Got up off my chair in the apartment in South Towers and I answered the door.
“Hi.” Siren tried to kiss me, but I was numb to everything and walked back to my chair. “Been a day. Gotta jump in the shower, if that is okay?”
But she was already taking off her shirt when she looked at my face and I plopped back into my chair, my eyes wide, my mind reeling. She could see that though she may have needed a shower, the show was right here.
“What? What’s wrong?”
Shadow could not tear his eyes away from the envelope he had been staring at since Sunshine left. It had taken about three times of Sunshine explaining what he was looking at before he understood.
“What?” Siren gripped Shadow’s face and turned it to look at her. “What is going on? What happened? I can’t help you if you don’t tell me everything.”
Shadow laughed and was gone. Out came Guardian.
She gripped the face again. “Who do I got?” she said.
“Guardian.” He gently took his face back from her hand. “That envelope is– I don’t even know what.”
She snatched it off the coffee table and pulled out the forms and the letter that came with them. She read it a few times and her mouth fell open.
“28,000 dollars,” she said. “We’re going to get 28,000 dollars?”
“Don’t know yet.”
“Says Char owes you 28,000 dollars in back child support.” She giggled and spun in a circle. “They are going to make him pay it, too. He can’t–” She dropped the letter on the floor and stepped away.
Guardian scooped the letter back up and laid it on the table where he could look at it.
“Do you think we will get it in one lump sum?” She shook her head and touched her lips with a stunned hand. “Maybe a thousand a month. We can do so much with this money.” She threw her head back and howled. She looked at Guardian alive and horny. “Take your pants off.”
“It’s not my money,” Guardian said, finally looking at her. “It’s not my money. I can’t take this.”
She stepped back and slowly her face curled. “Not our money! What in the Hell are you talking about? We deserve this money. You suffered under this bastard for years and—”
“And never paid a bill.”
Her face screwed up. “What do you mean you never paid a bill?”
Guardian stood. He walked to the window and tried to look out, but all he could see was the envelope, no matter the park outside or the gazebo. “Child support is paid by the parent to pay for expenses while that child is growing up. Mumble and Rose paid those expenses. That is not my money.”
“Fuck Mumble and Rose. She defended a child molester and deserves to be in prison right next to him, and Mumble is unacceptable. No, fuck them, they don’t get our money.”
Guardian did not look at her. He simply pointed to the side, his finger in her face as he looked other places. “Stop saying our. That is not even a word we are thinking about right now. Our is out. This is not yours and it is not mine.” He turned to look at her. “If I accepted this money, it would be stealing. It was Rose and Mumble who worked insane hours and struggled every week to get by. Not me. And not you. This is not ‘our’ money any more than this is my money.”
He sat back down, his eyes resting again on the letter.
She snatched the forms in her hand. “I swear, if you plan to send any of this money to those evil people, I will rip these papers up myself right now.”
“I know the name of the nonprofit that has done all the research. I know the name of the nonprofit that is holding him accountable with lawyers they retain for the good of their hearts. You tear those up, I call for another set. Set those papers on the table and sit the fuck down.”
She sat on the couch beside the chair Guardian sat in, and she leaned toward him. “Listen, you are living off of food stamps.”
“I get plenty to feed myself every month.”
“Plenty, but no extras.”
“Soda in the fridge.”
“Okay, fine. How much does that state grant give you every month to live on?” She leaned back. Guardian turned to look at her. “Oh, you forgot. Well, let me remind you. You get 200 dollars in food stamps every month to feed yourself, and every month you get seventy-five dollars to survive. Twenty-three of that is used to pay rent on this place. So we are talking about fifty-two dollars for everything you need for the month. No one should have to live like that.”
“Toothpaste on the sink. Toilet paper in the bathroom,” Guardian said. “My toiletries are paid for. I don’t drive, so I don’t need gas.”
