A mid-morning phone call on a fine Spring day urged you to wake the fuck up. “Okay, yeah,” you yawned into the phone, “See you soon.” You tossed your phone onto the couch, running to grab a trash bag. You grabbed the pile of stray newspapers off the table, sweeping them into the loose bag with the length of your arm. A jumble of unpaid bills sat on the coffee table.
Can’t let her see those – into the trash bag, my friend. How could you forget that she’s coming today? Idiot. Oh, don’t forget the beer bottles on the dining table. And on the floor. And in the shower. Throw them all away. That bong on the coffee table? Toss it. Well, actually, let’s not get carried away.
Dump the bong-water down the sink. Dude, when was the last time you did your dishes? Okay, handle that later. The bong. Hide it in your closet.
Bedroom closet, not the kitchen cabinet! Think; You can’t waste time right now. Okay, bedroom.
Ugh. Christ. She’s still in your bed. What’s her name? Layla? Lexi?
“Hey, um, Lexi?”
“Yes, Leia. Like Star Wars. I remember.”
She simply stared at you, eyebrows raised, wearing nothing but a bra. “Yes?” She finally asked. Can she not take a hint?
“I actually have someone coming over in a few minutes. Someone very close to me, so I need you to leave. I’m sorry.” You kind of cringed at how rude that sounded. Especially after the things she did for you last night.
“No worries.” She already put on her shirt. “I get it. Thank you for your services, buddy.” After a moment she was fully clothed. She winked at you, then walked out the door.
Buddy. Services. Who says that?
Okay, the bong’s in the closet. Good work. Clean your room. Make your bed. Condom on the floor! Toss it! Gross, it’s slimy. I don’t even think that’s from last night. You truly are a heathen.
What else needs to be done? What else? Think. Dishes. Yes, dishes. How many bowls are in that sink? Wait, bowls. Milk in the bowl outside for Tony. Hurry. God, you are an asshole. Open the screen door to the back. Yes.
He sat there, waiting.
He meowed. He knows you’re an asshole.
“Here’s your breakfast, buddy. Sorry for the wait.” He began drinking the milk while you still
poured it into the bowl. You lugged the bag of trash into the outside can.
Ah. Take a moment to breath, my friend. It’s a nice day. A few clouds up there, the sun is
The doorbell rang.
Answer the front door. The dishes aren’t done. The place does look a little bit cleaner though. It’s somewhat presentable. You did alright, kid. Wait. The shower just turned off. Why was it on?
You opened the bathroom door. Leia stood there, hair wet, putting on her tank-top.
“What?” She asked. “I couldn’t take a quick shower?”
“No. The word ‘leave’ doesn’t imply after a shower!”
You heard them open the front door. You left it unlocked. Dumbass. You looked back at Leia,
who just stepped into her tiny black shorts.
“Just stay in here. Sneak out the back.”
“Stay in here or sneak out the back?” She whispered.
“Stay in here, then sneak out the back. You know what I mean.” You shut the door.
“Hello!” You said merrily, walking back to the living room. A woman in her early thirties and a young girl set their things down on the lumpy couch.
“Uncle!” The little girl said, crashing into your stomach. She gave you a great big hug.
“Hey, Stace.” You picked her up for a second, forgetting that she was much older now, and
heavier. “And back down you go.” Your sister looked at you, giving you a faint smile.
“Hey, sis.” You kissed your sister on the cheek.
“The place looks-“
“It’s shitty, I know.”
“Come on,” your sister smacked your arm.
“Oh, sorry, I forgot about the censorship around the little one.” Your niece opened the
refrigerator door, looking for something good. Unless she likes Budweiser and/or pickles, she’ll be disappointed; You should’ve went shopping.
“Mom, I’m twelve now. It’s not like I don’t hear the word ‘shit’ every day at school.” She
grabbed a jar of pickles then shut the door.
“She’s got a point. And a jar of pickles.”
“Yeah, you guys gonna have pickles for dinner tonight?” Your sister asked. She crossed her arms
“Um, Uncle. Who’s that?”
Oh no. Don’t look. Christ, you need to look. There she is – Leia, in her tiny shorts and spaghetti strap tank top. Why didn’t she leave, dammit?
“Is this your girlfriend?” Stacy asked. She looked up at Leia, smiling. Leia smiled back awkwardly.
“Oh, no,” you answered, “this is my neighbor, Leia. She just came over to borrow some,” you paused. Think of something. On top of the fridge.
