2003: Another Engagement Ring

The familiarity of the Northway comforts me.

But my stomach churns, too. Nostalgic fool! Who are you kidding? You’re filled with dread at the monthly visit. A weekend of walking on eggshells. Like you never left.

We lurch into Dad’s driveway. Confronted once again by—“GABAZAR”—Dad’s vanity license plate. You’ve officially arrived in hell. Just tell him, quickly.

With caution, Dad raises the middle-ish blind slat. His eyes beam though his mouth remains concealed. Look at him. He can’t wait to see you! How in God’s name did you end up being the last one? His final victim?

He opens the door before we’ve finished climbing the three cement steps. I shove my hands in my coat pocket—feigning aversion to the late November air.

Bill allows me to step inside Dad’s apartment first. God I can’t believe this man will endure this with me—for me.

“Good. Daddy’s so glad you’re here. Bill too. Hi Bill. How was the drive? Did you find they started driving like shit as soon as you got off the Northway? These fucking drivers around here don’t know their head from their asshole, I swear.”

Jesus. Just shut up and let me show you something.

“Anyways, your timing is perfect. I don’t know how you do that but Daddy was just about to make the gravy. I want to show Bill how I do it. And you both have to try one of my rolls—new recipe your Father just came up with two weeks ago. I’ve been perfecting it because I’m sick of the shit bread they sell, nowadays.”

“Umm Dad, listen, I umm…” His eyes, impatient, scan my face. Stop stuttering. You used to have some guts. You still do. So what if you didn’t ask permission first. You would never do that.

I jerk my left hand from my pocket and shove it up toward Dad’s face. He takes a moment to adjust his vision. I scrunch my face and squint hard so I don’t have to see his hand coming at me when he strikes. “Holy shit! Jenny Leigh!”

I open my eyes. Was that happiness?

Dad takes my hand to examine the diamond more diligently. “Platinum? What is it a couple carats?”

I nod.

“Wow that must have cost at least ten grand.” I glare at him. Does the narcissism ever relent?

He moves suddenly toward Bill. I pivot on my heel, ready to strike, if necessary. But instead, Dad wraps his arms around my fiancé. Did he just hug your future husband?

I jiggle my head to make sure I’m not hallucinating. By now, Dad’s back in the kitchen demanding our full attention.

The combination of Dad’s relentless chatter and the adrenaline drain produce a constant dull migraine. Damn these headaches! Will you ever be rid of them?

With my right index finger, I twist my engagement ring back and forth. This is what Mom deserved. The love. True love.

1995: A Pound of Butter

“Come on, Jenny. We have to drive that garage—the one where the guy inspects Daddy’s car—no questions asked. Before I get in trouble with motor vehicle.”

I throw my Camp Chingachook sweatshirt over my head. The sleeves tatter at the edges and the raised letters begin to peel off. “Is that what you’re wearing out of the house, Jenny?”

Nodding, I glance at my black fabric mary janes. Yes. We’re going to a musty old garage. Not church.

“Alright I guess you look good enough for the garage. But maybe you should change into something nicer when we get home.” Fine. Yup I said it in my head. Fine. I flinch wondering if he can read my thoughts.

Periodically, I look up from my book as Dad drives to our destination. Crossing the bridge. Joy store. Where you almost died.

 “Goddamn motherfucker.” Huh? What now?

“The bastard is closed.”

He is? Oh yeah. Duh. “Closed” sign.

Dad investigates the situation further. “Well it looks like you and Daddy are screwed again. This guy was perfect. You drove in—flashed your lights—that was it. No emergency brake check—no nothing. Fucking New York State laws. He probably got caught violating the inspection codes.”

Shit. What are we going to do? Will Dad get in trouble? Will it be like the time he didn’t pay his car insurance and we had to drive all the way to Albany to renew his revoked license?

When we arrive home, Dad skims his address book. I retreat to my room so I can finish The Good Earth. I repeat the author’s name in my head each time I see the cover because it’s pleasing and unusual. Pearl S. Buck.

Dad thunders upstairs, “Hey Jenny. Come on. We gotta drive to my nephew’s house.” Which one?

I blink, confused.

“You’ve never met him. My nephew Ken. You know Daddy has over 400 nieces and nephews.”

