By Anthonia Nicol
(Parental Guidance is advised)
She was in detention, again. The walls of the principal’s office seemed to be closing in on her as she watched her mother plead with the principal, to no avail. ‘This is the last straw, no more chances, Mrs. Wilcox!’ he screamed, as he shot the little girl a sharp and disgruntled look. ‘We will not be facing another lawsuit because of her. If they decide to sue, Penny will be expelled.’ With that, he motioned them out of his office, uninterested in the psychologist’s report the young mother of two was trying to show him.
The journey home was laborious as Mrs. Wilcox’s navigation of the old Mustang, through the snow, was indicative of a woman about to lose her marbles. Penny didn’t mind the driving; she was more concerned with what would come after. Beads of sweat formed on her forehead when she remembered what happened the last time she misbehaved. She looked to her mother for comfort, but Mrs. Wilcox wasn’t looking at her, not that she ever did. She was always absent-minded.
As the car pulled over at the driveway of an old run-down house in Queens, New York, Penny watched as her older sister strolled out of the front yard. ‘Where are you off to?’ Mrs. Wilcox asked, dragging some grocery bags out of the boot.
‘Brenda’s, sleepover’, she replied as she mounted her bike. ‘I’ll be back tomorrow’. ‘Ok’, her mother replied, as she hauled all the bags, at once, into the house. ‘You do that,’ she murmured as she went off. A lump got stuck in Penny’s throat as she restrained her tears. Trouble was coming. Why was she repeatedly getting herself in a pickle? The repercussion she feared was waiting for her as a heavy slap across the face as soon as she pushed open the front door. The living room spun around as she landed on the wooden floor.
Then, she heard it. The familiar sound of the leather belt being unstrapped from his waist and she knew she was done for. His shadow loomed over her. ‘It seems that the devil is still in you. This time, I will expel him out’, he said, in a heavy Texan accent. She curled into a ball as she begged, ‘Dad….please….’
The leather met her delicate flesh. She yelled. Her mother retreated.
‘The devil will take you if you call me dad again, you brat!’ he said as he extended his arm again. When he had his fill, he grabbed a crate of beer from the fridge and went out to the patio, leaving Penny unconscious on the floor.
She woke up to a burning pain at her left side, as a result of having ointment applied to her wounds. ‘Stop looking for trouble,’ Mrs. Wilcox said, rolling the wool over a fresh cut near Penny’s ribcage.
‘She started it!’ Penny retorted. ‘If you only let me explain….’
‘I lost my job today!’ interrupted an exasperated Mrs. Wilcox. ‘Mr. Barnes got tired of the excuses. He let me go. What good will your explanations do anybody?’
Penny swallowed her words. No job meant no pocket money for school if the school didn’t get slammed with another lawsuit, she reminded herself. Boy, she was trouble.
‘You need to do better, Penny. Learn from your sister and stay out of trouble then maybe dad won’t be hard on you ‘.
Was that it? Penny thought in anger. Was that her consoling speech for the horrible excuse she had for a father? If only she could move, she would leave that house forever and never return.
Mr. Wilcox was on the last bottle of beer when his wife joined him in the living room.
‘That little minx!’ Mr. Wilcox said, punching his fists on the center table.
‘Calm down, Heb,’ his wife said.
‘Don’t ask me to calm down!’ he snapped, and she took a step back. ‘Where will we get money from now?
When you attempt to find work, Mrs. Wilcox muttered under her breath.
‘What did you say?’ he asked, moving towards her. ‘Nothing,’ she replied, pretending to dust the shelves. ‘I can ask the restaurant down the street for work. They may have something.’
He waved his hand in frustration and pointed towards the stairs. ‘That was supposed to be our insurance policy. Some insurance policy!’
Her chest tightened. ‘I better go to the diner right away.’
He watched as she picked up her purse and leave through the front door. ‘Useless woman!’ he lamented. ‘I’m surrounded by useless women!’