By Rachelle Mathis
The Arkansas summer air flowed through the open windows, and Josh felt good for once. And he hadn’t had a single beer, to boot. He took his eyes off the road to glance at his young son, who was staring intently at the baggie of water in his hands.
“You got a name for em yet, kid?”
“I dunno yet, Daddy. Maybe, uh, Benny?”
“That’s a fine name, son.”
He’d done right this time. Josh knew not even that bitch JoAnn could say something against him this time. He had taken the boy to the county fair, rode some rides and played some games. Took him eight dollars in balls to win that damned goldfish, but by God, he had done it. He had even made sure they left with just enough time to get the kid home by eight, so JoAnn wouldn’t have any more fodder for her lawyer. Sure, what he spent tonight would bring him down to eating canned soup til payday, but it was worth it. The kid was worth it. The look on his face when Josh handed him the plastic bag with Benny in it, the way his normally sad eyes lit up.
“I’m just gonna pull in here for some cigs, real quick. ‘Kay, kid?” asked Josh, turning the truck into the gravel lot of DeeDee’s Gas n Go.
“Sure, Daddy. Benny and I will be okay.”
Josh hustled in, straight up to the counter. DeeDee’s daughter manned the register.
“What’ll it be, Mizter Pickens? Marlboros again?” she asked halfheartedly, eyes on the gossip mag she had just set down.
“Sure, that’s fine. Gotta hurry, my kid’s in the truck.” At this, she looked up in surprise.
“Huh, that so?” she asked. Josh knew anyone in town would be surprised to see the kid with him, after the incident last year. But Josh had been sober for seven months and five days now, trudging up those twelve steps, easy does it. “Well, that’s real good, Mizter Pickens. Real good. You tell em I said hi, now?”
Josh handed her exact change for the cigs, and hurried back out to the truck. His heart sank when he opened the driver’s door and saw the deflated baggie and wetness all over the floor.
“Aw, kid. What happened?”
The boy looked up and smiled, “I just wanted to pet Benny, Daddy. But he fell out. But it’s okay! Look!” He pointed excitedly to his bright red sippy cup in the holder, the lid unscrewed and laying on the dash. Josh leaned over and peered in. Aw, shit, he thought. The fish formerly known as Benny was floating on his side in a cup of pulp-free orange juice. “I did real good, huh, Daddy?”
Josh got into the driver’s seat and tapped his fingers against the wheel. He had fifteen minutes to get the kid home, or JoAnn would rip him a new one. He pulled up to the road. A left turn, and he’d be heading back towards the county fair, where a new fish could be had. A right turn, and he’d make it to JoAnn’s just in time. Josh sighed, and made the turn.
"Rachelle Mathis is a freelance writer of fiction and poetry. She spends most of her days trying to hold her tongue in classes, and most of her nights singing classic rock songs to her child. She currently lives in Colorado with her daughter and a closet with far too many cocktail dresses. Rachelle has been published in Red River Review and has a poems forthcoming in Anderbo and The Red Asylum. Her personal blog may be viewed at http://rainroofinstantcoffee.