“You can’t leave me, Lionel,” she said sobbingly. “Not after all we’ve been through.”
“Don’t start in on me, Gwendolyn,” he said peevishly. “You know I can’t take it anymore.” He put his cigarette out in his mashed potatoes.
She looked down at the tin tray, at the Thanksgiving TV dinner she’d heated up for him special. Guess he’s not a Hungry Man tonight, she thought to herself.
‘But what about the kids?” She began to cry broken-heartedly, wiping her eyes with locks of her long red hair. “Little Lionel and Gwennie? You know how much we need you.”
“Need my dough, that’s all.” He grunted bitterly. “All I am to you is a paycheck.”
That stopped her in her tracks. He was right. She did need that paycheck. His hundred bucks every week kept the kids in Twinkies and Ho-Hos and fed her Cheetos and cola habit. Oh, she knew she needed to stop. They all needed to stop. Gwennie had tipped the scale at 300 pounds last week, way too heavy for a 4-year-old. And just last month Gwendolyn herself had spent a week at Nutrition Oaks, the junk food rehab, but it had been a waste of food stamps. She just couldn’t eat straight. She just couldn’t!
“You know that’s not all,” she said coaxingly. She unbuttoned another button on her lime green plaid cardigan and crossed her arms under her breasts, pushing them in his direction. “I need your manliness, you know that.”
He grunted begrudgingly, casting a leer at her chest. Then he pushed off the table with his palms and heaved himself up out of the chair. “Got to go,” he said unconvincingly. “Got to gas up the rig. Got a load of pig’s feet to haul to Harlem before Saturday.”
She held her breath awkwardly, then made a small mewing sound. “Can’t I go this time?” she said pleadingly.
“Criminy sakes, woman,” he said argumentatively. “Who would take care of the kids? You can’t possibly expect Ma to watch ‘em for all those days. You know how bad her arthritis gets when the kids are around.”
“I just worry about you so on the road. I know there are whores at the truck stops waiting to pluck my man,” she said tearily, “right out of his happy home.”
Not much of a home, thought Lionel as he looked examiningly around at the grocery bags of candy wrappers that spilled over onto the kitchen floor and the sink that overflowed with greasy paper plates and lipsticked styrofoam coffee cups. “Bob ‘n me, we don’t pay them no never mind,” he said at last, with a sly grin. “’Sides, what would I pay them with, with you taking every red cent for your filthy habit.”
Gwendolyn felt cowed. Every time he brought up her addiction to trans fats, she felt a deep wave of shame engulf her. And then there was Bob to worry about too.
Bob was Lionel’s driving buddy, a tiny man barely five feet tall but the sway he had over Lionel was gigantic. Bob was a bad influence, plain and simple. When Lionel had been on the road a while with Bob, he refused to put the toilet seat down after he used it. He dropped his towel in the middle of the bathroom, left his underwear in a heap on the bedroom floor.
The latest had been the worst. Bob had begun to comb his few remaining hairs over from one ear to the next, and wouldn’t you know it? Lionel had to shave his head and get a comb over too. Now little Lionel Jr. was begging for one!
Lionel strode over to the refrigerator and pulled out the last 6-pack of beer and stowed it under his arm. “Be seein’ ya, gal!” he said departingly.
Suddenly, there was a knock at the back door.