By the River

by Glenn A. Bruce

It came in the mail, Monday, that damn thing. “Mr. Roy Altoona, you’ve won ONE MILLION DOLLARS! Congratulations!”

Those fuckers—ruined everything.

Jenny and I had just moved into our single wide by the river. Everything was so good. We couldn’t actually see the river; but when the wind was right—which is most of the time—we could hear it. It sounded beautiful.

Like when Jenny told me she was pregnant.

I make sixteen dollars and thirty-eight cents an hour. Not bad. Jenny makes half that, but she works more hours. I only get twenty-nine a week. That’s because I’m on “probation,” and we all know what that means. Soon as my six months are up—one day before—they’ll let me go.

Only: Tom Fisher, my manager, said he won’t. They won’t—Sysmeck Industries. (They’re the largest employer in the Valley.) Tom said I was “too valuable to lay off.”

Then I got this damn letter.

Do you think for one second a guy like Hisham Sysmeck is going to keep me on as a fitter if he knows I won a fucking million dollars?

Shit.

He’ll fire my ass on the spot. And you know why? Because he knows how much he is hated around here. He can’t take a chance on someone with a big mouth like me having a million fucking dollars and being so goddam independent.

I have a history.

But the second I heard, “TJ, I’m pregnant,” everything changed. My mouth got zipped like hog going to slaughter—that moment when they know there’s nothing they can do.

It’s over.

My life was over—my old life, that is.

My momma told me, “Tommy, you live it up. You have a grand time. Enjoy your youth. It’s gone too fast. I can tell you that. But it’s okay. It’ll be okay.”

This was a few months before she died of the cancer.

Mama said: “There will come a time, a certain moment, when it happens. When it’s all over.”

I asked her how I’d know.

She said: “You’ll know.”

And when Jenny told me about little Erica, I knew. Right then. I didn’t know it was gonna be a girl, of course. I just knew:

It’s over.

I went out the next day, found us this nice trailer—until we could find something nicer, in five or ten years. I got a good price on the rent, utilities included, and we moved in on the first of month.

Four months later, I get this fucking letter. “You’ve won a MILLION DOLLARS!”

“Congratulations!” my ass. My whole life’s over; my whole life as I ever knew it.

I got no job, I got no future. I got a baby and a happy wife. All of that ends the second Sysmeck finds out. I’m done for. Jenny, too. She works at Git-n-Go #4, which is owned by Sysmeck’s brother-in-law, George. So, she’s done for, too.

This Valley is like that. One person gets ahead—even a little—and no one wants it. We’re all in this shit-mess together, is how we see it. And the ones who have got it, already, whether they earned it or not, inherited it, or just bought it up (Sysmeck that bastard, came here with money to burn from some goddamn place over there in some godforsaken desert place, got a tax break, put in a factory, and treats us all like goddam low-rent slaves) they don’t want us to get ahead, because then we might get cocky and mouth off.

Like I said, I used to have a problem speaking my mind. Now, not so much. I tucked my tail under and my chin down and chewed on my harsh words until they tasted sour and as bitter as they were and decided it was better to swallow that pill than spit it out on someone who might take exception and pound my lights out by revoking my lifestyle.

Tommy, my manager, saw that and appreciated my hard work towards fallin’ in line. (It was hard work for him, too!) He was ready to reward me for it—to keep me on. Especially when he heard about the baby and saw how I stopped drinkin’ and carryin’ on with my buddies. They already won’t talk to me just because I won’t get shit-faced and act stupid with them. When they hear I got a million fuckin’ dollars and they want some and I tell ‘em no, hell, they’ll probably all come over and tip this damn trailer over, just out of spite.

But the thing is: Jenny and me, we got no sense. Not really. She’s got the kindest heart of any one person I’ve ever seen. And she worked on me, too. We’ll spend every dime of this windfall bullshit on her family and mine, our cousins and nieces. Everybody needs something. Nobody’s got nothin’. My friends, too. I’ll try to buy them all off—just keep ‘em from flipping over the single-wide!

LOL.

And there we’ll be—Jenny, me, and the baby—out on the street again, nowhere to live, no rent money, no jobs, no prospects.

Not here, not in this valley.

Million dollars. Shit.

You know how much that is? Nothin’.

#

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