“How about I stop buying you fast food? How about the movies stop? Do you have any idea how much I spend to keep you entertained and fed on the extras you have to have?”
Shadow, and he glared at her. “Door is right there,” he said, jerking his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the door. “Don’t like how I live, don’t stay.”
She stared at him for a long time. “Shadow, right?”
“Well, I was about to jump in the shower, you want to fuck me?”
“Can’t. Gotta make a call.” He snatched the receiver off the base before she could grab his arm.
“Who are we calling?”
“We, our.” He grinned at her. “You’re on a roll today. We are not calling anyone, Siren. I am making a call.” Dialed and the phone rang. It’s picked up and Shadow laughed.
“Bekah,” he howled. “You have no idea what came in the mail today. You are not going to believe this. Get over here as soon as you can. You’re going to love this.”
“On my way. Want me to grab anything on my way over?”
Shadow looked at Siren with the grin of the devil. “Can you get me a number three from Taco Bell? Hard shell.”
Siren jumped to her feet in a huff and stormed to the other side of the room to rip her shirt off and shimmy out of her skirt. She stood for a while, naked and getting no response, before she spun with a flurry of hair and stomped into the bathroom.
She got the desired effect when Bekah got there. Siren’s hair was wet. It was obvious she had been naked in the apartment. It was not obvious why. She was putting a show on for Bekah, and she dropped to the couch, crossed her legs, and stared at me.
Shadow stood. He walked to the door, unlocked it, and sat back down. That door stayed locked all the time. But when Bekah arrived with a polite knock, Shadow yelled, “Come on in.”
Bekah locked the door and dropped the bag in my lap. “What’s up?”
Shadow shook his head and laughed. He handed her the letter and leaned back to light a cigarette.
Bekah read it twice, then folded it neatly and set it on the table. She drew in a deep breath and looked at her lap. She laughed and looked up. “He has to pay you 28,000 dollars. Char has to pay you 28,000 dollars. That is amazing!”
“That is what I am telling him,” Siren said. “Now tell her the rest so she can tell you you’re an idiot and we can really talk about this.”
Shadow grinned and shook his head. “Not my money.”
Bekah stared dumb for a moment, her face frozen as she fought to understand what I was saying. “Not your money,” she said slowly.
“Didn’t buy my clothes as a kid. Didn’t buy my food or put a roof over my head.” Shadow threw his head back and laughed. “Isn’t that a bitch?”
“Tell him he is being an idiot so we can really talk about this. This is 28,000 dollars and–”
“Not your money,” Bekah repeated.
“Gotta send these forms to Rose.”
“The hell you do!” Siren said.
“How are you going to get them to her?” Bekah said with a laugh. “She is going to be so pissed.”
Guardian stepped out. “Honor.”
“Honor,” Bekah repeated. She shook her head, “Man that sucks.” She laughed. “How you going to get it to her?”
“Seventy-five dollars a month,” Guardian said.
“Yup.” Bekah giggled.
“Seventy-five for the entire month, but that,” he pointed at the letter neatly folded on the table. “Is not my money.”
“She will be pissed. This will show that you are a better person than she is,” Bekah said. She gasped. “She is going to hate every minute of this.”
“Are we really talking about giving away 28,000 dollars to a monster of a woman we all hate?”
“No,” Guardian said. “We are not talking about it at all.”
Siren stood, grabbed her purse and her bag, and stormed out of the apartment.
“Not my money,” Guardian said.
Bekah giggled. “Eat your tacos. You hate them soggy.”
I’m in a booth at Ruby Tuesday’s eating a bowl of Cajun Chicken Pasta. Across from me sits Uncle Wrath and Aunt Honey. They have been coming down to Springfield to visit me every few weeks. They just want to be in my life. They bring me food, and every now and then Uncle Wrath will palm a few bucks in my hand. There are stipulations to the relationship so he balks when I say, “I need a favor.”
“What do you need?” Uncle Wrath says.
“I need you to give something to Rose.”
