It was morning. I was sitting by the window in Jacko’s room. I had slept in his room yesterday, and this time I hadn’t had to ask. I was thinking about yesterday.
“Dear me!!”, I mimicked Dandy Lizzy from school. “What disasters I can think up, huh!”
I laughed. God, really what had I dreamt up last night?! Twice I had woken up in the dark, with sweat on my brow and fear in my body. Like fever, I had been hot and afraid… afraid that I had dropped a glass jar on daddy’s head.And something about a knife? Geez, was I getting cocky or what!
When I woke up an hour ago, Jacko wasn’t in the room. He wasn’t in the bath, and he wasn’t sleeping. Wherever he had gone, he had locked me in. “Have been acting crazy to him too haven’t you, Jenny Hurricane Jackson?”
I laughed again. Something’s got to be wrong with my head. I felt like laughing so much.
‘Hurricane’ reminded me of mommy. Oh yeah, where was she? I mean, cool as she is, even she should be getting me off to school now, right? I distinctly remember it was Tuesday yesterday.
My head started aching again. Wait- again? Yeah…. yeah, I had this little ache in the night… yeah, I got up once with headache too. Oh boy! Getting up thrice in the night and having nightmares! That’s not like me!
I held my head in my hands. And I sat down and watched out of the window.
There he was! Jacko was coming down the road. Well that meant he wasn’t going to school too. That’s fun. He looked up. I waved. He didn’t wave back back but of course, he was just going to come in.
Within a minute, the lock turned from outside and Jacko pushed the door open.
And that was the end.
Back it all came. The dark. The knife. The cries, the shouts, the fight. The hatred. The fear. Mommy falling down. Daddy with the knife.
Jacko with the pan… Jacko on the floor….
The glass jar. Not like in a dream. No waking up.
The dark. Daddy with the knife.
Out went all the humour, all the laughter. There was nothing funny about Dandy Lizzy anymore. There was nothing happy about anything.
Jacko’s face filled with bruises and scratches…
“Jenny?” he asked.
“She’s still sleeping in your bed. I checked on her in the morning. She’s all right.”
“You lock her too?”
“Yeah. I had the key with me all night. You okay, Jenny?”
I looked at him. Okay? What’s okay?
“Of course. You’re not hurt, right?”
Hurt? What’s hurt?
“Okay. Do you want some breakfast?”
Breakfast? “I would like some breakfast.”
Breakfast? Were we really talking about breakfast?
“How will you make breakfast?”
“There’s some bread-”
“We don’t have a kitchen.”
“That’s my name. Jenny.”
“Yeah Jenny.. I’ll just go down to the kitchen that we have… in our house and-”
“Our house? We don’t have a house.”
“Jenny what are you saying! You’re on my room, see? My room is in our house. Our house which has a kitchen.”
It’s like Cinderella.”
“What’s like Cinderella?”
“It’s just like Cinderella. She has no family. She has a house but she has no family. And in the day she fights that Captain Kirk is really the hero of Start Trek but it’s all really a game. Because the evil stepmother will get to her. And it will all be over.”
“Whoa! That’s not quite how I remember Cinderella. Now you sit down there. I’ll go and get you a sandwich okay? And we’ll talk about this fine? Jenny?”
“That’s my name. Jenny.”
“Ya. Jenny Jackson.”
Jacko ran out quickly but he asked me one last question.
“You want me to fix you a glass? Want something to drink?”
“I don’t drink.”
And then he left.
Jacko came back a few minutes later with a vegetable sandwich on a plate and a ketchup smiley on top.
“There you go. Now we aren’t going to school today-”
“Jacko what happened?” I started crying. Hot tears were streaming down my cheeks. I realised things would never be the same again.
“Hey. It’s okay- Don’t cry. C’mon.” He settled in next to me.
“Jacko what happened yesterday?”
“Daddy came home very drunk, Jen and… there was a fight.”
“Did.. did daddy really throw a knife at me?”
“I think so.”
“Why did daddy hit mommy so hard?” I cried.
“He didn’t know what he was doing. He was too drunk.”
“You knew about this, didn’t you? How long has this been going on?”
“Some while… But come on, eat your-”
“Is that why they fight so much? Because daddy drinks?”
“Ya… most of the time.”
“And daddy hits mommy?” I could barely hold my voice.
“Ya. Sometimes he does.”
And then I wiped my tears. Because I really wanted to know something suddenly.
“Daddy doesn’t hit you too does he? He was just too drunk yesterday right?”
“Jenny come on-”
“He doesn’t right? Say it!”
“No. He doesn’t.”