I wonder how Dad knows the way as we meander through the back roads to get to Ken’s house. Who is Ken and how come you never met him at one of the many family funerals?

We pull in and find the garage door open. Ken slides out from underneath a truck he’s working on. Dad extends his hand to Ken. “Nephew! It’s been too long. How have you been?”

“Been pretty good uncle Tommy. Keeping busy.”

‘Thanks for helping me out of this bind, Neph. The thing is…the car runs perfect…I just don’t have the back brakes hooked up now and I don’t have any emergency brake. The guy who used to inspect it up in Warrensburg went out of business.”

“It’s no problem Uncle. I can take care of it for you.”

“You’re the best, Ken.” Dad flips a thumbs up and grins in my direction. “My nephew. One of many. They’re all good kids. Uncle Tommy loves every one of my nieces and nephews.” So why did we ever go to Uncle George when we could have just come to Ken?

While Ken finishes up, his wife Cindy enters the garage and gives Dad a big hug. Dad has the weirdest family ever. You’re like the niece in the Munsters show. The one who doesn’t fit in.

“You’re all set, Uncle!”

I feel Dad’s relief. “Ken. Do you like cookies?”

“Of course. Look at me!” Ken shakes his stomach. Dad mirrors him. Twins.

“Well, I’m going to bring you my famous chocolate chip blondie bars. You’ve never had cookies that good in your life. I’ll drop them off tomorrow afternoon if you’ll be around?”

“Sounds great!”

Dad and I make the chocolate chip cookies that night.

My mouth waters, but Dad insists on giving the whole half sheet tray to Ken. “This is what you do for people when they do you a favor, Jenny. Daddy’s trying to teach you how to be a good person someday.”

Two days later, Ken’s wife, Cindy calls Dad.

I wonder if something’s wrong with the car. Did Ken change his mind? Can you take an inspection back? Did he get in trouble or something? Maybe they just called to say thanks for the cookies…

Dad keeps repeating, “My God, Cindy. I’m so sorry. That’s horrible. I had no idea that…”

After he hangs up, Dad emerges from behind the trifold divider shaking his head. Well, what is it?

“Jenny, Ken’s dead!”

But…but…we just saw Ken yesterday. Yesterday we saw Ken in his garage and he was alive!

“Jesus, Jenny. Your Father killed my own nephew.”

You killed him? But when? How?

“The cookies. The motherfucking cookies. I make them with a whole pound of butter. A whole motherfucking pound. You have to make them that way. Christ! I didn’t know he had a heart condition. He was only fifty years old.”

Wait how can a chocolate chip cookie kill someone?

“For fucks sake. I didn’t know he was going to eat the whole sheet tray in one night. He ate a pound of butter. Two cups of sugar. The thing is—Cindy said she wasn’t mad. She said Ken died happy. She said he just couldn’t stop eating them—he said they were the best cookies he ate in his life. She said it was an accident. But still your Father is very upset about this.”

This is very confusing. You said we were making the cookies to repay Ken. And they killed him.

“Well, looks like we have another funeral to attend. You know what Daddy always says, too: People die in threes. So somebody else is gonna kick the bucket before long. All I know is: I’m going to outlive them all—my whole family.”

Hopefully not. And besides, if you’re trying to teach me to be a good person—as you put it—then why do you say these shitty things about people? Poor Ken and Cindy.

I trudge upstairs and open my closet to make sure my black dress is clean.

1988: Hallmark Angel

Dad yells at the Off Track Betting screen. “Come on you no good cheating motherfucking jockeys. Fuck you, Cordero!”

He grabs my coat at the shoulder and pulls me off the slotted wooden bench. “Come on, Jenny. These no good cocksuckers took our last twenty dollars. Looks like we’re not going to eat again today.”

I stick the tiny orange pencil in my pocket while the odds slip falls on the diamond-patterned carpet. You can draw with this later.

As we make our way outside, the snow crunches beneath my ballerina slippers. “Jesus, Jenny. You’re lucky your toes don’t freeze off in those shoes. Daddy really wishes you would wear some boots and socks.”

I’m never taking these off. You promised I could dance, Daddy. But then I only had two lessons.

