After their weekend honeymoon in Las Vegas, my mother and Jack came to pick us up from Long Scraggy Mountain Ranch Camp for Girls in Buffalo Creek, Colorado. My sister, Kimberly, and I had spent a month there weaving key chains and bracelets out of strips of colored plastic, swimming in Buffalo Creek, and riding horses named Duke and Pepper through forests of shimmering silver dollar Eucalyptus trees.
We said goodbye to our counselors, walked out of our log cabin and saw my mother leaning against a new white Lincoln Continental, her arms folded loosely over her flat stomach, thin legs crossed at her ankles. She was the founder of the Arizona Model’s Guild and I knew she’d spent at least two hours putting together the perfect look for today’s event. She wore cherry-colored shorts with a matching sleeveless blouse. The leather on her jeweled thongs matched the “Fire Engine Red” nail polish on her toenails. Her short dark brown hair didn’t move in the wind. She waved to us like a politician.
“Mommy, Mommy,” we cried, as we ran through swirling dust toward her tanned legs. She took off her large tortoise shell sunglasses and bent down carefully to greet us. “Girls, did you have a good time? I missed you so much. How do you like the car?”
Her blue eyes got bigger and rounder. She smiled, hugged us in a thin way, her long angular fingers curled partially around my shoulder. Kimberly grabbed my mother’s legs from behind. I moved closer too, put my arms around her hips, smelled her perfume in the fabric of her linen shorts, felt her familiar hipbones against my chest.
“Oh, you’re so dusty,” she said. She pushed my bangs to the side with her fingernails. “You both need haircuts.”
I looked behind my mother and saw the window of the Lincoln slide halfway down. Sunlight bounced off the silver door handle. I stepped back. I saw part of a man’s head. Dark green sunglasses hid his eyes. “Who’s that?”
My mother stood up straight and smoothed the wrinkles from her shorts.
“Oh, girls,” she said as if she’d just remembered something. “I have a surprise for you.” Her voice went up an octave. “This is Jack. Jack Lange. We just got married. Do you know what that means? It means you can call him Daddy because that’s what he is now. He’s your Daddy.”
My body went stiff. I wanted to scream, Not this again. I wondered if he’d been in our house.
The car window slid all the way down. “Hi ya, girls. Have a good time at camp?” He winked at me and took a drag on his cigarette. His teeth had a big space in front. His hair was short, black and stuck straight up. This guy didn’t look anything like my real father or my mother’s second husband, Ed, or any of the men she’d been dating, who were all handsome-- as she said, “Dreamy.” I couldn’t imagine Jack being part of anyone’s dream.
“I’m not calling him Daddy.”
“Now, Linda.” She smiled at him. “It takes her a while to get used to things. You say hello, Kimberly.”
“Hi,” she said with her finger in her mouth.
“Come on, girls.” My mother put her arm around my sister.
“I’m not going anywhere with him,” I said.
He got out of the car and opened the back door, bowed from the waist like a chauffeur. Powdery earth streaked across the tops of his shiny black shoes, like strata marks. His body was square shaped, like a box, but his movements were smooth like a ballroom dancer. Maybe that was the attraction. My mother loved to dance.
“Get in that car, young lady.” My mother planted her body behind me and pressed me toward the Lincoln.
I sat behind him, gripping the armrest on the door. He took off fast. Dust clouds enveloped us. I couldn’t see out the window. If I hadn’t been at camp, I was sure I could have stopped this.
My mother turned to us with wide eyes and all her teeth showing. In her cheeriest voice she asked, “So, how were the counselors?”
This was our cue to imitate her, the eyes, and the smile, for his benefit. It didn’t matter that I wouldn’t play along. My mother continued to pretend we were thrilled with her surprise.
I put my arm around Kimberly and pulled her across the backseat close to me. “Don’t worry,” I whispered, “I’ll think of something.”
“Okay,” she said looking puzzled. She was only eight, two years younger than me.
I looked through the back window. The dust had cleared. There was nothing but empty highway in both directions. Jack smoked cigarettes and drove ninety miles an hour. When he passed a slower car, we almost rammed into an oncoming truck. “That was close,” he said laughing. My mother and sister didn’t seem scared. I gripped the armrest harder.
“My cabin counselor was named Judy,” said Kimberly. “She was neat.”
