A dollar flew towards my car and stuck to the windshield. It was only there for a second or two before the wind carried it off on another course, but for a moment it flattened itself against the glass and the face of George Washington stared at me with that serene and secretive expression of his. I felt my grip on the steering wheel slacken and my jaw loosen from the constant clench of driving. I wondered what George had seen on his travels, what those olive eyes had witnessed, but by the slight smirk edging up the sides of his lips, I knew he wasn't one to tell.
I was ten at the time, still securely under the thumb of my parents, yet old enough to understand how things worked. We were late to pick up my father from the airport. Mom had called the airline and was told the flight would be in at 8pm. It was 8:20pm. It was the damn takeout. Sugi's Drive-In offered a special from 6-8pm; it was five dollars off if you spent twenty. Mom always ordered two regular barbeque chickens and two mini chicken katsus, which totaled exactly twenty dollars. She had insisted on picking it up first to make it in time for the special, but the line had been long, parking had been hard to find, and all the million reasonable excuses in the world did not alter the fact that we were late.
He was waiting. The suitcase was on his right and his duffel bag was slung over his left shoulder. Standing at the curb, his posture so straight that it looked as if a wall were behind him, he was squeezing his hand into a tight fist, opening, then repeating. I didn't look up; I didn't want to see his face. I already knew what I would see. Angry lines carving down the sides of his mouth, eyes steaming with anger. That slick, black hair that looks oiled down, but which is actually product free. My father is 5'7, but he towered over the car and Mom and I cowered in our seats.
Some men use the tone of their voice, their cold words dripping with hate though they come out steady and soft. Some men use silence to let their displeasure be known. My father yelled. My father yelled, as the spit flew onto my mother's face, and his right hand pounded the window for emphasis with such force that I waited for it to shatter.
"I work for this family—I do everything for this family—and you find it so fucking difficult to come get me on time!" His face, it was so close to hers. She could barely drive with that face screaming the words right into her flesh. He hit the glass again. "All I ask is that you come get me on time so that I don't have to wait like an orphan on the side of the road. All I ask is that you drive this fucking car and be there waiting for me when I come home from working so fucking hard."
"I…I…I'm sorry—the dinner…" My mom was choking her words out. The eyes, ears, nose, mouth—they're all connected and it's hard to talk when there's a river flowing through those tunnels. "The special, you know, the special—save five dollars. I needed, to get there, before…" She couldn't speak. I could see her in the rear view mirror. It was pathetic. There was snot dripping down her nose, her eyes were so small as they tried to hold the tears in while still leaving enough room to drive. "I-needed-to-get-there-before-eight." The last words flew out as if someone had just performed the Heimlich on her.
"This is about five fucking dollars?" The air conditioner was on, but the car windows were fogging over. "You make me wait, you humiliate me for five fucking dollars!" He grabs her purse from the floor and viciously rummages through it. He opens her wallet and grabs all the cash inside. His face is so red and wrinkled that it is the ultimate irony that innocent newborns come out looking the same way. He rolls down the window.
"You know what I think about that?" He's pressing his nose into her temples; his mouth is covering her ear. "You know what I fucking think about that?" He leans towards the window and throws out all the cash. The money immediately gets caught in the wind tunnel by the side of the car and is ejected backwards.
For a second, before it joins the rest of the money, a one dollar bill slides against my backseat window. The face of George Washington stares me in the eye. He's my only witness and he is floating away.
|© Copyright 2010 Michelle Shin & Trout.