A knock on the door raised the hair on my arms. We never had visitors. I looked at Mama who was smoothing her floral dress – the one she normally saved for church – as she headed to the door. Pausing, she fluffed her hair before opening it. What’s up with her? I wondered.
Standing in the hallway was a bull of a man. His bulky frame filled the doorway and made Mama look tiny and frail. Aside from his pale skin, he reminded me of Mr. T from the A-Team. Except that I never imagined being afraid of Mr. T. He was a hero, a protector. This man wore a black t-shirt spread tight across his solid chest, and jeans were pulled down over pointed cowboy boots. His head was shaved almost bald and his angular chin was covered in black stubble. Tattoos covered both arms.
I sank deeper into the scratchy couch cushions, trying to make myself invisible.
“Let me get my purse,” Mama said as he stepped into the room. Her voice sounded funny. Higher than normal. My heart raced and the sound of the ocean filled my ears. I could barely breathe. I looked around for Jack, feeling protective of the little monster. He was nowhere in sight.
“Doug will be comin’ round here sometime. Can’t never count on him but he said he was comin’ to get ‘em before bed,” Mama said to Granny.
Tears stung my eyes. Not Daddy’s! I put my hands over my ears, not that it would do any good. Why hadn’t she told me we were going? I hated staying with my father and his wife. I refused to call that witch Linda my stepmother.
Mama went backto the man without ever looking in my direction. Maybe I really was invisible. She leaned up and kissed him on the cheek before saying, “Ready.” As she shut the door he put his arm around her shoulders.
Granny didn’t leave me time to dwell on who this new person might be or why he was touching Mama. She pushed herself from her chair at the kitchen table and shuffled into the living room. “You heard your Mama. Your Daddy’ll be here before long. You better go pack a bag for your brother ‘n you. He’ll be mad as a hound dog if you ain’t ready when he gets here.”
I scrambled off the couch and into the bedroom where Jack was playing with his cars. I stepped on a tiny truck and let out a cry of pain. It felt good to have a reason to scream. I wanted to throw myself on the bed and sob until the hurt inside went away, but it probably never would. I’d be crying til I was old as Granny.
“We’re going to Daddy’s,” I told Jack. He kept playing like I wasn’t even there. Maybe I’m still invisible, I thought. I pulled a bag from under the bed and threw clothes in it for both of us. I also threw in a few toys for Jack and a book for me. I had no idea how long we’d be gone. Usually it was just a night or two but sometimes it was longer.
There was another knock on the door and I practically jumped out of my skin. Granny opened the door and I heard Daddy’s low voice. I zipped the bag closed and it stuck on one of my shirts. I pulled at it furiously, trying to get it unstuck. Daddy didn’t like waiting. My hands shook making it harder to get the fabric free. I yanked hard and it ripped loose. I zipped the bag closed the turned to Jack.
“Clean up the toys. Daddy’s here and we need to go.”
He ignored me and pushed two cars into each other, crashing them together over and over. Boys! Why are they so dumb? I wondered. I scooped up the cars that were scattered around and threw them in the bin.
“Hey!” Jack yelled, then threw a tiny police car at me. It hit me in the middle of my forehead with a thud.
That little….”Kids!” Granny called. “Yer Daddy’s here!”
“We gotta go,” I told Jack, pulling on his arm.
He moved with the speed of a sloth, but eventually got to his feet and followed me to the door. I looked back over my shoulder and realized the police car and the red convertible he’d been crashing into it were still on the floor. Mama would be furious if we left the room a mess so I ran back and threw them in bin. Taking one last look around I was content that the room was tidy.
“Kids!” This time it was Daddy. He didn’t sound happy. I scampered down the hall and into the living room.
“Sorry,” I said as I entered, my eyes on the floor.
“It’s about time,” he said. “Linda’s waiting in the car.” Without a word he stepped out into the hallway with Jack and me following behind. Jack was moving so slowly I kept pushing his back to get him to keep up. As we reached the top of the stairs he glared back at me and stomped on my foot.
I swallowed a yelp then narrowed my eyes at him. For just a minute I thought about pushing him down the stairs. Looking back years later, there were times I wish I had.