I woke up early to sunlight and the Canadian national anthem playing in my head. I watch a lot of hockey so I often hear that song on TV. We live in (very) upstate New York, about ten minutes from the border of Ontario. My girlfriend yelled to me from the kitchen: Dom DeLuise has a Volkswagen! Although I might have misunderstood her. I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep, my right hand still fat and aching.
My girlfriend is incredible. She is pregnant and making breakfast. Her name is Uhln and she’s beautiful. She has paper-white skin and wavy, long black hair. She’s soft and small and elegant. She’s read Moby-Dick twice. I love her so much. I’ve known Uhln since high school. In fact we dropped out of high school together. I consider us lucky to know what we want from life at this age, which most people consider young, but I’m sharp beyond my years. I know guys ten years older than me that are as dumb as toddlers. People can be pretty judgmental about our situation and our age and all, but things don’t happen like they used to. We didn’t plan on having a baby. Some things you expect and some things you don’t, but life doesn’t have to be all bad.
My name is Madrid. When they were twenty-five or so, my mom and dad got a chance to go to Europe with a jazz group. She was a singer and he played the drums. It was a low-budget thing but they got to see like four or five different countries. I was conceived in Spain, in Madrid. There is a town near here called Madrid but for some reason everyone pronounces it MAD-rid. Everyone in school, even the teachers, called me MAD-rid. So dumb. You should see this town we live in. I know people—I work with some of them—that graduated ten years ago and they’re still the same dumb people they were in their senior year. Also, it’s cold as shit here.
I couldn’t go back to sleep but didn’t really care. It’s Sunday and I don’t have to go to work. That’s extra nice because it’s February and twenty-below outside. Uhln said we were having a Swedish breakfast today as she brought over some crackers and cheese and cold cuts to the coffee table.
She may do some stuff around the house, but Uhln is eight months pregnant and I try to see that she doesn’t have to do too much. She doesn’t have a job and I try my best to take care of her. I work at the Ponderosa Steakhouse out on Route 37. Mostly I bus tables and do dishes, but sometimes they let me help with food prep if it’s super busy. I’ve become pretty good friends with a guy that works in the kitchen there. His name is Tino. He’s from Ghana or Guyana, I can never remember. His father is a doctor and he moved them here so he could open his own office. This town is cheap to live in and apparently competition between doctors isn’t much. Besides, Tino told me his dad was a different kind of doctor than any other one here. One time I said: If your dad’s a doctor he must be rich, so why are you working here? Tino told me his dad was definitely not rich but that even if he was he’d still make sure his son had a job. I asked Tino if his mom worked and he said he never knew his mom. He’s three years older than me but I always felt like I was the older one. Tino has skin the color of butterscotch chips and he’s about a foot taller than me. For some reason he doesn’t have a girlfriend. Maybe it’s the way he talks. Maybe girls can’t understand him. I felt sad for Tino when I thought about what it would be like to have no mom. My parents live here in town and have all their lives. They’re still together and are still in love. They met in junior high and got married after high school. I think that’s why they understand how things are with Uhln and me. We’re in love and they can see it because they know it. They help us with this apartment but they wish we’d get married.
I didn’t have a bad childhood even though my parents were poor. I get the feeling they had potato chips for dinner sometimes so I could have new shoes. Sometimes I think that Uhln and I have it better off than my parents did when they were getting going. My dad had a shot later at a big break playing the jazz drums for a famous trumpet player but it never happened. Mom now works full-time as a shift manager at Ames. Dad’s pretty sick now (cigarettes) and the bills have ruined any chance of their getting out of debt. I asked Tino once about his dad helping out my dad, since he’s a doctor and all, and he told me that his dad is a doctor for crazy people. He moved to the right place, if you ask me.
Uhln’s parents are still together, too. They have a lot of money but are not happy. It’s obvious her mom married her dad for the money. They live in Boston and they’re total assholes. They sent Uhln up to this crappy town when she was twelve. She’d been a troublemaker at a fancy private school so her folks made her come live here with her aunt, her mom’s sister. They figured small town life would settle her down. They didn’t know that you get into more trouble when you’re bored and there’s nothing to do. Anyway, her aunt’s a bitch and we don’t ever talk to her and Uhln got pregnant so I guess we showed her family a thing or two.
Drawings by Constantine Frangos
Robert Overbey is a writer of mostly short fiction. His stories have appeared in Alexandria Quarterly, Sakura Review, and Paris Lit Up. His debut collection, A Life Without Seasons and Other Stories, was published by AQ Press in 2016. He received a BFA in writing from Goddard College. He lives in New York City.
Constantine Frangos grows a mean beard. And he's francophone. After 15 years of working for various clinical trial packaging services, a corporate takeover and the world's worst use of parallelism in a company slogan pushed him to decide enough was enough (quote from Constantine: "as Ahab didn't say, like I thought he would, thar she blows") and to live life again. He currently attends Rutgers University, works as a background analyst, and hopes to finally create a graphic novel.