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Hunger Season

From: Tampa Review
47/48, 2014
pp. 18-23

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Santiago Echeverry. Flex. 2012. Digital photo.

Archival ink on photographic paper. 30 × 24 inches.

I borrowed three hundred dollars from my father to buy my mother’s Honda Civic out of the Minneapolis impound lot, and I’ll be damned if I ever pay him back. Just before the money changed hands, on the drive from the Hennepin County Jail to his house in White Bear Lake, he informed me that because of the DUI, I couldn’t get into Canada, where he’d told me on a fishing trip years before that he was divorcing my mother. I told him Canada meant more to him than to me, at least in the way he was talking about it. I felt cheated like a goldfish falling into a toilet bowl feels cheated. My stomach was a cauldron and acid gnawed at its lining. Despite my numbing hangover, I felt the anger of a jilted son. I was twenty-three and living in my mother’s townhome in Minnetonka. I was ashamed to call her because she needed the car for a date that night. She always drove, to show she didn’t need anything.

My father—this was in his living room—wouldn’t even hand me the money. “I’ve done enough for you, haven’t I?” he said when I asked him to drive me to the impound lot. “Do you think I don’t have anything to do today?” He set the money on the glass-topped coffee table while I called for a cab, and then we waited, alone in his house. He wouldn’t let me out of his sight. A framed photograph of his son from his second wife hung next to the clock. Kyle, a teenager, who my father hid from me like a secret. “I should have never answered,” he said about my early morning call. “I should have let that damn phone ring.” He was like a relapsing addict paying to forget his shame. I wanted to scream at him, “It’s the addiction!” But I didn’t. He’d seen enough of Kyle to feel safe writing me off. He’d take his name back if he could.

All I did was watch that stack of twenties on the table. I swear those twenties seemed alive. They seemed like a dying gasp. Like they’d been crawling toward me for hours.

Outside, the gray morning sky spit dry flakes of snow. “Where to?” the driver said when I slid into the backseat of the cab. Red blood vessels webbed his eyes like directionless rivers. I was good with accents and could tell he came from Africa. East Africa, probably.

“Impound lot,” I said. “Minneapolis.”

What can be said about those barstool nights? Some take from those nights what they offer, and some give up everything they have, without ever being asked. I just wished I knew which one I was. I thought about Wyatt volunteering his couch while we drank in Uptown the night before. His apartment building stood just around the corner from the bar. But I’d nodded at the girl on the other side of him, and after another beer he left because he worked the morning shift at the Perkins diner, and I stayed late buying vodka tonics for the girl, who disappeared as soon as I stepped into the bathroom.

From the cab, White Bear Lake seemed to have a flatness that extended beyond its terrain. And I longed for variation in my hapless life. Everything I’d seen of the world until then was a failure of the imagination. Everyplace I went was everyplace I’d been. But I’d never been anywhere. I leaned forward and rested my elbows on the back of the front seat. “Where from?” I said to the driver.

“Eritrea,” he said, checking me in the rearview mirror. “You know?”

I knew enough. I followed world events like a hawk. I scoured all kinds of newspapers, hunting for ideas. I knew the time when the food ran out, before the next harvest came in, and that where he came from they called it hunger season...

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