“Did you have enough underwear?” my mother asked. She pulled down the mirrored visor and checked her make-up, putting one red fingernail in the corners of her eyes and flicking out the eyeliner that had collected there. “I hope you didn’t lose any after all those nametags my dressmaker sewed in.”
“We got to sleep outside by a fire,” Kimberly said with a big grin.
“That sounds like fun,” said Jack. “Did you tell scary stories?”
I rolled my eyes and looked away. I’d been through this “winning over the children” bit before.
“Real scary,” said Kimberly. “One about cowboy ghosts who might sneak up on you in the night and brand you on the bottom just like a cow.”
Oh, boy, I thought. What a fool to tell this guy anything. I pulled my legs up onto the car seat.
“Well girls,” Jack said. “Your mother and I have planned a little trip to the fishing lodge in Oak Creek Canyon. What do you think of that?”
“Goody,” said Kimberly. “Do we get to go to Slide Rock?”
“We’ll do it all,” said my mother. “We’re a real family now.” She dangled her charm bracelet in front of us pointing to the new gold heart shaped charm inscribed with I married 3 angels.
What a phony. This guy was worse than I thought. Bigger than all the other charms, his hung between my baby ring and my mother’s sorority pin. He kept looking at me in the rear view mirror. I pictured poison arrows stuck in the back of his neck. I’d won three archery medals at camp. I moved closer to the armrest, so he couldn’t see me, wishing the door would open and I would fall out, splatter on the highway. Maybe then she’d stop smiling. I didn’t care how new the car was. He was a big mistake.
“I’ll bet you girls are hungry,” said Jack as he pulled into the Howard Johnson’s parking lot. “Your mother’s told me how much you like pancakes.”
Inside the restaurant, my shoes touched his knees as I slid into a sticky orange booth across from him. I snatched my legs up under me, glad that I’d probably left dirty marks on his black pants.
They ordered coffee from the waitress.
"So," he said to me, "Ever been fishing?"
He lit a cigarette. I noticed his watch was too tight. I didn't answer.
"How about you, Kimberly?"
"I like it."
“You’ve never been fishing,” I said.
I still like it.” She slapped her tiny hand on the table.
I could tell Jack was touching my mother under the table. Her head tilted up at him. His shoulder moved as he rubbed his hand up and down, probably making red marks on her thigh.
"When we get home, I thought I'd buy you girls a horse," said Jack.
"It's not your home," I said under my breath.
"Oh, boy," said Kimberly. “I know how to ride English and Western. Linda only knows Western.”
“Yeah. But I won ribbons for barrel racing.”
The waitress, whose nametag said Faye, came back to the table. She looked at me and said, "Hey, cutie. It can't be all that bad." I looked away. She smacked her gum and said, "Maybe breakfast will cheer you up. Whatdaya say, Honey?"
Faye had red curly hair and dark blue eye shadow with gold flecks on her eyelids. She wore fruit earrings, tiny cherries and bananas, looped through pierced ears. My mother hated pierced ears. She said it was cheap looking and so was chewing gum. I liked Faye. Maybe I could tell her what was going on.
I ordered blueberry pancakes. Faye said, "That should make you feel better, Honey." She took my menu. Jack and my mother ordered sausage and eggs, sunny side up. He winked at Faye and smiled as he handed over their menus.
When Faye left the table, my mother turned to him. "That waitress looks so much older than I do." She pushed her hair back with red fingernails. "And I’ll bet we're the same age."
“You’re beautiful, Diane,” Jack said and squeezed her hand.
After breakfast, at the cash register, Jack offered to buy us a box of salt-water taffy.
"Yeah," said Kimberly, with her buckteeth showing. “I want the biggest box.”
"Forget it," I said.
When he turned his back to pay the check, my mother grabbed my arm and looked at me with a tight mouth. "I've had about enough of this," she said to me, her eyes flashing. "You're acting very spoiled. He’s the best thing that’s happened to us. He’s very bright and he’ll make a wonderful father.”
Three of my mother's favorite expressions were “spoiled rotten,” “self-centered” and “very bright.” Everyone she talked about fell into one or more of these categories unless they were just too boring to mention.
"I don't like him," I said.
“Of course you do.”
Jack turned towards us. She smiled at him and let go of my arm.
Back in the car, he turned on the radio. Johnny Mathis was singing. Jack sang along and looked at my mother, Chances are you think that I'm in love with you. I could tell they were touching each other again in the front seat. I wanted to throw up my pancakes.
