Ten Hamburgers


            “Stupid retard.”

      They think I can’t hear them, but I can.  Every time I pass them, I can hear them under their breath.  I hear every word they say. 

            This is my life.  Every day is always the same.  No matter what I do, they still make fun of me.  But somehow, I know it isn’t their fault.  They don’t know any better, so I really can’t blame them.  They just don’t understand me, that’s all. 

            “Kevin, did you get the garbage emptied in H-wing yet?”

            “Yes Sir, Mr. Alton.”

            “Good boy.”

            I have been working here at Larren County High School for about two years now.  I had to be part of the “life skills” class in high school.  I don’t know why taking out the trash helped us.  It kept us busy and their school clean at the same time, so I guess it wasn’t too bad.

            Mr. Alton has been really nice to me.  He doesn’t yell at me when I mess up, and if I do something faster than he does, he tells me I’m doing a good job and gives me candy. 

            “Kevin, once you get B-hall swept, you can go ahead and call it a day, okay bud?”

            “Are you sure I can’t do anything else? I can do anything you want.”

            “Nah, you’re okay.  Just get B-hall swept and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

            “Thanks, Mr. Alton.”

            B-hall is one of my favorite places.  It’s not too big, so it’s real easy to sweep, and the seniors always put a class picture from that year on the wall, so I get to look at that and pretend that I know people.  James Cyle.  He’s got spiky blonde hair.  I bet he’s a popular kid.  Lots of friends.  Melissa Swenkins.  Her hair looks messed up.  I bet she’s not that popular. 

            Sweeping the last of the candy wrappers, chip bags, and math assignments into the dustpan, I put them in the nearest trash can and make my way towards the closet.  I stick the key in the lock and open it up.  Putting down the broom and dustpan, I pick up my lunchbox and play station magazine, I walk out to the parking lot.  Without fail, there’s mom in her car, waiting for me. 

            “Hi Honey.”

            “Hi Mom,” I say, kissing her on the cheek.

            “How was your day today?”

            “It was okay.  I got to see the seniors’ class picture today.  It was fun.”

            “That’s so great.  I hope you’re hungry.  I’m making hamburgers for dinner.”

            “Alright!  I love hamburgers.”

            Coming to a stop, I exit the car, making my way to the always unlocked front door.   Running up the stairs, I throw the door to my room open and put my things on my bed.  Whenever mom makes hamburgers, I get to help. 

            Entering the kitchen, my mom looks at me and smiles.

            “Alright Kevin, wash your hands.”

            “Mom, I know that,” I say, heading to the faucet and washing my hands carefully. 

            Walking over to the counter, my mom hands me a big chunk of beef.  Knowing my job, I head right to work, pounding out little patties with each hand.  I put the meat on the counter and smack it with my right hand, then turn it over and repeat with my left hand.  Before long, I’ve made five hamburger patties. 

            “Is that enough Mom?”

            “That looks great honey.  Go take them over to the stove so I can cook them, alright?”

            “Okay,” I say, smiling, as I pick up the plate and head towards the stove.

            I don’t see the rug on the floor.  I trip on it and I fall face first towards the floor.  I hit the floor and hear the plate of hamburgers come crashing down onto the hardwood floor, shattering and sending glass pieces everywhere.  Closing my eyes, I can feel the glass hitting my face and it stings.  I’m more worried about the plate though, as tears begin to run down my face.

            “Mom, I’m sorry.  I broke the plate.  I didn’t mean to.  The hamburgers are ruined.  Don’t tell Dad.  I promise I’ll clean it up.  I know how to sweep up messes,” I say, walking to the closet to get the broom, tears still streaming down my cheeks. 

            “Honey, it’s okay,” she says, coming my way, hugging me.  She comes close to me and examines my eyes, looking inside of them.

            “I know you didn’t mean to break the plate.  I know it was an accident, and that you make great hamburgers.  How about this?  I’ll give you some more meat and a plate, but this time, stand over by the stove when you make the hamburgers so that you won’t have to carry the plate, okay?”

            “Okay. I can do that,” I say, making my way carefully around the glass as mom sweeps it up into the dustpan and puts it in the trash. 

            I make my hamburgers, but they’re not as fun this time.  I don’t have as much fun mashing the meat into the counter as I did before.  Putting them on the plate, I wash my hands again, and step away from the stove.