“I know you liked that dance class, Jenny. If you’ll remember your Father is the one who wanted you to go. But I couldn’t manage as a single father. If you’re mad at anyone, it should be your mother. I am angry at the bitch too. For what she’s done to us.”

I touch the tip of my nose. Numb.

Dad stops and looks up at the sky. “For once Lord, could you just give me and my daughter a break.”

I wonder if we could ride an elevator to the clouds—the really puffy ones—so we could talk to God. And see his face.

I envision the doors opening. Jesus stands there to greet us. His red sash drags in sea of marshmallow-y foam.

Dad tugs at my coat sleeve again—reality. I scurry a few paces to catch up. My feet glide on a patch of ice.

When we reach the bridge, I see the Finch and Pruyn paper mill sign. Finally! We’re getting close to the apartment.

There’s just enough room for me to march beside dad on the walkway. He insists I walk to the inside. The cars splash slushy goop on Dad. He turns back to swear at one driver, and then he stops.

Dad leaves me standing there as he backtracks. Where is he going? Is he giving up?

Walking over the bridge reminds me of the story Dad told me about the policeman who gave us a ride for a hundred miles of the trip back to New York from New Hampshire. Daddy keeps his card in his wallet—he said forever—in case he ever gets in trouble—in case anyone ever tries to take me away again.

Dad rushes back toward me with his right hand raised in the air. “Jenny. Motherfucker. A twenty-dollar bill—buried in the snow back there! Now you’ll always be my witness—that your Father is a psychic. You heard me ask God for this twenty dollars.”

You talked to the cloud, Dad. But you never asked for money.

He grins ear to ear. Come on. We’re getting a turkey club for lunch.

At the diner, Dad gives explicit instructions to the waiter. “Yes, I’d like my meat sliced very thin. Lettuce and tomato, finely chopped. Not too much mayo. I don’t like it soggy. My daughter will have the same thing.”

Turkey clubs? Why can’t Dad find money in the snow every day? Then we could eat. Even if God didn’t give it to him.

I woof my club down—toasted crumbs scatter.

Dad leaves a good tip. “Best turkey club your Father ate in years. Almost as good as my own!”

After lunch we stop in the Hallmark store. “Well, your old man has ten dollars left. Burning a hole in my pocket. Let’s buy you a gift.” He nudges me. “Go on. Pick out anything.”

I look at a glass shelf covered in porcelain and ceramic figurines. The porcelain girl—hands gently clasped in prayer—reminds me of myself.

I glance up at Dad.

“Oh you like that one? She’s beautiful. Looks like you. You can consider this a gift from Daddy to you. Just in time for your first communion next week.”

While we walk up to the register, I run my fingers along the smooth ripples of her white dress. I stroke her hair. I’ll keep you forever, communion angel.

1992: Catechism Lesson

Dad screams at the television while I finish my homework lessons.

“Goddamn motherfuckers. Jenny, let Daddy teach you a lesson here. Because these assholes on the so-called-news, they lie. Columbus did not discover America. That’s why we don’t celebrate Columbus Day in this house. And I hate it when they teach you that bullshit in school. Daddy’s been complaining about this since the seventies when my other kids were in school. Why don’t they teach kids real history—about the Indians that were raped and murdered so we could have their land!”

I briefly nod. Then bury my head in my workbook. This assignment is due tomorrow, Dad. We don’t celebrate any of the holidays.

He approaches the table.

“What are you working on there? What the hell is so important? What could be more important than the lessons your father is trying to teach you?” Duh! My homework! My teachers are smarter than you and they can teach me everything I need to know.

“Oh. Religion. That’s another crock of bullshit, too!” But we’re Catholic, and you sent me to a Catholic school.

“I mean, just look at this horseshit—

Dad snatches the workbook from the table. I clench my hands. Give it back. It’s mine.

“A motherfucking white Jesus. You know Jesus was a Jew, right? Bastard had skin darker than your Father.”

But—it’s my workbook—and I like this Jesus. I look at him with pleading eyes, Please give it back.

“Listen. I know you think your Father is crazy.” Yes. Keep going…

“But someday you will thank me. Because you’ll know things that other people don’t know. It’s not that you’ll be better than other people. It’s just—the lessons I’m teaching you—other parents—they aren’t gonna teach their kids like Daddy’s teaching you.”

