For the Best by Renee Fox

On the day the eviction notice was stapled to the front door Doris waited for the dusty Buick to pull out of the gravel driveway before going to wake Arnie in the back den. The morning light streamed in through the hall as she nervously wrung a thin kitchen towel in her hands. She paused outside of the bathroom and waited for one of the boys to finish up.

"Go wake your brothers," she said to the oldest, Isaac.

"Awe, Ma, no way. We all sleepin' in today. You know we ain't get back to the house until two."

"Listen, you go get them other boys up. I ain't gonna hear it today! Take your guns and go out by them tracks, take some of those cans with you," she said in a sharp whisper. She motioned towards the laundry room where Arnie stored the cans that wouldn't fit into the bin Isaac put out every Monday. Isaac went to go get the other two boys; they stumbled into the hallway in their underwear, swearing and taking the Lord's name in vain until they saw Doris still standing there just staring out of the window at the unplanted cornfield. They quieted and threw on flannel shirts and jeans; RJ tossed some biscuits from the cupboard in a backpack on top of the cans for target practice. The youngest, Larry, darted out the back hoping the older boys would chase him. Doris waited until she saw them all running through their muddy fields and into the woods.

Doris let a sigh, remembering the day she'd met Arnie in the checkout line at Mr. D's. He had set a twelve-pack on the counter and asked for a lottery ticket. It hadn't been anything special, he hadn't swept her off her feet. He barely said a word to her, but when her shift ended, he was waiting next to the shopping carts, a pile of cigarette butts next to his loafers. She felt his eyes and stopped to stare back at him. His thinning hair was carefully combed to the side, a soft brown that brought out the already showing lines of age on his serious face. She thought of Isaac, at home with her sister. She smoothed back her hair and straightened her skirt.

"You hungry?" He asked.

"I've got to get home."

"I see, I see. You cook?"

"Stuffed cabbage?"

"Mmm hmm," he stuffed his hands in his pockets and grabbed the keys. "Can I give you a ride?"

"Why don't you follow me?" She said it with a smile that fell when he didn't return it.

There hadn't been a wedding: her family had lost touch after Isaac was born. Arnie had been rather vague about his own family. At the bar in town, somewhere Doris never visited, it was rumored that they were making it without him in Shaker Heights.

Doris turned from the East window and walked toward the back room. Fifteen years later and it seemed as if she were going back to the grocery store. She turned the knob and paused, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the dim light, inhaling the stale smell of beer and spent cigarettes. She shook her head and winced when the door creaked loudly, his snores turned into coughs and he jerked up. He doubled over and hacked up phlegm into the blanket while she crossed the room to turn off Space Academy.

"What the fuck are you doing Doris, I was watching that," he said it loudly, sarcastically.

She stood in front of the television and twisted the kitchen towel into knots, "Um, Arnie?"

"What do you want?" He was bent over the bed now, throwing newspapers and empty cans towards the closet. "I done told you I'll get the seeds in when I feel better. I need some rest. Can't you give me some fucking peace?" His voice turned into a roar and she turned around and used the towel to dust the television. He jammed on the boots he was looking for and rose up, "Where's breakfast? Where'd them boys go?"

"Arnie?" It was nearly a whisper, she took a deep breath. He knocked some more cans and the ashtray from the end table as he jerked on the blinds, trying to shut out the bit of light that streamed in. A little louder now, "Arnie..."

He tore the blinds from the nail and threw them, swearing. She grabbed one of the crocheted blankets from the chest her mother had given her. He took it from her and draped it over the window.

"Arnie... I, uh," he lit a cigarette and started shaking cans until he found one to drain. "Listen, Jerry stopped by."

"Ahhh I see! Is that why you didn't get me up 'til noon? Thought you'd get a fuck in?" His voice was lower now, serious and heavy. He turned from the window and started toward her, tripping over the twisted sheets hanging from the bed. She backed up against the door, gripping the knob behind her and shaking her head. She started to murmur a prayer to Mother Mary, but made her lips still as he leaned in, inches from her face.

