1987: The Curse

At the counter, I take a piece of paper and fold the bottom half into the middle. I bend the two top sides inward to meet the lower flap, sliding my thumb across the triangular edge. The last downward fold forms my paper envelope.

I inspect my work to make sure the edges line up. Envelopes are for grown ups. Because they have envelopes at the post office. And the post office is special because people have P.O. boxes there.

I make up a P.O Box address for the front of my envelope. While I draw on the scalloped edges of my stamp, 25 cents, I hear Dad yelling behind me. “Christ! Don’t fall out you son of bitch!”

A quick swivel of my stool reveals Dad gripping his giant two-handled saucepan while flipping it upside down. I hold my breath to see where the cake will land. Last time it was on the floor. And Sister Nancy ran in to see why Dad was screaming.

“Fuck! Ah! Good, you little bastard. Ol’ Tommy is smarter than you. You can’t beat a Greek.”

The chocolate cake lands safely on the silver tray. Steam roars out—fogging Dad’s glasses. The cake stands tall. Like the hat—the striped one from Cat in the Hat.

Dad walks around the butcher-block island to examine his masterpiece. “Look at this dark chocolate cake, Jenny Leigh.” It’s Daddy’s best one yet. Pillsbury dark chocolate cake mix. It’s the only one to use—as good as your Father could make it homemade. Just wait ‘til the nuns see this! They never had a cake like this for a picnic.”

Freshly baked cake smell drifts in my direction. My stomach growls. I hold my belly and turn back to my stamp artwork to distract myself. Behind me, Dad changes the paddle on the mixer so he can make chocolate frosting.

How come he can’t make you a cake? How come there’s always frosting on cakes? It tastes too sweet. He should let me have a piece before he ruins it.

I carefully place my envelope in my backpack. Don’t wrinkle, perfect little envelope.

At the counter, I stare at Dad hoping he will read my mind.

“Oh you came to watch Daddy? That’s good. I like it when you watch me. That way you learn and someday you will be a first class chef—just like your old man.”

My eyes meet his and then I glance back at the cake.

“Smells good doesn’t it?” Nod. Yes!

“Wait ‘til Daddy gets that dark chocolate drizzled over the top!” I shake my head. No!

“What you don’t like Daddy’s frosting? I know you do. You must. It’s the best in the world.”

“No Daddy. I don’t like it. I hate it. I like the cake plain.”

“Oh. Well, so what you’re telling me is that you want a piece right now?”

My stomach growls again. “Yes, please!”

“Well, there’s no way. No way, I can just cut a piece for you before everyone else eats it later? The cake is too thick. I could never fill in the hole.”

“Please, Dad? I’m so hungry.”

“No, honey. I’m sorry. But you have to learn patience.”

No it’s not fair. You’re always patient. And squeeze Daddy’s feet and back for him. No one ever does anything nice for you.

I glare at him. “I hate you, Dad. I hate you! And I wish you would die.”

“Oh my Christ. Did you just put a curse on your Father?”

What’s a curse?

“You did! You little shit. I know that look. My mother was a witch, you know, and she was cursed by a witch.”

Dad’s speech makes me forget about the cake.

“Fine. Will you remove the curse if Daddy cuts you a sliver?”

I don’t know if I should nod. But I do, so Dad will give me what I want.

“Fine, but it has to be just a sliver. My God, I’ll have to slave over it to fill that in.”

The thickness of the cake consumes the paper plate even though white bits peak through the thinnest parts.

I inhale deeply. Ahhh. A lovely chocolate cake, just for you.

Dad loads the nuns’ faux-wood station wagon. Cake goes in next to last. Followed by me, Sisters’ Nancy, Joan, Patricia, Mary and Dad.

No one will ever know about the missing piece of cake.

Dad soaks up rave compliments, especially for his famous potato salad and of course the chocolate cake.

On the way home, the motion of the car makes me drift into a deep sleep. What? What’s going on?

When I open my eyes, we are on the side of the road. I hear Dad saying, “The tire’s completely flat. Of course—my bad luck!”