I sigh. But I don’t want to be taught other things. I want to live in a house like Mary and Lauren. I want to have Fruity Pebbles and Cocoa Puffs for breakfast. And Fruit Roll-Ups for lunch. And I want a Mom, too.

“So these teachers in school—they think they’re teaching you about God. Well, God has no religion. Do you know what Daddy means by that?” I narrow my eyes, No?

“See people think that if you’re religious, then you’re going to heaven.” Yes. Like if we’re good Catholics and we go to church and take communion every week. Then we go to heaven.

“But your Father is here to tell you they’re all wrong. The priests. Your teachers. God doesn’t care about religion. He cares about whether or not you’re a good person.” Aren’t religious people, good people?

“Let Daddy give you an example so you can understand. We go to church every week. And you see some of those snobby fuckers that sit in the front. They won’t even talk to us.” That’s because we’re weird and they’re better than us.

 “Those fucks think they’re better than us. But how is that Christian? Jesus sat with the criminals.” But—

“It’s even worse than that. Some of those people in that church—they’re drunks—they beat their wives and kids.” You do that, so—

“But some people don’t go to church. Some of them don’t even believe in God. But they volunteer their time. Help people in need. They never hurt anybody on purpose. Now don’t you think God would rather have those decent people in heaven? Rather than those assholes who are too high on their horse to wave hello at church? It’s the same bullshit every Sunday.”

Well—I hadn’t really—thought about it.

“I can see you’re thinking about what you’re Father is telling you. That’s good. You’ll see that I’m right one day.”

Oh shit. He is right. He’s actually figured this out, and you can’t disagree with him even though you want to. You need to. But he’s right. But then why—if he knows this—would he act the way he does? Doesn’t he want to go to heaven too?

“Daddy knows what you’re thinking. That I’m a horrible Father. That might very well be true, but I was raised like shit. My parents—they never educated me. They never cared where I was—if I had a hot meal or went to school. So I’m trying to raise you to be better than your Father. I want you to be smart—but way beyond one and one equals two. Because one plus one doesn’t always equal two. But Daddy will save that for another time.”

Okay. Now he’s lost it again. But, you have to admit, there’s something good within him. If you can remember the good things, reject the bad things, then you might have a chance. A chance to be a good person one day.

The next day in religion class, Kevin raises his hand to talk about our lesson. He says, “People can’t go to heaven unless they believe in Jesus Christ, and accept that he died on the cross for our sins.”

Miss Volemer smiles and nods. No that’s wrong! It’s wrong and you can’t stand for it.

My right hand trembles as I stretch it high above my head. “Yes, Jenny?”

“Well, I don’t agree with Kevin. I mean—I don’t really agree with the book either.” I hear a few gasps from behind my seat in the second row. Miss Volemer stares at me intently as my face grows hotter. You have to say it, wimp. You have to say the truth.

“I—I don’t agree because if a person is a good person, and follows the teachings of Christ, then they should go to heaven even if they don’t believe. That’s what Christ would say. And that’s what I believe.”

My face glows red hot. I scan the classroom through my peripheral vision. Everyone sits silently. Including Miss Volemer. You’re going to get in big trouble. Whipped with the ruler like in the old days that Dad used to tell you about.

RINGGGGGG. Phew. Saved by the bell.

I quietly collect my things, and retreat to my locker. Head down. But feeling smart, just like Dad said I would.

1987: The Babysitter

Dad throws a hundred pound bag of flour over one shoulder. He carries it from the stock room to the gigantic floor mixer in the kitchen.

The mixer is painted steel grey. The silver bowl is large enough for me to fit inside. I watch the paddle spin round over and over. When the dough reaches the perfect consistency, Dad trades the paddle for a giant hook.

A little more flour, then some water.

I fidget with my hands because I have a big secret. Good girls don’t keep secrets. But what if Daddy gets mad at you?

“Daddy I have to tell you a story, but I don’t want you to get mad.”

“What is it, baby girl? You can tell your Father anything.”

I hesitate. Oh no! Now you have to tell him. Be brave.

