“Shaddup and leave the kid alone,” said Aunt Mil. “He probably does want his Mom. Come on Jack, you can help me in the kitchen.”
Jack followed Aunt Mil through the French doors. Uncle Lew said, “What a sweet little girl he is.”
“No wonder nobody’ll marry you, Lew,” snapped Aunt Mil. “You’re a sloppy drunk and an asshole besides.” Aunt Mil shook her head. She asked Jack, “D’you want to punch down the bread?”
The tears that had been threatening at the corners of Jack’s eyes suddenly cleared. “Do I?!” He said. He punched down bread with his Mom every Saturday.
Aunt Mil pulled up a chair beside the counter, and Jack climbed up while she pulled the cloth off of the bowl. Inside, the dough had risen almost to the top of the rim, and Jack gleefully buried his fist in it.
“Somebody bring me another beer!” Lew demanded.
“Get it yourself,” said Mil. Jack heard his uncle grumbling out to the garage. He plumped his other fist into the sticky dough. Mil said, “Lew’s real problem is he never grew up. Your Mom and Uncle Mike and I all learned how to work in the kitchen. Lew just never had to do a thing for himself, and look where that’s left him. Still lives at home with Mom is where.”
“Where do you live?” asked Jack.
“Right now, I live here, too. But that’s a long story. I’ll be back on my feet again and in my own place soon enough. Him? He won’t ever find a woman to take care of his scrawny a…rear end.”
Jack ate a little of the dough off his hands while Mil turned the bowl out on a cutting board. “When will Mom come get me?”
“It’ll be your Dad, champ. And he probably won’t be here until sometime tomorrow. Your Mom’s still early days with that baby.”
Lew stumped back into the living room. Jack heard him slamming the garage door. “Is Uncle Lew always this mean?” Jack couldn’t remember if his uncle was nice or not when his Mom brought him by. He couldn’t remember even seeing the man much.
“Only when he’s drinking, and that’s all the time,” said Mil.
“I heard that!” Lew shouted.
Mil shook her head. “I’m damned… I’m sorry you’ve got to see him like this. It’s a crying shame.” She raised her voice on this last. “It’s no wonder your Mom keeps away.”
Before she could say anything else about Uncle Lew or Jack’s Mom, the phone rang. It was a corded model with a rotary dial. Jack had never seen anything like it elsewhere. Aunt Mil picked it up. “Yeah.” Not hello, but ‘yeah’. At Jack’s house, they answered the phone, ‘Hello’. “Hey, John, how’s everything?” When his aunt said his Dad’s name, Jack took a real interest in the conversation. Aunt Mil said, “OK, hang on, let me write down the number. Yeah, he’s doing great. You want to talk to him while I go get a pen?” Aunt Mil beckoned to Jack, who jumped off his chair and ran to the phone. Mil clamped a dishtowel into his doughy hand as she handed him the receiver.
Dad said, “Hey there buddy.”
“Hi Dad. Did the baby come?”
“Not yet, not yet. We’re just getting settled into a room. Sometime tomorrow morning, probably.”
“Everything OK at your end? You staying out of your Uncle Lew’s way?”
In the background, he heard his mother’s voice. Then, Dad said, “Hold on.”
Then his Mom came on. “Sweetie, if Lew gets mean, you wake up Gramma Addie, OK?”
Jack wanted to ask Mom to tell him a story. He wanted to ask her for a hug. But Dad came back on the line. “OK, Champ, your aunt got that pen yet?”
Jack looked around. Aunt Mil was standing behind him, waiting. “Yeah.” His voice wobbled.
“That’s my boy. You’re a big kid now. Don’t be crying all night. Before you know it, morning will be here, and you can come meet your little sister. I’ll come and get you first thing.”
“OK Dad.” But by now, of course, he was crying. He handed the phone to Aunt Mil and sat in the middle of the floor with the dish towel on his head to hide the tears running down his cheeks.
“Sissy boy!” Uncle Lew called from the living room.
Jack heard the phone click back into its cradle, and he felt Aunt Mil’s arm around his shoulders. She sat beside him in the floor. “Listen,” she said. “I think we’ll have a camp out in my room, OK? I’ll bring in some blankets and kitchen chairs, and you can have a little fort in there in the floor. I’ll be up on the bed, and you’ll be right beside me, and you won’t even have to go out of my room at all. I’ve got the bathroom right there, and I’ll lock the hall door so nobody can get in. We’ll put on some cartoons on my TV and just hole up in there for the night.”
Jack said, “What about the bread?”
“World won’t end if we have to buy it from the store this week. You don’t need to be out here with that drunk, OK?”
“OK Aunt Mil. Thanks.” Jack let her pull the dishtowel off his head and take his hand. He tried to feel better as he followed her out of the kitchen. But all he really wanted was his mother. All he really wanted was to go home.
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.