Two Dollars a Day
When Frankie was a kid, anytime
he got lower than a “D” on his math
homework or tests, he got the strap—
if not from the principal, then
from his father. They had nightly calls,
the principal and his father. Frankie
would be on the back porch, wishing
the early evening clouds would
waver him away. His father
would be in the old brown recliner,
glass in one hand, phone in the other.
Mama would be in the kitchen pretending
to ignore everything, a sad sigh caught
in her throat for Frankie, her curly-haired
baby boy, who could argue the world
with Atlas but couldn’t make change.
Truth be told, his father couldn’t count
more than a four finger pour anyway,
but he did what he thought he was supposed
to do. Frankie left home as soon as he could.
No matter what, Frankie hid two dollars a day
for special secrets. The long summer gone, air
cooling into ice through his ancient jacket that wasn’t
a jacket, rain drizzling straight down or sideways,
it didn’t matter. Two dollars plus the cost of a cup
of coffee in his pocket—each morning
Frankie stopped at the Church of All Saints,
spent a dollar, lit a candle. For mama.
For his father. For his strap-numbed hands
and for all the people and places far from his small
life—anything that needed to be blessed.
And a dollar tip for Dinah at the café.
No matter that coffee was only 55 cents,
Dinah had a son who needed doctors.
She wouldn’t take charity but she would
take tips. Frankie had money for rent,
sometimes he just ate corn and beans,
but every day—a dollar for church, a dollar
for Dinah. Nightfall sinks through tenement
windows but not through Frankie’s heart,
his mama’s sigh blown the way of a gentle breeze.
They hug somewhat reluctantly
two magnets trying to touch
along their polar opposites
they share a child
they do not share anything else
She does not sleep well
he does not care
that has not changed
She gets his mail
the dentist leaves messages
confirming his appointments
on her phone that has
She bathes the son
cuts his hair
takes him to the doctor
goes to parent teacher conferences
alone that has not changed
And when he travels he does
not tell her, does not tell her
he will not be taking the son
so he can make the pizza
he can make the lunches
can take a quick breath
that has not changed
She detects the scent of distraction
and maybe another woman
where once she used to smell
cigars she does not feel defrauded,
only a slight nudge that he is childless,
no responsibilities while she carries
the formidable weight of turning the son
into a fine man virtually alone.
That has not changed.
Tobi Alfier (Cogswell) is a multiple Pushcart nominee and multiple Best of the Net nominee. Her full-length collection “Somewhere, Anywhere, Doesn’t Matter Where” was published by Kelsay Books. “Slices of Alice & Other Character Studies” was recently published by Cholla Needles Press. She is co-editor of San Pedro River Review (www.bluehorsepress.com).