Mason’s mother told him to go to his room. That always meant something bad was about to happen. The toys in his room didn’t seem like toys when he was sent there. He didn’t bother saying anything back because his mother used the Tone. There were two Tones: one he heard from either of them after he did shit like knock over a soda can or pound the floor in frustration. A second distinct Tone when they were made at each other.
The front door opened and Mason’s father dropped his keys into the tray by the door.
“Why are you home?” he heard his mother ask. The afternoon was breezy and Mason tried to listen to the wind sneak into the gaps of his windows. He picked up an faded green plastic car. The miniature people that were supposed to fit inside were lost months earlier, but the car remained. He ran it along the floor and made whirring sounds.
“Not now, Christine,” his father said.
“What did you just say?”
“Jesus Fucking Christ, Christine! I said gimme a minute!”
A door slammed. The bathroom door. Maybe their bedroom door. But a close-by door for sure. Mason looked toward his bed and then his door. He was safe in here tonight. They were mad about something, which was weird because he just got home.
“If we need to talk, you better not be in there another half hour!”
He replied something back, but Mason couldn’t quite hear it.
Then the toilet seat slammed home. He definitely heard that. When that door burst open, the handle smacked into the wall. Mason thought of the little crack it made like a smiley face.
“Christine, goddammit! I’m sorry. I had to take a shit. I didn’t know I had to fucking give you a play-by-play!”
“What happened? Why are you home?”
“What? I don’t get to know?”
“He’s in his room.”
Footsteps thundered toward the boy’s door.
“Don’t you go in there!”
“Why the fuck not?”
“He’s taking a nap.”
“Jesus.” His father’s feet hovered at the door. Dark ovals hung there. He couldn’t know why, but he assumed he was facing the door.
“Did you talk to Jerry?”
“I talked to Jerry.”
“What’d he say?”
“He said no, didn’t he.” It wasn’t a question.
“He didn’t…shit. Yes. But he didn’t want to.
“What does that mean?”
“I mean it killed him to tell me that.”
“That’s three now, you know. Jimmy, Hank, and now–”
“I fucking know it’s three.”
His mother sighed and sat down on the creak in the couch. The shadows drifted away.
“Don’t,” she said.
“Kenny, what can we do?”
“It always works out, baby.”
Mason liked this part of their fights. His dad was always the first one to lower his voice and say something nice. He called her baby which used to make Mason laugh.
“I don’t know what we can do,” she said. “I can’t ask my parents.”
She creaked the couch again. It did that when people sat and when they stood up, but only on that one spot.
“He’s not going to let us stay here, Kenny!”
His father didn’t react at first. She walked away, Mason could hear.
“Lemme just talk to him,” his father called out.
His mother didn’t respond. Drawers flew open in the kitchen and silverware rattled.
The boots stomped through the room and into the kitchen. Mason could tell they were talking but the words were jumbled and indecipherable.
He turned on a light. The light his dad made in the workshop at the last house. It was an old lamp they’d found in the attic.
“Wanna see if it works?” he father had asked him.
“Maybe we can paint it.”
“What color should we paint it?”
“That’s a good choice, son.”
Later that day, after his mother had made them hamburgers at the stove, his father led him out to the workshop. He explained what all of the old tools that were still there were. He told Mason not to touch them. Some were quite sharp. Dangerous. “Your mom would have my ass if you got hurt out here, sonny boy,” he’d said.
Mason ran his fingers along the rounded base. The red paint had chipped a little and the train sticker he got once from the grocery store was ripped off but not totally.
“I can get work, you know,” his father said. They’d come out of the kitchen and had shook Mason from his memory.
“I can too.”
“I mean, I can go back to the store. They always need help. I’ll start at minimum, but it’s something.”
“But who’ll be with him all day?”
When they fought and weren’t yelling, his name became replaced by a pronoun.
“You’ll have to be. For now.”
“Baby, I’m going to get work.”
“No one’s what?” his father said, a stern tone pepped up.
