My father was a great man until Mom passed away. My mother died of cancer when I was six, my mother's death was hard on my father; he always felt that her death was some how his fault.
My bedroom is quite small; the wallpaper is peeling down the walls leaving behind a lightly sticky yellow-orange residue. My older sister and I share a queen bed with superman sheets. Sitting on my bed I see my sister, writing away at her journal at the rickety desk that dad had made for us three years ago. My sister is fourteen, six years older then I am. When our mom died Lynn, my sister, took over the position; Lynn cooks and cleans for us now, and has a little time to do school work. After two years she has gotten very good at being our mom. If she ever complains she never complains to me. Dad likes to remark on how she looks more and more like our mother every day. Lynn really does look like her. Long red hair and light blue eyes, her nose is small and wrinkles up when she smiles the same way our mom's did.
Laying on our night stand is an alarm clock and my sling shot. I pick the sling shot up and put a small wad of paper in it. I shoot it at the back of her head.
"Sammy, stop it." Lynn looks back at me. "I told you not shoot that in the house. What will dad do if you break something." I fold my arms and let my feet hit the metal frame of our bed. "Did you get your homework done?" referring to the multiple tables that I had to do.
"Yes." A lie.
"I haven't seen you do it." After two years her maternal instincts are now sharp. "How about we go outside for a bit, then I'll make dinner and you can work on your home work?" I agree. She grabs her light jean jacket and hands me a windbreaker.
The small neighborhood is completely fenced in. Everyone stakes claim to what is theirs, creating small box like yards that are to cramped to do anything. We walk on a side walk down our street and around the block.
"This isn't much fun." I say to her.
"I know but we need to be outside." She holds my hand and we keep walking.
"Why?" I ask.
"Because Mom would want us to." Anything that Mom would have wanted us to do we do. A car full of high school boys notice her and shout out of their car at her; Lynn keeps walking pretending not to notice.
"Do they like you?"
"They don't know me. They just like how I look."
"You are pretty, like Mom." Lynn does not reply, she pulls my hand and we walk home at a faster pace.
We hear a bird screaming from off in the grass. Lynn runs off the sidewalk, I chase after her but struggle to keep up. When I catch up I look down to see a robin flopping around in the grass, the bird jump, tries to fly, only falling helplessly.
"Oh it broke its wing." My sister remarks. "Let me see your jacket Sammy." I give her my jacket and she puts the windbreaker over the bird. The bird rustles under the jacket and hopes around. Lynn scoops the jacket up around the bird and carries the package like a newborn. "Lets get back home and put it in the old cage we have." We run back home careful not to jostle the bird, whom is in a great rage for being caught. We set the brass cage up in our room on the night stand. The robin slams itself against the cage tossing and turning, trying to press the limits of the brass. I hold the cage in place with all my strength and body weight until the bird calms down. "We'll take it to the doctor tomorrow." My sister looks at me. "First you do your homework, I'll cook."
I sit silently at the kitchen table drawing small circles on the worksheet while my sister puts spaghetti noodles in a large pot. Our table is a waxy yellow wood, permanently sticky from the abuse it has taken over the past few years. Four chairs match the table each one a little more off balance every year. One chair sits at the end of the table, it hasn't been moved sense we got here, no one sits in Mom's place. The door opens behind us. My father, a huge man comparatively to my stature, stomps through. He kicks off his shoes and lets his heavy jean jacket fall to the floor. Rolling up his flannel shirt he walks into the kitchen.
"Sam" he looks at me and goes directly toward my sister. He places his hands on her shoulders and rubs them gently. She shutters. "Your doing such good work honey. Thank you for cooking." My father's hands are very rough. I remember arm wrestling with him and feeling like my own hands were going to get cut just by his skin. He walks over the fridge and takes out his first beer; walks past me again and into the living room. Sitting on our couch he puts his dirty socks on the coffee table in front of him. "What Sam?" he says noticing me watching him.
"Nothing Sir." I look back down at my math.
Dinner amounts to nothing more then a handful of noodles and a light sauce with spongy meat. I can not complain, there is always enough to keep me full. My sister says the Lords prayer before we begin to eat. She closes her eyes, my father and I sit silently looking at each other. After the prayer we begin. I twist the noodles around the fork and slurp them into my mouth.
"Sammy don't do that." Lynn says.
"Lynnette let your brother do what he wants." My dad looks at her. I smile and continue to slurp.
"Mother would not like it Sammy." I stop mid noodle. The rest of dinner goes by silently. At completion my father gets up and puts his dish into the sink. He walks over to my sister and again places his hands on her shoulders. He is very gentle with her. "Sammy are you finished?" Lynn asks. I nod. "You are excused then Sammy. Go to your room and finish what work you have."
