After Dad leaves for another drinking session, my older sister Nancy and I look for snack money under ripped sofas and Dad’s second-hand futon, which smells like sweat and stale feet. I’m thirteen, she’s sixteen.
We dig beneath every cushion, craning our necks. We look for runaway pennies, occasional dimes, but better yet hidden quarters. Then we plop each find down on the wobbling coffee table, brush away the unpaid bills that still hold Dad’s puke stains. Each coin has a particular sound, a particular victory. There’s the clink of a penny, the heavier clink of a dime, and the definitive plonk of a quarter.
The goal is a McChicken at McDonald’s. We love the blend of chicken, bun, and spice. The shape of a feast. Of course, there’s a slight shame in emptying an old plastic bag full of pennies on the counter. It’s a dollar, an amount so simple and yet so difficult to reach. It takes so long to count and sort pennies on polished counters.
But we can live with a little shame.
Dad promises to shop, to stop drinking, but we know his promises. He promised Mom so much. Promised to get a new job after he lost his temper and destroyed a printer, like Office Space. Dad’s favorite movie. He promised to be patient, promised, promised.
Promises don’t keep people together, Nan always says. Promises don’t stock the fridge with something other than white onions and half-empty mustard and grease. We tried eating part of that mustard bottle, but it made Nan sick.
We split our victuals, Nan divvying the loot with tenderness. Sometimes she sneaks me a small portion of her share; she thinks I’m not looking. I do the same. She’s my sister. She could have walked away too, but she didn’t.
We crunch away methodically, relish the softness of chicken and fleeting nourishment. We chew with such slowness, that sometimes people ask if we’re mentally disturbed. On rare occasions, we scrape up enough to not share. We attack the buns, the meat with the force of invaders on those occasions. There’s no logic, only ravenousness and ripping.
But with the last bite, which always goes fast, a new hunger arises. Dad keeps drinking, his promises replaced by belligerence and hangovers. Even the creepy onions and mustard from the fridge disappear.
Of course, we begin the hunt again. But even pennies are getting harder to find. I suspect Dad’s been digging through the sofas. Nan smiles and jokes we just have to look harder, but her smile wobbles and I want to hug her. But talking about our feelings is something we’ve forbidden.
So, we take to parking lots and bushes. We turn ourselves into money detectives.
Nothing truly disappears. Especially emptiness.
I guess we have to hunt harder.
Maybe we’ll find dollar bills by broadening our territory. And just maybe we’ll be able to get fries next time.
But maybe’s a word we banish fast. When we start talking of one maybe, another maybe opens up. And another.
All we need is another McChicken.
Although small fries wouldn’t hurt either.
Yash Seyedbagheri is a graduate of Colorado State University’s MFA program in fiction. His stories, “Soon” and “How To Be A Good Episcopalian,” have been nominated for Pushcarts. He has also had work nominated for The Best of the Net and The Best Small Fictions. A native of Idaho, Yash’s work is forthcoming or has been published in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Write City Magazine, and Ariel Chart, among others.