“Absolutely not. We talked about this. I am not getting into the middle of this war you two are fighting.”
Guardian pulls the envelope from his jacket pocket and lays it on the table. “Just get this to her for me, please.”
“No, I am not going to play postman for your stupid fucking war. I don’t know what that is and I don’t want to know.”
“What is that, Jesse?” Aunt Honey asks.
“Got this letter and these forms from a nonprofit in Wisconsin. Their quest is to make deadbeat dads pay back child support. This letter says that Char owes me 28,000 dollars in back pay.”
Uncle Wrath’s eyes get wide. “That is a lot of money.”
“Not my money,” Guardian said. “That is money owed to the people who raised me and paid for my childhood. Put food on my table and a roof over my head. That is compensation for them. I have no right to that money.”
“Wait!” Uncle Wrath says. “You can’t be serious?”
Aunt Honey started laughing. She smiled at me and shook her head.
“You can’t do this. This is– how much again?” Uncle Wrath stammers.
“It’s for Rose if she wishes to pursue it. Tell her that all she has to do is sign the forms. They will take him to court free of charge and Char will be forced to settle up.”
“This is an olive branch,” Uncle Wrath says with a smile. “Quite an olive branch.”
“How much money are you living on a month?” Aunt Honey says.
“Doesn’t matter,” Guardian says. “Look, this is not an olive branch. I am not making up with Rose ever. I don’t want her in my life. I want nothing to do with her. She is unhealthy, and we can get into why if you want to. This is no olive branch. You tell her I am never coming back.”
“Jesse,” Aunt Honey says, stretching her hand across the table.
Guardian goes silent.
“How much money are you getting a month?”
“I qualify for a grant that pays me seventy-five dollars a month.”
“Jesse, you need this money. Your mother has Honed. They both have decent jobs. You do not. You need to rethink this.”
“Can you give it to her, please?” Guardian says. “Some things are more important than money.”
“Okay,” Aunt Honey says. “In this case, what would that be?” Her tone is soft. Almost awestruck.
“Honor,” Guardian says. “If you don’t want to give it to her, you don’t have to. I will wait until next month so I can buy an envelope and get postage and I will do it myself. But—”
“Dammit,” Wrath says. “Give me the damn thing.”
When he gets back to Waynesville, he stops in Richland long enough to screech into Rose’s driveway. He slams the door and stomps to her front porch. He pounds until they yell for him to come in. He walks into the kitchen where they are playing cards and he slaps the envelope, letter, and forms on the table.
“Your son sent this for you. I want you to really think about that. Your son sent this to you, even though he is living on seventy-five dollars a month.” He stabs a thick finger at her and glares in her eyes. “Jesse Teller is a great man.”
That all happened in 2002, June, I think. In 2018, I tried to sit down and reach some sort of understanding with her. It went as badly as you might think, but while things were pleasant, she took my hand.
“I want to thank you for that child support money, Jesse.”
“I hope it helped.”
“You ever get your money?”
She straightened her back and smiled. “That terrible man has paid me one hundred dollars a month ever since. I am going to take him back to court if I can get a ride up to Milwaukee so I can get that number pumped up to one-fifty. One hundred is not enough.” She looked at her hands, her fingers grasping and ungrasping. She looked like a vulture picking at a meal. She looked hungry. “I need more. He should have to pay me more.” She looked up. “I only need to get your Uncle Ball to give me a ride up there and I can get more. But look at me, sweetie.”
I looked Rose in the eye.
“There have been so many months where that tiny bit extra has been the only reason I have gotten by. That money has saved me so many times. Thank you so much.”
“Not my money,” Adam said.
It will be about eighteen hours before we are screaming at each other. But that was in 2018. Now it is 2021. If you count the months, that is 228 months Rose has been sticking it to Char.
That adds up to be 22,800 dollars. That is, if she never got to that court house and never got her raise.
Let’s put a pin in that. We will get back to that.