by David Armand
Christmas morning and you’ve already opened up all your gifts: the accumulation of a meager year, but still you’re glad for this airtight ammunition box made of industrial plastic, even though you have no shotgun shells to put in it yet and your .410’s locked away in your father’s closet.
You’re looking at this camouflage-green box and imagining it filled with rows of ammunition, and then chambering one of those red plastic shells in your gun’s dark barrel in hopes of killing a duck or a squirrel or a rabbit.
This is when your father comes into your room. He looks down at you looking down at that box and he asks you how much money you got for Christmas that year. You tell him (it’s really not that much since you’re only nine and your family’s poor anyway) and then he asks if he can borrow it.
Although he doesn’t say, you already know what it’s for, but you tell him “Yes” anyway. What else are you going to say? “No?” He promises he’ll pay you back. With interest. As if that makes handing over your Christmas money so that your dad can buy beer with it a better deal.
You open your Velcro wallet—the sound like tearing a sheet of construction paper in a quiet classroom—and you pull out the crumpled ones and fives. He takes them without ever looking directly at you.
“Thanks, babe,” he says. “I’ll pay you back. Don’t worry.” But you know he never will.
Then he leaves your room, head down and headed to whatever dark place would be open on Christmas morning, serving alcohol to men without families as well as to those, like your father, who left theirs at home beside a wilting tree spackled with blinking white lights and cracked ornaments. And it is then, as he shuts the door behind him, that you know you’ll be spending the rest of your life paying off your father’s debts.
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David Armand was born and raised in Louisiana. He now teaches at Southeastern Louisiana University, where he also serves as associate editor for Louisiana Literature Press. He has published three novels, a memoir, and collection of poetry. His website is: www.davidarmandauthor.com