Joyride Page 1

Author: Anna Banks

Genres: Young Adult


Mr. Shackleford shuffles in the front door of the Breeze Mart, jingling the bells tied to a velvet string on the handle.

Please don’t die on my shift.

Please don’t die on my shift.

Please don’t die on my shift.

He’s one of my regulars—maybe even the regular—and one of the only customers to come in past 1:00 a.m., which is why I wait to sweep and mop until after he leaves. I glance at the clock; 1:37 a.m.

Right on time.

The other reason I wait to mop is because Mr. Shackleford is the human version of stale bread. He’s moldy—seventy years old with a white flaky exterior, crusty around the edges, especially in the eyes where the cataracts congregate. On the inside, slow chemical reactions decompose what’s left of something that used to be soft and pliable and probably pleasant (I say probably because where old people usually have frown lines, Mr. Shackleford has smile lines). The only thing that keeps him alive is the alcohol, due to what I imagine is a pickling effect. And due to the alcohol, he sometimes mistakes aisle four for the men’s bathroom.

As he passes the front register where I’ve got my calculus splayed, he gives me a slight nod, which tells me he’s fairly lucid—and the odds of him peeing near the beef jerky are slim tonight. He doesn’t even fidget with the zipper of his camouflage pants, which is usually the first sign that I should direct him to the bathroom immediately.

I hear him scuffle down the last aisle and back again; this time the sound of a sloshing fifth of vodka accompanies him. I try to clear my books before he gets to the counter but I’m too late; he sets the bottle on my scrap sheet of graph paper, magnifying the graph lines I drew ten seconds before.

“Evenin’, Carly,” he says. I know he’s been drinking, I can smell it, but his words aren’t slurry yet. He appraises the books and papers in front of me. “Math. That’s good. Math’ll take you a long way in life.”

He’s gearing up for the Question of the Night, I can tell. No matter what stage of inebriation he’s in, he goes all philosophical on me before he pays for the vodka. I know he thinks I fail at the answers, but that’s okay. I live in the real world, not in an alcohol-induced euphoria. Last night, the question was “Is it better to be sick and wealthy, or healthy and poor?” Of course, I had to clarify a few things, like how sick and how wealthy and how poor. Very sick, very wealthy, very poor, he’d said.

So I announced that it would be best to be very sick and very wealthy. That way you could afford the best health care imaginable, and if you died, you could leave your loved ones something besides broken hearts and a funeral bill. In this country, to rise above healthy and poor is just an ideal. An ideal that most poor people don’t have time to contemplate because they’re too busy trying to put food on the table or keeping the lights turned on.

Like me and my brother, Julio.

Yes, it sounds like a pessimistic outlook on life blah, blah, blah. But pessimism and reality are usually mistaken for each other. And the realists are usually the only ones who recognize that.

Mr. Shackleford thumbs through his dirty camouflage wallet—which is always full of hundred dollar bills—and pulls out a twenty, probably the only one he keeps in that fat thing. I give him change, the same change every night, and he pockets the bills but leaves the seven cents in the got-a-penny tray in front of the register. I put his new bottle in a brown paper bag and gear up for the Question.

He tucks his purchase under his arm. “Is it possible to be truly happy without ever having been truly poor?”

I roll my eyes. “It’s not only possible, Mr. Shackleford. It’s more likely.” Okay, so I like these debates we have. Mr. Shackleford is easy to talk to. He’s not judgmental; I don’t think he’s racist either. Most people don’t even say anything when they check out at my register. I know I look Mexican through and through—not even mixed Mexican—just straight-up Mexican, fresh from the border. But that’s where they’re wrong. I’m not straight from the border. I was born right here in Houghlin County, Florida.

I am an American. And so is Julio.

Mr. Shackleford has never treated me like anything but. He acts like I’m his peer, which is both a little weird and a little cool, that I could be a rich old guy’s sixteen-year-old peer.

Mr. Shackelford purses his lips. “Money can’t buy happiness.” This is the root of all our discussions, and his usual comeback.

I shrug. “Being poor never delighted anyone.”

He chuckles. “Simplicity has its merits.”

“Being poor isn’t the same thing as being simple.” And surely he knows how hypocritical it sounds, coming from him. After all, he’s about to hoist himself into his brand-new colossal pickup truck and drive away to his family’s plantation house. He’ll probably watch some TV before drifting off into his nightly vodka coma. Sounds like the definition of simplicity to me.

But he sure as heck isn’t poor.

Besides that, things can get real complex when you’re just poor enough to have to choose which utility bill to pay and which one to let go. When you can’t send enough money along to your family without missing a few meals yourself. When school makes you buy a calculator that costs one hundred something dollars just to take a calculus class—and if you don’t take the calculus class you don’t qualify for the scholarship you’ve been working for since Day One.

Being poor isn’t simple.