“It’s okay, Mom,” my oldest would say.
“I’ll take you down to the courthouse to see the tree. You know how much you love seeing the lights,” I would tell her.
“Not this year,” she’d answer.
She was getting too old to believe in things.
I scanned the room wildly, my eyes settling on the curtains and sofa cushions for a moment. Could I make them something? I didn’t even know how to sew. My oldest girl wouldn’t be placated by watching the trains come in, all wrapped up in a swirl of snowflakes. She wouldn’t want to wait in line at the Jubilee Kitchen for a hot slice of turkey.
Morning would come while I sat here at the card table under the kitchen light, drinking the dregs from a cup of coffee I’d brewed three time with the same grinds. Biting my nails until they bled.
The stairs would creak under their weight. My baby, sleepy eyed and hopeful, she would crane her neck to peer over the bannister. She didn’t yet understand that Jim always drank away all of our money. We weren’t a family like she learned about in her coloring books. Her daddy was dead. Jim kept a roof over our heads. We weren’t a family that woke up together. There weren’t any miracles.
Except that there had been a man on the corner, waiting in his truck for someone. When I walked past him, he called out to me. “Come here, girl,” he said, although I wasn’t any girl. I stopped and looked at him from the other side of the street. He said it again, “Come here, I want to talk to you.”
I knew I shouldn’t. I knew that Jim would hunt this man down and kill him if he caught me talking to him. I knew what he wanted, and I still approached him.
“Where you headed?” he asked.
“Home, I guess,” I said, dragging my toe through the gravel. I didn’t know what I had to be coy about. I didn’t even have any underwear that fit, anymore. All of the food went to my babies. I didn’t really eat. I couldn’t keep anything down for the guilt over having a full belly when my girls would have empty ones again soon.
“Get in and I’ll take you,” he said.
I almost listened to him. I wasn’t used to ignoring a command. I even took a step toward the passenger door when he got distracted by his cell phone. “Shut up for a minute,” he said to me and answered the call. “Christ, girl,” he said into the phone. “I told you I don’t know. Eight, maybe eight-fifteen.”
It was just past seven-thirty. He wasn’t planning on spending more than ten minutes on me. I could do him for ten minutes. I scanned the parts of his body that I could see. He was compact and solid, his arms were covered in hair. I forced down an urge to laugh. I could do it. “I don’t give a fuck what he wants,” he said. “Put him to bed and I’ll see him in the morning.” He leaned over, still talking to his woman on the phone and pushed open the door for me.
“No,” I said. “I’m sorry, I have to go.”
He put his fingers to his lips. His eyes were full of warning. I walked the rest of the way home feeling his eyes on my back, pale blue and cold. I’d do better to stay quiet, they said to me. Now it was almost three in the morning. I had the stove hanging open for warmth, but I couldn’t stop my teeth from chattering.
The girls would be awake in a few hours.
I put on a skirt with nothing underneath. Under one of Jim’s heavy flannels, I wore a white t-shirt without a bra. It was cold. I decided to go out and find him at the bar, before all the money was gone.
photo by mattia bellitti
For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Stefan challenged me with "The mere thought of it was motivation enough to act..." and I challenged Airicka Phoenix with "There once was a lady who swallowed a fly".