As we drove through cow pastures, we saw a bull up on one of the cow’s backs. Under his breath, I heard Jack say, “Cow fucking” to my mother.
“What’s that?” Kimberly asked me in a whisper.
“I’ll tell you later.” I'd just learned the word at camp. I couldn't imagine my mother doing that with him. They laughed, turned up the radio and talked in low voices.
Jack drove all day through the dry, quiet desert. We passed tabletop mesas and red buttes full of uneven holes. Stone columns stood alone, their layers stacked like blocks. We stopped at the Four Corners monument. Jack said it was the only place in the country where four states came together in one place. He got out and put each of his hands and feet in the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado at the same time. Kimberly tried it too but she wasn’t tall enough. How stupid, I thought. Didn’t he know there weren’t any real borders in the desert?
We drove two more hours on Route 66 to Gallup, New Mexico and spent the night at the Tewa Lodge. The six rooms were built like teepees, painted white with Zuni Indian designs on the sides. The front doors faced a circular courtyard with a small swimming pool. My mother and Jack were in one teepee. Kimberly and I had our own. The inside walls were painted turquoise. The windows were diamond shaped cutouts. Small rocks had been glued around the outside edges to hide someone’s uneven cutting job. I could see my mother in her teepee across the pool, but I wanted her to spend the night with us.
Kimberly propped up her pillows and stretched out on one of the beds. “What does that fuck word mean?”
“Never mind. What are we going to do?” I sat on the other bed.
“He bought taffy,” said Kimberly.
“And we get a horse.”
“You’re so easily fooled. Like you were with Ed.”
“Well, I like this guy.”
My mother divorced my real father when I was three. She and Ed were only together for
two years. He’d tried to act like a father, too. When he got a new advertising job in Texas, we had to move to Ft. Worth where the trees in our front yard were so skinny they had to be held up with sticks. Ed bought us a playhouse for the backyard and joined the Ridgley Hills country club so Kimberly and I could take swimming lessons and meet the right people. I had a hard time making friends, but my mother said the girls there were too fat to be friends with anyway.
I had flying dreams. Ed and other people I didn’t know chased me down the street. Just before they caught me, when I had no more breath, I would suddenly lift up with great relief as their fingers grabbed at my heels, and fly away over the Ridgley Hills rooftops toward the stars. I began to practice flying after school. Wearing special red tennis shoes I tried to recreate how my body felt in the dreams. Kimberly would fan me, bring Cokes and measure the distance each time I jumped out into the backyard from the three-foot high patio. My first goal was to fly to the corner of the fence.
Kimberly would call out instructions. “Not enough lift. Run faster before you jump.”
Later, my mother said she only married Ed because she thought he would make a good father. She neglected to find out whether or not we liked him, which we didn’t. I overheard her tell her friends she divorced him because he didn’t want to have sex. “I think he wanted to be a priest,” she said.
In the teepee, Kimberly turned onto her side. “Remember when it snowed in Ft. Worth? And the summer that giant tarantula climbed up our street? It was as big as the moon and nobody knew where it came from. I wanted to keep it for a pet, but Mommy wouldn’t let me. I know Ed was in the house, but I don’t remember ever talking to him. He had that dog food last name. Did we ever call him Daddy? What happened to him anyway?”
“I don’t know. Maybe he didn’t like us enough.”
“This guy is better.”
“I wonder how long he’ll stay.”
Kimberly turned away and went to sleep in her clothes. My mother’s dim laugh floated across the water. I wished Kimberly could see that Jack wasn’t any different from Ed. I’d have to come up with a plan.
I considered running away. At midnight, I got a Coke and some peanut butter crackers at the vending machine. I walked to the highway but there was nothing, not even a truck, only the black desert under a sky of ancient blinking stars. Back in the room, I stayed awake, lying like a board under the dark brown bedspread, a puffy yellow arrow pattern in its center, longing for a flying dream.
When the sun rose the next morning, the teepees across the courtyard turned stark white while others, including ours, became pale gray shadows. I got up and went to the sunny side of the pool. The smell of chlorine wafted through the dry air. I sat on a lounge chair, closed my eyes and said a prayer asking God to get rid of this guy. It was the only thing I could think of.
Pretty soon I heard a flapping sound. It got closer and closer. I opened my eyes and there was Jack in a bathing suit that stretched around his square shaped body. A blue striped hotel towel covered the arrow marks on his neck. I was trapped.
