That night when Scout was finally asleep, and I was tossing and turning in my bed, Glenn told Mom is was her fault that Scout got hurt.
“Why weren’t you watching the baby?” he demanded.
“Dear God, Glenn, I can’t watch them every single minute of the day. I feel awful as it is. Accidents happen. Don’t you blame this on me.”
“Who else am I supposed to blame?” he yelled.
“Who gets them up in the morning? Mom started yelling. “Do you? No. Who makes their meals? Do you? Who takes care of them all day, every day? Do you? Are you ever here? Do you ever help? Where the hell were YOU?”
And then Glenn muttered something I couldn’t hear and walked to their bedroom. I sat in bed motionless, waiting. Ten minutes later I heard Glenn’s Ford truck crunching over the gravel, and I knew he wasn’t coming back. Ever.
I guess we were too much for him.
Mom told me the next day that Glenn had left and probably wouldn’t be back.
“It’ll be alright,” she said, looking at me with puffy eyes. “I’m gonna take care of everything. Who loves you, Sara?”
I looked down at my French toast, too shy and hurt to look at her. “You do,” I whispered.
Scout started sleeping with me a week or so after Glenn left. It’s like she knew even though she was just two. I’d cuddle her up next to me and stroke her hair. Sometimes she’d wake me up and say, “Sawa, I scare.”
“Go back to sleep.”
“No,” she’d say louder. “Monstas in here.”
“There are not.”
“Yes, go see Mommy.”
We’d walk tiptoe into Mom’s room and shake her shoulder slightly. It got to be a bit of a ritual during those early months after Glenn left. She’d groan and roll over to look at us. “Monster alert?” she’d ask. We nodded.
She sat up, grabbed a Kool from her bedside table, lit up and walked us to the back door with her hands on top of our heads. “Wait here,” she said and walked to the closet to get Glenn’s shotgun.
Scout and I stood shivering on the cold linoleum floor from anticipation as Mom loaded two shots into the gun. “Are they in the back field again, Scout?”
“Yes,” Scout whispered bravely.
Mom kicked open the back door with her bare foot and started hollering out into our back field, an acre or so of land that seemed harmless enough during the day.
“O.K., monsters,” Mom would yell into the blackness. “Get outta here or else!”
Scout and I covered our ears as Mom pumped two shots into the dark. It’s a good thing our closest neighbors were a half mile away and knew about “monster alerts.” The shots echoed from the woods, and Scout and I stood there blinking as Mom walked calmly back to the closet, emptied the gun, and locked it back up.
“I feel better,” she said to us. “How about y’all?”
We nodded, still wide eyed.
“Good, then let’s hit the hay,” she said and stamped out her Kool.
If you’re just starting this reading adventure, start with part one. Here’s part two:
My father, Glenn, left us when I was seven and Scout was just two. I don’t remember seeing him much, because he worked nights fixing cars over in Montgomery. I remember sometimes he used to come and sit at the edge of my bed when he came home from work. I always woke up because even in my sleep I could smell the mix of gasoline and metal on his jacket. I’d open my eyes, and he’d be sitting there in the dark patting my back or playing with my hair. For years when I was little I thought Glenn was just a dream, not even real.
“Hey,” I’d say.
“Hey yourself,” he’d whisper.
“Lemme see your hands,” I always demanded.
He’d give me one of his enormous hands, and I’d sit up and look at it. It was always rough and scratchy and even in the dark I could make out the oil and dirt under his short nails. I’d run my hands over the lines of his palm and try to memorize them while he pulled a Camel from his shirt and lit up with the other hand.
“That dirt won’t ever come off all the way, will it?” I asked every night.
“Nope,” he said easily. “It’s here to stay. Now, roll over, rugrat, and get you some more sleep.”
I’d let go of his hand, and he’d pat my back until I fell back asleep.
The only time I remember seeing him in the daytime was when Scout tripped and her head on the corner of the coffee table and cracked her head open. I remember Mom being so calm as she scooped Scout up off the floor screaming and gushing blood from her forehead. I thought Scout was dying, and I started bawling.
“Sara,” Mom said firmly. “She’s gonna be fine. Now run and call Glenn and tell him to meet us at the emergency room.”
When Glenn got to the emergency room, I was sitting in a beige plastic chair swinging my feet and biting my fingernails. Mom was behind a yellow curtain with Scout and the doctor. They were giving Scout 10 stitches, and she howled and sobbed like they were killing her. Glenn walked up to where I was sitting and I looked up, surprised to see him suddenly there. His curly brown hair was wild and windblown, and the skin above his green eyes was pinched and tense. He looked scared and pale.
“Where’s the baby?”
“Behind the curtain with Mom. They’re giving her stitches. That’s her crying,” I said, my voice breaking.
He sat down next to me and pulled me onto his lap. I leaned against him, exhausted, and started tracing the red cursive letters on his jacket. G, L, E, N, N, over and over.
“You girls…” he said softly into my hair. “Sometimes I can’t hardly take it.”
I recently came upon a short story I wrote during my senior year of college. I can’t share this story without thanking my professor, Dr. Bob Ready. His early encouragement, suggestions, and thoughtful questions helped me craft a story that I think still works. Maybe you can let me know if it does. I’m going to share it in bits, so, here’s part one:
Mom always says that men are pretty dumb and that neither me or Scout, my little sister, should ever expect anything from them other than “heartache and headaches.” It’s funny she always that to us and then goes off every Friday night with some greasy loser from town with a limp handshake and a plastic grin.
The last guy she brought home, Earl, was just pitiful. Black hair slicked back, and the dumbest gold ring on his pinky he kept pointing at us whenever he said anything. He thought he was so cool when he lit up his Marlboro until I pointed out to him that he had lit the wrong end. Mom had shot me a look and laughed her fake laugh to Earl, and me and Scout almost threw up right there. I hate it when she laughs like that; it sounds like a sick hyena or that dumb Marjorie James from class who’s always sucking up to the boys. I managed to give Earl the finger while Mom was putting on her lipstick which Scout thought was the funniest thing ever. Stupid old Earl just grinned and nodded. After he figured out which way to light his cigarette, Mom all but pushed him out the door. She knew we hated him; we hated all of them. Mom stuck her head back in the kitchen and shook it at us.
“Honestly, girls, he’s an O.K. guy. Give me a little credit, huh?”
Scout stuck out her tongue and began to pout.
“He’s too greasy,” I said. “And that ring is the silliest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“It’s a crucifix ring,” Mom said. “He’s Catholic,” she whispered, like it was some secret. “I’m leaving,” she said suddenly. “Bed at 9:30. No fighting. No horror movies. Who loves you?”
I rolled my eyes. Scout stopped pouting long enough to shout, “You do!”
The screen door slammed as she disappeared into the dark. We could hear Hank Williams, Jr. hollering out of Earl’s Duster as they backed down the gravel driveway. Mom says Patsy Cline is the only country music worth listening to. Hank Williams. Barf.