Saturday Morning Quarters – Katrin Gibb
It was when Dad parked the car in front of Food & More that we started paying attention.
“I know about her, Richard. I’ve seen the photos,” Mom said it loudly and threw her seat belt off. Once she was out of the car, she slammed the door.
Patty, James, and I looked at each other. Until then, we hadn’t really been listening. We’d been arguing amongst ourselves. Over several months, we’d established elaborate trades if various toys fell from the machines at the front of the store. If James got a unicorn tattoo, he had to give it to Patty, but he’d get Patty’s quarters the next week. I had to give James dinosaur toys, but I’d get any candy that came to him. And that was just the beginning. The trades had become so complex it was rare that any of us kept what came down that long, winding, metallic shoot into our hands. We’d crank the knob on our turn, hoping for our hearts’ desires, and even when we saw that hazy orb waiting for us, we still didn’t know if it was what we wanted or what someone else had lucked into by a trade we’d made without thinking it through. This had led to a high level of anxiety and frequent arguments often before we’d get to the store. More than once Mom refused to give us quarters at checkout because of the yelling and pulling of hair.
Mom faced the street, her back to us, but we could see her arms were folded.
“Stay here, kids,” Dad said, getting out. We watched as he walked around and stood next to her.
“What photos?” I whispered, looking at James. James was the oldest and I figured he already knew the whole story.
“Probably the photos in that magazine that Dad keeps in his sock drawer,” Patty said.
James scoffed. “Dad’s not having an affair with one of those magazine ladies.”
James was right. There was no way Dad would know a woman in a magazine. We lived in Sacramento and those ladies had to be from L.A. or New York.
“If they get divorced, I’m living with Dad,” I said, watching mom’s familiar angry posture. I had to admit I felt a sense of relief that it wasn’t directed at me.
“They’re not getting divorced,” James said matter-a-factly.
“I’m living with Mom,” Patty said. “That way I’ll get all the quarters on shopping day.”
“We’d all live with Mom,” James said, yanking Patty’s hair. “That’s just the way it is. But they’re not getting divorced. See.”
Patty and I looked out the window and saw Dad’s arm wrapped around Mom’s shoulder. Her arms were still crossed though. I knew that you weren’t really out of trouble if her arms were still crossed.
Dad turned and opened the door for us. “Ok. Time to shop!” He unlatched Patty and lifted her out of the car and then James and I stumbled out.
I looked at Mom, who was still staring at the street. Her forehead was creased and her mouth was pinched tight.
“Come on, guys,” Dad said, clapping his hands together and corralling us up onto the sidewalk. We turned and watched as he put his arm around Mom and guided her to the sidewalk too.
When we got to the front of the store, Mom stopped. She held out her hand. “Richard,” she said. “The coupons are in the car.”
Dad smiled at her and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Mom’s hand was still out, her lips pinched tight. He reached into his pocket and gave her the keys.
Mom headed back to the car as Dad shook a shopping cart loose and put Patty in the seat. Then, we all turned back to our car and watched it as it pulled out from its spot and drove away.
“Dad?” James said, slowly.
Dad squeezed James’s shoulder. “She left the coupons at home. She’ll be back soon.”
But she wasn’t and we didn’t have the shopping list so we watched as Dad filled the basket with more red meat than we’d ever seen. He bought two bags of potatoes when Mom always picked them out one by one.
“Do you guys know if we’re out of anything,” he asked, as we walked up and down the laundry soap aisle. Patty shrugged and James and I looked at each other worried. Dad put two bottles of fabric softener in the cart.
“I’m allergic to fabric softener,” I said.
“No you’re not,” Dad said and kept walking.
“Yes. I am.”
“Now is not the time, Peter,” Dad snapped.
When Mom yelled at me, James would normally stick out his tongue or feign laughing, but this time he just looked at me with no expression at all.
Mom still wasn’t back by the time we were checking out.
“What about the coupons?” Patty asked.
“We’ll use them next time,” Dad said, as he put the fabric softener on the conveyor belt.
When the cashier asked for Dad’s Food & More card, he looked through his wallet but couldn’t find one.
“Can we have our quarters now,” Patty asked as our groceries were being bagged.
“The quarters we get for toys,” Patty said, pointing to the machines against the wall.
Dad reached in his pockets. “Sorry. No quarters.”
We all looked at each other. There’d never not been quarters. Even when we were bad and didn’t get them, Mom still had quarters in her purse.
Dad pushed the grocery cart outside and stood on the sidewalk, looking up and down the rows, trying to find the car, trying to find mom. “Now where is she?” he said quietly, almost in a whisper.
I looked at James, hoping for an answer, but even if he had one, he couldn’t say. His mouth was pinched closed, his eyes watering.
Katrin Gibb received an MFA in creative writing from San Francisco State University. She has work published in Glimmer Train, The Jellyfish Review, Confrontation, Fourteen Hills, Hobart, Water~Stone Review, Matchbook, The Bookends Review, and other places. She has a novella forthcoming in the Running Wild Press novella anthology.