"Going swimming? Your mother tells me you're quite a swimmer."
He slid off his flip-flops and dove into the deep end. It was my chance to run, but I didn't. I kept watching him. It was hard not to be impressed. I wanted to learn to dive.
His head popped up and he swam to the edge of the pool, near where I was sitting. His
mouth was full of water. He squirted it in a long thick stream through the space in his front teeth. It almost touched my feet.
"How'd you do that?" I said, pulling my legs up.
He took another gulp, squirted again, and that time the water did touch my feet.
"Come on in and I'll show you."
"I don't think so." I got up and walked away.
"See ya at breakfast then."
At the fishing lodge in Oak Creek Canyon I sat alone at the edge of the stream in front of our cabin while Jack and Kimberly stood in the water in black boots and floppy hats. A curved wicker basket hung over his shoulder to hold the fish they caught. He put bait on their fishing pole hooks and showed her how to throw out her line.
My mother set up a lounge chair, angling it between the trees for sunbathing. “The sun is the only thing that relaxes me,” she said. She rubbed baby oil on her legs and stretched out in her sleek black bikini, flipping the pages of Voguemagazine probably looking for the latest Oleg Cassini designs for her dressmaker to copy. Vogue gave my mother all kinds of advice; to stay slim, eat standing up to burn more calories and have only one slice of bread on a sandwich. Open-faced they called it. But sometimes I saw her eat a whole bag of ginger snaps for lunch.
The creek made a soft clapping sound as it rolled in front of me. My face shimmered in pieces, like a jigsaw puzzle in the water. Every now and then Jack looked over and waved at me.
Kimberly’s pole jerked up and down. Her voice cracked across the canyon, “I got a fish.” It slithered and gagged on the hook, helpless. It squirmed and slapped around in Jack’s hands as he tried to unhook it and slide it into the wicker basket. I couldn’t watch. I ran into the woods, imagined myself getting lost and never found.
My mother called out, “Don’t you want to get some sun, Honey?”
In the lodge dining room, red and gray Navajo rugs hung on either side of a river rock fireplace. On each table, baskets woven with black triangular designs held thick pieces of dark crusted bread wrapped in cloth napkins.
"Where's the menu?" I said.
"There is no menu,” my mother said. “They only serve fish." She was slightly freckled from her day in the sun.
“I want steak."
My mother frowned. "You have no choice. Now, put your napkin in your lap. You too, Kimberly."
I looked at Jack and said, "I can't eat fish. One time I almost choked to death on the bones."
"No, you didn't, " my mother said.
"I did. You weren’t there. It was at Corrine's house."
"Don't worry about bones,” Jack said. "I'll take care of that."
The dead trout came to the table on a big white platter. Their eyes looked alive and their rainbow colors had been cooked out of their bodies.
Jack picked up a long shiny knife. "Watch this."
I held my hand over my eyes and peeked out through cracked fingers. He slit each fish open, one by one, and magically pulled out the whole skeleton with every bone attached.
I dropped my hand and said, "How'd you do that?"
“Wow!” said Kimberly.
"He knows how to do lots of things, don't you, Jack?” my mother said. “ He’s like Superman.”
He winked at me.
I pushed pieces of trout toward the edge of my plate in a lopsided star pattern so it looked like I'd eaten some. I couldn’t stop looking at the skeleton fish. Their eyes stared back at me from the platter.
Back at our house on Third Avenue, a row of dark pants hung upside down from wooden hangers in my mother’s closet. A stuffed quail sat displayed on an unfamiliar table in the den. His opera records filled our record cabinet. A silver-colored electric razor, a push-up container of Old Spice deodorant and a bottle of men’s cologne lined one side of the green-tiled bathroom counter. He’d already moved in.
Jack didn't have a regular job. He stayed at home in blue boxer shorts, sipping scotch and water from a cut crystal glass. His chest was smooth and hairless. He made produce deals on the telephone with growers in Yuma, Buckeye, El Centro and Salinas, then worried if insects or the weather would ruin the crops. Once, I heard him bet $10,000 on a fighter named Zora Foley.
"I'd like to own a piece of him," he said.
I asked how he could buy part of someone.
He laughed. "With plenty of money." He told me that one night Zora Foley had taught him to play the bongo drums at a victory party in Las Vegas.
