I want Henry to mean it when he says we’ll stay in touch. “We’re friends no matter what,” he says before pulling away in the U-Haul. What does “We’ll stay in touch” mean? Birthday cards? Facebook pokes? And what does “You gotta give the next guy a chance” mean? What next guy? A chance to what? Fuck my mother till he’s bored? When the U-Haul turns onto Hollywood Blvd., I go in the back yard and cry behind the shed until Mr. Gira leans over the fence, points his garden hose at me and asks what the hell I’m doing blubbering like a baby. “You’re, what, thirteen? Be a man.”
I go into the house and say, “What a tool,” meaning Mr. Gira but knowing Mom’ll think I mean Henry.
She’s still staring into the open fridge. It’s been over an hour and I wonder if I should call Grandma for help. She says, “We’re never eating another soy burger.”
“Or kale,” I say.
“Bitter weed,” she says. She opens the crisper, pulls out two heads of broccoli, hip-checks the door shut. She opens the freezer and grabs the package of soy burgers. She stomps on the trashcan pedal and tosses everything in. “Who feels like tacos?”
Henry would say that most people subsist on poison and don’t even know it. He cautioned against putting the wrong things in your body, said there’s only so much abuse your system can take. He’d say, “I bet you can’t pronounce half the ingredients in a Twinkie. Don’t put anything in your body you can’t say.” He’d say, “Healthy food spoils quicker than shitty food ‘cause nothing good for you stays fresh for very long.” He’d say, “The inside aisles at the supermarket are slow suicide.”
At Publix we load the cart with ground chuck, refried beans, a can of Cheez-Whiz, sour cream, taco spices, salsa, and guacamole. Mom grabs a case of Bud and Coke for me. She barrels down the aisle and says, “We need tortilla chips. It’s an emergency.”
We cook up everything, light vanilla-scented candles, crank Lady Gaga, and I dig into the tacos while Mom swills can after can of Bud and dabs her eyes. Her plate congeals into taco sculpture. “Henry was right.” She hurls an empty can over her shoulder. It bounces off the wall and lands in the overflowing laundry basket. “Put the wrong thing in your body and it poisons you.” She picks up a fresh can, shakes it.
“It’s gonna explode,” I say.
She passes me the can. “You,” she says.
I pop the tab and take a sip. My mouth tinges. I want to spit it out, but I swallow and say, “I like it.”
She shrugs and holds up an empty hand holding an invisible can. “To the future.”
I tap the can against her knuckles. I take another sip. Bubbles pop on my tongue and I wonder if the bitterness I taste means it’s already skunked.
Tom DeMarchi teaches in the Department of Language & Literature at Florida Gulf Coast University. His work has appeared in The Writer's Chronicle, The Miami Herald, Quick Fiction, The Pinch, Gulfstreaming, The Southeast Review, and other publications. When not teaching or writing, Tom's busy directing the Sanibel Island Writers Conference.