by Barry Basden

It’s August, the summer after high school. LA was a bust, and I’m back at my parents’ little rent house. Mother’s pregnant and weepy and, though I try to stay out of his way, my father says, Get a job or get out. I’m trying to do both and end up sacking and carrying out groceries for a pittance plus tips at a tired old supermarket I can walk to.

The city is steamy and my legs are filled with lead by the time I flop onto my twin bed and tune the radio to “King Bee on K-CEEEE-O-H in heavenly Houston” for some blues, which I got plenty of. Bobby Blue Bland don’t even know.

Soon I’m wearing crepe-soled shoes and figuring out who the good tippers are and saving change in a jar for my escape, even though I’m working only three days and the old man is taking $15 a week for room and board. I’d like to take a clawhammer to him, put us all out of his misery, but I keep clear of him for my poor mother’s sake. She hates being knocked up, thought she was safe, now look at her. Won’t let anyone snap a picture of her in maternity clothes.

One afternoon I’m at the end of the checkout counter to help a lady who tips good, and a co-worker–black guy, close to forty–pushes his cart up. I’ll take this one, he says, surprising me. And I let him, then do a slow burn watching him push her load out the automatic door. I don’t even think about maybe he’s got a family. Just that he took my money and that keeps me here longer. He comes back inside and the door swooshes closed behind him. I walk up and stop him by the gumball machine in the shabby entranceway. I look straight at him. Don’t ever do that again, I say. He never does.


On a cold, rainy day in November, I’m sitting in the Chevy’s passenger seat beside my mother, who’s bigger than a house and crying as she drives me through a dingy part of the city to the Greyhound station downtown. We talk about everything but what’s happening. I’m wearing jeans and a Navy surplus peacoat. My canvas bag is on the back seat. Everything I want from here is in it. Mother stops the car at the end of the greasy bus drive-thru and I get out. I go around and lean in her window. I kiss her goodbye again and wipe my thumb across her wet cheek. Your father does love you, she says. I know, I say. I have to say something. This is a bad neighborhood and I need for her to leave. I watch until she turns the corner, then go in and buy a one-way ticket to New York City. I have $126 left. I sit down to wait and pull Kerouac’s paperback out of my bag. It passes the time.


Barry Basden lives with his wife and two yellow Labs in the Texas hill country, out where no buses run. His writing has appeared in many fine places. He especially enjoys a good breakfast and editing Camroc Press Review.