“Bread! Leia needed some bread. And here you are, Leia.” You grabbed the half-eaten bag of honey-wheat and tossed it into her arms. “Just take the whole thing, and uh, get on out of here, neighbor.”
Give Leia the stare. Yes, the creepy, smiling, trying-not-to-burst-into-rage stare. That one always gets the point across.
“Your cat outside,” Leia said, looking at the bread bag in confusion. “He vomited everywhere.”
“Oh, Tony?” Stacy asked with open eyes. She raced to the back door.
“Okay, he’s not my cat. He’s Mother Nature’s cat.” Leia left out the front door, while you
followed Stacy toward the back door, and your sister followed you. “Tony just sometimes likes to stop by.”
Outside, Tony sat on his bottom, gazing vacantly at a large pile of bubbling vomit, consisting mainly of milk and a side of grass and bugs. He meowed, licked his lips, then purred against Stacy.
“He’s all right. He sometimes hurls after he drinks too much milk.”
“Do you often give your cat too much milk?” Your sister asked. Her arms were still crossed in front of her torso, looking down at her daughter and the cat.
She’s judging you already.
“No,” you answered. “Only when I wait too long to feed him.” Damn. You really should listen to me and think before you speak.
“And how often do you wait too long?” She brushed her hair behind her ear, like she always did when you frustrated her.
“At least once a week, because I’m a semi-functioning, barely responsible adult. Is that what you’d like to hear?”
“Well, I’m only asking because I’m having my only child spend the weekend here under your-“
“Please stop,” Stacy interrupted, still petting Tony. “I just got here.”
“You stay out of it, cat.”
Your sister walked back inside. You’re an asshole.
“Hey, Tony,” you said to the cat. “You keep an eye on her.”
Inside, your sister checked her phone by the kitchen counter. She looked stressed.
Is that because of you or something else? Maybe both. Probably just you.
“Hey, it’s going to be a great weekend,” you said. “I’ll take good care of her. Don’t stress. She’s with the cool uncle. You can’t stress with the cool uncle.”
“I know. It’s a crazy time for me, bro. Just please watch her closely. I need to run.”
“I will. We’ll go get some groceries, have ourselves a fire pit tonight. It’ll be golden.” You
grabbed her by the shoulders and gave her a friendly little shake. “You enjoy your business meeting thingy.”
“It’s a marketing forum for-“
“Ah, it’s all the same,” you interrupted. “But I am rooting for you.” You smiled.
Her nostrils flared with an exhale of irritation. You’ve always pissed her off. Stacy walked back inside.
“I think Tony feels better now,” Stacy said. “But he might be hungry again.”
“He’s always hungry.”
Your sister gave Stacy a hug, and then a kiss on the scalp. “I’ve got to go, honey. I’ll stop by tomorrow morning. Give me a call if you need anything.”
“She’s got a phone?” you asked. “Aren’t you, like, twelve?”
They ignored you, as they should. They shared their goodbyes, their loves, and then your sister left. The front door closed, then Stacy looked at you with curiosity, making a fart noise with her mouth.
She knew the fart noises made you smile.
“Hey,” you said, “wanna go drive around aimlessly?”
You spent the afternoon driving into the city, taking turns playing what you each thought to be “good music.” You stopped at the supermarket, where you bought way too much food, in hopes of convincing Stacy that her uncle has plenty of money to throw around, and that your portion of Dad’s life insurance was a larger fortune than in reality, and that you hadn’t already spent most of it. Your sister called Stacy twice during the day.
Now, the evening crickets chirped across the suburbs, while the flames under the logs produced a different kind of crackle. You noticed silent, blue heat lightning miles away in the clouds.
“Hey, Uncle?” Stacy asked. “Can I have some beer?”
You looked at her. You hesitated to answer.
Don’t fucking let her drink beer, you piece of shit. She’s twelve, and just because you drank at that age it doesn’t make it okay. “As much as I want to, your mom would rip my ear off if she ever knew.”
“But she wouldn’t know.”
“She would. The truth always comes out, Stacy. No matter what. Remember that.” Wow. You said something responsible. Something of value. Can you hear that? That’s me applauding you.
“Fine,” she said. The flicker of the flames danced off her eyes. She spoke again, after waiting for a second. “Can I play a song for you on my harmonica?”
“Yes!” You said instantly. “I’ve always wanted someone to play a harmonica by a fire. Like John Wayne. Or Clint Eastwood.”
