Spare Tires by Luke Fann

Olivia stared into her lunch sack, disappointed. Inside was a piece of bread with mustard smeared on it. Ew, she thought. There was a moldy apple next to it and a pack of off-brand fruit snacks. She was frustrated with her mom, who packed it, as she looked around the cafeteria seeing all the regular lunches the other kids had.

Olivia’s mom was single, as her father had left her mom at birth, forcing her mom to raise her alone. Her mom never remarried, and it was always the two of them in the apartment on the fourth floor.

Pulling the piece of bread out of the sack, Olivia ate in silence. She sat alone at lunch like she did every day. She used to have friends back in grade school, but most of them stopped talking to her after visiting her apartment.

It was a clutter of clothes, bills, half-eaten meals, and homework. The sofa was torn up and had sat in the corner of the room for decades without use, and the TV was useless because it didn’t have any channels. So, Olivia had learned to be alone and distance herself from the rest of the world.

After finishing off the moldy apple, the bell rang. She packed up and headed to her next class. Four long classes later, school let out for the day. Taking the long and mundane bus ride home, she arrived at her apartment building. It smelled like cigarettes and rancid milk, but Olivia had gotten used to it. She hit the elevator button, but after five minutes, the car still hadn’t arrived, so she took the staircase.

The stairs creaked and groaned underneath her as if warning her that they might give out at any moment. She was almost to her floor when an old man in a grease-stained leather jacket sitting on the stairs looked up at her.

“Any spare tires?” He asked gruffly.

“No, James,” Olivia responded. It happened every day. No one knew why he asked it, and people had dubbed him “Crazy James” for it, but he asked everyone who passed by.

“Move along, then,” he replied, ushering her to keep walking. Approaching her room, 404, she knocked on the door and opened it. Her mom was at the kitchen table, writing on a document. She looked up and saw Olivia. Smiling, she set the pen down and walked over to Olivia, kissing her head.

“How was school today?” She asked

“Great,” Olivia said sarcastically, pushing her mom away. She didn’t wait for a response and headed to her room. Closing the door, she sighed heavily and flopped on the bed, which reeked. It hadn’t been washed in ages, but Olivia was used to it

 She thought about the homework she needed to work on and begrudgingly sat up to start on it. A few hours later, after completing the work and tucking it back into her backpack, which she had since fourth grade, her mom knocked on her door.

“Dinnertime!” Her mom called cheerfully. Even though she masked it behind a smile, Olivia knew she was tired and angry.

“Alright, I’ll be there in a moment,” she responded. And with an exhausted groan, flung open her door to have dinner.

Today was spaghetti with cold pasta sauce. Eating slowly, she grimaced at the taste in every bite.

“So, what did you learn today?” Her mom asked.

“That mustard on bread is better than it sounds,” Olivia responded dryly. Her mom winced but pretended not to be hurt by the remark.

“I know honey, but money is a bit thin right now. It’ll get better, I promise.” She told her daughter.

“How was work,” Olivia said, blatantly disinterested.

“Oh, the same as usual: nothing exciting,” her mom replied, pretending not to hear her daughter’s tone. The rest of dinner was silent, and Olivia quickly retreated into her room. After reading her science textbook at the desk near her bed, her mother opened the door.

“It’s already ten o’clock, sweetie, get some rest,” her mother said, taking the textbook and placing it in Olivia’s backpack. Olivia got into bed and turned out the lamp at her nightstand.

“Good night, Olivia, I love you,” her mom said, walking out of her room. Olivia gave a half-hearted “Night,” and her mom closed the door, hiding the sad expression on her face.

The next day, Olivia quickly spooned the lukewarm instant oatmeal on the table into her mouth and grabbed her lunch. Running down the stairs, she hopped onto the school bus just before it left. Slumping down into an empty seat, she huffed and started reviewing for a test. At the next stop, another student sat down next to her.

“Hello, I’m Jamie. I don’t believe we’ve met before,” Jamie said, extending a hand. Olivia shook it, not particularly pleased another person sat next to her.

“Hi. My name is Olivia,” she said.

“Here. I make these myself,” Jamie told Olivia, reaching into her bag and pulling out a slip of paper. “Don’t read it until after school, though.”

“Okay,” Olivia replied, confused. She put the slip into her school bag and looked out the window to avoid eye contact.

Another ordinary school day came and passed, and soon Olivia found herself back in the apartment building, trudging up the steps. Again, she found James sitting on the steps, looking up at her.

“Any spare tires?” James asked gruffly.

“What do you need them for?” Olivia asked.

“To get back home to my family,” James responded.

“Your family?”

“I didn’t realize how important family was until I lost them. I cut my ties with my family and I still regret it to this day. Don’t forget: family is worth it, even if it’s tough. So you make sure to share the love you have,” he told her. She stared at him, soaking in what he had just said.

“Okay, James, I will,” she said, walking past him. She knocked on the door and opened it. Again, she found her mom sitting at the table, writing. She looked up and saw Olivia. She set the pen down, walked over to Olivia, and kissed her on the head with a smile.

“How was school today?” She asked

“Fine,” Olivia responded. Her mom was surprised at the response but didn’t show it.

“Well, do your homework and dinner will be ready, alright?” Her mom said. Olivia went to her room, set her backpack down on the bed, and took out the day’s homework. The time passed by quickly, and soon it was…

“Dinnertime!” Her mom called happily.

“Coming!” she responded.

It was quiche with a lump of unidentifiable meat. Olivia sat down across from her mom, who was already eating.

“So, what did you learn today?” Her mom asked.

“I learned about chromosomes in biology,” Olivia replied.

“I could never wrap my head around the concept back in school,” She said.

“How was work?” Olivia inquired.

“Oh, nothing exciting, just filling out paperwork for my boss,” her mom responded. After some more small talk, Olivia departed to read from her textbooks. A knock on the door made Olivia look up from the book. It was already ten.

“Get some rest for your test tomorrow,” her mother said, taking the textbook and placing it in Olivia’s backpack.

“Alright,” Olivia replied, getting into bed.

“Good night, Olivia, I love you,” her mom said, walking out of her room.

“I love you too,” Olivia responded. Her mom turned away to hide the tears that had escaped. Olivia remembered the note in her backpack and quietly got up to read the note. Folding the paper, she smiled, thinking about what Crazy James had said, and knew he was right.

The next day, Olivia sat down next to Jamie for lunch. Jamie had a whole table to herself, like Olivia, so there was plenty of space.

“You’ve met Crazy James,” Olivia said, sitting opposite Jamie.

“Yup,” Jamie responded. “You read the note?”

“Mmhmm,” Olivia replied. “Thanks for that, by the way.”

“No problem,” Jamie told her. 

“Do you like science?” Olivia asked. It felt good to have a friend.

Editor at The City Voice

Hello, my name is Luke Fann. I love to read and write myself into a fantastical realm, but I love all genres. Of course, such a task requires assistance from my parents and older brother. I've feasted on alligators and tamed beasts like alpacas (my favorite animal), but none of that compares to my greatest weapon: a pencil. I am an editor here for the City Voice, and this is my second year writing for it.

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