by Ryan Dempsey
I have my younger cousin Ronny in the grass, his shirt clenched in my fist, my arm cocked for a second blow. Hey! Uncle Ron yells from Grandma’s porch. He doesn’t have his license and he’s missing a lot of teeth. He’s the last of my uncles. My other uncles died from alcohol. He was guilty too, but he got out. Kept a belly though, a belly my Grandma’s told me makes it hard for him to meet a nice girl.
Ronny’s still down when Uncle Ron starts asking me to listen. He’s the daytime dairy guy at Shop-n-Save. After his shift, he walks home, sleeps a minute, scavenges for dinner and then heads back to clean and buff the floors until morning. He makes $8.75 an hour, Mom said, and works holidays and weekends, but gets double time. Mom said he could get me in; “You could work your way up like him.”
I let Ronny up. Clean yourself off, Uncle Ron yells, disappointed. My other uncles, Rich and Bob, died a few years apart, found by their lovers when they woke up beside them. Uncle Bob had music blaring, coke on the nightstand, an empty bottle of SoCo. And Uncle Rich—his floor was littered with used rubbers, bottles of champagne and pills. I never knew them like that. Uncle Ron talks about it. “That won’t be me,” he’s said. “I count my blessings every day that I got out. I’ll live a long, happy life.”
Ronny’s dusting himself off. He’s never met his mom. I’m not sure Uncle Ron remembers her either. He’s still on the porch, waiting for my compliance, just waiting while his gut hangs heavy over the railing. I wonder if she’s the only one he’s ever fucked. I’d rather have a mom than a dad anyway. I look back at Ronny; he’s smiling. I push him over. Hey! Uncle Ron yells. I beat him up good.