I woke up Saturday morning on my own. No one had to call me, like on a school day. It was summer, and school was over. In my PJs, I ran from my room to the kitchen. Grabbing my box of Captain Crunch cereal, a soup bowl, and a glass of milk, I made my way back to my sanctuary.
Filling the bowl like popcorn, I turned on the TV to watch my favorite cartoons. Adding my private stash of Nestlé’s Quik chocolate mix to a full glass of milk, completed the prep for secret binge-cartoon watching. I knew the times and channels to find Bugs Bunny, Underdog, Popeye, The Jetsons, and Jonny Quest. All of them are still my favorites, since 9 years old. While watching Bugs Bunny get the best of Daffy Duck, I heard my mother calling me.
“Robert, I’m going to the train station. Why don’t you come with me to keep me company?”
“No thanks mom, I want to stay home.” ‘No time to waste on ‘Spazz,’’ I thought.
I had hoped that would be enough, just to say no. Normally, a ride anywhere with my mom, was appealing, just to get away from my grumpy dad’s short fuse. Not today though. I knew who she was picking up.
“Why not Robert?” she said in a sing-song voice. “I might stop for Carvel’s.”
That was moms way of saying that she would stop to buy me an ice cream sundae at the Dairy Queen a few blocks from our house. A very tempting bribe, but the price was still too high. I would have to wait at the train station until nurse Larsen…. aunty Jennifer… ‘RN Spugie’ as the family called her, arrived. The last time she played doctor with me I got an old-fashioned thermometer shoved in my butt. I was sick at the time but was also six years old. I never forgot, or forgave her for it. My mom used the tongue kind.
“Well, if you’re not going with your mother, don’t go anywhere until she gets back,” my dad chimed in, on queue. Any slow response from me always gave him the opening he needed, he craved for, to speak his double talk 2 cents. Don’t go anywhere should mean don’t go to Ronnie’s, my best friend’s house, the library, or the store. What he really means is ’don’t walk across the street to go to grandma Collins’s house.’
I loved walking over to see grandma Collins, my mother’s mother. She wanted to be called grandma Collins so as not to be confused with my other grandma, Miss Sylvia, my dad’s mom. She is a rival for my affections also but lived out of town. The proximity of our house to grandma Collins’s house gave me the time to get to know and love her, just like my mom.
Keeping me home meant greeting aunt Jennifer as soon as my mom picked her up from the train station for a 3 week’s stay at our house, ruining my summer vacation. Dad was trying too hard to get me to bond with someone on his side of the family like I did with grandma Collins. Truth is, I didn’t like anybody on my dad’s side. They were too much like him in some way. All of them.
I heard moms green Chevy Nova pull into the driveway before seeing it. Standing back from the window in my room, I try to sneak a look outside. I see aunt Jennifer sitting in the passenger seat, ghostly eyes finding purchase. She smiled at me while getting out of the car. That smile seemed more plastic than the seat protectors my dad had on that old car.
He wanted me to come downstairs to say hello the aunt Jennifer. But the ‘get your behind over here now son,’ sounded more like another command.
Aunt Jennifer was carrying a Kodak disposable camera and an Evel Knievel doll with a toy motorcycle into the house. I heard her tell my dad she left her suitcases in the trunk for me to bring inside.
“Missed you at the train station Robbie,” she jested, hugging and kissing me on the cheek, then a wet peck, full on the lips. She smelled like hospital disinfectant. I wiped off imagined cooties with the back of my hand and onto my pants.
“Robert…. I like to be called Robert,” I say, as the back of my hand makes a second pass, removing a thick saliva film off my cheek.
“That’s not nice son,” my dad jumps in while giving me a look that meant he would deal with me later. It wasn’t clear to me if his upcoming punishment was because of the name correction or wiping off her spittle. RN Spugie, I call her behind her back, looked as though she approved of dad’s discipline.
“It’s okay Richard,” aunt Jennifer tells my dad. “He’s getting to be a big boy now,” she continued. “You’re… 11 now, right Rob?”
“Robert….. I’m 13.”
“Well, time flies. Here’s a present for you. I know you love me, and Mr. Evel.”
“Yeah, when I was 5.” Before the butt incident, I remember.
She took a picture of me holding the toy with a frown on my face, just before my dad banished me to my room, with no supper. I was glad I didn’t put the Captain Crunch cereal back in the kitchen.
Sunday starts off just as bad. I come down from my room to get milk for the last of my cereal and find RN Spugie making breakfast for me. Eggs over easy, her favorite, not mine. Burnt toast, undercooked bacon with greasy white fat on it, and burnt hash browns. I wonder what kind of nurse feeds people this stuff?
“I made breakfast just for you Robbie,” she says with a smile, the plastic one.
“Sit down and eat,” my dad orders. Your mom is sleeping late, so your aunt volunteered to make breakfast.
“I don’t eat slime eggs,” I say with regret, as dad decides to banish me back to my room for the morning. He ate my breakfast, and his.