“Just lemme call Gayle. She’ll probably let me come in Sunday. Those other girls always wanted Sundays off, remember?”
“Are you fucking serious right now, Kenny?”
Every Sunday, Mason’s parents took him to Ringo’s house. That was his friend. Ringo’s parents and Mason’s parents sat in the living room and watched movies. The sound was never on because, Mason’s dad had said, they were playing a game with words. That was kinda weird. Ringo and Mason usually played in his room and Ringo would sometimes show him te cigarette buts that he’d found from throughout the house.
Last week, the four adults played the game with shiny blue cans. Looking through Ringo’s peephole, Mason watched them all drink from those cans at the same time. They laughed more and more throughout the movie. Mason looked forward then to watching movies with is dad and the blue cans. But he wasn’t allowed to play that at home, he’d said.
“You want it so badly, that you’ll let that boy starve so you can get high?”
Mason’s dad had always told him his first word was “Hi!” and that that was pretty dang gone funny. He almost had the words the way Daddy liked to hear them. He said “Pwe dag on phffew!” and his dad always translated.
“Can you say, ‘Let’s get high’?” his mother asked him. Her can was even shinier. Silver, she called it. What Mommy said made Daddy laugh a lot.
“Kenny.” Mason pictured her touching his dad. They played a lot and wrestled and sometimes they were giggling while they did it and others they were screaming. Mason wrestled with his Dad once in a while but when he screamed at his dad, his dad would throw him.
“Kenny,” his mother said. “We’re not getting fucking blitzed anymore. You know? We gotta quit that shit. You know, for now.”
Shit was that word that Mason remembered saying before his mother slapped his face.
“Gawd,” he said. “You’re so right.”
“Thank you,” she said.
“Thing is…the shit’s already paid for, you know. ‘Member we used that one money to get it and paid Big Mike last week.”
“Oh, shit, you’re right,” his mother said. “Well,” she kinda laughed. That was the one that she made when she said we’d have lunch but the refrigerator was empty. Or when Mason told her there was no butt paper on the spinny in his bathroom. One time she made him sit there for a long time while she left. Daddy couldn’t know she left though. It was the first time she ever made him understand Secret.
“Yeah,” his father said. You know Big Mike’s probably gonna tap that shit if we don’t come. Won’t smoke it all or nothin’ but he’d take a piece. Fucker.”
One time after the blue cans game was over, Mason said fucker and was told he had to get down and smell the poop. Put his bitch ass nose right to it. Ginger made poops on the floor a few times. Ginger did it too much and was kicked by the door. Dad told Mason she had to go see her mommy dog and daddy dog. That was before the ice cream day.
There was the ice cream book. Mason’s mom read to him from a book with a big ice cream cone on the front page.
“Ice cream, ice cream, we all scream for ice cream,” his mother sang.
Mason giggled when she made the monster face and screamed “scream.”
“Do you want to get some ice cream?” she asked.
Mason whispered in her ear Yes because he was tired but wanted to put his head on her shoulder.
“I’ll make daddy go with you,” she told him.
Mason pulled the book down and skipped to the last page. Daddy told him he was supposed to start at the frong but Mommy yelled at him and said he can start wherever. Kid’s fucking three, Kenny. He just likes the pictures.” He found the clown and the guy with the white beard and said beard.
“I gotta call Gayle.”
“Good fucking luck.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Phones’re fucking dead.”
Kenny shook his head.
“Fuck!” she yelled. She threw the phone and it hit and broke something.
“You fuckin’ broke that frame, godddammit!”
She ran over and crouched down. “Shit! Honey, don’t!”
“You’re going to cut–”
“I told you…”
“Fuck you, you told me. You fucking did this! Least his picture’s not fucking broken.”
“Torn. What the fuck, you know what I mean!”
Christine laughed. “Get some….nevermind. Go turn on the water. Cold. Numbs it.”
“I know, I know,” his father said in a faded way.
His mother was alone, but she was talking.
“Goddammit, girl,” she said. “The one fucking picture you have of him.”