By Andy Bailey
“We’ll give you twenty-four hours to think about it,” Mom said as she handed me the sheet of demands. Her skin was dark, having absorbed three weeks worth of thick July sunlight, and she looked five years younger. She walked back across the yard and began fiddling with the awning of the pup tent. Dad lay on the overgrown grass, tongue running across his mustache as he dragged a paintbrush over a new sign. He saw me looking, gave a cocky smirk, and held it up: PARENTS LOCAL #0001 ON STRIKE!
It was their third week on strike and life in the house had gotten rough. Dirty clothes piled up in the hallways and an obnoxious smell emanated from the dishwasher. The eighty dollars a week Aunt Lynn gave Emmie and me for food limited our grocery shopping to the 7-11, and the consistent meals of chiquitos, taquitos, and burritos left us bloated and half-nauseous. Mom and Dad had taken the keys to the car, leaving us to bike or walk our way across town on the few nights we wanted to hang out with friends; we couldn’t invite anyone over, not after the two-person human chain they had formed to block the front door had sufficiently weirded out my friend Chuck enough to keep him from coming back. They had even managed to scare away Grandma, yelling “Scab! Scab!” when she tried to walk up the front path with a few plates of fried chicken.
The mood inside the house almost matched the smell. I blamed Emmie for pushing Mom too far with the constant whining about the mushy avocados in her homemade Cobb salads or the complaints when Mom bought honeysuckle-scented shampoo instead of summer peach. She accused me, correctly, of not helping matters when I allowed the grass to grow to an untamable length after Dad’s repeated requests to cut it. This all came after the Orlando vacation we had to end early after my verbal harassment of Mickey and Goofy got us kicked out of Disney World. In retrospect, the morning we awoke to find them marching across the lawn, brandishing signs that read UNGRATEFUL CHILDREN = HATEFUL CHILDREN and NO RESPECT, NO PARENTS/KNOW RESPECT, KNOW PARENTS was much more surprising than it should have been. It took us until that night to realize it wasn’t a joke.
I read their demands, scribbled on the back of a Publisher’s Clearinghouse envelope and signed by both of them. Two car uses per day with a maximum of ten per week. Set allowance at one dollar per year of age per week with an optional good behavior clause at ten percent a year. Chore negligence resulting in an immediate twenty-five percent allowance reduction. Zero tolerance whining policy. I crumpled up the envelope and tossed it into the overflowing trash basket.
That night, after Emmie returned from the Goodwill store, we discussed it. “That means I’d only get thirteen dollars a week!” she said, digging into her bare arm with her fingernails. “That’s not even enough to go to a movie.”
“Yeah, and I’d only get seventeen.” Couldn’t fill a car up with gas, if I’d had one. “Listen, though. They have to start teaching again in early August. No way they can stay outside then. They can’t work without showers or computers or a comfortable bed.”
She threw me a desperate look. Her lime green eyes peeked out from behind her puffy cheeks. “Two more weeks?” she asked, biting the inside of her lip.
I nodded as I looked onto the lawn. A solitary light shone in their tent, casting an orange halo onto the driveway within which their blurry silhouettes danced. I could hear their laughter from inside. Two more weeks, I thought. Two more weeks.
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Andy Bailey is an English teacher in Los Angeles and has had work published in Pindeldyboz, Raleigh Quarterly, and Buffalo Carp, among others.