After taking my plate to sink I walk off down the narrow hallway into our room. I sit on the superman bed and look over at the bird. The Robin blinks at me and we sit looking at each other. The bird then dives at the cage walls and thrashes around for a bit. The sound makes me jump.
"Shut up you stupid bird." I rap on the cage. After awhile the bird stops thrashing. I can hear my father's voice through our thin walls, muffled as his voice is I always know when he is upset; the air around the house stands still and everything shrinks into itself. I sit in the corner between the wall and my desk. Lynn and I got a boombox for Christmas. I turn it on and play one of my mother's old CD's as loud as the box will go. Picking up my sling shot I fire a few rounds off across the room, aiming at the trash can I try to make a few in. After the sling shot becomes boring I sit at the desk. I start to doodle some more on a scrap piece of paper. My drawings have improved over two years, nothing great but still improvement. We never have any colors anymore so all I can draw is separate shades of grey. After finishing I go to the bed and curl up in the sheets. Turning my face to the wall I close my eyes and pretend to sleep. After a while my sister comes into the room. I keep my eyes shut, I hear her change into pajamas and then climb into bed next to me.
"Sammy?" she asks to see if I'm awake. I say nothing in return. She lays flat on her back. She says the Lord's Prayer to herself then I hear her begin to cry. She always cries at night for some reason. She asks God for forgiveness, and to bless our family, he never answers, she always continues to cry.
Morning is the best part of the day. Lucky Charms is like the desert skipped at dinner. Who ever came up with the idea for putting marshmallows into a morning meal is brilliant. I eat all the hard bits first, as terrible as they are, then work on the marshmallows. Lucky just introduced a star into the red balloon, very exciting, so I eat those last. My sister sets a glass of orange juice out after I finish. Orange juice is absolutely revolting after the hard sugary marshmallows that come from Ireland. My sister sets out a meal for my father to eat when he gets up. She packs me a small sandwich and puts it in my school bag. She takes care of herself and we get ready to leave. Lynn and I always walk to school, everything in Texas takes awhile to get to, I chalk that up to everything being bigger, walking makes everything longer. She tries to hold my hand as we walk today.
"Don't." I say to her.
"Why not, we always hold hands?"
"I don't want to." She lets go. Lynn's face loses its smile and we walk silently to school. I know the morning is over when I get to school, their is nothing fun about arriving at school. All the kids get out of vans, and mothers wave to them as they trot into the building. Sometimes a father pulls up in his convertible with his child. We just walk. We always walk. Lynn gives me a hug, which I try to refuse but she forces upon me. She walks off to the school; I've never seen the middle school but I know Lynn always heads in the same direction. School is the same everyday, math and crafts. Lynn is always around to pick me up at the end of the day and walk me home. At this point the sun is setting by the time we get home and get ready for supper.
Lynn has supper ready before father gets home. When dad is late the rest of the night never goes over well. When he finally barges through the door we are both sitting waiting for him. He doesn't bother to take off his shoes or his coat, he simply sits at the table and begins. Lynn starts her usual prayer but dad shoots her a look, so she stops. Half way through dinner our father looks up at me.
"Go to your room." He says.
"I'm not finished yet."
Lynn looks over at me and says nothing. I get my plate and take it to my room with me. I role a few peas around on the plate, I look over at the robin and try to hand him a pea. He looks curious at it but does nothing. I guess Robin's hate peas too, a general consensus to all species. I can hear my dad's rage again over the walls but the difference is I can hear Lynn too, screaming. I poke my head out the door and into the hall. They must still be in the kitchen. I crawl low to the ground like a soldier and poke my head out around the corner and into the kitchen. Lynn's chair is tipped over and one of her socks is lying on the floor. I crawl out farther and see them in the living room. My is father on top of my sister with his head on her neck.
"Sarah." My father says.
"Daddy don't. Please stop. I'm not mom." She pushes against him.
My sister's jeans are on the carpet beside them, my father's hands are pushed up under her t-shirt. He frees one hand from under shirt and slaps her across the face. I stand up from my hiding spot and rush over to them. I jump on my dad's back and pound my fists into his head. He knocks me off, sending my head into the coffee table, cutting my right eye just above the eye brow.
"Sammy." My sister slips off the sofa and scoops me up. My father fallows her as Lynn moves me to the bathroom. She sets me down on the toilet and pulls out a few butterfly bandages and a small rag. She washes my cut out and pours peroxide over the cut; I close my eyes in fear of having the bubbling liquid drip into my eyes. After putting the butterfly bandages over my cut she takes me to my room and sets me onto the bed. She leaves the dish rag to soak up any more blood.
