”
“You know.” Joe lifted his hand to the back of his head. “Like, selling some old things that were lying about the house at the pawn shop on Maple Street.”
“What kind of things?”
“Just worthless junk, Andrea! Jesus!” Uncharacteristically, Joe’s voice rose and his face burned a hot red; these abrupt changes startled his daughter. Andy blinked rapidly, as if trying to erase the warped image of her father before her. Finding her efforts to be futile, she waved the thin check in the air, without any regard for its significance.
“You do not get three thousand dollars selling old cr**! Now you tell me the truth- what did you sell?” Unable to hold his ground against Andy’s vehemence, Joe quickly cracked.
“Margaret’s jewelry.” Andy’s body froze as her father’s response echoed in her ears. The check slipped out of her stiff hand, but neither she nor Joe moved to pick it up.
“You sold what?” She whispered out of disbelief. Joe rushed towards her as she grabbed hold of the kitchen table for stability.
“Andy, I had to. There was nothing else I could do.”
“You sold Mom’s jewelry,” she said, too hurt to express any emotion. In her mind, she saw her father at the sleazy store, handing his wife’s treasures over the counter with glee. Margaret’s jewelry, she heard him say. I’ve been selling your dead mother’s jewelry, the last things you had that belonged to her.
Andy clutched her stomach and hunched over; the vision was too painful to accept. Joe wrapped his arm around her shoulder in an attempt to comfort her.
“Baby Girl, I-”
“The necklace,” she begged, her eyes beginning to cloud with tears. “Promise me you did not sell Mom’s necklace.” Joe did not have to respond; the melancholy expression plastered on his face was enough to verify that he had. Andy wheezed uncontrollably, as if an invisible knife had stabbed her in the chest. She wanted to die, wanted all her pain, sorrow, and wrath to flood out of her wounded soul like blood.
“I’m so sorry,” Joe whimpered. “I know how much it meant to you. And I knew she wanted you to have it after she…” His voice cracked as he thought of his wife’s death. He placed his head in his hands and began to cry.
“That was the last thing I had of her,” Andy said, remembering all the boxes of clothes and make-up she’d packed up and given away months earlier. Every item proving her mother’s existence had disappeared, except for those few pieces of jewelry she had refused to part with during the long, agonizing process.
And now, even they were gone.
“Get out,” She growled.
“Andrea,” Joe coaxed and ran his shaking fingers through her messy hair. “Please, try to understand.”
“Don’t touch me!” She swatted away his hand, her eyes turning into fiery chasms. “Don’t you dare try to ask for forgiveness and calm me down! I can never forgive you for this!” Joe quivered with grief.
“I’m so sorry, Andy.”
“I said get out!” Incapable of fighting her, Joe exited the kitchen and headed into his dark, lonely bedroom.
Only when she was certain his door had closed did Andy finally break down into hysterical tears. It was the first time she had cried since her mother had died. Throughout everything- the lifeless hospital room, the funeral, the packing, et cetera- Andy had remained strong. She had to, for her sisters, for her father, and for herself. If only she worked hard enough, Andy told herself, the Clemmens’ lives would return to normalcy. Yet it was now evident that there would not, and could not, be no return. Their lives would never be normal again. 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 cried out. “Is this how it ends?”
Andy patiently waited in silence for a response that would never come.