Explaining Things to Kids

-dad what’s a receipt?
-it’s a piece of paper that tells you what you bought.
-why do you need it?
-so you know what you bought. and you can prove it.
-in case people want to ask you about it. i don’t know.
-can i see?
-sure. here.
and i hand back the receipt. from his seat, he looks at it. i turn out of the parking lot and make sure none of the drinks tip or spill onto the leather.
-what’d we get?
-what does the receipt say?
-i don’t know.
-well what’d you ask for?
-a happy meal.
-that’s what you got.
-can i see my toy?
i creep in behind an explorer stopped at the light. i hadn’t waited for the geo to wave me in, i just did it.
-not yet.
-why not?
-you have to wait until we get home.
-because i said so.
i peer at him in the review mirror. he lets his head fall back to the seat, turns it, and begins staring out the window.
the light turns green. i go. a block later i hit a red.
under my breath, i say
-son of a bitch.
i peek again in the mirror to see if he heard.
-hey dad.
-what’s that man doing?
-what man?
he points.
-he’s standing on the corner. he’s waving at us.
the man props himself up with a crutch under his right arm. the corresponding leg is wrapped tight with bandages around grimy pajama pants. his face is leathery and weathered, though his eyes are like bright frost. he is waving at us. he smiles too. i turn my head to check if the light is changing. it isn’t, but i don’t look back.
-oh. he’s asking people for money.
-because he doesn’t have any.
-i don’t know. he doesn’t have a job.
-why doesn’t he have a job?
-because he didn’t go to school.
i look back at my son and see him staring at the man.
-don’t stare. it’s not polite.
-are you going to give him some money?
-i don’t think so.
the light turns green. i put my foot on the gas. we move past the man. from the corner of my eye i see him waving still. my son gives a little half wave.
-why didn’t we give him anything?
-i don’t have anything to give him.
-not even a penny?
-he wouldn’t want a penny.
-why not?
-because he wants real money.
-but a penny saved is…
-it’s not the same thing.
-what about a nickel?
-i doubt it.
-because nickels are like pennies.
i make the turn and stop at the gate.
-but nickels are worth more.
i enter the code.
-not much more.
-what about a dime? or a quarter? or a dollar?
-i don’t have any cash on me.
-well do you think he’d want my toy?
-what toy?
-from the happy meal.
i pull up next to the boat sitting quiet under covers in the driveway. i put the car in park and start to get out. i get my feet out the door, but my son doesn’t move.
-look. he wouldn’t want a toy.
-but he could sell it.
-the happy meal toy?
-maybe he could sell it, do you think?
-how much do you think it’s worth?
-at least six dollars.
-i don’t know.
-but i can try?
-i thought you want the toy for yourself.
-i have toys.
-well that’s true.
-maybe he has kids.
-he might.
-maybe they’d want to play with it.
-but don’t you want it for yourself?
-not anymore.
-come on, let’s go eat.
-do you think he has any food?
-i’m sure he does.
-because i am.
-but he doesn’t have any money.
-do you think he wants my happy-meal?
-come on. we’re going inside.
slowly he walks towards the door and i’m behind him with the food. he pushes open the heavy oak door and kicks his shoes off. he takes off towards his room. with my hands full, i leave my shoes on. the soles make clicking noises on the floor that echoes off the walls of the entryway. my wife starts down the stairs.
-you got dinner?
-we did.
-where’s grayson?
-i think he went to his room.
-i’ll get him.
she starts off after him. once in the kitchen i set the drink carrier on the table and then the bags of food. i reach in for a fry, then another. i look in the fridge and take out a beer. then my wife is with me.
-he says he’s not eating.
-he says he won’t eat.
-jesus. well if he doesn’t want to eat, he doesn’t have to.
-that’s what i told him.
-ok. well he’ll come around.
-yeah. it’s just…
she looks at the bags on the table.
-just what?
-well i only wanted to eat mcdonald’s because he wanted it.
i look down at the bags. in my head i see them filled saturated fats and preservatives. i feel my fat cells expand. a burp boils up in my gut.
-i guess you’re right.
-and we’ve been eating so clean.
-i know i just thought…
-but he doesn’t even want to eat.
-still this stuff cost almost twenty bucks.
-who cares? it’s twenty bucks.

i sit at the table drinking merlot while my wife chops basil, roma tomatoes, garlic and onions. she sips her glass before dropping all the ingredients into a skillet with olive oil.
grayson comes out of his room. he is hungry. he wants to eat, and he’s glad i kept his toy even though he’s upset about the happy-meal.
it occurs to me that in the dumpster outside, the flies are probably now discovering their feast. i should get some raid and spray it in there, i think. i don’t want to have to deal with them every time i go outside.


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