How To Be Poor

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 2 (v.1) - 2

Submitted: January 18, 2020

Reads: 5

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Submitted: January 18, 2020

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Jeramiah 'Jay' Walsh was one of resigned, and whether he was aware of it or not, he knew every single type and combination there was.  He grew up in a factory town, that in its heyday was nearing the size of a small city. When automation kicked in, the town suffered like they did everywhere, and the town withered and died.  Those who could get out did, while others still hung on, believing that no one would keep the auto-run factories, that humans could do a better job of things, but some way, somehow, they were wrong.  Eventually, people without contacts outside the town couldn't get out of it.

Jay was still a kid when automation hit them, but he remembered what it was like.  He tried not to think about it, it was just too depressing.

Jay followed the farming circuit and worked where he was able.  It wasn't a great living, but combined with his wife's pay for being a bank teller, they did well enough to keep a roof over their heads and keep the kids fed, even if they themselves had to go without occasionally.

Hannah, his wife was slipping from wherever she had sat on the scale to miserable, which made him nervous; they were living paycheck to paycheck, and he noticed that sometimes she didn't even have a paycheck to cash.  She would lie and say that they didn't pay her, and then she would shrug it off, pretending that she was going to say something about it. But Jay knew it was a lie because his wife was not that genial. If they really did stiff her, the whole town would hear about it.  But, while they could squeak by on what he got for a tiny bit, the last thing he needed was her drunk or high around the kids, he didn't know what she'd do in that state to them, but he didn't want to find out.

As she wasn't the most reliable, Jay had asked her kid-sister, Kathy, to help out around the house.  He felt bad about it because she had her own problems. She was poor too, worse off than he was, but she would come over in the mornings, looking all blurry-eyed and tired having worked the evening and night shift in the bar.  Once over, she'd start cleaning up, make sure the kids were fed, even if it meant bringing something over so that they had a complete meal. He used to pay her, until he realized she was slipping it back to him. He confronted her, and she told him that he had two kids to take care of.  With what she made, she could take care of herself, he didn't need to worry about it.

Hannah was not happy whenever Kathy came over, she would complain to him later on about how insulting it was that he didn't even think she could take care of her own children.  Though Jay noticed she didn't seem to mind having someone clean house. He also noticed that she had started leaving chores for her sister to take care of, claiming that she'd take care of it later, she was just too tired at the moment.

First out the door, Jay was usually the last one home.  Hannah left not too long after him, so Kathy stayed up and got the kids ready for school, and once they were out, she'd grab some more sleep before tidying up the place.

After a while of her coming over, he found that the cooking had changed; it was better.  Hannah never bothered to cook, or if she did, it tasted like rotten cardboard. So it wasn't surprising to find out that it was one more thing that Kathy was doing.

Her first name was actually Angel, and it wasn't uncommon to hear people say she lived up to her name.  She was sweet and generous, and she worked hard to make sure that she could give as much help to who those needed it as she could.  A great example of her personality was when the guy she had been dating for almost a year was arrested. She didn't break up with him, was extremely supportive, and when she found out that he was facing seven to ten years in prison, she agreed to his plea that she'd stay faithful.  Jay thought that was a lot for Sidney to ask her, but she acted like it was no big deal. Some people thought she was a fool, that she was too naïve, but she kept her head up and never stopped being herself.

She visited Sidney when she could and wrote him most days, though sometimes Jay wondered if the lack of conjugal visits ever wore on her.

Driving home early one day, that wasn't what was on Jay's mind, he was just willing his truck not to die.  It wasn't his truck, it was actually his uncle's, but either way, he wouldn't be able to get it fixed, and recently it started to rattle in a disconcerting way.  Every time he got in it, he feared the worst.

When he got home, he was able to relax until he realized that because he parked in front of his home, he would have to go inside.  He used to have a drink at the bar once a week. That was his one thing, the thing he was allowed, by himself, to have.  It was great too, because Kathy didn't drink — of course she didn't — but the bar gave its employees a discount and she passed the discount onto him.

But, then Hannah started complaining, telling him how much money he was wasting, so he stopped.  For the most part, he had nowhere to go but to work and then home, which might not have been so bad if Hannah hadn’t gotten weird about having sex after their oldest, Parson, was born.  Kathy said that it was a Madonna-whore complex, which essentially meant that since she became a mother, Hannah thought she was literally too good to have sex. If Hannah hadn't gotten shit-faced five years previous, Ollie probably wouldn't have been born.

Sighing, Jay leaned against the truck bed.  Five years was a long time to go without sex, but he supposed he could have commiserated with Kathy about that, because it had been a little longer for her, if she was being honest.  But, it wasn't just the sex, it was everything. Hannah wouldn't let him touch her, even if it was for something as innocent as holding hands. She wouldn't talk to him unless she wanted to fight, she avoided him, and got angry all the time, and it was hard to go home to someone who seemed to hate your guts.

