The Tortoise slept in her car seat, waiting for me to get out the door. Days dragged, hot and muggy. The cicada sang, reminding me my garden efforts were futile. Musty carpets, cracked tile and a hint of urine lingering beneath the wallpaper in the downstairs bathroom crowded my thoughts. At least the kitchen looked better. My landlord jumped for joy when I sanded and painted the entire kitchen. It was a sanity situation. I just couldn’t live with bright orange drawers and doors. I stayed up several nights changing everything to a creamy taupe. New brushed nickel knobs and handles completed the transformation.
“Just grab me a diet coke from Wendy’s on your way over, ” asked my girlfriend before I hung up the phone, “Oh, and a biggie fry too, I’ll pay you back when you get here.”
“Uh, sure, ” I responded.
The click of the phone hung in the air, echoing in the empty duplex.
I emptied my purse and wallet, but no money. Our bank account was probably in the negative as usual. The only money was tucked away in a letter sized envelope marked “groceries”. Buying fast food was really not an option.
She was more of an acquaintance, a working relationship, not close enough for me to be honest. A closer friend wouldn’t have asked me this favor in the first place.
I scavenged every drawer, pillow cushion, counter and closet crevice trying to scrape together enough money. Only a few pennies surfaced. My eyes rested on a stack of CD’s. Lately music was the only thing keeping me from falling too deep into the abyss, especially at 2am when my colicky baby was inconsolable. We listened to The Indigo Girls in the dark. Swiftly I sifted through a few albums, grasping a handful of less listened to titles, and slipped them into my diaper bag.
My stack of CD’s rested on the glass counter. The Tortoise’s car seat dangled from my arm, heavily resting against my hip, my bicep bulging from the weight.
“Back again?” smiled a young college student behind the counter, “What bill ya’ got to pay this week?”
My cheeks burned from the inside out.
“Just wanted to get rid of some I don’t listen to as much.”
He studied the titles, shuffled them like playing cards.
“We have a few of these already, ” he said, “but you are one of our best customers. How about $15 for all of them?”
$15 for five CD’s. I guess that would have to do or else pretend I forgot to stop at Wendy’s on the way.
“Yeah, sure, whatever works for you, ” I sighed taking the cash.
The line at Wendy’s was only a few cars deep. The smell of burgers and fries drifting into my little car made my stomach jump. Grilled cheese sandwiches and Ramen noodles gets old after a while. I gingerly fingered the worn currency, remembering which CD’s I sold, not just that day but every day I needed a few dollars. Some people sell plasma. I sold music. I sold the one thing that helped me forget about the sweltering rental I couldn’t afford to cool, and the phone that constantly got turned off.
“Can I take your order?”
“Um, yes, ” I said, “a biggie Coke and a biggie fry.”
The smell of chicken filled my lungs.
I was tired.
My eyes scanned the menu. What were my choices again?
It was time to make different choices.
“Um, yeah, I’ll have a chicken sandwich and a water.”
But first, I ate.