Jack was a big spender. He took us to the rodeo, a football game and Disneyland. We ate out at Durant’s, the Knotty Pines and the Stockyards Restaurant, expensive steak houses where Jack knew the owners. We sat in dark red booths, ate shrimp cocktails, filet mignon, baked potatoes and salad with Roquefort dressing.
Jack loved to cook. He wore a plaid apron and made things like a basted ham covered with a thick crust of cooked dough. His specialty was Chicken Marengo. He went hunting and brought home quail and other small birds to cook, covering them in sweet fruity sauces.
He bought us the horse he’d promised. We named her Honeybee, but she turned out to be a wild horse and couldn’t be tamed. We never rode her. Jack bought Kimberly a trampoline. He taught me to dive by showing me how to double over and fall in. He took me to the record store to buy the top ten hits, made jokes, asking the salesman if he had "Pretty Blue Eyes." My mother didn’t like dogs but Jack talked her into letting Kimberly and me have two Beagle puppies.
Late at night I hid in the hallway and watched as they slow danced in the living room, his hand resting on the side of my mother’s hip. When she did leg kicks in the swimming pool for slimmer thighs, Jack would sit on the edge near the ladder, where she held on to steady herself, and said things that made her laugh. She hadn’t laughed much with Ed. I didn’t remember how she was with my real father.
I tried to resist him and all his gifts, but inside I felt an opening like a crack in the desert floor making a channel for rainwater.
After he made a produce deal, he and my mother would drive out to the fields in Buckeye or Yuma to check on the crops. In her short brown leather boots, the bottoms of her tight fitting blue jeans tucked in the tops, and a shirt with little silver snaps on the pockets, she’d say, “We’re off to work.” Out they’d go, ice clinking in their drinks, waving to us as they backed out of the driveway in the Lincoln. Hours later, they’d come home carrying heads of lettuce, cucumbers or strawberries covered in mud.
One day, Jack took Kimberly and me along too. He checked in, speaking Spanish, with the head field worker who stayed in a small trailer near one of the irrigation ditches. Then, while my mother stayed in the car, listening to Tony Bennett and drinking Bloody Mary’s from a thermos, my sister and I followed Jack out into acreage of quiet, sweet smelling, dirt. We walked behind him in our tooled leather cowboy boots, through labyrinths of butterball and romaine, as he looked for signs of whether or not his investment was going to pay off.
He wouldn’t let us talk until after his inspection.
Bending down, close to the earth, he sniffed handfuls of irrigated soil. He looked for insects and stroked the underside of leaves, feeling with his fingers for the ones that weren’t visible.
I could feel the whole crop speaking to him through his hands. He seemed to know what it needed. It was the same way he patted meat when he barbequed hamburgers, as if he’d had a relationship with the animal, the way he lovingly cooked quail in golden brown sauces, how he touched my mother’s skin and sometimes put his hand on my shoulder when he made a joke, or lifted Kimberly up to ride on his shoulders.
As we walked through the butterball crop, Jack slipped a knife from the pocket of his loose fitting pants, cut a piece of the vegetable from its roots and chewed it. We walked some more. Then he stopped, lifted his head up, and peered at the sky from behind his black horn rim sunglasses.
“You can’t control nature,” he said. “If lettuce gets too cold, the heads will be too small. If it’s too hot, they’ll wilt. And if the wind comes up, the heads could get windburn. It’s a risky business.”
When his assessment was complete, he let out a scream. We were scared at first.
“It releases tension,” he said. “Where else can you scream and no one will hear you?”
I tried to imitate Jack, making the loudest noise I could, but I started to cough. The more I screamed though, the throat screeching stopped and I felt the sound coming from my whole body.
Jack taught us to make animal sounds. Kimberly liked to imitate birds. I preferred wild cats. Jack could become any animal we thought of. Our favorite was his imitation of an anteater. He stuck his tongue out, slithered it from side to side and made licking sounds.
As we walked back to the car, Jack taught us his rendition of “I’m An Old Cowhand From The Rio Grande” and we sang together, laughing.
I’m an old Cowpie
In the pasture I lie
Oh, my feet don’t match
And my head needs a scratch.
Though my feet don’t match
And my head needs a scratch
I’m still a cowpie
That’ll get your ass
Yippy I O KI Ay
“How does everything look?” my mother asked. She stood at the edge where the crops ended and the desert began.
Jack lit a cigarette and put his arm around her.
“So far, so good,” he said.