“You’re lying!” I shouted. “That- that sprain- when you didn’t play the school game… it wasn’t because of daddy…”
Jacko looked at me. He moved the sandwich away.
“Look here kiddo. I know you’re very shaken right now. And my face isn’t helping- I mean I probably look like the joker right now but… see…”
And Jacko explained it was all right. He said we’d just get on with our lives and go to school and play baseball and forget all about daddy.
“I mean, we can’t forget about him but we won’t pay much attention.”
And then he stopped talking.
“Mommy and daddy don’t love each other anymore.”
“I don’t know.”
“We’re not a family.”
“Jenny. Just Jenny. We’re not Jacksons anymore.”
“Just like Cinderella.”
Jacko turned towards me.
“Cinderella didn’t have a last name.”
Jacko hugged me tight, and I hugged him back.
Jacko has a funny habit. If he needs to make a quick visit to a room, say- go in, switch on the light, take what he wants, and switch the light off- he just can’t do it. He has no problem with shutting a light off. He just can’t switch it on. There is no reason behind it. He just can’t. Not that he’s lazy. You can tell him to run fifteen times to a shop and get a new thing every time, and irritate him at that, but he won’t get tired.
And he could switch on lights. But when he was staying for long. Like, if he was going to sit for even ten minutes, he’d happily switch the light on himself. Without any quirks.But if it was for less time, his hand would suddenly repulse from the switchboard, and his smile droop down.
He tried many things. He tried finding his things in the dark, but often came out with the wrong thing, of similar shape/size/feel… and had to run back in so many times, he even tried a flashlight. But he kept dropping it.
He tried asking me to go ahead of him and switch on the light… Like this one time when he came running to get a baseball bat, but stood fidgeting and frowning near the front entrance, waiting for me to get the light. And just as he saw the light shine on the barrister, off he fled up the stairs and threw himself at his bat and was ready to return. In fact, he had come so quick I hadn’t even moved away from the switchboard. As a result, both of us came down the stairs together. It was too much action.
Finally, it was settled, much to the comfort of both of us, that these flying visits would be made solely by me. That is, he would tell me what to bring and I would get it. It wasn’t easy at first. I knew little of the layout of Jacko’s room, despite the amount of time I spent there.
So he’d tell me to get the Checker’s board, and I would take hours to find it, even when all his games I knew were supposed to be on the bottom shelf. Okay, not hours, his room isn’t that big, but that’s what he would groan and say. The price of which was, often, refusal to play anymore. So after I had finally found the board and brought it down, I had to go back up and keep it back. The deal wasn’t very nice any more. It was soon to be changed.
It was Baseball day. Wednesday. All the most serious games of the neighborhood happened on Wednesday. Last Wednesday, Jacko had got a strike three. This Wednesday, he wasn’t playing.
However much his team, or me, persuaded him, he just kept saying no. Why? “I got work to do. I won’t come to play.” was all he kept saying. So they all finally left,and I followed Jacko to his room. Just what work did he have to do, I wanted to see. But Jacko didn’t do anything. He just picked up his book, and sat down reading it.
“Jacko!! Why are you reading?”
“Because I can?” he snorted.
“But why are you reading now?”
He didn’t answer. So I went and checked his calender next to the window. He didn’t have any test coming. Why was he reading then?
“Jacko. Is this the work you said you had to do?”I suddenly asked.
“Yes Jenny. Now are you done being an itch with all your endless questions?”
“I’m just asking because Fat Joe was coming to play at the other side today. You missed on a good game.” I said, very concerned.
Jacko flushed. He turned to his book quickly.
“Hey! What’s wrong!”
I coaxed. I pried. I snatched the book away. I was about to use the blaster ‘Jacko-do-you-know-why-mummy-and-daddy-fight’ emotional blackmail, when finally, finally, Jacko said,
“Oh get off it! I don’t want to play Fat Joe. That’s why I didn’t go, okay!” And he snatched the book back.
Ohhh. Serious thing.
“Why not, Jacko?”
“Jennnnnnyyyy!”He said in an unusually thick tone.
“Yes Jacko?” I honestly didn’t understand.
“Oh God! I’m scared okay! So STOP IT NOW!!!” He burst out, stamped his foot on the bed (which didn’t make much effect) and stomped out of the room.
I was stunned. Jacko was afraid of playing Fat Joe.
It was evening. Daddy would be getting home soon. I was playing with Buzz, in my room.
“Hey Jen?” I turned to see Jacko at the door, hands behind his back.
“Ye-ah?” I said.
“Umm- could we talk for a minute?” He took a step forward.