            “Mom, can I play video games until dinner?”

            “Sure bud.  Have fun.”

            Walking to the living room, I turn on the Play Station.  I sit on the floor, watching the pictures on the screen.  Tonight’s game is Final Fantasy.  I don’t know how long I’ve been sitting here.  It’s hard to tell with the video game going.  I think about the hamburgers and wonder when they will be done cooking.  The front door opens.

            “Hey Honey,” I hear my dad say from the entry.

            “Hi!  How was work?””

            “It was alright.  I’ve got a proposal next week that is going to require some extra time at the office, but nothing too bad.  Where’s Kevin?  Why is there glass on the floor?”

            My mom must not have swept up all the glass.  I sit listening, hoping that she doesn’t tell my dad that I broke a plate.  He got really mad and yelled last time I broke something.  He thinks I’m clumsy. 

            “I tripped over the rug with a plate of burgers in my hand and dropped the plate they were on and it broke.  I must have missed some while I was sweeping.”

            “Oh.  Well it’s just a plate.  At least you’re okay.”   

            Mom didn’t tell him that I broke the plate.  She knew that Dad would have come and yelled at me if he found out that I had broken the plate.  I love her more and more every day. 

            “Kevin, dinner is ready,” I hear her voice call from the kitchen.

            I press the buttons, saving and turning off my game, I walk slowly to the kitchen.  Normally I run for hamburgers, but Dad is here, and I don’t want to break anything, so I walk, being careful not to bump into any of his office stuff on the desk. 

            “Hey Kevin,” he says to me as he puts the burgers on the table.

            “Hi Dad.  How are you?”

            “I’m pretty good.  Lots of work.”

            We don’t really speak for the rest of dinner.  I eat my hamburgers, two of them, and he eats his.  After I finish, I take my plate to the sink, extra careful of the rug this time, and then go to the living room to watch television, though I know that it will only last until Dad finishes and wants to watch his show.  He always watches Jeopardy, and I always want to watch Looney Tunes. 

             I spend the rest of the evening finding things to do by myself.  Drawing for a while in my bedroom, playing with the dog, and sneaking into my parents’ room to watch some television before I go to bed.  

            Dad is gone when I wake up the next morning.  Getting ready for work, I pack my peanut butter and jelly into my lunchbox and grab my jacket.  I can’t do both at the same time, so my lunch falls on the floor.  My peanut butter and jelly falls out of the bag, onto the dirty, dusty floor.  Sobbing I bend over and collect my scattered lunch.  Dad is right.  I am clumsy.  These tiny hands of mine won’t let me do anything right.  Sitting in the middle of the floor, I keep crying.  Why am I like this?  I know I’m different, but why can’t I do things right?  I don’t have time to make another lunch, and I need my sandwich.  I pick my sandwich up, put it back in the bag and put my lunchbox on the table.  After putting my jacket on, I head out the door with my dirty lunch.

            As I step through the doors at the school, the kids start making fun of me.  I put my head down as I walk to the closet and meet Mr. Alton. 

            “Morning, Kevin.  How are you doing today?”

            “Fine,” I say, still keeping my head down, trying not to cry.

            “Alright.  Well you know the routine.  A through D wings need their garbage emptied, then come find me when you’re done alright?”

            “Okay,” I say, getting my cart and a box of plastic garbage bags.  I head off to A-wing to start my day. 

            I push my cart down the hallways, which are empty now.  I hate being like this.  I feel so stupid and unimportant.  My mom always tells me that I’m the way I am for a reason, but I don’t believe her.  She just says that to make me feel better.  I love her though.  She is so nice to me, even when I mess up.  Mom and Mr. Alton are my best friends. 

            Garbage was easy.  Just pull the old bags out, put them in the cart, and then put a new bag in the can.  I can do them easy now.  It didn’t take me very long to empty all the garbage in the whole school. 

            Pulling the last bag out of the can, a glass bottle falls out of the bag and crashes to the concrete floor, shattering into a million pieces.  What do I do?  I’ve never cleaned up glass before.  Should I get Mr. Alton?  I can do this.  I can prove to him and everyone else that I’m more than just a stupid retarded boy.  I should pick up the big pieces first. That will be best.  Then I can sweep up the smaller pieces.  Reaching down, I pick up a big piece of glass and put it in the cart.  Soon, I start making a difference in the hundreds of little pieces everywhere.

