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Winter 1997
Monopoly
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I was stunned. Point is, I never thought of my father. I didn't know him, much less where he was. There wasn't much to know, which is essentially all Mother said. He was a man who didn't want a family. I thought fast. I guess I still felt sorry for Mary Beth. I told another lie. "He's with my brother," I said. "My brother was the favorite. My father left with him, and me and my mother had to come here."

I only meant to show empathy for her, that I understood her plight. But her flat blue eyes were suddenly wide as saucers; I'd scared her to death. Was she seeing her mother and herself before long in a two-room hovel?

"We go and visit them sometimes," I said to mitigate the damage. But from the look on her face, I was only digging myself in deeper. Finally, I said what I'd meant to say in the first place, before she interrupted me. "Let's do our homework."

Which we did. Or at least started to. Sat on the couch with our maps of Europe. We had to locate and name each country and its capital. And, if the country was communist, put a red star next to the capital. We filled in Russia and Moscow and, on the other side of the map, England and London. Mary Beth helped me with Czechoslovakia. She was friendly, and before long, before we'd filled in even half of the blank spaces on our maps, we'd let our books and papers fall aside. She told me about her piano lessons, how she hated them, and how her teacher, a flatulent fat woman with a Frankenstein-like wart on her neck, made her play the same composition over and over.

"Sounds like Sister Agnes Jean," I said of the nun who was my teacher during the six months I went to St. Rose Catholic School, compliments of Mother's last boss, the lady on B Street. I hadn't thought of suggesting we do homework because it would be fun, or even that it might lead to friendly talk, but because I felt badly and thought it might let Mary Beth forget that foolish game I'd pulled her into. Now, seeing how much happier she was, I felt worse.

"I lied," I told her.

She smarted, looked at me. "About what?"

"The strip Monopoly," I confessed. "Not everybody's doing it."

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