“Thank you Spugie. That was pretty good,” my dad tells her with a smile.
After a while, I dial my friend Ronnie’s number on my house phone. It has a different extension number, so this phone only rings in my room. My dad calls it a ‘teen phone.’ I call it ‘a privilege he likes to take away… phone.’ The rotary dialer takes forever to spin out the number. Ronnie answers.
“What you doing?”
“I’m stuck in my room. My aunt is visiting again.”
I told Ronnie I heard she got the name Spugie because of something she did with a doctor after hours. Maybe that’s why kids couldn’t call her by that name. Made sense to me anyway.
“Sounds like we should play prisoner, like last time you couldn’t leave the house,” Ronnie suggested, ready to get into character. “Charge your walkie transmitter. I’ll count down the hours you have before a pardon, prisoner beat down, or the electric chair.”
“10-4,” I say into the phone like it’s my radio transmitter. As we hang up, I take off my PJs while plugging in my walkie to charge. Aunt Jennifer comes into my room without knocking. I scramble to cover myself while yelling “Hey!… Out!… God!… Don’t you knock Spugie?” I say, my voice high and squeaky, but with authority. This was my sanctuary she invaded.
“Oh, sorry dear. I got you in such a fix this morning. Just wanted to say sorry. Maybe we can visit grandma Collins later? I haven’t been by to see her yet.”
“Liar… not sorry,” I say to her as I jump in bed and cover-up, reducing my exposure to a woman that just won’t stay away from me. “Jeeze”….Pulling my bed sheets completely over my head, I wish the boogeyman, every kid’s demon, would take her away. My door closes. Footsteps grow faint, as my anger increases.
“Spazz!” I yell into my pillow. I want to break something, but not in my room. Maybe when I go outside. As I get dressed, I hear heavy steps pounding their way up the stairs toward my room. I know the storm is coming my way. I just don’t know why. The door to my room flies open. My dad stumbles in, close to falling. I can’t help but smirk. The veins in dads face seem to branch out like a lightning strike. They don’t go away.
“Who do you think you are, calling your aunt Spugie? You’re not too old for a spanking, I’ll tell you that Robert. Not too old at all.” My dad takes his belt off his pants with much effort. His practiced smooth coordination, removing his belt in a threatening way, was way off. Stiffly, he wrapped some of the belt around his hand like a boxer preparing for a match. Did I call her Spugie? I thought I said Spazz. No matter now. I looked at my walkie, hoping Ronnie would pardon me before the prisoner got a beat down.
“No damn teen phone, no walkie’s, no TV, and no dinner. I’ll teach you respect before your next birthday. You better believe that.”
Dad’s tirade continues as I hear more steps coming to my lost place of peace. I’m holding back tears as I envision aunty Jennifer coming through the door and watching dad beat me. I hate him now. I wished him dead.
It was mom. She was very angry. She kicked her way through the door, howling wolf-like.
“Richard, this ends now, and I mean it. You’ve been riding Robert ever since Spugie arrived. WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOU?” Her screaming venomous voice rivaling dads.
“What’s the matter with him…. Loretta?” Richard shoots back, sweating profusely. My dad never calls mom Loretta unless he’s mad. It’s usually just Lor or Lorrie. I haven’t heard him call her either one in a long time. I swore I saw moms fangs come out.
“You will not lay a hand on my child again or I swear Richard, it will be your last!”
“Are you telling me how to raise my son now? He needs discipline, not cuddling. You’re too soft on him!” My dad screams at mom, all the while his breath getting shorter and shorter. Looking up, I cry in between them both, like I was 5 years old. My dad drops the belt, pushing past me to sit on my bed. He has trouble breathing. White as a ghost, he looks old all of a sudden.
“Call Spuee…call spuee…allspu” Dad says. I don’t know what it means.
Mom screams…. bloody murder.
Aunt Jennifer burst into the room, surveying everyone, and taking control.
“He’s having a stroke,” she said, while calmly calling 911 emergency services.
After dad was admitted to the hospital, aunty Jennifer packed her stuff and went back to where she came from. Exactly where I didn’t care. The rest of my summer was going to be good now. Ronnie told me he wished her away and that’s why she left. I remember saying that too. That’s why I tried to take back what I said about my dad. Words are powerful. My mom helps dad put his clothes on at home. She takes him to rehab to work on his speech because he still sounds like he drank too much wine. He’s nice to me all the time now and calls mom Lor. I wonder if it’s just easier than saying Loretta. It’s hard for him to ball a fist, and he favors his right side. We both spend a lot of time at grandma Collins’s house now. When mom is working, grandma Collins takes care of Ronnie, dad, and me.
Since aunty Jennifer hasn’t been around, mom wants to see her for girl talk, at her home for a day or two.
“Robert, do you want to come with me for the ride?” My mom asked, this time with no expectations.
“No ma, I’ll pass. I’m staying home with dad.”
Copyright © 2018 Darnell Cureton. All Rights Reserved.
Next Flash Fiction – March 16th, 2018