Dad went for tacos and didn’t come back.
“Don’t worry,” says Janelle, “the albatross has been known to fly thousands of miles round trip in order to bring back food for their young.”
“He was just going to Johnny’s down on the Avenue,” says Little Ray. “I could ride my bike there.”
Janelle looks smart in her cat glasses which is why she has no boyfriend. She’s reading a library book on animal facts and hasn’t noticed they’ve watched Adam-12, Kung Fu, and Barnaby Jones since Dad left and still no tacos.
Little Ray pours himself a bowl of Quisp and pulls out the carton of milk almost empty. Splashes what’s left over the cereal but it’s not enough to float the flakes.
“Did you know,” says Janelle slumped in the vinyl recliner next to the lamp, words on the page reflected in her thick lenses, “Albatrosses can sleep while they fly and only need to land once every few years to breed.”
“Gross,” says Little Ray. “So we’re out of milk and Dad’s not coming back for two years. And you know, Janelle, nobody likes a smarty pants which is why you have no friends.”
She doesn’t hear him, her nose in the book. It’s dark outside. Lights are on in the other apartments. The Grinnells are eating spaghetti at their dining room table. Across the courtyard on the other side of the pool with no water, Pom Pom’s smoking over a TV dinner as she watches a nine-inch Magnavox on the kitchen counter.
Little Ray heads for the front door.
“Albatrosses can drink sea water you know.”
“I guarantee you, that’s not what Dad’s drinking at Jack’s Pool Hall.” Little Ray glances back at the Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket taped to the wall over the velvet bull-fighting painting from TJ. He’d cut out the bottom of the bucket and used a ball of rolled-up socks to practice bank shots and slam dunks.
Janelle’s skinny legs stick out from under an army blanket where she’s reading. Family Affair is playing on TV but that dad’s not real and Little Ray isn’t sticking around for that stupid show. He slaps the top of the door jamb, which he can touch now without jumping, and opens the door.
“It’s not true,” says Janelle.
“What? Of course he’s drinking. Probably running the table at Jack’s for free beer.”
“No. The part about me not having friends.”
Little Ray looks at his sister. He’s mean but not cruel. Doesn’t have the stomach to argue.
She waves her hand at the teetering pile of library books on the table. “These are my friends,” she says.
Little Ray nods. “Of course they are. Lock the door behind me. I’ll get our food.”
He unchains his Sting-Ray from the wrought iron railing on the porch and rides down the hill in the dark leaving the Kalorama Apartments behind. Night air chills his face and cuts right through his t-shirt. Fuck it. Car lights blind him so he rides on the sidewalk, past the Anderson’s family wagon in the driveway on the corner. Everyone so normal but them. Little Ray wheelies off the curb, landing on his back wheel, and thinks maybe he’ll never go back. He’ll roam the streets for years the way an albatross roams the sea. He’ll ride far away from the meanness, the shitty cereal dinners with no milk, fucking Adam-12...but he can’t leave Janelle to starve with her friends. She may never get out of that chair waiting for their old man who’s playing pool for beer while their tacos get cold.... There are no tacos. Some dad.
Little Ray pulls back on his jack-rabbit handlebars and rides a wheelie towards the Avenue. Albatrosses are one of the few birds to die of old age. Survivors. But he’d never tell Janelle he’d read that page too. He likes books but doesn’t know what to do with that. He likes his Sting-Ray better.
On he pedals, covering distance. As he passes Dad’s Ranchero parked in front of Jack’s, the clack of pool balls as they break and scatter, smoke drifting out the door, he drops “little” from his name then and there.
Ray has no money but he does have friends. Jon Greene’s Aunt Bobbi owns Johnny’s. He’ll think of something. He’s forgotten his wallet before. Ray turns on to the Avenue where they say it’s not safe after dark, but he’s invisible in the night. Rides like he belongs, like he’s the one to get the tacos and bring them back—returning like he said he would, in his mind already on his way home.
teaches “low fat fiction” and is the author of four collections of short
Grace (KYSO Flash Press, 2019), Soundings and Fathoms: Stories (Finishing
Line Press, 2018), House Samurai (Iota Press, 2006), and Parts &
Labor (Thumbprint Press, 1992). His stories have appeared in dozens of venues
including Carve, daCunha, Flashback Fiction, KYSO Flash, Sea Letter, Third
Wednesday, and Exposition Review, where he was twice a Flash 405 winner.
In 2018, his flash was nominated for the Best of the Net anthology.
Born in the Chihuahua desert near the Mexican border, Guy grew up on a Sting-Ray in
Ventura, learned to write in the Peace Corps during a civil war in Guatemala, honed his
craft pulling weeds and planting flowers as a gardener in San Francisco, and later
received his M.A. from San Francisco State, where his teaching career began.
He’s been a creative-writing midwife since 1991.
Guy lives on a houseboat with his wife and a salty cat, and walks the planks daily.
It’s all true, especially the fiction.
Author’s website: https://www.guybiederman.com/
This Day Afloat: Reflections of Life on the Water,