One night, I overheard them talking about adoption. Without consulting Kimberly and me, they’d planned for a baby boy to come to our house for a trial run. I didn’t want a brother, especially an adopted one. I knew Kimberly and I had to do something to make sure they sent him back. We’d just started calling Jack “Daddy” and using his last name in preparation forour legal adoption. Kimberly had secretly carved her new initials into the backseat of the new Cadillac. We didn’t need any more siblings.
I told Kimberly the baby would get all their attention. She got the picture the first night the baby arrived, and she saw Jack and my mother dancing around the kitchen, passing him back and forth, laughing, making goo goo ga ga noises, completely ignoring us. “They didn’t even make dinner,” she said.
The baby was an ugly color of red, and he cried too much. My mother tried not to show it, but I could tell his sounds annoyed her. Kimberly and I decided that if we could get him to cry more, it would push my mother over the edge; and that would be the end of him.
We met everyday after school under a tent of blankets Kimberly built in her room. We thought of obvious things we’d seen on TV, like tying him up or putting a pillow over his face, just enough to cause more crying, but we didn’t want to accidentally kill him.
One Saturday, we went to dinner at the Stockyards restaurant, Jack’s favorite. Kimberly and I ordered shrimp cocktails. With tiny forks, we dipped orange striped bodies into cocktail sauce, watching my mother and Jack dote on the baby in his highchair. Suddenly, we looked at each other, then at our forks and we knew we had the answer.
The next day, under the tent, we worked out our strategy. We would each carry a shrimp fork with us at all times and when no one was looking, take turns poking the baby’s feet, not hard enough to hurt him, just enough to make him fussy. We did it when he was in his high chair, in his crib and when we rode with him in the back seat of the car.
The day the adoption people took him away, Kimberly and I hugged each other and ate Hostess cupcakes under the tent to celebrate our success.
Later, I heard my mother and Jack discuss whether or not she should have surgery to correct her tipped uterus, which is why she couldn’t get pregnant. The doctor said it must have tilted backwards when she gave birth to Kimberly.
“If it doesn’t work, we can always try another baby to adopt,” Jack said.
“It’s all just too much.” My mother’s voice rose higher. I heard a glass smash on the kitchen floor.
Six months later, two hulking men came to the door demanding to know Jack’s whereabouts. He was in Salinas, but my mother told me not to tell them. She made me answer the door and say, “My parents aren’t home.” The men stood on the doorjamb, leaned forward into the house, close to me. I thought they would push me out of the way or put me in handcuffs. They looked like they had guns. My whole body trembled. I wanted to run but I stood there trying to appear taller than I was. I kept saying, “They aren’t here. They aren’t here,” until finally, they left.
“Who are those men?” I asked my mother.
“Friends of Jack’s.”
“They don’t look like friends.”
She went to her bedroom and closed the door. I heard black sobbing sounds that penetrated the walls of the house.
Later, she told Kimberly and me that Jack wasn’t coming back. She was divorcing him and we had to move out of state. She just found out he’d been writing bad checks for a long time. He’d forged her signature, taken her inheritance money and Kimberly’s and my trust fund. He’d invested all of it on what turned out to be a bad crop of cucumbers.
I didn’t know what a trust fund was, but if Jack had taken all our money he must have had a good reason. He’d promised to adopt us, so he had to come home.
Kimberly wouldn’t go in the pool without him. She started stealing. She’d race down Glendale Avenue to the Rexall Drug store, making the playing cards in the spokes of her bike spin until you couldn’t see them. Her thin brown hair, separated into pigtails, looked like sprouting palm trees waving in the wind. She brought home bags of records, hair spray, make-up, candy and comic books.
I told her Jack would be back any day, he just needed time to get some money together.
“Will he be the same as before?”
“He’ll be better,” I said.
The big men kept coming to the door, now asking for my mother. I tried to control the shaking in my body when I told them my parents weren’t home. I felt like a criminal and wondered if they’d put me in handcuffs if they found out I was lying.
I thought my mother wanted Jack to come back, too, until the locksmith came. And then I heard her on the phone inviting a man over for dinner. She put lemon chicken in the oven. I tiptoed down the hall and peeked around the corner to see who it was. Bob Arden, owner of the Knotty Pines restaurant. We’d eaten there. We’d met him. He was a friend of Jack’s. He and my mother were listening to Andy Williams and drinking martinis on the couch in the living room. The lights were low. I’d seen her replace the regular bulbs with pink ones before he arrived. Suddenly, she leaned into him and put her “Fire Engine Red” lips on his mouth.
