Fifty Bucks Leftover by Leonard Kress

My husband buys me earrings and hands them to me. I take the box, pry open the lid. I go through the whole ordeal—remove my old hoops and my other studs, push the new ones through, try them in all different combinations—two in one ear, one at the very top of one ear and one at the very bottom of the other. I ask him and my little daughter to vote on what looks best. I want to joke in secret with my husband about next time getting my nipples pierced if he’ll buy me ruby studs for them. Instead, I just balance the box on the top of my knee and freeze for a minute. I don’t want these, I can’t take them. They just don’t make it. They’re not good enough. He could’ve gotten them at any Walmart. He’ll probably suggest we just buy another pair. I can’t do it—I hold open my left palm, flattening it, stretching out my fingers like I’m preparing to feed some sugar to a horse. But instead of sprinkling the sugar, I place the closed-up box right in the middle and extend my arm out the window as far as I can, hyper-extending my elbow like I’m returning something gross and buggy to a waitress.

My husband looks like he’s about to cry. He knows what I mean and he slumps down in his seat. “What should I do now?” he sulks. “Should I take them back and get something else? Because I still have fifty bucks leftover.”

“Just forget it,” I say. “Ignore me.”

Suddenly, I realize that I’ve had this conversation before. It wasn’t with my husband, though, not this one. It was after the trip to Madison for my abortion and he wanted to go out to a fancy restaurant and celebrate how we averted a catastrophe. Nipping it in the bud, were his words. That’s when he confessed to me that when he first telephoned the clinic he felt a little like a gangster putting out a contract on someone. I tried to say, “like my baby, for instance,” but it didn’t come out. No, it wasn’t then—I’m getting confused. I think it was back in Iowa, before that, when I was still pregnant. We were at the Dvorak Festival, walking slowly down Main Street. He held my hand wrapped up in his and we were joking around, trying to match our strides, bumping our knees and wobbling so everyone thought we were drunk. The smells were making me nauseous—brats getting charred in the thick smoke, beer splashing out of plastic pitchers, lard spitting on the grill with potato pancakes. We were talking about Chicago, about getting away from this hick town for good, about how much we despised Mr. Mikoula, our high school guidance counselor, who was up on the bandstand shaking his button box accordion.

“Never again,” my husband yelled. “No more dumb Bohunks and their stupid-ass music.”

“Never again,” I joined in. “No more men wearing red-sequined vests. No more fat polyester ladies with big-boob tee shirts saying I’m a Czech-Mate’s Mate.”

“Never again,” he said. “No more geezers shaking boombasses, no more polkas.”

“Never again,” I said, “will we have to endure the likes of Brenda Kudelka, twirling her flaming batons on every crappy festival stage. No more skimpy skirts and flashing teeth and her hair like frosting.”

Suddenly the music became so quiet we thought the crowd could hear our comments. I think they began to play a waltz because everyone got real teary and sentimental. My husband ripped open another beer and yelled out, “Hey, Mr. Mikoula, have a good life!”

“Mr. Mikoula,” I shouted, ko-lee-kee ho-deen,” the only Czech I still remembered from my gramma. I don’t even remember what it means, though I don’t think it’s bad because he just smiled back, his little bird-face peeking over the top of his accordion.

Then my husband turned and grabbed my arm. “Is there anything else you want? Cause, if not, I’m going into the blackjack tent. Because I still got fifty bucks leftover.”

“How about some rubies,” I said, but I don’t think he heard.

Leonard Kress has published fiction and poetry in Passages North, Massachusetts Review, Iowa Review, American Poetry Review, Atticus Review, Harvard Review, The Writing Disorder, Barn Owl Review, etc., and most recently, The Swarm and Writing Disorder. His recent collections are The Orpheus Complex, Living in the Candy Store, and Thirteens. He teaches philosophy, religion, and creative writing at Owens College in Ohio and serves as fiction editor for Artful Dodge.

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