I stammer at first, “Well, I think someone might have tried to do something bad. Like something you taught me about.”

“What do you mean something bad? Something bad to you?”

He looks straight at me now while the dough spins out of control—gumming up the paddle.

I continue, “Umm do you remember my babysitter at the lake?”

“Yeah of course! I met them through the motel when we lived there that one winter.”

“Umm, well one time when the husband was home, I had to go to the bathroom. But when I walked in, he was already there going pee. I got really scared and said ‘I’m sorry.’ I turned around to leave, but he said ‘wait!’”

Dad’s face grows hot. “That son of a bitch. This better not be the kind of story I think it is. I’ll kill the son of a bitch.”

Oh no. You shouldn’t have told him. What if the cops come again like they did last month at the Laundromat?

 “No Dad, it’s not really bad.”

“So what happened, then?”

I point down with my index finger, “Well, he told me to come and feel his pee pee down there.”

“That’s it! I’ll fucking kill that motherfucker!”

“No, Dad. Wait! Nothing happened. I just ran out of the bathroom with my head down.”

“Jenny, my God, that was almost two years ago! Why didn’t you tell Daddy before now?”

“I’m sorry, Daddy. I was scared. I knew how mad you would be.”

“Well I’m not mad at you. But you’re a very strange child. Telling your Father about this so late. What if he tried to hurt you? No more of these crazy babysitters ever again! Never ever trust anybody—like you Father always tells you. And I fucking disregarded my own rule!”

Dad finishes attending to the dough quietly—adding more water to correct the earlier mistake. Then his voice softens, “I guess in a way, you saved your Father, Jenny. If you told me that story two years ago, he would be dead, and I’d be in jail now. You did the right thing to leave, but I want you to come to Daddy right away from now on. You can always talk to me about anything.”

I nod to promise, but I know better.

1995: OJ

Calm down! Stop shaking! He would kill you for this display of weakness…but he’s not here.

 I involuntarily continue to tap my feet up and down under my desk. The vibration radiates through my thumb and forefinger causing me to drop my pencil. It’s no use. You can’t concentrate. I glance at the clock. Still only 1:52 pm. Hurry up final bell. It’s the 3rd of the month. Shopping day!

Why do you get so excited when you know you’re going to starve for 28 days after he blows the whole disability check? And he’ll blame you like last month. Just concentrate on this math assignment, for God’s sake!

Yeah, but it’s our day together. Our only thing we do together…because he worries about the bumps…

I recall his words, “Jenny, I’d rather see you have nice clothes than food to eat. Besides, food makes you fat like your old man. You don’t ever want to get fat and look bad in your clothes. Trust Poppa! And you know Daddy doesn’t believe you can spoil kids by buying them things. It’s how they take care of those things and how thankful they are to have them.”

Instead of solving equations, I nervously pick at a checked up edge of my desk while my mind continues to wander toward one of Dad’s routine rants.

“Jenny, you and Daddy have a special relationship. Shopping is our special daddy-daughter thing. It all started with your Father’s family curse—neurofibromatosis—when I was 16. My face was clean and handsome, too. Then the first one appeared on my chin while I was in the Marines. I tried to shave it off twice, but it grew right back. Came from my fucking mother’s side. My father never should have married that woman, but that’s another story. Anyways, your Father never had trouble getting a woman because of these things. But in the 1970s, I went to the beach and a little boy screamed bloody murder when he saw me. The kid thought I was some kind of monster with these things. So after that, Daddy figured, fuck it. Truth be told, I don’t like being around lots of people anyways. That’s why we never go to parks or dirty fucking fairs. Who knows what animals pissed there or what disgusting people do in those public places?”

Could that one event have embarrassed him so long—to last for all these years? Will I get the bumps when I turn sixteen, too? I examine my body each week to make sure none have grown. Just a few ugly brown birthmarks so far.

RINGGGGGGG. At last! I quickly fumble for tonight’s assignments among the rumpled papers stuffed into the bottom of my locker. You really got to clean this mess up, jerk.

Leaping toward the double doors, I spy Dad’s car parked right in front. Please don’t let anyone see you get in the contact-paper car. You’re having enough trouble at this new school. I toss my backpack onto the seat first, and hop in with a giant grin on my face.