I rushed to get Kimberly. She was watching the ballerina in her music box spin around to the “Blue Danube Waltz.”
“Let’s go out there and do a dance for them,” I said. “That way, they can’t kiss or anything.”
“Does she still love Daddy?"
“Yes. But we have to keep an eye on her.”
We got cokes in the kitchen and went to the living room in our petticoat dance outfits with our plan. Kimberly carried a little drum. I took a box of checkers as a back up of something to do after our performance.
“What are you girls doing?” my mother said.
“We’re here to dance for Mr. Arden.”
“Aren’t you cute,” he said sucking a martini soaked olive into his mouth.
Kimberly tapped her drum and the doorbell rang.
“Don’t answer that,” my mother said.
It rang again. We all stared at the front door.
Then we heard Jack’s voice, thick and hoarse. “Diane, I know you’re in there and I know who you’re with.”
“It’s Daddy,” Kimberly said. She started for the door. I grabbed her arm and held her back.
“Bob, get the hell out of my house and away from my wife.”
My mother froze like an ice sculpture, her arm raised with the martini glass in her hand, ready to drink.
“Daddy,” Kimberly yelled.
The doorbell rang again and again. The checkers spilled at my feet and scattered across the carpet. I felt my stomach churn. The bones in my legs got soft. It was hard to keep standing.
“Bob! Diane! Answer the door or I’m breaking it down!”
I put my arm around Kimberly’s small chest. I could feel her heart pounding.
She looked up at me. “He sounds real mad.”
Jack kept yelling, “I’ll break the door down!” Then we heard a gunshot. A bullet went through the front door and hit the wall that faced the entryway, blackening the woven linen wallpaper.
My mother dropped her glass and screamed.
Bob ran through the kitchen. I heard the back door slam.
What a coward, I thought.
“I’m going to call the police,” I yelled out.
“No,” said Kimberly. “They’ll take him away.”
“He’s going to kill someone.”
I dragged Kimberly with me to the kitchen and dialed the phone. “Come to 708 North Third Avenue. My father shot a gun.”
Jack yelled, “Dreams. You’ve taken them all away, Diane.”
Then we heard pounding, wood splitting, cracking, as part of the door collapsed.
Jack stepped into the living room in a wrinkled shirt and pants; his shoes caked with dried mud.
“Daddy,” Kimberly cried.
“I brought this lettuce for you and the girls,” he said. “This is a good crop. The cucumbers weren’t my fault. It was the beetles. They ate the seedlings.”
Weaving back and forth, holding a head of dirty lettuce in one hand and the gun in the other, he kicked a heavy cardboard box of butterball into the room and walked toward my mother, throwing the head of lettuce at her.
I didn’t think he would shoot Kimberly, or me, but my mother could be dead before the police came. I couldn’t think of what to do. My body took over. I pushed Kimberly behind me and walked forward until I stood between Jack and my mother. My bravery surprised me.
“Aren’t you a big deal,” I said. My heart cracked in crooked pieces. “I was right about you in the beginning.”
He dropped the gun to his side, made a low howling sound, turned and walked away into the night toward an old beat up car parked across the street.
The police finally came and asked my mother all kinds of questions.
“Was he drunk? Are you still married? Did he hit the girls? Did he hit you?”
“I want a restraining order,” my mother said.
After they left, it was quiet except for Andy Williams who’d been singing the “Hawaiian Wedding Song” for hours. The arm of the record player kept lifting up and gliding over the record until the needle dropped down to that last song on the album.
My mother’s lemon chicken burned up in the oven, first flesh, then bones. It smoked its way through the house. We breathed it all in: dead chicken, shattered plaster, Tangueray gin and gunmetal.
Gleah Powers’s work has appeared inSouthwestern American Literature, Lumina,Prime Number Magazine online, Prime Number Magazine Editors' Selection Volume 2, Prime Mincer Press, Flatmancrooked, Naugatuck River Review, and The Paulinian Compass, journal of St. Paul University Manila. A shortlisted finalist in the Summer Literary Seminars Unified Literary Contest in 2011 and 2013, Gleah has been awarded writing residencies from Vermont Studio Center, Rancho Linda Vista arts community and a grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial fund. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles where she has taught in the BA program. She currently lives in Santa Monica, California and is at work on a short story collection.