At least the boys were always happy to see him, he allowed, taking the first step on the gravel path.  At least they liked him, which was nice, and he liked them right back, so it was really nice.

Only the screen door was closed, and he could hear music playing.  It wasn't something he had ever heard before, and Hannah wasn't one much for music.  He let himself in to find Kathy standing barefoot in front of the stove, stirring something in the large pot.  She looked up at him, still tired but more alert as it was coming up on her normal hours.

It was strange seeing her there, and he looked at the clock to find that she'd be on shift at the bar in less than fifteen minutes.  As someone who was perpetually early to things, it was more than a little baffling.

"Where's Hannah?"  He asked, picking up Ollie, who ran at him.

Kathy stared at him for a moment and swallowed.  "She left a note this morning," she told him, tipping her head to the fridge, looking at the envelope that was stuck to it via a magnet.

"What's it say?"  Jay asked, setting Ollie down.

Kathy shook her head.  "I didn't read it," she said.  Of course she didn't. She hugged Ollie to her leg as he wrapped his arms around her thigh.  "She asked me to take the night off, though. She said that it was going to be late before anyone came home."  Jay grabbed the envelope from the bank and read the letter. "I made soup, I hope that's alright," Kathy told him as Jay ran to the bedroom and went to the wardrobe only to find a good portion of Hannah's stuff missing.  Feeling a sudden icy feeling in his stomach, he got a chair and looked on top of the wardrobe only to find the old cookie tin gone. He had all the family savings in there. He didn't think that Hannah knew about it.

He got down and sat heavily on the chair, holding his head in his hands.  The light shifted, and he looked to the side to see Kathy standing in the doorway.  He watched her a moment then held out the letter for her to read. Quietly, she walked over and took it, sitting on the corner of the bed to read.  After a minute she gently folded the letter and handed it back.

"I'm sorry," she murmured, head down.  "I don't know what else to say."

Jay shrugged.  "What's to say?  She's run off with our money," he told her, and Kathy looked more shamed.

"I'm sorry, I didn't— she wasn't carrying a bag or anything, so I didn't—"

"I know," he told her, swallowing.  "It wasn't your fault." Sighing, he rubbed his jaw, wondering what he was supposed to do.  The house was a rental, and they could barely afford it when both of them were kicking in. "She might come back," he said, and saw the way Kathy hesitated before nodding in agreement.  "After she's spent the cash," he added, and he could hear her exhale.

". . . I, um, I make enough that there's a little extra," Kathy said slowly, and he held up a hand.

"Kathy, no, I'm not taking your money."

She looked at her hands.  "You could consider it a loan," she offered, and he shook his head.  "Or, I could move in with you." He looked up at her, and she glanced at the door.  "I have to check on that soup soon," she said, beginning to get up. "But, if I'm babysitting the boys most days, why not just pool our resources and go from there?  I can sleep on the couch."

Jay thought about it, then shook his head again.  "We'll talk about it after," he said, and she nodded, leaving to save the soup.  He unfolded the letter and read it over again. There seemed to be no remorse for abandoning her children.  Apparently, life was too hard on her, he demanded too much, so she had to take a leap of faith to save herself.

It was hard on her.  He wanted to know about what she thought it was like for the kids. . . or, hell, even him!  He worked harder than she had, he was the one who had given up the most and then she was the one who started with the. . . whatever she did when she spent the rent money.

Groaning, Jay stretched and got to his feet, leaving the room to find Kathy had already dished up the boys.  Without missing a beat, she filled another bowl for him and sat down beside Parson, reading over his math homework.  He always seemed to have math homework.

"Where's yours?"  Jay asked, and everyone looked at the empty spot in front of Kathy.

She shrugged.  "I'm not hungry," she told him, not looking up from the paper.  Jay wondered if it was pity for their sudden loss, or a vestige of when Hannah accused her of eating only at their place.  Her protests unheard, Kathy started bringing a boxed lunch and even a water bottle in a passive aggressive jab to prove she wasn't driving up their water bill either.

Jay got up and dished up another bowl and set it in front of her, only to get a reproachful glance when he sat down again.

She was the scraping poor combined with the resigned.  She knew she wasn't going to get a better life, she was just saving for the worst days.

"Thank you," she said quietly, and they ate in silence, Ollie and Parson feeling the strain in the air said little to nothing. 

When they were done, Kathy washed the dishes and the boys went to watch some TV.

Watching her shift from foot to foot, gently swaying to the music, Jay told her that she was too nice.  "Impossible," she returned, setting a bowl in the rack. "You can never be too nice."

"You're not my maid," he said, trying to move her away from the sink, but she didn't budge.

"I've already started, and there's not much to do," she told him dismissively.  "Everybody needs help sometimes, so that's all I'm doing."