             Suddenly, I feel something tear into my skin.  I look down, and a piece of glass is hanging from my hand. Blood is starting to come.  I start crying and I am scared.  I don’t know what to do.  My mom always puts a towel on my cuts when they bleed, but I haven’t made it around to refilling those yet.  I sit and cry, hoping that Mr. Alton will come around and find me, but he doesn’t. 

            “Mr. Alton,” I yell, hoping he might hear me and come help.

            “Mr. Alton.  Mr. Alton.”

            I hear a door open and see Mr. Alton come around the corner.  He sees me and gets on his knees.

            “Kevin, what happened buddy?  Are you okay?”

            “I didn’t mean to.  I’m sorry.  I was almost done taking out the trash.  I promise.”

            “Hey, don’t worry about it.  We need to get your hand cleaned up.  Come up here.”

            He takes my good hand and leads me to the sink in the bathroom.  Taking my small hand in his huge ones, he runs cold water over my cut and pulls the piece of glass out.  It hurts less now. 

            “You’re cut pretty deep buddy.  We should probably get you looked at.  Can I call your mom and have her come get you?”

            “Yeah.  She can come get me.”

            He takes me to the front office and sits me on a chair with a towel wrapped around my hand.  He disappears into an office for a minute and I hear him talking.  My mom is coming to get me.  Everything will be okay.  It doesn’t even hurt that bad. 

            “Kevin, your mom wasn’t home, so I called your Dad.  He said she was at the doctor, and that he would come get you.  He wants you to wait out front for him.  Take the towel with you.”

            “But it’s the school’s towel.”

            “It’s okay.  Don’t worr y about it.”

            I get my lunchbox and walk outside to wait.  I would rather sit in the office with Mr. Alton than have Dad come pick me up.  Maybe he forgot where I work and can’t find me.  His car rolls up in front of the school, and he honks his horn.

            “Come on.  Get in the car.”

            Dad must have had to leave some meeting or important work or something because he is being mean to me.  I try not to cry. 

            “What did you do?  Why aren’t you more careful at work?  You know that things can happen to you.  You couldn’t have picked a worse time for this to happen.  Your mom is at the doctor’s office and I was in the middle of a meeting and had to leave.  I’m probably not going to get that client back now.”

            “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to cut my hand.  I didn’t do it on purpose.  I was picking up a bottle and it broke.  I was almost done taking out all the garbage.  I yelled and yelled and Mr. Alton came and helped me.  I’m sorry you had to leave work.”

            “Just don’t let it happen again, okay?”

            “I won’t.  I promise.”

            We get to the doctor’s office and there is no line.  They give me a shot in my hand and it hurts a lot, because I have a cut there.  Then it goes numb and they sew my hand so it doesn’t bleed anymore.  It’s really funny to watch.  The lady who sews me is very nice and talks to me so that I don’t get scared.  Dad is out in the lobby on his phone, calling work. 

            Once we finish, Dad and I drive back home.  Getting out of the car, he gets out his keys and unlocks the front door. 
            “I have to go back to work Kevin.  Your Mom should be home any time now.  Can you stay out of trouble until she gets home?  Don’t break anything and don’t hurt yourself.”

            “I can do that.  I’ll go take a nap in my room.”

            “Good, you do that.  You can’t hurt yourself taking a nap.  I have to get back to work and see if I still have a client.”

            He turns to walk out the front door, looking back at me.

            “Dad?  I’m sorry you had to come get me.  I won’t do it again.”

            He smiles at me.

            “It’s okay bud.  I’m just glad you’re okay.  I have to go now.”

            He closes the door behind him and I hear his car start up and drive away.  Dad doesn’t smile much.  Only when he is really happy.  That must mean that he is happy with me.  I don’t know why, but I’m glad.  I like it better than when he is mad at me.  I feel less stupid when he is happy.

            Going inside, I put my lunchbox on the kitchen table and go to my room.  Opening the door to my room, I get underneath my blankets and close my eyes.  I can’t wait until mom gets home. Maybe I can help her make dinner again.