I stopped in at the convenience store on the way home from school, like I do every Friday. Mr. Din, behind the counter, smiled and slid four Double Bubbles toward me. “I only want two strawberries today,” I said, handing him a dime.
“What about your brother?”
“I think he’s dead.”
Mr. Din looked stunned, and I picked up the two strawberry Double Bubbles and walked out.
On the walk home I replayed the scene from dinner last night. I asked where Vinny was. Vinny is my older brother, five years older than me to be exact. My father, without raising his eyes from his plate of pasta, said, “he’s dead, dead to me.”
Ma, who had been crying since I got home from school, covered her face with both hands and began bawling. I think she mumbled that he was not dead, but I couldn’t be sure.
“Is he coming home?’ I asked.
Ma said yes and Pa said never, so I was confused. I wondered how he could come home if he was dead. This was a lot for a twelve-year-old to process and Ma’s crying and sobbing wasn’t helping, so I decided I better finish my pasta and go to my room. Maybe Ma would come by and explain what was going on.
A week later and I still didn’t know if Vinny was dead or alive. I figured he was probably alive since I never saw his body. He knew how to take care of himself.
On Fridays, before he would go out, Vinny and I would sit and chew bubblegum. He would talk about his girlfriend Rose and how she was the one. I thought, maybe he knocked her up and they ran away. Vinny told me about that knocking-up stuff. I was still too young to know what it was all about, but he drew a pretty good picture for me. I wanted to be like Vinny when I got older. He was the big man in our neighborhood, the leader of the pack. Girls melted when they were around him.
Ma cried all week, she cried when she made my breakfast, she cried when she packed my lunch for school, and she cried through dinner. Pa never said anything at dinner, except for a couple of times that he said, “that kid ain’t never setting foot in this house again.”
That just set Ma off and she bawled louder and harder. I would go to my room, and the arguments would begin. I hated the shouting and plugged into music so I didn’t have to listen. They would go on until Ma would come upstairs sobbing and go to their bedroom and close the door. Pa slept on the sofa all week.
When the weekend came, I watched Pa from my bedroom window load up his car with suitcases and stuff and drive off without even saying goodbye. I didn’t know if I was ever going to see him again.
Ma fixed dinner for us on Sunday and stopped crying, but she was still pretty sad.
When I asked where Pa went, she said she didn’t know and didn’t care.
“Is Vinny ever coming home?”
“Yes, someday,” she said.
But Ma didn’t want to talk about Pa or Vinny right now. I could never get her to talk about them. She hardly ever talked at all, except on the phone to some of her lady friends, and then she mostly ended up bawling.
On Friday I stopped at the convenience store and Mr. Din placed two strawberry Double Bubbles on the counter and I gave him a dime. He slid a cherry Double Bubble across the counter and told me to take it in case my brother came home. I put them in the pocket of my jeans and thanked him. When I got home, I went to my room, removed the bubble gum from my pocket, and placed the cherry one in the dresser drawer under my socks, hopeful that I would need it soon.