Sister Nancy tells Dad there’s no such thing as bad luck. She says, “God knows what’s best for us all Chef, Tom.”

“Ack. No disrespect, Sister. But you don’t know my family. My daughter did this. Jenny put a curse on me.”

No I didn’t. I swear Daddy. I don’t even know what a curse is. You made that up, Daddy.

As Dad continues despite Sister Nancy’s protests, I hunker down in the seat. He’s going to be very angry with you later. When they’re all gone. No one will be able to protect you.

“Listen. Jenny said she was cursing me if I didn’t give her a sliver of that chocolate cake I made. She said I was going to die. I know of her powers more than she does, so I cut her the cake, even though it was the wrong thing to do as a parent. But she wouldn’t quit. Because the piece was too small for her, she said I would get a flat tire for my punishment instead of dying.”

No. No! Those are lies. I didn’t say that! I never said anything about a tire. I just wanted a piece of cake. I swear. I’m not a witch. I don’t have powers.

Sister Joan reaches for my hand and gives it a squeeze while Sister Nancy frowns through the rear window.

After Dad changes puts the spare tire on—no one says a word as Dad drives back to the convent. Except for me. I say a prayer. Dear God, I’m not a bad girl. I don’t know what a curse is, but I probably shouldn’t have told Dad I wanted him to die. Please don’t let him hurt me.

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1989: Who Can You Trust?

 

Daddy sits on the toilet seat to discuss whatever’s on his mind while I take my nightly bath.

“Jenny, my father always told me of all the people to stay away from, you stay away from the fucking Irish. He used to tell me that at least the goddamn blacks were clean and had manners. But you could never trust an ‘Irishman.’ They’re belligerent, no-good, common drunkards.

Don’t say that about my best friend. I think she’s perfect.

“Daddy would never lie to you; I want you to listen carefully to me now. You can’t trust anyone– not even your own children and your husband, someday.”

No. He is wrong. You can trust people. You have to tell him.

“Daa—d, my best friend is Irish.”

“Bullshit. The Irish are not your friends. I just told you that.”

Defensive, I explain, “Well, she wasn’t my friend at first. She didn’t like me when I started Kindergarten. But then I gave her a Valentine, and we became best friends.”

He shoots me a dismissive look. “Well, I can’t tell you what to do, but just don’t ever trust anyone. You hear me?” I hear you, but I don’t believe you. Why do you have to hate everyone?

After my bath, Dad notices my stubborn red knee bumps peeking out of my tatty white towel.

“Okay, those bumps aren’t going to clear up on their own. You can’t have that shit on your knees. Come here, Poppa knows what to do.”

I approach him hesitantly.

“Come on, I know you trust Daddy, right? This won’t hurt a bit. I’m just going to shave those bastards off with my razor.”

Razor? Cutting? NO! I don’t trust you! We just went over this. You said never trust anyone. I’ll start with you.

“Let me tell you a little secret, Jenny. One of the reasons that men have such smooth faces is because they shave. You won’t see that bumpy shit on a man’s face.”

I don’t breathe as Dad takes the blade to my knees. Blood pours from each bump down my leg. I try to run away from him before he can kill me. How much blood have I lost? Help me, someone!

But I can’t run farther than the hotel bedroom, two feet away. We each have a queen size bed in the same room. I jump on my bed. Don’t touch me.

“Oh come here, you little pansy. You’re a little crybaby just like your wimpy mother. I used to try to rip those little skin tags off her neck and she would have a fit too. One little cut and you would think that you’re being murdered for Christ sake!”

I grip my hands tightly, trying not to cry.

“Those better not be tears. Oh for Christ sake, you little crybaby. If you want to have nasty bumps on your knees, go ahead!”

Dad storms out into the living room and turns on the TV set. I crawl under the covers. I can feel the blood droplets drying onto the sheets beneath me. No dinner tonight. Make yourself a can of chicken noodle soup in the morning while he sleeps.