My sisters and I have already consumed an impressive stack of books since school let out four weeks ago. It took some needling but Mama's finally taking us to the Biloxi library later this morning. Her earlier argument against getting more books — and a flimsy one at that — is that we read too fast and the books we had should have lasted all summer. I ignore her complaining. It's one of my special talents.
“Cissy! Get your butt down here right this minute! Your Corn Flakes are getting soggy!” Mama’s voice carries easily from the kitchen, down a long hallway and up a flight of stairs. That’s her special talent. As is prematurely pouring milk into cereal to punish her daughters’ lollygagging.
I slip into a plaid cotton sundress and my pink plastic sandals that squeak when I walk and rub blisters on my little toes. The sound irritates Mama just enough to make those blisters worthwhile. Some might call this childish behavior for a 16-year-old but I take fun wherever I can find it.
Mama and our housekeeper, Bess, are locked in a battle of wills over one thing or another. I tune them out, rushing out of my room and down the hall toward the bathroom to brush my teeth. What I see stops me short, the plastic of my shoes sticking fast to the wood floor.
Daddy stands perfectly still, a statue peering into the bathroom. He doesn’t respond to the squawk of my shoes, but as soon as Lily shrieks for him to close the door while she pees, he’s jostled from his trance. Daddy turns, taking notice of me. I stare back, hopelessness squeezing my heart into a tight mass.
“What are you looking at, girl?” He adjusts his tie with his right hand. His left clenches his favorite gray fedora.
“Nothing, Daddy.” I look at my feet until I hear his footfalls on the stairs.
My breath escapes in short bursts like a steam engine gaining speed until I think I might pass out. I put my hands to sides of my head to stop the rush of thoughts, tumbling up and down and sideways in my brain like a crazy person’s.
But I’m not crazy. I was just born into this world with good boundaries, which, in my opinion, most people lack. My definition of crazy is staying married when you’re not all that happy and believing a gray-haired man in the sky has our lives all planned out for us. My definition of crazy is having a secret with a child and then pretending to be a normal daddy to the outside world.
I unclench my fists and look at the marks my fingernails have dug into my palms, half-moons that look like the birds Lily draws. The commode flushes and Lily bursts from the bathroom.
“Bathroom’s free now,” she says. “And brush your hair, Cissy. You look a hot mess.”
Her simple command wakes me. My jumbled thoughts sort themselves like puzzle pieces into one perfect idea. I walk into Mama’s and Daddy’s room, straight to the bureau where he hides his gun in the bottom drawer under his socks. Daddy keeps it loaded because he says an empty gun isn’t much use when it comes down to needing it. I agree with him. I wouldn’t know how to load a gun but I’m sure I can pull a trigger.
Lily’s already at the kitchen table. She’s asking Jessie what kind of picture books she wants from the library. While the girls finish up breakfast and Mama fusses at Bess for using too much dishwashing soap, I tiptoe down the hall and out the front door, following Daddy to the garage.
With the gun behind my back, I walk in sync with his steps, although several paces behind. My eyes are riveted on the heels of his shoes, ink black and shiny.
When he whips around on me, I almost drop the gun. “What do you want, Cissy? I’m going to be late for work.”
I soak in every detail of how he looks today: his light gray suit, which sets off his freckled skin better than his other suits; the maroon and navy striped tie and white dress shirt starched just so; the silver cuff links that cast tiny globes of light against the window panes of the garage door; the red hair he and I inherited from his own mama. I’m sure the juries in the courtrooms are mesmerized by him.
“Good God, girl, cat got your tongue?”
My wrist shakes from the weight of the gun. I don’t know what I can possibly say to make things any different.
“I don’t have time for your foolishness. Go back inside.”
He pulls up on the handle of the garage door. The steel springs sing out their displeasure causing goose bumps to travel the length of my body. He walks inside and opens the back door to the Lincoln. With the sun in my eyes, he becomes just a shadow in a dark garage. Not even a person really.
Before he can toss his briefcase into the back seat, I steady the gun with both hands and pull the trigger until no bullets are left. I shoot him in the back so he won’t realize what’s happening to him. It’s an odd feeling to not want your daddy to be disappointed in you, even for killing him. It’s an even odder feeling to love him despite his lack of good boundaries.
When Mama and Bess run past me and into the garage, I drop the gun. Screams twist their faces into masks so horrible I have to turn away.
A cool breeze nips at my neck even though the summer sun is already showing its strength. I slip off my sandals, letting the cool grass sooth the sting of my blisters, and make my way to the tire swing hanging from the big magnolia.
About Mandy Mikulencak:
Mandy Mikulencak, a former journalist, editor and PR writer, lives in Durango, Colorado, where she is working on two novels and various short fiction projects. She has held writing positions with several nonprofits including Goodwill Industries International and the World Health Organization. Her short fiction has been published in Wilderness House Literary Review and isgreaterthan.net.