“Jimmy, don’t. You put that down, now” She was scolding her young brother as she tried to unload the grocery basket at the checkout stand.
“Whahahah! Sara, likes the boy. Sara likes the boy.” Jimmy was now taunting her as he dumped out the can of pringles he snatched from the cart. His close set eyes underneath his dirty brown mop heap looked out at her.
“Hi, Sara Jean,” The checker was trying to keep a straight face as he began scanning her items. “You want plastic or paper?”
“Where’s my resusable shopping bags? I had them in the cart, where’d they go? Jimmy, did you take my bags?” She was beginning to get red in the face as she thought about all the times she was embarrassed by her young brother. Why’d she have to be stuck here with him.
“Uh oh. Bags. Uh oh.” Jimmy started to look away from his sister.
“What did you do with the bags Jimmy?” Sara was looking at Jimmy’s face trying to discern what he may have done with them as she heard the intercom.
“Clean up in men’s restroom. Immediately, clean up in men’s room.”
“Jimmy, what did you do!” Sara was now horrified to realize what could have caused the ‘clean-up in the restroom’.
“I sorry, Sara. I am.” he started to tremble all the while she was casting furtive glances at the cashier – she’d forgotten she was even at the checkout stand.
“Paper bags, please, Kenny.” Sara was beyond embarrassed now and was hoping to get out of the store quickly and with no more disturbance.
“How’s your mama doing?” Kenny inquired as he passed a bag of frozen peas over the scanner.
“No better. The doctor says the cancer went into her stomach.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. You still planning to go to State in the fall? Didn’t you get a scholarship?” He was attempting to lighten the mood as he worked his way through a pile of produce.
“I don’t think I can, scholarship will only pay for half of tuition. And with mama sick and all. And with Jimmy, I just don’t think I could.” She was fighting back emotion now.
“You’ll make if out of here on day Sara Jean. I’ve knew since high school.”
“I dunno, Kenny, sometimes I think I won’t ever get out of here. Maybe that ain’t so bad. You know. I could always work at the salon.” She was disgusted by the thought.
“You can do better than that, Sara. And when you get out of here and get educated and a good career you can come back. All dressed nice and with a good car. We can get dinners and hear about the city and all that. Yeah, why not. Lord knows you’r the only one out of high school that was ever gonna make it out of here other than in the bus headed to the prison.”
“Oh, Kenny, hush.” He’d always been able to make Sara Jean smile and ever since grade school they had been close friends.
“Well, that’ll be $85.74; you have EBT today?” Kenny supposed.
Jimmy was standing next to the door now looking at the seagulls in the parking lot as they scavenged scraps off the pavement. Thank God she thought. He always loved looking at those gulls. Those damn gulls. Disgusting animals with their big greedy beaks eating all that crap off the ground. At least they have wings to fly away she thought. They could leave here tonight and go anywhere they wanted. Off this damn little Island, away from all this fucked up town. Away from the alcoholics and the pharmacies and the fast food chains. The ruined streets where oil stained the sides where factory workers parked their dilapidated cars. Maybe they were disgusting animals, but at least they could leave this place, she thought. But why haven’t they. The gulls were always here, picking toxic scraps from the ground. What was so special here that they wanted to stay? Why here? Didn’t they want to get out of here?
“Thanks, Kenny,” Sara Jean payed and started to push toward the door and Jimmy followed behind.
“See you later, Sara Jean.” Kenny called after her. His strong jawline was shadowed in stubble and his dark eyes were set deeply into his bronzed face. His brown hair slightly disheveled on his head.
“Let’s go home, Jimmy,” she said as she walked toward the parking lot. Noticing, on her way out, the ‘Caution, wet floor’ signs standing near the bathrooms.
She got Jimmy situated in the car and drove across town to the “Three Winds” mobile home park. Her little single wide where her mom would be in the front room watching her shows maybe sleeping. On a red clay dirt road, it set on the back row of trailers. With woods in the back where people threw out trash when too lazy to haul it away. Dogs chained to trees and barking in neighbors lawns. Clothes lines tilted at angles from years of neglect. Her older brother’s truck sat rusting on blocks in the front yard. A project scrapped when he got hauled off to jail for armed robbery. Her dad’s picture framed on the faux-wood paneled wall in the front room. Faded, it was set in the small rectangle of light cast into the room from the front window, and the inscription beneath was unrecognizable. But it didn’t matter, she knew it by heart.
“Bobby Wayne Jessop, SSgt. He served his country and paid the ultimate sacrifice in the Gulf War. 1955-1991.”
His face looked vaguely familiar, she thought. But how could she know. She was only 3 when he died and she only saw him a couple times. He was gone so much in the war when she was born. He was a man that her mom loved once. He was her dad that died in the war. And the picture on the wall was all she remembered him by.
Her mom was asleep in the front room with an episode of Criminal Minds flashing bright colors against the dusty interior of the trailer. Sara quietly got Jimmy to settle in his room with a set of old baseball cards. He loved sports and baseball was his favorite and he could recite, at will, the career stats of any Braves players from 1990-2005.
Sara unloaded the groceries into the kitchen. Filling the fridge with groceries was easy as it had been empty before. End of the month was always that way.
The dishes in the sink would need attention she thought. After she ate a leftover slice of pizza she stood by the sink looking out through the window toward the setting sun. She looked up, above the sink and above the small window to the framed diploma she received after she graduated from the community college.
‘Middle Islands Community College, Sara Jean Jessop has successfully completed the requirements for the degree of Associate of Science. Awarded on April 21st, 2010.’
She remembered the ceremony. Her favorite teacher sat a few rows back and she looked out and saw him smiling and clapping as she walked across the stage to receive her diploma. She remembered how the lights were so bright and the heat from them made it almost uncomfortable in the graduation gown. She remembered shaking hands with an older woman who looked important and who she had never seen before. Dean of student success, or something like that. She remembered meeting with a few classmates afterward in the atrium to take pictures together in front of the fountain that sprayed water out of 5 dolphin’s heads. Even her teacher congratulated her and gave her a gift certificate to the local farmer’s market. She remembered that after all of the congratulatory gestures and pictures, she loaded her mom and brother Jimmy into the old sedan and drove back to the trailer. There on the clay dirt road with the truck in the lawn and the picture of her dad faded on the wall. And she hung her diploma on the wall above the kitchen sink above the small window that looked out into the yard. She had put her mom in bed. Tucked Jimmy in bed, pulling his baseball cards out of his hand.
She hadn’t needed to do dishes that night. They served sandwiches at the graduation.