He spat when he said, "Then what'd he want Doris? Your first born? He can take him, shithead took everything else from me." Her hand trembled, reaching for the slip of paper in her sweater pocket. Eyebrows rising like Nicholson in The Shining, he yanked the notice from her hand. The light was too dim, he squinted and crossed the floor to the window, yanking the blanket down onto the end table. Doris gasped, the pretty yellow yarn, her mother's last gift to her, landed in the ash tray. When he picked up the lamp on the table she quickly turned the door knob and slipped out before he sent it crashing into the wall.

"Go buy me some fucking beer, Doris!" She ran down the hall and grabbed her purse from the kitchen table, digging for the keys as she opened the front door. Her hands shook when she started the car and drove towards the tracks to pick up the boys. She didn't know what he'd do if they stormed in, causing a ruckus.

She pulled up to where she thought they'd be, but there was only broken glass and the beer cans RJ, Arnie's oldest, had packed that morning. She honked the horn and waited. A couple of gunshots rang out, and she could hear the boys shouting at each other. She nibbled on the thumb nail that was already painfully short and honked a few more time before getting out to holler at them.

Just then Larry, closely followed by RJ, ran out of the woods. They looked frantic, guns swinging by their sides, turning every twelve feet or so to shout at each other, or maybe it was Isaac shouting. She honked the horn again and they turned toward her without slowing down. Moments later Isaac emerged from the woods, gun raised and pointed toward the two younger boys. Larry threw the passenger side door open and climbed over the seat to the back. RJ followed closely behind and slammed it shut.

"Go Ma! Go! Come on Ma, go!"

"What is going on here?" She had forgotten all about Arnie and noticed Isaac slowing down. She watched him stop on the other side of the tracks while the two younger boys cajoled her to get a move on. When Isaac turned and walked back towards the woods, she put the car in reverse and headed into town. The boys cheered.

"What was that about?" she asked. They were giggling rapturously now.

"We made it, Larry, we beat him!" RJ was clapping his hands while Larry pumped his fist into the air.

"What was that?!"

"Awe Ma, don't get mad. He was trying to kill us!"

"Now why would Isaac do something like that?"

They both grew quiet. "Come on now!" She pulled the car over into Mr. D's parking lot and turned to face them, crossing her arms and staring.

"Come on now, what was it?"

"RJ called him a bastard," Larry said in a murmur.

Doris glared at them both until they quieted and looked down at their hands. "You two wait here."

She walked towards the office but stopped in her tracks when she saw the young cashier. Mary Curt, the blond college-bound senior who had broken up with Isaac a few months ago. How had she ended it? After meeting his family for the first time, she decided he just wasn't "her type." The bank might be looking for a teller. The dinner might need a waitress. That would be better. She couldn't, she just couldn't ask for the old job back. She told herself that it wasn't even Mr. D anymore, his son might not even remember her. She turned on her heels, tears beginning to brim, and walked back to the old station wagon.

When the boys began to talk she hushed them and turned on the radio. "You Light Up My Life" started from the middle and RJ turned it before she could form any more tears. They turned left on Solomon Road. Doris gripped the steering wheel tightly and sighed, they'd be home in a minute. Where would they go? What would they do? And... oh no. She forgot the beer. The church at the end of the road, she could turn around there, let the boys out. She squeezed her eyes shut, letting a tear roll down her cheek.

When she opened them, there it was. A tendril of dark gray smoke billowing out of the window in the back room. She gasped and slowed down. The boys stopped singing, their eyes became round and their mouths opened. And then she did something none of them expected. She sped up.

Larry jumping up and down in the back seat, "Whoa! RJ, the house is on fire! On fire!"

"No, stupid, it's just smoke! Ma? Where you going, Ma? We gotta get Pop! Are we going to the fire department? What about my stuff! We gotta go back! Turn around Ma!"

Doris gripped the wheel tightly and locked the doors. She passed the church and saw Isaac lying on his back, staring up at the cloudless sky, watching it turn gray.

"We forgot father's beer," she said aloud. And then quietly murmured, mostly to herself, "It's for the best boys. It's for the best."

A lifelong student of literature and writing, current student of journalism at UMass Amherst.

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