A short story by Lori Fetters LopezTwitter: @fetterslopez
“Did you read this?” Simone asked. Devon’s note, scribbled on a napkin, was lying on kitchen table where the ‘rents, otherwise known as Mom and Dad, usually sat drinking their morning coffee and reading. The newspaper was mysteriously absent from the scene with the exception of the afore-mentioned article and the rents had long left for work.
“I read it.” I leaned against the counter and picked at a bowl of marshmallow-filled cereal. “The ‘rents told him to go to college or get a job. Something about having graduated eight months ago and all he’s done is lie around playing video games and eating.”
“You think he’s bluffing?” Simone’s bright blue eyes were watery as she looked to me for some sign of hope. “I’ll miss Devon.”
“You’re not going to cry.” I walked to the fridge and pulled out the gallon of milk. After a long drink, I replaced it, minus the lid. “You’d think Walter was a bad guy. There are worse.”
“Isn’t he the ancient guy from down the street?”
“Yep.” I headed for the back door and slung my book bag over one shoulder, adding with a head nod, “Bus.”
The cold wind swam around us like fish in a bowl as we stepped out into the brisk November sunshine. I paused on the porch step to zip my hoodie and looked at Simone. She was busy folding the article, her book bag hung by one strap on her forearm. With a headshake, I slid her bag onto her shoulder and buttoned her jacket. Grandpa used to say he could smell the snow in the air. Today, I could too.
“What does the article have to do with a job or college? They wrote that about Mister Dodge because he never did anything, right? Still lives at home.”
“He won that online gaming competition. That’s why they wrote the article. Eighty eight, never moved out of the family house, and plays video games all day.” I smirked. “Imagine all that wrinkled flesh hanging off his arms, it has to jiggle. You know how animated Devon gets when he plays.”
“Did Mister Dodge used to be fat?” Simone scrunched her nose and pulled her hood up as the snow started to fall. “I noticed Devon was starting to get a pudge.”
“No idea, but at that age, you know his skin’s gotta sag.”
“Devon likes Cheetos. Do you think Mister Dodge has cheesy yellow fingers? Was there a picture? Is that how they’re so alike?”
I shrugged a non-committal reply. “The article mentioned Walter worked at Burger Bucket during high school, like Devon. Turned down an art scholarship from the university, like Devon.” At the bus stop, I put Simone in front, protectively towering over her. “Wish it’d snow harder, so we can have another day off.”
“Has Burger Bucket been around that long?”
“Since the town was built.” The ride to school was silent and the silence hung in the air for what remained of the winter months. Months, no one spoke of Devon. No one spoke of Walter Dodge. No one spoke much.
The first day of spring woke me with the smell of cinnamon rolls. As I got up, I saw Simone bound toward the steps in a frenzy of energy. She nearly ran over Harum as the rust-colored cat slunk up and around her legs. He meowed loudly.
“Freak bound cat,” I said with a grunt as I stumbled over it seconds later. “Least when Devon was here, the cat stayed curled in his lap and didn’t try to break my neck.” I regretted mentioning Devon’s name at the crest fallen look on Simone’s face. I tried for humor. “He’s probably living it up in Budapest.”
A newspaper lay on the kitchen counter. It was open to an article about an innovative video game programmer who perished in a bizarre accident involving a sumo wrestler, circus clowns, and a VW bug riding on a clothesline behind a team of reindeer. Reading further, I discovered that Devon had been living in Tallapoosa and started a company that rocketed to the top of the stock exchange. The Circus Clowns LLC logo included Cheetos, lawn chairs, and midgets dressed like clowns holding video game controllers.
Unable to stop myself, I chuckled at the irony: the company was head quartered in Budapest, Georgia. The only requirement for being hired was to own a clown costume. I handed the article to Simone, waiting as she read. Nearing the end, the corners of her mouth lifted even as the tears continued.
“He died happy and a millionaire, doing what he loved. Bet that burned the ‘rents’ asses.” Wanting her to see beyond an outcome neither of us could fix I said, “Speaking of assets, Devon left his entire fortune to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Clown College. Classic.”