My mental calculator overheats when the menu arrives: it strips cents from dollars, tosses the prices up into a cloud from which I can pluck a slice of my daily allowance. I see the sum, and the days roll out before me like raffle tickets; each dollar spent is a new stub, ripped and wasted, until I’m back to zero.
The past three nights, we’ve been fortunate enough to eat cereal for dinner. We split one whole box of Frosted Flakes into nine unsatisfying bowls between the two of us. I gulped back all that sugary milk and smiled so hard my gums flushed white—the only way to let Mom know I was doing greeeaaaat! The first night, she smiled back; we sat in the kitchen, fat, cheesy grins exhausting our facial muscles. I believed I could carry that feeling around with me for days, buried deep in my pockets. I’d walk around behaving like Mr. Moneybags in the flesh, the richest man on earth, richer than any king who had ever lived before us. But last night, when she didn’t smile back, I wiped the stupid milk-mustache off my lip and resigned myself to counting the greasy orange and yellow flecks on our kitchen wall, shimmering above the stove like fireflies.
Across the table, now, my friends hide the stress in their eyes. We talk about school and teachers and enemies and music and who we’d fuck and who we wouldn't fuck and our dreams of college and driving and bus rides and anything other than the financial indigestion we’ll experience once the final bites of burger and fries slide down our throats. After this, I’ll go home. I’ll find Mom draped across the sofa, puffy-eyed and silent. I won’t disturb her. I’ll tiptoe through the living room softly, with one hand pressed to my pocket, praying, like always, that the loose change doesn’t croon its metallic lullaby.
Christopher Gonzalez is a Cleveland-raised, Brooklyn-based writer of fiction and essays. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Split Lip Magazine, Pithead Chapel, The Airgonaut, Hobart, Modern Loss, Chicago Literati, and elsewhere. Currently, he works in book publishing and serves as an assistant fiction editor for Barrelhouse magazine. He can be found on Twitter: @livesinpages, or online at www.chris-gonzalez.com.