It is late afternoon and Jordan is twelve when the three white unmarked pickups drive up in the dust. Cornbread, the dog, barks and growls. Jordan calls the dog off and ties him to the trailer hitch. Men in sunglasses, flashing papers and envelopes argue with Jordan’s father.
When they leave, Jordan’s father goes into their trailer and comes out with a glass. “If you ever have a bad day, this is the taste you’ll want to make it better.” Jordan knows to close his eyes and let his dad hold the glass. They’ve been doing this for years.
He isn’t sure what taste to expect, perhaps lemonade, but, the flavor is cold and tremendous. Root beer, the good stuff.
They spent their last night sharing talking around the burn barrel with their neighbor Winnie Heald who is also forced to move. Jordan and his dad plan to buy the property back when they make it big. Winnie says to hell with it, he’s going to Oregon to work on his cousin’s crab boat.
The New Mexico sky is dark and wide and all Jordan’s. Cornbread sleeps on a shoe.
When he is twenty eight, Jordan’s girlfriend Pammy says that people living in trailers listen to Art Bell and wear foil under their hats to ward off governmental airwave interference.
“Tinfoiler alert.” As they drive by, she waves to a white t-shirted man hoisting a tire toward a three legged pickup. “If he wasn’t wearing that hat, the Gov would subliminally force him to donate to the Republican Party.”
The man drops the tire. It bounces and rolls next to the road. Pammy watches him in the rear view mirror. “Betcha he got that tire off Buck’s Ford L250. Paid him a sixer.”
“Enough.” Jordan gets tired of her sometimes.
“What? Sanford and Son doesn’t want his people picked on?”
“Some people live in houses, some don’t.”
“Some underground too. That way, the gamma rays can’t reach them.”
He turns up the radio. They are going to a wedding. People he has never met and she barely knows. He wants his faded Bermuda shorts and his lawn chair.
At a stop sign Jordan elbows Pammy away from the mirror to show her a fading sign in front of a closed gas station, Freshest Chew in Town.
Pammy grabs his hand and presses it to her cheek. “You do me right, I’ll get you that sign.”
At the reception, he tries to feed her a chocolate-dipped strawberry. She plucks it from his hand and shoves it into her mouth.
When he is thirty-three, at the early birth of his first child, Jordan calls his father from the hospital, “It’s a boy. Ten of everything.”
“On my way. You better let that woman of yours get some rest.”
Melanie, his exhausted wife, sleeps, yet her legs still quiver.
Jordan’s dad shows up with the littlest pair of fur boots and a large bag of fish and chips. He stinks up the hospital room and Melanie wakes, “Hungry.”
Jordan’s dad kisses the nose of the yet unnamed infant, places him in his son’s lap and tells Melanie to close her eyes and open her mouth.
Jordan holds the soft baby next to his neck, listening to the smallest “Ehhh, ahhh,” while his father, in a soiled shirt and muddy shoes, feeds fried fish to the mother of his child.
“I can feed myself.” She giggles, but Jordan’s father tells her to keep her eyes closed and taste every bite.
Jordan tries hard not to fall asleep, thinking of when he was young, how he would sit under the trailer awning in the morning sometimes, mouth open and eyes closed, waiting for his father’s surprise: waffles or French toast? He could usually tell by the smell.
Stefanie Freele is graduating this month with her MFA from the Whidbey Writers Workshop in Washington. Publications include American Literary Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, and forthcoming in Glimmer Train.