IT REQUIRES CALORIES
The couple wasn’t related to me and I adored that. Because they were taking me to the dumpsters at Safeway, I couldn’t exit their squabble-filled minivan just yet. I was in the backseat, a little peaked, days from my last saltine. She drove. She was blond and her eyes worked like she’d been in a boxing match without gloves. Yes, that is a sidewalk we are driving on. Every few minutes she’d offer me an empty bag of Cheetos. “Go ahead. You live on the street and Cheetos are too good for you?”
What could I say? You are offering me a bag absent all crunchy, riboflavinified curds? Most talking creatures offer food when there is food to be had. But you’re different—and that was a stop sign.
The four years in Germany did me well though. I morphed into Deutsche mode, spoke into my armpit, and she left me alone.
The man said he was from Cincinnati. He rolled his neck a lot and had confetti in his greasy locks. Halliburton-hatted, he had worked for them in Wyoming and shot one of the FBI’s Most Wanted on a night shift during the eighties. I never did get his name but those of his teeth were very clear: The ‘Fab Four.’ One up top and three on bottom. There was that contribution and his mantra—They don’t care. Cars pulling out in front of us—They don’t care. Stories of mean co-workers—They don’t care. Doctors who told him the pills would completely take care of his migraines—They don’t care. He voiced it four dozen times during the half-hour drive and every time my spirits plunged. I’d resided in a cardboard box for two years, homeless, and my rancor was aimed at every country but Belgium. But now? Maybe they didn’t care. Maybe everyone in the mighty world, Belgians included, didn’t give two peanut sprinkled shits. I shuddered, complete with a sphincter crunch, as the woman turned up the talk radio before telling a story about her daughter. How her father fed the girl hot dogs when she was less than two but more than one.
“’Grandpa!’ I called him Grandpa even though he was my dad—you know, a term of encroachment.”
The man swiveled, adjusted his mesh cap and nodded, “Yep, they don’t care.”
“So I says, ‘Grandpa, little baby Frieda don’t have no teeth. You just can’t give her a whole hot dog. How does she bite?’”
“See, they don’t care.”
“And he says to me, he says, ‘Well, she’s a smart little thing. She can get out of her crib. I thought she could figure this one out too.’ And says, ‘I ain’t no maid. I’m retired and Fortune Wheel on and anyways when I was her age my old man had me helping him with the chores already and I was carrying bricks up four flights a stairs.’ And I says to him, ‘No Grandpa. It against the law for a two-years-old to do manual labors. You must a been way older, like ten or eleven or twelve.’”
The man tipped the bill of his hat. “There, you see. It’s just as I said, they don’t care. They don’t. Really. They’ll beat you down—”
The woman turned up the radio; it was a show on vacuum cleaners. “Hey you want some Cheetos back there? I thought he was hungry.”
“Was? Ich bin okay.”
“Ich bin alright already,” she said.
“Hey, at least I got me more teeth than that baby,” the man said, ejecting both barrels of snot with a beefy chortle.
“Don’t laugh you rotten father figure!”
The dumpsters behind Sun Valley’s Safeway were always angled from the building so sanitation trucks could get a good hold. That is, they were at angles until we hit them. “Holy monkey shit!” the woman yelled. The minivan creaked and wept like an iceberg had mauled it.
I was turned upside down, halfway into the front that smelled of baby wipes. The guy’s knees were plastered into the glove compartment, but something else tickled him. “Where’s my hat? My hat!” he raged.
“Holy donkey shit!” she huffed. “I just had me the power steering fluid changed. That a problem now?”
The engine of the minivan turned out to be no more. It was flattened, the woman’s legs and man’s knees barriers that kept the noshed cube of steel and grit from pushing into the cabin.
Being ten at night, the lot was deserted, though a few employees came out and started taking pictures.
The woman got out and calmly noosed her hair in a ponytail. “Wow I didn’t know I was going to hit anything. They should paint ’em neon so’s you can see ‘em better.” She climbed into the dumpster, a rip in her pants from waist to ankle.
Before I exited the man clucked, “Psst. Help me out here.” I made a fist and started hammering at the plastic around his knees. The woman shoved tomatoes in my face. “This what you wanted here? There’s probably four boxes.”
“Hey, my Halliburton hat!” he pleaded.
Chomping at gum, a large-nosed bag boy stood in front of us with two camera phones. “I only have one soul to steal,” I barked, snapping off jagged pieces of glove compartment.
“Du-u-u-u-ude. It’s like for the insurance company. We’re just doing what our boss told us.”
I looked up for the moon but she had abandoned us. The chunks of torn tomato the woman injected in my mouth I spit out one by one.
With one knee still stuck, the man continued to whimper. “My hat is missing and you chowderheads are eating? That’s just what I’ve been saying here—they don’t care!”
The woman kept tapping me. “Have you ever been in Africa? What about Duluth?” I slipped on the spewed engine oil and had to grab the man’s leg so my face didn’t hit pavement.
“Owwww. That’s the femur that cracked at Khe San.”
In spite, I let go and smacked the ground. I felt a few of my teeth shift and cut deep into my gums. But I found the hat. Under the car. A big, filigreed H staring at me like I was the appointment it had been dreading for weeks. When I stood up, my eyebrows were coated in blood, hanging in my vision like tangles of wet weeds.
I had the hat. I started running.
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