Somebody’s Idea of a Gift Valerie Cumming
When old Mrs. Flores stops shoveling her walk it be-
comes our job to do it, mine and Rory’s. That’s because for years when we were kids we ran a sort of business in the neighborhood, with the help of our dad, who has since split. We raked leaves, spread mulch, shoveled walks, anything the neighbors were too busy or too lazy to do themselves and were willing to pay us to do instead. A couple of times we moved furniture, and once, only once, Rory got a blow job from a woman who called him over to help her move a fish tank, though he would never tell me who it was. I’ve spent the last five years since then looking into people’s windows— not pathologically, just casually, when I’m outside raking leaves or smoking a cigarette—trying to find the hot and horny housewife willing to do those things to my brother. But so far, no luck, though I’m not even sure I would know what to do with her if I found her. Ours is a neighborhood full of women: old women like Flores, and housewives like our mother, some of them with other jobs, some without. Some of the men have split and others are gone all day, working downtown. This neighborhood gets all kinds. There’s this cadre of young mothers who power-walk around the block every morning at nine sharp, pushing a whole fleet of strollers in front of them. I like to watch them bounce by in their spandex, squawking like a gaggle of Canadian geese as they go past, bitching about goodfor-nothing husbands and how hard it is to lose those last five pounds. Ladies, I often have thought about saying to them, come on over here for an hour and I will help you burn off as many calories as you want. But then my mother, stepping past me on her way to work, kicks me in the ass with one toe and tells me to get to school. Which I do, sometimes. Other times, I take the bus to my brother Rory’s apartment. He’s usually at work but his girlfriend, Candace, is there, and doesn’t mind
calling the school for me and telling them I’m sick. Then I walk down the block to the Jiffy Lube where Rory works, and where they are only too happy to throw me a blue jumpsuit and tell me to get my hands dirty. I don’t get paid or anything. I just like hanging around, learning what Rory and his buddies know, stuff that will help you in life a lot more than the shit they teach you in school. Algebra, Biology, Latin—Rory aced all of it. He was going to be valedictorian maybe, or so our mother always said, but then Candace got pregnant and he dropped out to get a job. Now what Rory likes to say is that the whole educational system is just babysitting, a way to keep kids occupied and off the streets so that their worker-bee parents can go out and make more money for the government. If this baby is a boy, Rory says, he’s going to bring him in to the shop every day of his goddamned life, teach him something that’s actually useful. “Over my dead body,” Candace says, but she doesn’t go to school anymore either, just sits around the apartment all day painting her toenails and working on a scrapbook for the baby and calling Rory up to find out when he’s coming home and what he’s bringing with him for dinner. Back when she went to school, people called her Candy and she had one hell of a reputation. Now, though, she goes around most of the time in sweatpants and eats leftover Chinese food straight from the carton for breakfast. Weekends, when he isn’t working, Rory is usually at our house, which my mother and I figure is because he needs a break from Candace. Back when he actually lived here, we never saw him much. But we don’t complain about having him around; he fixes the things that need fixed, like leaky faucets and running toilets, and then he and I suit up and go out into the snow together to shovel the driveways that have become my responsi-
Issue 6: A Magazine of literature, media, and art.