Marty’s Day Off

by Derek GRAY

It was day sixteen of the heatwave, and Marty was fed up. He eyed the red needle of the magnetic thermometer stuck just above the Frigidaire logo. It was seven thirty in the morning and the red zip was already half a mark past 90.

Marty plopped down the gallon of two-percent with calculated hurriedness. He aimed to announce his displeasure. His mother was standing on an five gallon popcorn tin that was covered with abstract snowflakes, looking on the top shelf to see if she’d stashed away an extra jar of cinnamon. She turned to see if Oskar would look up from his paper and address their increasingly impudent son. He did not.

“You’re going to have to eat your oatmeal plain, boys. I can’t find any cinnamon.” Marty and Jacob both had full mouths. Neither looked up to acknowledge her declaration.

Marty finished his bowl in less than a minute, then started in on a topic he’d retreaded for two weeks straight.

“Dad, quit being a cheapskate and get the conditioner fixed.”

Oskar had been out of work since April, and refused to turn to public assistance. He lowered his Post but didn’t fold it.

“When I get new job, we get new cooler. You have fan. Be happy with fan.”

“Dad it’s a hundred and…”

“One day you must go to college and become a rich engineer; then you can have coolers even for your closets.”

Marty’s mother sat down and reached for the milk.

“Ma, it’s too hot to study and night and dad’s unreasonable. Can’t you use your credit card or borrow from Pete or something.”

“We won’t borrow from banks or your brother, Martin. You’re a broken record. Mind your father and get ready for school.”

Marty’s junior high was a seven blocks from their apartment; Jacob’s elementary school a quarter mile closer.

“Wha’do you mean, you’re cutting?” asked Jacob, na├»ve enough at nine to remain unaware of the many synonyms for unexcused absences: cutting, skipping, hooky, delinquency.

“I think we deserve a break, don’t you?” Marty demanded.

Jacob looked down at his Vans, using his heel to work out a rock from a crack in the sidewalk. Marty pulled out a folded-over piece of ruled paper ripped from a spiral notebook. On it he’d written an itinerary of times, places, activities, and drawn a picture of a shark.

8:30: W train
9:15: Coney Island
9:25: Beach
12:00 PM: dogs at Nathan’s Famous
12:25: shark tank
3:00: home or else

Jacob ummed and ehhed until Marty said he’d brought eleven dollars in ones plus the twenty their brother Pete had sent for his thirteenth birthday, and that he could eat all the hot dogs he wanted.

The western breeze scooped into the Atlantic and pulled salt and seaweed into its breath. The hot dog stand was open to the street. It smelled of pork and sweat and ocean. Jacob ate three hot dogs and demanded money for a fourth.

“You’re a fat pig,” Marty told him, “and won’t have enough money to see the sharks if you have another.”

“You said I could have all the hot dogs and I don’t care about your sharks,” Jacob protested.

Marty punched Jacob in the arm, then offered a million dogs when he started to cry.

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