Spaghetti Sauce was first published in the Free State Review, Issue 10, in March of 2019.
“Do you think Hoffman will put us in next game?”
Jared was looking out the window of the small trailer. Leo stopped scrubbing the cupboard door and looked up at his friend. The question seemed out of place. For a moment Leo was flummoxed to find an answer. Leo began to raise his hand to scratch his nose, but stopped himself. Both boys were wearing yellow kitchen gloves.
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
Jared kept staring out the window, his gloved hands clasped behind his bent back. Leo dropped his sponge in the bucket of bleach water and rose up to look over Jared’s shoulder. There was nothing, just the side of Jared’s house across the top of his mother’s Buick.
“Hoffman said your layups have improved. I’m betting he’ll put you in next week.”
Leo didn’t answer. He just forced a half smile and then crouched back down to get back to work. The possibility of playing in next week’s basketball game just wasn’t that important to him. He wished Jared would quit staring out the window and get back to work. They had a job to do, and Leo would rather get it done sooner than later. Leo pulled his sponge from the warm water and starting scrubbing again.
It wasn’t a big travel trailer. Sixteen by eight foot. A small bed hidden behind a sliding door, crammed behind an even tighter enclosed space around the toilet. The rest was taken up by a small kitchenette and a built in dining table for two. The walls and cupboards were a beechwood veneer. The floor was yellowing linoleum. When they had first opened her up the table and floor had been covered with beer cans. Jared had insisted they bag them up for recycling. His dad had never been one for wasting nickels he claimed. Despite the harsh scent of bleach in the bucket, the smell in the trailer was still terrible. Bad enough to make Leo’s stomach twinge. It’s just spaghetti sauce he reminded himself.
It was everywhere. Dried splatters across the interior with a few random chunks mixed in. It covered the linoleum and cupboards in a spray down the length of the trailer, spreading outward from the table. The bench seats were vinyl, making them fairly easy to clean, but the curtains had to be thrown out, stained beyond hope. All that was left was the hard surfaces, but it had been nearly a week and was taking more elbow grease than expected.
Jared snorted and spit a loogie out the open door into the tall grass growing next to the fence on the edge of the driveway. He joined Leo on his hands and knees, took his sponge out of the water, and started scrubbing alongside. When their arms brushed Leo could feel a layer of clammy sweat on Jared’s skin. They worked in silence that way for a little while until Jared threw his sponge back into the bucket and pulled himself around to sit in the doorway. Leo kept working, eradicating the red spots one by one. Jared snorted and spit again.
“Thanks for helping man.”
Leo stopped long enough to look up.
“No, I mean really thanks, it means a lot. I don’t think Mom would’ve been able to handle it.”
Leo nodded and started scrubbing again. The dried droplets were everywhere.
“How’s your mom doing?”
“Okay I guess. I don’t know. I think she’s still pretty upset with him.”
Leo glanced over his shoulder at Jared. He was staring at nothing again. Leo kept working. It would never get done if they kept stopping.
“How about you?”
“I don’t know. Probably better than having him living in the driveway.”
There was something in Jared’s tone that didn’t sound right, but Leo didn’t let himself think about it too much. He just concentrated on his work. He heard Jared spit again.
“I mean hell, it wasn’t even like he was my real dad or something.”
Leo wished Jared would just stop talking. It wasn’t a fair wish, but he wished it nonetheless. At the very least maybe Leo could get him to change the subject.
“What do you think your mom’s going to do with the trailer?”
“I don’t know, sell it maybe, though I can’t imagine who the hell would buy it around here. Probably we’ll have to take it into the city or something.”
Leo nodded though Jared couldn’t see. The cupboard door he was working on looked clean, but he opened it just to make sure. There were a few splatters along the edge. He scrubbed them off and closed it.
“You know Amanda wanted to help, but I wouldn’t let her.”
“That girl loves the shit out of you.”
“Yeah. I know.”
“I’ve got to take a break.”
Leo put his sponge in the bucket and Jared got out of his way so he could get out. It was cold outside, but Leo didn’t mind. It felt good to be out in the fresh air. Jared sat back down in the doorway.
“It’s just hard to believe the son of a bitch is gone. You know, he used to take me fishing all the time, get so damn drunk I’d have to drive us back home, even back when I just had a learners permit. Crazy son of a bitch.”
Leo smiled a little bit. Jared continued, not noticing.
“He wasn’t that bad. Even when he got to drinking too hard and Mom kicked him out. His heart was always in the right place.”
Leo could see the tears in his friend’s eyes so he politely turned away. It didn’t feel quite right, but none of the other options felt right either. The sun was getting low. The exterior of the trailer didn’t look too bad. It was actually in pretty good condition all things considered, the white aluminum siding immaculate but for a small round hole at eye level, blown out from the inside.
Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons user Lumpytrout