Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
I heard Tommy arguing with Dad in the den. Tommy was shouting. Dad’s voice was flat and sad.
“It’s not fair,” blurted Tommy. “Everyone else has Whack-o-Man cards. If I don’t have some all the kids will think I am a nerd.”
“I’m sorry Scout,” Dad said, “we don’t have the money.” Dad always called Tommy Scout, just like he always called me Tiger.
“I only need $20.00,” urged Tommy.
“We don’t have it, Scout,” said Dad, “Not for that.”
“You don’t love us,” spat Tommy. He bolted into the hall, bounced off of me, and ran to his room.
I looked into the den. Dad sat at his desk. He looked sad, and I could see hurt in his eyes. I ran over to his chair and hugged him. He hugged back.
“Tommy’s mean.” I said.
“He doesn’t understand, Tiger.” Dad sighed. “He’s too young.”
Dad had worked at an airline. He did something with computers. After 9-11 he lost his job. A lot of others did, too. By now Dad had been out of work for nine months. He tried getting places to hire him, on contract, but with so many computer people looking for work, there was not enough to go around.
Mom had gone out and got a job right after Dad got laid off. A few months later, she hurt her knee real bad, and had to quit. She got around the house, but Dad had to drive.
“We’re running out of money, aren’t we, Dad.” I asked.
“It’s tight, he said softly. “I won’t lie. We will survive, Tiger, God will provide.”
“I’m scared.” I said.
“Honey, I understand.” He replied. “We have each other. That is what counts. We will get through this, Tiger.” He hugged me again. I felt better.
“Look, Tiger, I hate chase you off, but I have something to do.” Dad smiled at me. He turned to his PC, and started doing something.
Looking for a job, I thought sadly, as I left the room.
I marched into Tommy’s room, angry.
“Go away, stinky sister,” he said, staring at the wall, sprawled on his bed.
“Tommy,” I pleaded, “Don’t be mean to Dad.”
“I’m tired of being poor,” he replied. “Getting cheap sneakers, not cool ones. Using second-hand books. Sick of eating the store brand all the time. No more going out to eat. Dressing like a dork. Getting clothes for Christmas. Skipping movies my friends are seeing. Now everyone’s trading whack-o-man cards, but me. It’s not fair.”
I thought about my carefully patched jeans. Reusing my backpack with last year’s music group on it. The blouses and skirts I had in the wrong colors, not right for this school year. Counting each pencil. Bringing lunch from home with a bottle of juice Mom filled every morning, while my friends got pop from a machine.
Mary Beth and Sue did not care. They were friends, like always. But others were nasty to me because I was different now. It hurt, and I started crying.
Tommy heard me crying. He got off his bed. “What’s wrong, sis?”
I cried, and I told him about the girls that were mean to me, and why and how much it hurt. How much I was worried about Mom and Dad, and things going wrong since Dad lost his job. Tommy listened as I went on and on.
Finally, I wound down.
“Aw, Sis.” he replied, “Look. Those cards don’t matter. Those girls that treat you mean don’t either. They look for people to pick on. If not you – someone else. We will stick together. That’s what counts. You and me, and the kids that stay our friends.”
I left his room feeling better.
Dinner was tuna casserole – more noodle than cheese or tuna – and a big salad from the garden. Dad planted a big garden in February, sowing it with lettuce and radishes, and stuff like that. He worked it all by hand, so he did not need to rent anything.
After grace, Tommy turned to Dad, and said, “I’m sorry about this afternoon.”
“Well, Scout,” Dad said evenly, “we are on edge. Apology accepted.”
Then I blurted out, “Dad, has God forgotten us?”
He looked at me. “No, Tiger, I don’t think so.”
“Then why is all this happening to us?”
“Tiger,” he sad sadly. “Your dad just lost his job. Others have lost much more – things you cannot get back. When we need His help, He will be there. Good can come from what is happening to us, trust me.”
“What good?” I asked. “How can this be good?”
“It shows us what counts,” said Dad, “What really counts.”
“I don’t see.”
“Someday you will.” He smiled.
We ate silently. As dinner ended, Dad pulled something out of his shirt pocket. He gave them to Tommy. They were cards.
Tommy looked at them. “What are these?”
Dad smiled. “They are Wacky-man cards. I made them on my computer.”
Tommy and I looked at them. They looked like Whack-o-Man cards, but not quite. They poked fun at the Whack-o-Man cards. They were funny, too. You could play a game with them, kind of like the Whack-o-Man cards. Tommy laughed. I laughed.
“They even feel like Whack-o-Man cards,” Tommy said, awed. “Only not as shiny.”
“I used some of that report cover stock I bought,” said Dad. “I don’t have as many clients as I had hoped. I won’t miss a few pages.”
“Can you show me how to make them?” asked Tommy.
“Sure,” grinned Dad. “Don’t use up all the cover stock, though. I might get a client some day.”
“Say,” Dad thought aloud. “I’ll bet if we spray the cards with clear gloss, it will even feel the real cards.”
“Yeah.” Tommy grinned, too. “After it dries.”
Tommy made some sets of Wacky-man cards, and his friends liked them. They thought it was cool that Tommy could make cards about them. Tommy liked going home and thinking up new cards with Dad. Tommy made cards for anyone that asked him, even the kids that had been mean to us.
He finally had to ask his friends to pay something, so we could buy more ink and paper for the printer. They did not mind, though. Wacky-man cards cost a lot less than Whack-o-Man cards.
Besides, you could get Whack-o-Man cards at any store. You could only get Wacky-man cards from Tommy and me. That made them more fun.
We were riding home on the school bus two weeks later. Billy White was looking at a new card that Tommy made about Billy. Billy was the fastest kid in fifth grade, faster even than Tommy. The Billy-beast card showed a running critter, long and lanky, like Billy.
“Thanks for the card! Do you make these yourself, Tommy?” asked Billy.
“No,” Tommy said, “Dad helps me.”
“Oh” said Billy, “My dad . . .” He choked up. His dad had been on a trip to New York City that September day. He had a meeting in the World Trade Center. He never came home.
Tommy and I looked at each other, helpless.
“I’m sorry, Billy,” began Tommy, but Billy cut him off.
“S’O.K. Not your fault,” choked Billy. He got off at his stop. “Thanks for the card.”
We sat silent until we got off the bus. Roger came up to us. He was my age – seventh grade. Roger was the best-dressed, most with-it kid at school. He looked, saw no one around. Finally he said, “You are lucky.”
“What do you mean?” asked Tommy, puzzled.
“Your dad,” Roger stated. “That’s what I mean. My dad will spend anything on me but time. He told me he would buy me a new car, when I turn 16. Spend an evening with me doing something together? No way.”
We stood in our worn sneakers and patched jeans. He walked away in costly Air-Something shoes, and a new leather bomber jacket. Then he turned, said, “I wish I were you,” and went on down the street.
I am sometimes asked why I don’t write fiction. This story is part of the answer. I don’t think it is a bad story. It is just not commercially viable. Back around the turn of the century when I was trying to establish myself as a writer I wrote both non-fiction and fiction. The non-fiction sold. The fiction – except for two stories – did not. Pretty soon, after writing about a dozen stories, I gave up on fiction and switched to non-fiction, mainly history. (It is a niche market, but it is mine.)
The Cards was one of the stories that did not sell. Like I said, it is not a bad story. It just did not sell. It is now hopelessly dated, but it did fit this month’s theme. I decided to let it out of its box.