Keeping You Good, Little Sister

Jacqueline Guidry

Pops was steamed when I told him. “What’s the matter with you?” He wasn’t yelling but close to it, his usual state. “The name’s been good enough for 45 years.”

Make that 46, but who’s counting? Not my father.

Even after I explained, he kept spitting Van Jonah at me. His cell went dead, as it often did, then kicked in again. Whatever I missed was small price to pay for those seconds of quiet.

Push all you want, Pops. Won’t change a thing. Van Jonah? He stepped off that crowded bus, left the helpless and the hopeless behind, and when his feet hit the sidewalk, VJ took over.

“Call yourself what you want,” Pops said. “Van Jonah,” he added, trying to get at me.

“My plan exactly.”

I’d quit my job the day after the lottery win. Not the biggest draw but enough. No notice. Just said I was done and took off. “Leaving us in a lurch,” my supervisor had called after me. He’d pretty much ignored me except when he wanted records asap. I was supposed to care about the man and his lurch?

No easy explanation for how I’d found myself tracking hospital records morning to night in the first place. Hours and hours of chasing records. Better than chasing your tail but barely. Boring? As hell. We workers were all bored most days but smart enough to limit complaints to when supervisors were out of earshot. Lurch? Not my problem.

Less than a week later and on the same day, I saw the two “for sale” signs. Named both places after myself and why not? VJ’s Deli. VJ’s Tire Center, though with only two car racks, “center” was a stretch. V and J, sharp and solid when they weren’t dragging those other letters. Besides, think about it. Van’s Tire Center? Every doofus cackling over getting Van tires for his van? As for Jonah, I’d heard enough whale jokes to see me to my grave, though without Van slowing it down, the name might be okay. But a person gets used to his way of seeing and for me, Jonah was a shaky raft ready to sink without Van leading the way. Like I said, too many whale stories.

Did it bother me that the closest I’d been to running a deli was building my own Dagwood? That changing a tire described what I knew about that business? Didn’t bother me at all. I was marching to that new money beat. Do it. Do it. Do it. How hard could it be to crank up a car and exchange old tires for new or slap salami between slices of sourdough? I’d pay somebody to fill in my blanks.

Lucked out on the tire shop. First to admit it. Between the two of them, Buddy and Juan had been there close to a dozen years and knew all there was to know. No goofball business from those two. The epidemic that got to spinning through the metro? Nothing to do with my boys, so points for them.

Inside of several weeks, I had the tire business down and got to where I pretty much knew from the minute somebody stepped through the door whether I’d be making a no name sale, a top of the line sale, or no sale at all. Driver pulling up in a waxed BMW or a rusted Civic told you a lot. Thing was, I didn’t need to see the ride. Even without I got so I could tell whether I was dealing with a cheap bastard, a flasher with bucks, or a looker with no intention of buying. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who took browsing in a tire store for entertainment.

Never that way with the deli. Couldn’t name a customer’s order until the customer called it out, though I tried. Skinny model type, toothpick legs, knife blade cheeks? Salad, no dressing, diet coke. Right? She ordered the meat special, three kinds, plus Swiss, two slices, and extra mayo. Added a side of potato salad, bag of chips, brownie, and chocolate malt. Somebody must be sharing this. Wrong again. She sat at a window table, spread out the feast and went at it while she worked a crossword.

After several of those episodes—skinny people eating like they were feeding tapeworms, guys with monster guts ordering cottage cheese and black coffee—I gave up deli predicting. I mentioned this to Kelley and Ginny while we were closing one afternoon. Ginny, wiping down tables, gave me her zombie stare, the one where she stopped blinking for longer than should’ve been humanly possible. Half the time, who knew why she gave me the look? “You don’t just look at a person and know everything there is to know about him,” she said in that ultra serious way of hers. Never laughed and rarely smiled. Man ordered a ham and cheese on pumpernickel? You’d think he’d announced he was taking the sandwich to his grandmother’s wake. Customers who wanted tuna or roast beef with horseradish, you name it, got the same. Ginny needed the world to know she carried a heavy load. What did the girl think?

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