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Rusty, the Screen Door it Slams

"Navigating the storms of becoming an adult at 12 is never easy."

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Rusty, the screen door it slams. “Ya’ll be careful out there, please.” Momma yells.

Rusty, the screen door it slams as Momma ushers us outside. “Little pitchers.” Momma says to Daddy.

Rusty, the screen door it slams as Daddy sends us outside. “Daddy doesn't feel well.”

Rusty, the screen door it slams as Sissy runs off. “I don’t care what you think, I love him.” She yells, loud enough for the world to hear.

Rusty, the screen door it slams as Momma sends us out so we don’t see her crying about Sissy. So we don’t hear Momma and Daddy fighting about Sissy. “She’s my daughter.” 

“Not any more now that she’s gone and done what she’s done, she’s no daughter of ours any more.” 

“How can you say that?” 

“You’ll get over it.” 

“I gave birth to her, I will most certainly not get over her! She’s not an it dammit!”

We all pretended we didn't hear what came next. Easier if you don’t talk about it. Walk down to the corner store, get an Otter Pop instead. Red for me, green for Bobby, purple for Annie, Orange for Jimmy. See, it’s all fine, we’ll just walk a’ll be over when we get home, they don’t understand...they’re just babies. And somehow at all of twelve I am the adult.

It’s getting dark, I challenge the kids to a race home, knowing I can run faster than all of them. I offer myself up as scout, and beat Bobby home by two minutes. Daddy is nowhere to be seen, and Momma is sitting serenely on the front porch mending clothes. 

“Where’d ya’ll go?” 

"I took the kids down to the corner for Otter Pops." 

“That was sweet of you.” 

“Yeah, I guess.” 

Momma gives me a look, a look I know says, “I know that you know and you will not tell your younger siblings.” I nod as subtly as a twelve year old can and head up to my room to read.

Sissy isn't at breakfast. She wasn't in our room last night either. I want to ask where she is, but I know better. Annie is far more quiet than she usually is...and I know she asked. I sit and eat my Cornflakes and don’t say a damn word. Nobody notices or nobody cares, does it really matter which? It feels the same, either way.

I spend the day alone, up a tree, with a book, pretending I don’t hear the kids yelling for me to come down and play with them. I suddenly feel too old to play statues or hide-and-seek or whatever it is they are yelling about. I suddenly feel like I have adult things to think about. I don’t know what to do.

I come down for dinner, I am not so confused as to make Daddy angry. Sissy is still missing, and this time nobody even asks where she is. I feel the guilt of ignoring the younger ones all day weighing on me, and I take them down to the corner for Otter Pops after dinner, and I hug and kiss them all...even though Bobby says something about cooties and wipes the kiss off his cheek. I tell him you can’t get cooties from your sister, I don’t think he believes me.

Again Momma sits serenely on the porch. She is working on a quilt she has been working on since before I can remember. She looks sad, I've never seen Momma look sad before. As soon as she sees me, the look leaves her face. 

“Otter Pops again?” 


“You’re a good girl, you remember that, Beth.” 

“Yes, ma’am.”

I try not to hide from the kids every day. It’s hard. I am so afraid they are going to start asking me the same questions I've been asking myself. I don’t have answers. We hardly see Daddy any more, and when we do it is not pleasant. We pretend we don’t notice how much he has been drinking. I think I am the only one who even thinks of Sissy any more. It’s been weeks and Daddy won’t let Momma set her a place at the table any more. She tries, every meal. Daddy gets angry.

Momma still sits serenely on the porch, but she’s off somewhere else in her mind. Annie hardly ever talks any more. Not even when I try to bribe her with extra sweets. I just hug her and sigh and tell her I love her. I don’t know what else to do.

It gets worse when school starts. People are talking about Sissy, they are saying all kinds of things. And not one of them nice. I want to defend her, but I don’t even understand what I can’t. I just keep my head down and do my work...and a lot of Momma’s too.

When the leaves start to turn and fall to the ground I turn thirteen. I feel like my childhood has turned and fallen too. Only Bobby remembers my birthday. He gives me a kiss, and I am honored. Three days later I find a new book under my pillow with a note from Momma. Better late than never, I guess.

Winter is cold, and there are not a lot of places to hide in the house. I find the attic works well for being alone. Everyone else is either too little or too scared or doesn’t care to go up there. It’s musty, and smells like the past. Sissy’s things are all in here. I wrap up in her old sweaters and read by flashlight. I don’t know when exactly all her things disappeared from our room and reappeared in the attic. I do know that Daddy moved them behind Momma’s back. She was sad, he was angry...there was a black mark under her eye. She told us she fell, but I knew that wasn’t true.

Christmas came and went. I spend all my babysitting money on gifts for the younger ones. I was afraid Daddy wouldn't and Momma couldn't. I made sure some of the packages were from Santa. I made sure they each got a few things they needed and a few things they wanted. I was the only one who bothered. I lied to Annie when she asked me why Santa didn't bring me anything. A week later, I found a brand new twenty dollar bill under my pillow, with another note from Momma. I had no idea where she had gotten the money, I stashed it away. I somehow knew I was going to need it for one of the kids.

I took fewer and fewer babysitting jobs...I didn't have time. It’s hard to go to school and also take care of a house. Daddy hates the way I iron his shirts. The thing is he thinks Momma is still doing it, and she doesn’t tell him otherwise. And whenever I see a mark on her arm or her neck or her face I know it’s my fault cos I messed something up, and she told Daddy she did it. Sometimes I find a few dollars under my pillow with a note. It always says the same thing, “You’re a good girl, you remember that, Beth.”

No, Momma, I don’t think I am any more.

Rusty, the screen door it slams as the kids run out to play on the first day of Summer vacation. “Careful out there, ya'll.” I yell. My arms elbow deep in hot soapy water as I scrub the kitchen floor on my hands and knees. I hang the wash, I iron the clothes, I make lunch and start dinner. I don’t even try to set a place for Sissy. It’s not that I'm afraid of Daddy, though part of me knows I probably should be, it’s just easier not to set them off. Easier to keep the peace. I tuck the kids in after Otter Pops at the corner. I don’t even get myself one any more.

Written by SkyGypsy
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