by Steve Cushman
SATURDAY AFTERNOON, summertime, and the St. Pete heat boiling at 96. My Dad was changing the oil in his Datsun, and I was working as his assistant, handing him the pan filled with cat litter, an oil rag, his Busch Light.
Dad sent me in the house for another beer where Mom was at the stove in her two-piece yellow biking, making us fried Bologna sandwiches.
‘How much longer?’ she asked.
‘I don’t know,’ I said.
She was tan and too skinny, but she never ate. She seemed to live on coffee and cigarettes. At that moment, a cigarette burned between her thin lips, as she flipped the sandwiches, one at time, the room filling with steam and smoke. She placed a slice of yellow cheese on top of the bologna, and flipped them again.
‘Tell your father to hurry. His lunch will get cold.’
‘Okay,’ I said, grabbing Dad a fresh beer.
‘Let me see that beer,’ she said. She took the cold beer and placed it on the back of her neck, under her hair for a few seconds, then she popped it open, drank a big mouthful, and refilled the can with water. She winked at me.
‘Our little secret.’
When I gave Dad the beer, he said, ‘Did you drink some?’ He had grease and a bit of oil on his forehead and his black T-shirt was sticking to his body.
‘Mom said to hurry lunch is getting cold.’
He took two strong pulls of his beer, handed the empty can back to me. ‘Let me just tighten this nut. What did she make for lunch?’
‘Fried bologna,’ I said.
‘Enough with the Goddamn bologna,’ he said. ‘Why can’t we just have egg salad, maybe a ham and cheese for once?’ He said all this from under the car, so his voice was muffled, as if full of lunch already.
‘I like bologna,’ I said.
Then we were done and he had me hold the plastic bag where he dumped the oil and cat litter mixture. He threw the empty oil cans at me like a football pass. I missed both of them. ‘For Christsakes, Stevie,’ he said. ‘Two hands.’
Back inside, Mom was sitting at the table, chewing on the corner of her sandwich. There were three plates each filled with a sandwich framed by Charlie Chips’ BBQ potato chips, the kind that came in the round tin can on Thursday afternoons. The sandwiches were cut diagonally, at an angle, how I liked them.
‘Looks good,’ Dad said.
‘It’s just bologna,’ she said.
‘Well, it’s good. Isn’t it Stevie?’ Dad said, turning toward me.
‘Yes, my favorite.’
‘Mine too,’ Dad said.
Mom laughed. ‘It’s just bread and bologna, a slice of cheese.’
The three of us ate in silence and when we were done, Mom took the plates away. Dad turned to me. ‘Stevie, why don’t you go swimming. Your mother and me are going to take a nap.
‘You’re awfully dirty for a nap,’ Mom said, without turning back to us.
‘I’ll shower,’ he said.
There was a long pause, and in that pause something was decided that I was too young to understand.
Mom said, ‘Fine, but hurry. I don’t have all day.’
Dad jumped up and practically ran for the shower.
Mom sat back down at the table and lit a cigarette. ‘Can you get me another one of your father’s beers?’
She smoked her cigarette and drank the beer while I finished my coke. She seemed to be looking past me, out into the backyard. ‘You should go for a swim,’ she said. ‘The water will feel good. Some day you might not get to do what you want.’
‘A swim sounds good,’ I said.
I stopped at the back door, and she smiled and winked at me again, then stood and finished the beer and tossed the can in the trash. Then she took a big breath and blew it out as she began walking down the dark hall toward their bedroom.
Steve Cushman is a novelist and poet in Greensboro, NC. He’s published three novels, including Portisville, which won the Novello Literary Award. His first poetry collection, How Birds Fly, is the winner of the Lena Shull Book Award. My Mother’s Bologna Sandwich is from an in-progress novel-in-flash.