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.

1988: The Ponies

I brush my little pony’s rainbow colored mane as Dad drives. I trace the plush velvety maroon interior of our white Oldsmobile with my index finger.

I love this car but dad said, “That son of a bitch who sold us this goddamn car ripped me off. I oughtta go and give him a piece of my mind. Motherfucking diesel engine. Nobody makes a fool of Thomas.”

Suddenly, as I peer over the dash, we are headed toward South Street. There’s only two things on South Street. Dirty John’s Hot Dog Restaurant, and Off Track Betting.

“Dad! No! We’re going to OTB today?” I let this slip out almost forgetting the spanking he will give me.

“No, no. Don’t get all excited my child. Daddy’s just got to go see a man about a horse.”

I sigh, relieved, I keep brushing my pony’s pink mane.

When I look up, Dad backs into his usual spot at the OTB parking lot.

He shoots me a crooked grin. “See Daddy never lies. I told you, we’re going to see a man about a horse.”

I leave my toys in the car. I don’t want them smelling like cigarette smoke too.

Dad runs over to the Belmont track sheets. His favorite. He looks at the Daily Double. I hate the Double. It means we will be here for hours.

“Jenny I think Daddy’s gonna bet 4-2 for the late double. What do you think? You know my favorite numbers are Deborah Brown, 4 and 2.”

Utterly bored, I stare at the design in the plush rug. A series of overlapping octagons. Immediately I begin to count the patterned shapes. 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 24…

When I turn around, I see Dad at the counter placing the bet. Finally!

“Yeah, Hi Joanne, I’d like to bet $20 on 4 and 2 for the late double at Belmont.”

$20?! Just bet the $5 ones.

 While we wait for the race, I sit on a tangerine orange wooden bench. I turn over a racing sheet and begin to draw what I see. A wall socket, and large screen TV. Boring. Wait maybe you can design you dream house? The one you are going to live in someday!

I grab a track sheet and flip it over. Which room first? The Bedroom. I draw a heart-shaped bed in the middle of the room. I admire my design. You know no one else will ever have a heart shaped bed. You’re special. It suits you.

I overhear Dad talking to old Joe. He asks my Father, “Hey, Tom, got any good bets in today?”

Dad replies reluctantly, “Just a late double.”

Joe nods his head, “Nice. You box ‘em?”

“Fuck no, Joe. I’m not like you idiots. I don’t spend $40 boxing every horse in the race with the favorite so I can win $5, or lose $35.”

Joe doesn’t ask any more questions after this. He just glances down at his heavily marked race sheets.

I don’t really understand the odds. I know that low numbers are bad because they don’t pay a lot.

As I glance to my right, Tony the Greek stands right beside me. He and my Father greet each other warmly. Tony is Dad’s favorite of all the OTB guys.

Tony pulls a dollar bill out of his wallet and hands it to me. I take it very shyly.

“Thank you.”

Dad boasts, “Tony, you’re a good man. A real Greek just like me. You always give my daughter a dollar every time you see her.”

“Well, yes Tom. No need to thank me. She’s a good girl, your Jenny. She’s a good Greek too. She’s fair but Greek through and through.”

What do they mean? How can they tell I’m Greek? How do you know what anybody is?

When the race starts the guys gather round the largest screen in the place. Their smoke clouds seem to linger in their former positions.

All the betters yell in unison “Come on Winning Colors, come on!!!” They chant this over and over again until I become dizzy with the deafening sound and the fumes fill my lungs.

Fuck these crazy bastards! I wish this whole damn place would blow up.