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.

1990: Not Workin’ for a Livin’

“Jenny, I’m not going to work anymore. Daddy is applying for social security disability. If I win the case, I will be the first man ever to receive social security for having Neurofibromatosis. I just want you to know that your father is a fighter and a champion.”

We drive to the Social Security office in my aunt’s old Chevy Malibu. The front half of the car is red and the back half is white because my aunt totaled the car last year. Dad insisted that she sell it to him for $100 and buy herself a new ride.

Once inside, we wait our turn to see Dad’s caseworker, Donna. Last week, after our appointment, Dad said, “I like that Donna. I wonder if she’s married. I think she has a band on her left finger, but I can tell that she likes me, anyways.”

Donna greets us and we walk back to her light grey upholstered cubicle. I notice that she has curly red hair and a lovely smile. She’s like normal people, like the teachers at school.

“Hello Mr. K. Hi Jenny. It’s nice to see you both. Let me grab your file. I just have a few questions for you this week.”

After the appointment, Dad and Donna converse. Dad parades his signature sob story, “My wife, Deborah left when Jenny was 4 days old. She never gave me a penny. I’ve raised Jenny all by myself. Just her and Pop. No other family.”

He glances in my direction to make sure I look properly forlorn while Donna stares at me with a familiar I’m so sorry and what a shame that you don’t have a mom, little girl look.

Donna offers, “Well, my husband and I have a 4 year old little girl, Libby. We live in Saratoga in a house with plenty of spare rooms. I know this is forward, but if you ever want Jenny to spend the weekend at our place, we would be delighted to have her.”

Well that is never going to happen. Dad will never let you out of his sight. I mean we don’t even know this woman or her husband.

 “Sure. I don’t let Jenny stay with just anyone, but I can tell that you are a wonderful woman.” What did he just say? What kinds of drugs did Dr. Merryhue give him this time?

“Okay, great! Hey, we are putting up our Christmas tree next weekend. If you want to drop her off, I will write our home address on the back of my business card.”

My eyes remain wide as we exit the social security building.

“Boy that Donna is a good looking woman, huh? She’s your Father’s type. That’s for sure. Too bad she’s married. Of course she doesn’t know about your Father’s charms yet, either.”

Please Donna, run!