by Ron Burch
WHEN THEY BROUGHT the government cheese to our neighborhood, usually a fight would break out. Even though the cheese smelled like unwashed socks, even though it tasted like anything but cheese, even though it was force fed to reluctant children by their angry parents during a dinner deadlock, bloody fistfights would break out after the government white van squealed away, fights from our neighborhood men who wanted more blocks of it than they were given, than they were allowed.
Uncle, who was not really my uncle but lived next door, said the young men sold it to those even less fortunate than us. I was surprised there were people less fortunate than us having to take cheese from politicians. My mother told him to shut up because he didn’t know what he was talking about but he believed it.
My mother wanted nothing to do with the government cheese. She did not want to take handouts from the government even though we lived in subsidized housing because there was only her and me. My cop father was dust in the wind.
One night, I edged my way to that food truck and she threatened across the street, Don’t you do it. Ms. Hildy, a large woman with a red wig, yelled back at my mom, You better than us? My mom would give her the finger as Ms. Hildy laughed. She always wore her nightgown out in the desperate streets of Winchester Station.
Mark Jones, a tall man with dreadlocks, said, She is better than you, Hildy, and when Hildy told him to go fuck himself, he laughed and said, Keep it classy, Hildy. He always got an extra block of cheese even though he lived by himself.
With a frown, my mother, from our cement porch outside our skinny townhouse, chastised him: I don’t need you standing up for me, Mark Jones. What other man is standing up for you, Virginia? he replied, a smile crossing his long lips, a hip suggestively stuck out. I don’t need a man to represent me, my mother said. Everybody needs someone, he countered. And my mother pointed at me and said, That’s who needs me, Mark. That’s who.
Once I stole a block of cheese when the man in the government suit wasn’t watching. My mother grabbed me by the neck and marched me to the truck as it was preparing to leave. As my mother held the cheese up to him, in its red, white and blue “Government” packaging, the man dismissed us, saying, Keep it, you need it more than I do. My mother threw it at him, hitting him in the chest, and said, You keep it. She marched me back home to the jeers of our nearby neighbors, including Uncle and Ms. Hildy, who was outside yet again in her dirty white nightgown with the faded roses.
At night Mark would come to our back door, his lips purple from dark wine, and he would knock with one hand. My mother would eventually drift toward the door and tell me to go to bed no matter what time it was, but I hid on the stairs as she opened wide the door. He presented her with the block of cheese, a gift, he would say, and she would take it and let him in as I ran up the carpeted stairs, hoping he would still be here in the morning with my mother, she smiling one of those few rare times, and as I closed my bedroom door, taste, I would hear him say, taste and enjoy.
I don’t need a man to represent me, my mother said. Everybody needs someone, he countered.
RON BURCH’s fiction has been published in numerous literary journals including Mississippi Review, Cheap Pop, Eleven Eleven, Pank, and been nominated for The Pushcart Prize. Bliss Inc., his debut novel, was published by BlazeVOX Books. He lives in Los Angeles. Please visit: www.ronburch.com.
The truth may be stretched thin, but it never breaks, and it always surfaces above lies, as oil floats on water.
—Cervantes, Don Quixote
© 2016 The Indianola Review