After the last bell rings, I ride home with Mom in the Junkmobile. In the morning I take the bus because Dad always wanted me to experience school like a normal kid, like someone whose Mom’s hip doesn’t jingle when she walks because of the thousand keys dangling from her belt loop. Mom says she has a key to unlock every door in school and that it’s one of the perks for being Head Janitor. One of the perks? What other perks could there be? I wish she had a key to unlock other people’s minds, so then I’d know what Gabriela thinks of me.
Mom shuts the car door, strikes a match, and lights a cigarette. She thinks that matches make cigarettes taste better than lighters. Crazy, I know.
“Can’t you wait til we get home?” I say.
“Got a girlfriend yet?” she asks.
“Mom, it’s only the first day.”
“You have to be quick before all the pretty ones are taken.”
I roll down the window and breathe in some fresh, nontoxic air.
“I heard about Mouton,” she says.
“What’d you hear?”
“That he fainted in the hallway and then you couldn’t pick him up.”
“Who told you that?”
“That’s not what happened,” I mutter.
I can feel Mom looking at me. The cigarette dangles from her mouth and moves every time she talks. “Then tell me what happened. Come on, I want the dirt, the good stuff. You can’t let your mom walk those halls misinformed.”
The dirt? The good stuff? Since when does Mom care about gossip at school? “Is this your way of trying to be more involved in my life?” I ask.
Mom laughs. The cigarette does a little dance from her lips. “You’re funny, Eddie, you know that. Never thought I’d have a funny kid. Your dad sure wasn’t funny.”
That hurts. Mom’s wrong. Dad was funny. There were times when he was really funny. On one of our birding trips I had to pee real bad so he told me to go in the bushes. While I was going, he threw a rock off the tree and scared the living you-know-what out of me. After I was done I came back to our birding spot and said, “Why did you throw a rock at me?” Dad acted like he didn’t know what I was talking about. “What rock?” he said.
Mom hangs her cigarette out the window and flicks the ash away. “Come on, Eddie, give me the dirt.”
I turn away, letting the end-of-summer air hit my face. “Dad was funny,” I say.
Mom’s probably looking at me like I’ve sprouted wings. “Not by my standards.”
“Yes, he was,” I say. “He did a lot of funny things, but you didn’t appreciate them.”
“Like what? What did he do that was so funny?”
“Like the time he threw a rock at me when I was peeing and then he acted like he didn’t do it.”
“Real funny, Eddie.”
“It was funny to me, alright.”
“Don’t raise your voice at me, Eddie.”
“Guess you had to be there.”
“I was there, Eddie, every day when your dad was dying. There was nothing funny about it or him, so get over it, will you?” She ashes out the window and takes a long drag from her cigarette. Then she punches the radio button and turns up a country song about losing everything you own and getting drunk and leaving bad memories behind. Except the drunk part, it sounds like a song about my life. The Anthem of Eddie Waymire.