I sit halfway up the attic stairs waiting to hear my name.
It’s late. Long ago, my brothers got to go to bed.
Dad’s in the living room listening to the radio.
Each night’s just like every other. Supper heats
and reheats on the stove while all six of us wait
for the glossy black door handle to turn,
for him to come in all full of expectation.
Some nights he stops by the tavern first. Mom straightens
the kitchen, stays put by the radiator
until he calls out. I come down the stairs
in one leap, take the 15 cents mom pats into one hand
and grab the blue enamel pail in the other. She pushes
me out the door, urges Hurry, Kenny. Always the same.
We know what can happen to me. The paddle. The belt.
What he does to make the bruises purple on her arms.
I run down the block and turn the corner at Kissel Drugs.
Two doors down at the Top Hat, I give the man the coins
and he scoots the pail of beer back across the counter. I hustle,
not worried if some sloshes out. Cold. Down the street, up
the brick walk, onto the stoop. He snarls, What took you so long?
Five thirty a.m. I head out on my bike. First stop,
19th Street, to pick up and put together the papers.
The St. Louis Post Dispatch is what most people read.
Deliveries every morning. Collections every Saturday.
If they pay, I get paid. Doesn’t really matter.
I have to turn the money over to my father every week.
My brother does too. We never see a dime.
Sometimes when I ring the bell to collect, Mr. Roediger
who lives across from Fisher’s Tavern, remains
on the steps to talk. Once he asked me if I knew
what I was going to do after high school.
I told him my parents didn’t have money
for college. He asked if I had ever thought
about going to pharmacy school. If he paid,
would I be interested in becoming a druggist.
I never thought about it, I said. I asked mom.
She couldn’t say. I had to ask dad. He didn’t
have to think twice. We don’t accept charity.
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