There are certain things that I’d always counted on. I mean really counted on, like. . .well, pitching for the Greenpoint Bar & Grill Eagles. And eating out on my birthday--fried clams. The Howard Johnson’s over on Route 17 has the best. That and peppermint stick ice-cream was one of the finest meals I’d ever eaten. . .and I could count on it every May 23rd for--lemme see--almost fourteen years! Yup, fourteen years since I bit down on a copper penny inside acrab cake from Pyle’s Fish ‘n Chips, when I was still in diapers, my pop used to say. And I could always count on him splitting his gut laughing over a two-year old wolfing down shellfish like it was a peanut butter and jam sandwich, while my mother aimed her fingers and pinched at Daddy’s face. (And if you’ve ever gone fishing for crayfish down at Winding Bridge Falls after a heavy rain?. . .you could swear those hungry critters resembled my mother more than I do!)

I could also count on my mother crying up a storm every time I acted in a schoolplay. When I played John Proctor in“The Crucible?”--that was my only leading role--my mom, cross my heart, didn’t stop blubbering from curtain call until breakfast the next morning. And then she bawled in aisle three at the mini-mart for another whole year until Daddy made her change her deodorant from Secret Roll-On to another antiperspirant. . .that wasn’t Procter & Gamble or, as Mama liked to call it, John Procter & Gamble. I could count on my pop, also, saying, “That’s great, son!” when I passed my driver’s test last winter, and getting a big pat on the back when I scored a 78 on my geometry final, which felt almost as good as the time I was showing off for Lucille “Legs” Langhammer, who threw me a kiss after I stole third base and slid right across home plate, breaking my left ankle.  (Well, it was a hairline fracture, but it was worth it.)

And here’s another sure thing I could count on. I could count on Grandma Eloise bringing Tootsie Roll lolliops when she visited every other Sunday, and a chicken sandwich on a roll with mayo and iceberg lettuce for Dad. She brought necks fo rMom, too, which I think is disgusting, but my mother counted on it for her favorite soup recipe, even though I liked her Wedding Soup better.

Now. . .I thought I could count on going to Prom, and maybe getting lucky with “Legs” Langhammer, and graduating with my friends, and maybe even serving Mom's Wedding Soup with those teeny spicy meatballs  at my own wedding. . .some day. But the first time I felt a knot in my neck--sharp and round, the same size as that penny that almost choked me on my second birthday?--I thought: “You’re not going to make it, Chicken Shit. Your days are numbered.”

Mine were. Yup, they were.

--Bara Swain (2003)
first published in Diafuku by Lamia Ink