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Everything You Need

by John Scott Dewey

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About John Scott Dewey

John Scott Dewey is a husband, father, fiction writer, poet, and middle school English teacher living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. He received his MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins University. His fiction has been recently featured in The Wilderness House Literary Review and PennUnion.

 

Around 10:15 that night Lorraine returned home from her dinner shift with a stack of Styrofoam boxes—chicken fingers and fries, courtesy of the cook staff. She dropped her keys and food on the kitchen table, beside an open page of her Hurst Review, and climbed up the stairs to the kids’ room. There she found her thirteen-year-old, Renee, already settled in an undershirt and sweatpants, sitting upright in her bed and clacking away at the laptop. The girl’s studded denim jacket and jeans were still hanging on the closet door, where Lorraine had left them.

“I thought you’d still be at the dance by now.”

The girl had obviously stayed home, but she wouldn’t admit it—wouldn’t even glance up from the laptop.

“Renee Coleman.”

Nothing. She footed across the littered floor, reached over the bed, and slammed the laptop shut, nipping the girl’s fingers.

“I didn’t feel like going the dance!” Renee said, rubbing her knuckles.

“Just making sure you heard me.” She then swiped the computer off her daughter’s lap and reminded her that they had a long night ahead of them. Renee only huffed, rolled her eyes, and burrowed into her mattress, putting her back to Lorraine. The bed across from hers—where Reggie slept—was an empty heap of sheets. There was point in asking where he was. No sense in coercing the girl out of bed. So Lorraine wordlessly went about her work alone, as usual, picking clothes off the floor—tee shirts, blouses, sweatpants, jeans...all of Renee’s bras and panties from the dresser...all of Reggie’s boxer briefs, undershirts. Lorraine tossed the dirty articles aside. The clean ones she folded and slipped neatly into plastic grocery bags. When five or six bags were filled, she lugged them down the stairs, stacked them in rows by the front door, grabbed five or six more from the pantry, and came back. Her goal was to finish packing by eleven-thirty, which would leave her a half-hour or so for studying.

At one point she came across a long-lost jewel and gave pause. It was The Giving Tree, buried beneath a pile of Reggie’s comic books. She picked it up, and as she flipped through the stiff pages, she said, “No point in packing this—huh, Renee. You won’t be living with your Aunt that long. I’ve probably packed too much as it is.” Then she propped the book open on the dresser like a Hallmark card, glanced down at her wristwatch—saw how far the minute hand had gotten ahead of her—and moved on.

Meanwhile, Renee hardly budged from the groove in her mattress. She lay like a sloth on a bough as her habitat dissolved into four white walls and a barren carpet. When Mama had finished packing, she announced that there were chicken fingers in the fridge downstairs, then clicked off the ceiling lights. And without a device to guide her sight, she soon fell asleep.

Much deeper into the night Renee thought she heard shuffling feet across her carpet, a rustle of sheets. She sat up and saw her brother sprawled out over his bed, pants still on, asleep. His loud breathing and the stink of his sweat was enough to evict Renee. She walked downstairs to the kitchen, where a light had been left on. Mama was sitting there at the littered table, slouched over, snoring, with her cheek pressed flat against a page of that hulking Hurst Review. Renee lingered a moment on that pitiful sight, then tiptoed past the table. From the fridge she grabbed a Styrofoam box and began grazing on cold chicken fingers. By now the meat was tough and hard to chew. What made them all the more unappetizing, still, was the sight of her Mama’s head: a thirteen pounder, greased in sweat, mouth agape, blowing hot air and drooling onto the page. That poor textbook was squished flat on its spine between that unflattering paperweight and the laptop computer. What the laptop was doing at the bottom of the stack, Renee couldn’t say.

She fixated on that computer as she chewed. It was five years old and liable to break.

She put the box on the counter, licked her fingers clean, and tiptoed over to the table. Then, planting her elbow firmly on the surface, she wedged her fingers between the spine of the textbook and the laptop computer, and started prying the two objects apart. Her arm strained to hold steady. The book by itself was already heavy, and more so now with Mama’s head ascending slowly off the table. It went up, up, up—in steady increments—up, up, up—as steady as a second hand climbs a clock—until the woman’s cranium floated a foot above the table. A long way for a human head to fall, Delia thought. And now, lo and behold, her arm was shaking beneath the weight of it all. Quickly, with her free hand, she snagged the laptop out from underneath the stack. Just in time, too. Her grip slipped, and the textbook took a dive—its spine slapping the table-and Mama’s head, like a London Bridge, came falling down. The paper ream softened the fall, and her chin bounced a couple times off the book before she gasped awake.

Lorraine bristled from the table, wincing at the bright ceiling light. She blinked about the kitchen as shapes came slowly into focus: the open book…the Styrofoam box with chicken bits leftover…the microwave clock showing 3:43…and her daughter, in her underwear, standing before her.

“Renee? What’re you doing up this late?”

The girl wouldn’t say. She stood there, frozen as a fish stick, bearing a laptop computer and what looked like an irrepressible smirk.

“Where’s your brother?”

She nodded toward the stairs.

“Thank god,” Lorraine said. Then she closed her textbook and pushed it aside. “Come on. Let’s go upstairs and get some sleep.”