Leaning against the counter, he looked at her and crossed his arms.  "You're like a housewife from the fifties," he teased, and she made a face.

"Thank you for that sentiment," she muttered.

"You are."

"I'm just trying to be nice," she looked at him and leaned forward a little.  'Let me be nice."

Jay nodded.  "I think I'll start calling you June," he said, pushing away from the counter.  He walked a few steps and peered at the boys, before circling back to her. "When do you think I should tell them?"  He asked, and she turned to him, frowning. He had never thought he'd have to have any hard conversations with his boys, least of all explaining that their mother was selfish and had abandoned them without even saying goodbye, either in person or on paper.  In fact, they weren't even mentioned in her letter at all.

He had never thought he'd have to say something like this, and he was being a coward and deferring to Kathy, like she was their mother.  He was about to tell her to forget it when she came to her decision. "Tell them in the morning," she declared, looking displeased at the situation.  "You can let the school know they're not coming in, say there's a family emergency, then they have the day to process and you're not going to disrupt their sleep by telling them tonight."

He hesitated.  "Wouldn't it be better for them to know now?"  He said, and she blew air out between her teeth.

"They won't sleep," she told him, turning back to the sink and draining it.  "If I was my mother, I'd say tell them as soon as possible, because they're going to worry, but they will be up most of the night having fits.  Ten hours isn't going to make that much of a difference, Jay; if she's gone, she's gone." She looked at her feet, probably feeling guilty for being so harsh.

Jay came closer and put an arm around her shoulders.  "What the hell am I going to do?" He asked, leaning his head on her shoulder.

"Well, I could move in temporarily with you guys," Kathy offered again with a sigh.  "Until you figure things out. I don't make as much as Hannah, but it's more than nothing and there's always the tips.  They're not much, but it's something, right?"

Readjusting his head so his ear was on her shoulder, Jay wondered how it would work.  But it was nice being like this for a moment. Kathy was great that way. She was physical with her friends, she liked human contact.  At least he knew she wasn't going to slap him for this.

"What about Sid?"  He asked. "If he's up for review soon . . ."

Kathy shrugged, unintentionally dislodging him, and Jay moved to the side.  "I'll have to get the precise details about his release, I mean, he might have to stay in public housing, or with a reliable person, like his mother," she said, and Jay thought it was funny she didn't think of herself as reliable.

"I wouldn't say his mother's reliable," he countered, and she held up a hand.

"I still need to get the details, then I'll find out," she told him.  "But in the meantime—"

"I'm not taking your money," he told her again.

She pointed at him.  "Do you know where this comes from?"  She asked. "It comes from you being from money."  It seemed laughable, but Kathy considered anyone who had once lived above the poverty line to be 'from money'.  He had been a kid when he crossed that line, but she subtly accused him of carrying that pride with him. "You're too proud to accept help.  You think it's charity and that somehow it's a bad thing."

"No, I just think you’re—" Jay cut himself off, but she just looked at him expectantly.  He supposed that it had come from a life of dealing with Hannah, who like to add suspense to even the most mundane conversations.  If you were talking to Hannah, you had to be ready to wait or drag it out of her. "You're worse off than me," he said, deciding to be firm.

"I don't have two extra mouths to feed," she countered, before changing the subject.  "Do you go to church?"

Jay was a little taken aback.  "Sometimes," he said slowly, unsure.  He knew that Hannah alternated between throwing herself into religion and being practically atheist, while her mother was firmly Baptist.  He wasn’t sure where Kathy stood in all that.

"They usually have lunch afterwards, so that's one more meal you don't have to worry about," she said, getting down to business.  After her family being poor for generations, they had become professionals at it. "You should see what programs they have for kids, whether it's day-camp or free lunches, they could benefit from it."

"The school doesn't give free lunches," Jay said.  "And the day-camp doesn't start until the second week of summer."

She gave him a rueful smile.  "I'll go home and come back in the morning," she said.  "I'm going to write up a new budget, and what I can, I'm going to give to you, stop fighting me on this!  If it makes you feel any better, I'm thinking it's more for them than you."

"Thank you," he said reluctantly.

She gave his upper arms a squeeze.  "At least if it gets any worse, you know you won't end up homeless," she told him, trying to be reassuring.  "You can live with me or I'm sure your folks will take you guys in." It wasn't a great thing. Kathy lived in a one room apartment over the laundry mat, where only the bathroom was separated.  And he couldn't think of any pluses of moving back in with his parents. His father firmly believed in pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, which seemed strange since he had never found another job after being laid off from the factory, and his mother seemed to still believe that Jay was about seven years old, sometimes even trying to spoon-feed him when he came by.  Hannah would make fun of him about that, but Kathy said her mother did the same thing. She said it was a thing connected to empty-nest syndrome.

Jay said goodbye to her, and she waved bye to the boys before taking her leave.  Sinking into a chair, Jay was left with a circling question: what was he going to do?


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