Cheap-Ass Yellow

6 minutes, 19 seconds

There is a house out in the country where cable TV still won’t go that is the most hideous shade of yellow. It’s faded now but in your memory, it will always be school bus yellow. He got it on sale and, according to Dad; it was worth it because he saved a few bucks just by buying a color that someone had mixed incorrectly. You’re pretty sure that whoever mixed it wanted to bury it deep to keep the evil from leaking out but instead found someone too stupid to be embarrassed. It’s a fairly clever idea to pawn it off and recoup some money lost by letting a not-so-well-trained monkey mix chemicals. 

He probably gave you the three bucks he saved as gas money at some point, but only after making you beg for it. He always offered it first but he never expected you to take him up on it. You should have told that cheap ass that three bucks would barely get you home after driving to see him and your time spent listening to his damned women jokes and watching James Bond subjugate women was worth more than that. 

You always thought Sean Connery was the best James Bond even though his favorite was Roger Moore. As an eight-year-old girl, you had already watched Connery’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Highlander, in both of which Connery was clever and an almost god-like figure but soft on the inside and self-sacrificing. You tried to tell him your preference once when he was conversing with you, but his response was, “Does your mom still use your child support to buy groceries? She should be spending that money on you.” It was a strange change of subject, but you were used to it. 

One time you were in the passenger seat of his little blue Nissan Sentra with the wind blowing your long blonde hair and Help Me, Rhonda playing on the stereo. Every once in a while you had to grab your white star-shaped sunglasses from flying out the window, but you couldn’t afford to roll the window up. You got really sick if it was too hot but having the wind in your face helped. The car was new, your dad had paid cash, so you knew the air conditioner worked but he preferred not to use it because he said he got better gas mileage with it off.  Your dad had been talking for a while, but you only started to pay attention when he turned the radio down and said, “You know, I’ve been thinking of finding a little ‘ol gal to come clean the house sometimes. Maybe offer her a place to stay if she can pick the house up once or twice a week.”

You were quiet for a while before responding. “That would be nice.”

“I’d like to find someone to eventually marry but women are crazy. Every time I think I’ve found one that I can get along with, they nag nag nag, and then I have to teach them how to cook. I even had to teach your mom how to make biscuits. She always wanted to use those ones out of a can. I told her, you just need flour and water. That’s it.” 

“I dunno, Dad. I like the Pillsbury Grands. They already have butter inside when they cook.”

“And they talk so much. When your mom would yack on and on, I’d just turn the radio up. I always feel bad but damn she never stopped. That’s why I’d rather just hire someone to live at the house. Do you know what I mean? I have a lot of love to give but I just haven’t met anyone I like better than myself.”

“Not all women are crazy. You just have to find the right one.” It seemed like an appropriate thing to say at the time.

“How’s school going? Are you making good grades?” As he asks, you see the Admiral Exit sign ahead.

This was your chance to share what you’d been waiting to share since he picked you up Friday, “Catherine stole my—“ Neil Diamond’s Crackling Rose rose above your voice and one quick look his way reminded you that he always asked to ask, not because he really wanted to know. 

As a young girl, you spent every weekend with him. Less because he wanted you there and more because he paid $100 a month to see you so he didn’t want to waste it. Any time you were sick and didn’t want to travel, he’d make a comment about getting a refund for the extra time spent with your mom. So you never missed a day even when during the summer you were locked out of the house because he didn’t trust his own children with his 8-Track player, pre-1980s television, and James Bond VHS tapes. They weren’t even the real deal; they were copies that he bought from the Flea Market. 

The house was always a lesson in what you could not touch. Don’t go into rooms that aren’t yours, don’t use the stove, don’t leave anything plugged in- even the hot water tank, it wastes electricity. You knew at eight years old how to start a fire because the house was warmed with a wood stove that he made himself. Sometimes you’d sleep on the living room floor because the heat never reached the back rooms. During the summer you would sleep on his floor because his bedroom had the only window unit that he wouldn’t run until the sun went down so he could sleep. There were so many reasons to be angry.

Now, if he remembers you meet him once a week at Golden Corral where he tells the same stories from last week and the week before. Sometimes there is something new, but you never know if it is real news or something he made up to fill his time. You try to ask him questions to find out if it’s real, but he’ll evade and repeat. You see him now because the distance between you grows bigger every year. It’s too easy to step back and let ambivalence claim what is left of your youth and the tenuous bond between you both. You fear one day he’ll be gone and your anger will be forgotten. The only memories left will be of the precious times when you were young and you sat on his lap; when time hadn’t closed in and left him behind and you were the most precious thing in his life. With only those memories, you’d wonder why you hated him so much and why you left that old man alone. 

So you go and listen. If he asks about your week, you’re prepared for him to interrupt you with the same story from last week. He’s lonely and no one else cares about his day but you, even if it’s all just a story.  You understand your own limits and know that you can’t and won’t spend as many hours with him as it would take to bring him from 1987 into now. You try not to feel like a coward for never telling him how you feel when you visit, even if the yellow reminds you.