Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Chapter One

My father had a hand that could stop a clock. No, literally stop a clock. He got angry one Saturday and made shards out of the face of the grandfather clock that stood at the end of the hall, bending the hands into the unsuspecting roman numerals, freezing the time at 9:26 in the morning. I watched him load it into the back of his pickup around lunchtime, and before dinner, he approached me. "Jenny, you are to never speak of the argument we had this morning. When your mother asks what happened to the clock, you knocked it over in the hall while playing with your friends. If you stray from this story, I will lock you in the basement, and you will not eat tomorrow." After dinner, my mother noticed the clock in the hallway, was gone, and asked my father what happened to it. My father nodded to me, and I launched into the story that I had prepared when he told me what I was supposed to say. "Kaylee was over, and we were playing tag in the hall." This was something I knew was against the rules. " I accidentally slipped when she was chasing me, and I slid into the clock. It fell over, and the glass broke. Daddy helped me pick up the big pieces, and made me vacuum up the rest." My father chipped in the rest: "I called the manufacturer to see if there was any way we could simply replace the glass, and we can't afford their prices, so I took it to the dump." Dad had beat me silly that day for making him mad enough to punch the clock in more than a metaphorical sense, but by that age, my mother no longer bathed me, so she didn't see the bruises he left all over my back and arms. I was seven years old at the time, and I have never forgotten it.
"Jennifer Willoughbe, you get your ass out here immediately and do the fucking dishes and if I have to ask you again, we will cancel your birthday party this week!"
I rush out to the kitchen, knowing full well that I will get a lashing if I don't make it quick. I have no idea what's made him so angry today, but it isn't the first time. The door slams as he leaves for God knows where, and I watch his truck disappear around the corner as I fill the sink with water and soap. I notice he's left a list again as I'm walking back to my room for my Ode to Doing the Dishes CD, given to me by Amber, my good friend from school. Amber, though she often doesn't look it, with her bright orange spiked pixie cut, cold grey eyes, and squared-off chin, is really sweet. I met her during my eighth grade year at the middle school in the town my parents moved us to the last time the people in the hospital started recognizing the bruises and broken bones as my father's doing. She sat down next to me once at lunch, resting her fingers in the exact places my father's had been the night before when he was drunk, and somehow, I think she drew from the finger-shaped bruises that it was his doing. From that day forward, she and I have been best friends, sharing everything about our lives with the other. At the end of this month, August, we'll be starting high school together, if my parents don't move again, that is.
The opening chords of Goodbye Earl, the infamous Dixie Chicks song, fill the kitchen as I wash the first dish, and the second. My brother Michael, the elder and moved out of the two of us, barges through the front door, just as the Dixie Chicks burst into the chorus, and with his explosive entry, he joins in: "Cause Earl had to DIE!" Coming up to me, he wraps me in a bear hug, knowing that I hate this place, and careful to mind any new injuries. When he still lived at home, and his girlfriend wasn't over, I would sneak into his room at night and complain about how Dad always picked on me, and hurt me so much. He would hug me, and tell me eventually, everything would be alright. He's gone now, so I have to deal with my father on my own now. Lucky for me, Michael still stops by, and takes me out every once in awhile, even though he's married and has a couple of kids.
"Guess who I brought with me, little sister!"
"Who?" I ask.
Almost as soon as the word is out of my mouth, Amber comes barging through the door. I shriek as I meet her, arms open for a hug. We all crowd into the kitchen. They both know they came during dishes time. Amber is the one who made me the CD for God's sake. Amber sees the list and turns to me.
"He really left all this for you to do today? What does he think you are, his little maid?" Amber, who has been here on his little escapades, who's seen all his lists, and who's watched me complete the lists, heads straight for the broom closet. She pulls down the cleaning supplies, and hands my brother a broom. "Here Michael," she says. "Let's help Cinderella complete her chores for the big bad asshole so we can get her out of here."
"Ummm, not happening," I reply, knowing full well my father wouldn't approve of my friend and brother being here, and knowing even more that he would approve less of it if they were helping me so they could kidnap me for a pre-birthday celebration before he could get home. "The kidnapping part, I mean," I revise as they start to put the supplies away. "I would love the help."
Amber kisses my cheek, beginning to clean the windows as we all sing along to Breakaway, the strong girl song, as Amber calls it. To tell the truth, it's always funny to hear my brother sing along to songs like that, especially in a falsetto. Michael joins me at the sink, tickling me as he grabs a towel to dry with. Aaron, our father, is so anal retentive about not letting the dishes air dry because "the germs dry onto them, making them dirty again" not to mention the fact that they're going into a cupboard that has germs all over it. Though, I suppose he makes up for that by making me clean the cupboards once a week.