"Lynn, come." My father in the doorway commands her. She kisses my face and disappears through the door. I try hard not to fall asleep, to wait for her. I stand up in the room feeling the pain on my forehead. Putting my hand on the door I want to crack it open. I return to my bed, beaten by fear, and pull the covers up to my neck. I can hear my sister's voice through the walls, echoing off my room. After awhile the house is silent, I wait for my sister to come back through the door and fall asleep with me. Time passes by, the door never opens.
Not much for breakfast. My sister isn't up before me. I sit at the table and wait.
"Your sister is sick, she will not be going to school. Do you know how to get to your school?" I nod and do not look up. "Good. Get going then." I pick up my bag in the corner and look down the hall. My sister is lying on my dad's bed naked twisted among the covers.
School goes by slow, all of the teachers stop to ask about the cut on my eye. I get sent to the principal's office for her to inspect the cut, like she is some sort of professional medical examiner, something along the lines of Quincy. Everyone accepts the fact that I cut my eye climbing on the counters, partly due to the fact that I had never shown any signs of abuse before, and the cut was taken care of. I walk through the door after trudging home from school, my father is sitting at the table the same way as when I left.
"Sit." I pull out mother's chair for the first time sense she died and sit. "I got you something." He sits an action figure on the table. "I want to say sorry for last night, it will not happen again." I reach out for the boxed figure and my father holds my hand in place. "If you take this you can not discuss with anyone what happened. You understand?" I nod. "Good. Their is a bite to eat in your room. Stay there, do not come out. Do you understand me?" I nod again and take the figure into my arms. My father gets up with me and we go into the hallway. He opens his door before I head in. I see my sister sitting topless on the end of his bed with her head bent down, Lynn's hair covering her face. My Father shuts the door and I enter my room. Setting the figure onto the desk I reach for the boombox and turn on the radio. I turn it up as loud as possible again and look down at the figure. He is some sort of superhero. His arms bulging out of his shirt, with a cape behind him and a sword taped down beside his arm; this is the type of guy who could fight people. He wouldn't hide in his room or sit silently; he would fight until everything was right again. The robin in the cage squawks at me, it nibbles on the cage making a rattling noise.
"Shut up." The bird bangs louder and louder. "Be quite and stay in your cage." The robin continues to make noise defying my commands. I pick up my sling shot and place one of my Lynn's small fake gemstones into the sling shot. Firing at the bird I hit it in the head and the robin falls down. I look back at the boxed hero whose face is smiling. He wouldn't harm the innocent; I am no superhero. I set my slingshot down on the desk and look for my food. My father placed a couple pieces of bread and some turkey on a plate on the dresser. After munching I go back and lay in my bed looking at the dead bird and listening to music.
My sister is up before I am, making a nice breakfast for me.
"Good morning Sammy." She smiles at me and sets a plate of scrambled eggs down in front of me. "What no smile for me?" I look down and eat the eggs. "Sorry I couldn't be here yesterday I was sick." She sits in the chair next to me. "How was school yesterday?" I munch on some more eggs. "Dad says we can stay home today if you'd like. Would you like to?" I nod. What boy doesn't want to stay home from school? After finishing breakfast we both go back to my room. "My word, this place is a mess. I should clean up more." She starts picking things up and putting them away when she spots the bird. "No." she opens the cage and holds the stiff robin up. "No. No." She looks it over then rushes out the door with tears in her eyes. I follow her outside. Out on our driveway I see her knelt over the bird praying. I sit beside her.
"God heal this bird, send me a miracle and let it live." She tosses the bid into the air. The robin hits the ground its neck twisted. "God heal this bird, send me a miracle and let it live." She tosses it into the air and again the robin hits the cement. "God heal this bird, send me a miracle and let it live." A third time the bird is lofted into the air. Lifeless the bird flutters to the ground. My sister covers her face with her hands. I sit next to her and we look at the bird. I wish that I could scoop her up and hold her like she did for bird. Her head collapses into her lap, she continues to cry. I put my arm around her, she shutters so I remove it. I silently start to say a prayer, the same prayer my sister did. I watch the bird, mistaking the wind blowing its feathers for life. No miracle arrives. We go back into the house and into our room. She gets into bed and turns to the wall, I lay on top of the covers next to her. We drift off into a nap together, she stays curled up not facing me. This is the last time we will ever share a room together. My sister stays in bed and I get up to play with my action figure. I sit on the floor watching her holding the hero in one hand.
"You can't tell anyone about Dad, Sammy." She says still facing the wall.
"Dad loves us, it is hard for him because mom is gone, he still takes care of us. And we do not want him gone." Her voice still wavering from crying. "We want to stay a family as long as possible. That is what mother would want me... would want us to do."