Dad wonders aloud, “What the fuck are you so happy about?”

Oh no! He forgot about shopping day. He said we might even go to the good mall this time.

My head hangs while my smile quickly dissolves into despair.

He catches on. “Oh! You think we’re going to the mall today, don’t you?”

I nod. Phew. He remembers! But why does he seem so angry?

“Well you can forget about that today. Your Father is all riled up. Do you know what the fuck happened today? They let that n****r, OJ Simpson—fucking wife killer—off today. Acquittal my ass! He held his hand taut when he tried the glove on. And the fucking thing has his blood on it.”

Dad holds his hand up with all of his fingers spread open like a turkey.

“For fuck’s sake if I held my hand like this, I couldn’t get my hand in a glove either. This is why your Father hates sports players. We give these people way too much power. I want to kill that n****r myself. If Nichole Brown were my daughter, he would have never got away with this shit. Mark my words, Jenny, if you ever try to date one of them, I’ll kill you myself.”

I wince at Dad’s suggestion of violence. I hate you! If you only knew what we learned in school. That people like you are called racists. You should be sent to jail!

He shifts the car out of park, but jabbers on. “Don’t get Daddy wrong. I don’t believe in hurting black people. A lot of them were cleaner and better behaved than white people when I was a little boy living in the city. It was them who didn’t want to mix with the whites because we were too dirty. And I agree with them. The races don’t belong mixing, for Christ sakes.”

How do you know? People can do whatever the hell they want to!

 “Really. Believe me. Daddy almost got killed when I was in service because I was on my leave and I gave my seat to a black woman on the bus in South Carolina. People wanted to beat me up. But I didn’t care. And my first friend when I joined the military was black. He showed me how to defend myself because I was one of the shortest guys there. But he liked me because I was tough.”

Yeah. Yeah. Heard these stories a million times. You say one thing and do another all the time.

When we get home, Dad fixes my usual snack of Ramen noodles. I devour them, and excuse myself for homework. “That’s fine, Jenny. Go to your room, and do that useless shit they assign you in school.” Exactly what I intend to do, jerk.

 “…What you really ought to be doing is staying down here and watching the news with Daddy to learn some real life lessons here. This goddamn commie country we live in, where our white women are no longer safe.”

But I have homework! And I have to be a straight-A student, right? Besides I’ve heard enough of your racism for one day.

 As I trudge upstairs, the cream and tan pattern in the rug makes creates a hypnotic mood to drown out Dad’s curses at the T.V. What if the whole world knew what a bastard he is? What if they really, did? Would everyone think you were just his evil daughter?

1993: Ante Up

A crisp fall breeze quivers up my spine as we exit Price Chopper supermarket.

Dad waves to someone in the parking lot. Who is that? I squint harder into the blinding afternoon sun. Nothing. Maybe you need glasses?

The mystery man yells, “Hey, Tom!”

Dad bellows back, “Ozzy! Hey-a buddy.”

Oh fuck. It’s Ozzy. What day is it? Wednesday! How much worse could your luck get?

Ozzy leans against his silver Oldsmobile waiting cheerfully for Dad and me to approach. I don’t smile as the grocery bag digs into my scrawny hand. You know what’s coming next. Glare.

“Jeez, Tom we haven’t seen you in forever. The boys ask me about you every week.”

“Ah, sorry Oz. It’s been very busy getting Jenny back to school. Tough being a single father, you know?” Yes we’re very busy. No time for games.

“Well, there’s going to be a good game at my house tonight, if you want to come. I was just picking up the cold cuts and hoagie rolls for later.”

Dad hesitates. Please let him say ‘no.’

“Yeah, I’ll think about it Ozzy. Hey, is the Greek gonna be there?”

“Yes, the Greek, Porky, Jonesey. Everybody. Full house.” So what do they need him for then?

 “Yeah, well, I guess I’ll be there then. Still Eight-o’clock?”

Ozzy shoots back, “Like always!”

I shrivel inside. It’s a school night. A fucking school night!

 As we speed toward home, Dad asks, “Hope you don’t mind if I go to Ozzy’s tonight? You know Daddy hasn’t been in over two months.” Why ask? It’s not a real question. You’re going no matter what I say.