“Who’s John Wayne?”
You looked at her with an open mouth, nearly spitting out your beer. “Your mother really needs to teach you some things. What makes you wanna play harmonica?”
“Hey, so you do know a few legends.”
“Just stop talking and listen please.” Yes. She’s smart. Smart enough to tell you to shut up.
She put the metal to her mouth, looking to see if you were watching. Her hands trembled. She gave the harmonica a blow of force. The initial sound floated through the air, and it sounded pleasant to you. She played a few more notes slow and choppy. But you didn’t care. It sounded good enough for you. The tune put you back in your old home, in the basement with your father. His eyes glued to the television, a Coors in his hand, watching John Wayne save someone. You liked the films, even though they all ended the same. But that’s why you liked them. You liked the experience in that room with your dad.
Stacy played a few more notes, hesitating. She stopped at a scratched note, frustrated.
She stood up and screamed. “Damn it!” She threw the harmonica into the darkness.
“Hey!” You yelled. You stood up. “Why the hell did you do that?” She sat down in the chair,
putting her face into her hands.
You ventured into the dark backyard, looking for the harmonica. The night was dark, almost impossible to see anything. Pull out the flashlight on your phone, dumbass. You saw something flicker in the night. It looked like eyes. Tony. He purred against your leg, and then moved over to the camp fire.
Ahead, you saw the harmonica. On it, an engravement. From Dad.
You headed back to the fire and placed the harmonica back on the small glass table next to Stacy. She cried.
“Why are you crying? Why did you throw it? Because of a messed up note?” There was
frustration in your voice.
“Shut up. Don’t say that.” Could you be a little ruder, asshole? You’re supposed to comfort her.
“I suck. It’s true.”
“Why do you say things like that about yourself?”
“I don’t know.” She looked into the fire, the light reflecting off a tear trail that ran down her
cheek. “I don’t know.”
You didn’t really know what to say. You never know what to say. Not with her, not with your
sister, not even your dead dad. You’re worthless. You should honestly just--
She interrupted your mind, “I wish I could be like you.”
“What do you mean?”
“I wish I could, ya know, think good things about myself.” She’s wrong. Tell her she’s wrong.
Before you could say anything, she continued, “I have this voice in my head. It makes me feel bad, all the time. It makes me feel like it’s my fault I don’t have a dad. I just,” she paused, “I just feel so stupid.” She looked back down at her feet.
“You’re not stupid. And it’s not your fault that your dad’s gone.” You handed her your beer
“Take a sip before I change my mind.”
She swallowed a gulp, and then cringed at the taste. You laughed. She did too, still disgusted. Tony purred against her leg.
“You drink this every day?”
“Not proudly.” You took another log from the pile, resting it strategically on the fire. What was once a thin branch, but now a stick of flaking embers, almost burnt to ash, slowly began to give flame to the fresh log. You looked at Stacy, who rested the bottle back by your foot. She gazed into the flames, and her smile faded once again.
“That voice,” she said, “in my head. Do you know what I’m talking about?”
You breathed. “I do.”
“Does it ever go away?”
How can you answer this, you prick? Lie, and tell her yes, it goes away? No, and make her want to die? Man, you always seem to get yourself into some shitty situations; Terrible situations with the people you love. Just like Dad. How in the hell do you continue to – Stop. Just stop. Shut. Up.
Stacy stared at you, waiting for an answer.
You finally answered, “It doesn’t go away. That voice. The one that says shitty things.”
“Oh.” A pause between you two rested in the air.
“But you learn not to listen to the bad voice. You learn to tell it to shut the fuck up.”
She laughed, eyes and mouth pried open at your language. “Uncle!”
“Don’t tell your mother I said the f-word. I guess I shoulda said STFU.” You chuckled, then
finished your beer, the bitter hops falling toward your stomach. “Hey. Do twelve-year-olds still like s’mores?”
“Not really,” she said. “I’m not a big candy person.”
“I don’t understand your age anymore.”
“You’re twenty-six and I’m twelve. I’m not an alien species, Uncle.”
“I guess you’re right.”
She paused for a moment, and you both gazed into the fire, listening to the crickets, until she finally said, “I would kill for a weenie on a stick though.”
“Ay, now we’re talking.”
You both walked inside to grab some franks from the fridge. You came back out, looking for good sticks in the yard, where the moonlight shined on you both through the parting clouds, and the cat kept watch on his two favorite humans.