“You’ll just have to do your homework fast when we get home. I won’t have to feed you. Ozzy always has plenty of good food there.” I look out the window to roll my eyes. Yeah. Gross sandwiches.

Defeated, I nod. Yes, yes, yes…to all the bullshit until the day I turn 18.

When we pull into Ozzy’s driveway, a familiar feeling of apprehension encases my body. I wonder how many times you’ve been here in your life?

We walk in the middle of the first game as Ozzy yells, “I’ll take that and raise you a dollar.” The Greek glances up from his hand and announces, “Tommy! Hey guys! The Big Kahuna is here!” Why do they call him that? I guess ‘the Greek’ was already taken.

Dad smiles and nods making his way toward the trays of food. He whispers, “Take a lot. Ozzy won’t mind. He buys way more than we ever eat.” I grab two slices of ham, a piece of provolone cheese and slap them on a hoagie roll. Pass on the crusty yellow mustard.

“Jenny. You’re going to eat it dry like that? God. I don’t know how you do that.” You can’t control everything, can you jerkball?

After all these years, Ozzy doesn’t escort me into the back living room. Instead he calls over, “You know your way, right kiddo?”

Dad answers on my behalf. “Yeah, I’ll just get her settled in. Be right back for the next one guys.”

I fumble for the TV remote in the pitch-dark. “Alright, Jenny. If you need anything, just come and get Daddy.” Don’t worry. I won’t need anything except a new Father.

The light from the TV illuminates the room just enough for me to make out Ozzy’s bumpy tweed sofa. You’ve never actually seen this room in daylight. Weird.

I sit rigid on the sofa at first, waiting for Ozzy’s cat, Muffin to appear. Damn cat gives you the creeps.

After a few minutes, I turn to the guide channel. Ooh! Reruns of Bewitched followed by your favorite, Quantum Leap.

My eyes flutter a bit after two episodes. No. You can’t fall asleep before Quantum. At least Ozzy has cable. I look at the soiled pillow. It’s not like you’ve never laid on it before. Why do you hesitate every time?

Finally, I surrender and lower my head back.

In my right ear…Purrr Purrrr. I jump up. Oh Jesus, Muffins. You almost gave me a heart attack. Now please don’t come near me, sweet little kitty. Muffins and I come to a truce. She brushes past my leg twice and then she retreats to Ozzy’s bedroom once again. Good cat.

I hum the theme in my head as Quantum Leap begins. But Dad roars louder than the music. “Goddamit, I have a fucking full house. Right here. Jesus Christ. Slippery Tony—you son-of-a-bitch! That’s what they ought to call you.”

Shivering, I pull the crochet throw over my legs. Measured, Ozzy tries to calm Dad. “Tom. It’s okay. No need for that. We’re all friends here. Just enjoying a good game of cards.”

“Ahhh, fuck all of you is what I say. I’m the best card player here and you’re all just jealous.”

Shut up. All of you. I just want to watch one show. That’s all I get out of this. Do any of you pigs realize there’s a 12-year-old girl back here who has a history test tomorrow?

I groan as I wake to Dad rocking my shoulder. “Jenny. Jenny. Wake up. It’s time to go. These motherfucking bastards cheat like crazy. I got to get outta here before I punch one of them out cold.”

Eyes still bleary, I fumble for the TV off button. The time stamp reads 2:37 am. He’s leaving early, tonight. Must have been bad.

The boys groan faintly as we exit Ozzy’s. They’d probably kill him if you weren’t here.

The cool afternoon air, now piercingly frigid, slaps me in the face first. Then proceeds to paralyze my muscles one by one. Fuck this. As we get in the car, Dad scrapes some frost off the inside of the window. He peels out of the driveway, and races for home.

“Bastards think your Father is dumb, Jenny. But I do that on purpose. I won about fifty-seven dollars tonight, but they don’t know that. They are all so dumb. Your Father cheats like crazy, but they will never catch on to my system.”

Yeah pretty sure that all the ‘fucks’ and the ‘get the fuck outs’ confirmed that they’re on to your system. Fifty-seven dollars isn’t bad, though. Does this mean we will eat this week, or will you find some other way to blow it?