“Oh sure! Come on in!” I jumped onto my bed, and invited him to join me. He seemed to breathe more.
“Hey, I just wanted to ask you- if, you know, you won’t tell anyone about what I told you today.” He said.
“Uhh okay, but- what did you tell me?”
“You know- about Fat Joe-”
“Oh that. Cool. I’ll say you shut your door and I couldn’t see what work you were doing.”
“Thanks.” Jacko smiled. He got up to leave.
“But I want something in return.” I remembered suddenly.
“We’ll take turns at bringing your stuff down. And when I bring a game down from your room, you will play it.”
“I can’t take turns.”
“Fine, just promise to play.”
And that’s how my problem was solved.
We were disappointed. So when daddy said ‘there was more’, we willingly left the shoddy room that was daddy’s place at the company, and went with him, eager to finish it all and get back home.
Daddy had got silent. But then neither did we want to speak much. What was there to say? Daddy wasn’t no big-shot.
Jacko and I followed daddy up a marble staircase, near the field guys’ room. What was left now?
“The units where the people actually come are independently set up through the country… this is just the HQ. Only employees visit here… that’s why I could bring you guys…” Daddy was saying. He wasn’t enthusiastic. He was just completing the tour. We got to the upper floor. Another hall of cubicles greeted us. But these were larger. There were wider alleys between each row, and the one in the center could have contained me, Jacko AND daddy if we stood next to each other.
But we didn’t go inside. Daddy just showed us from the stairs. “The office at the far end is the boss of us all.” The ‘COO’ or something he said.
“The entire row in front of it is just his secretaries. ” Jacko and I counted five cubicles. That meant five secretaries. People were calmer here, I noticed. No one was hurried. No one was shouting. And hardly anyone wore white. PInks and hot purples, and blues! Oh, so many blues! A red scarf, silver somewhere… It hardly looked like an office.
“Some say they made this place just because he wanted to sit somewhere that was ‘office’. All the work gets done downstairs anyway. And it all depends on how much we guys sell, in the end.”
We retraced our steps. And daddy had an idea. “You wait here a minute. I’ll be back.” And off he ran to the miniscule room, and we stood waiting.
Daddy was walking proud again. I couldn’t stop from smiling. Jacko was looking up but that was all. The idea was spectacular. And we shouldn’t have judged daddy already.
Daddy was taking us to a sell. He was taking us to one of the ‘easy’ customers, he said, so we could see him at “the real work”.
“Watch and learn” he had said again.
We were walking with our backs to the sun now, no daddy did not get any angel lining- but I knew better. My daddy was MY daddy. Even in human form.
Daddy rung the bell at a small, dull house… I had never seen that part of town before. The houses were too small. “We call them the Weasies. They’re easy to sell to. The whole damn place is vulnerable!” Daddy laughed and I didn’t understand anything.
I looked at the small house. Daddy had once told me that to maintain an insurance some money had to be paid regularly. I wondered where the owners of that dinghy place would buy the insurance from, let alone pay the premium.
An old woman opened the door. “Ye-es?” she moaned. This was an easy customer?
“Hello Ma’am. I’m from Alpha Insurance. Could I have a few minutes of your time?” Daddy smiled. I stared. When did he ever talk like that?!
“I don’t want no insurance.” The old lady said plainly.
“I don’t intend to sell you any. But I would like to talk to you, Ma’am.”
“Okay, speak.” She folded her arms, and eyes Jacko and me curiously. Not an usual sales-party, I know.
“We have this record back at Alpha Insurance. I understand that you live here with your husband- Bill Getz? And you’re both above seventy? Well, ma’am, I saw those records today. And I must say… I am concerned for your safety.”The woman frowned.
“I have a mother, Ma’am. She’s about your age. I can’t begin to think how lost I’ll leave her if I- die before her. And then I saw your file. The horrors that could be in your life… should your husband…” I looked at Jacko. He was startled too. We had never heard daddy talk about granny before. Not since she had died two years ago.
“Sit down son.” She said.
“I hope you don’t mind my bringing along my kids… they just- didn’t want to stay at home today… it gets pretty alone there…”
The woman was nodding.
“Ma’am, I’ll get to the point. I don’t like to see that people are in danger. That’s why I came here. I don’t want to thrust an insurance policy on you, but I just want to make sure you have the resources for any kind of situation.”
“I understand Bill works at the bank?” She nodded.
“Ma’am, though I hope it doesn’t happen… I wouldn’t trust the bank right now. Things are showing clear signs of a Depression and bank turnouts haven’t been near good for months. They might soon be outsourcing their branches.”
The woman drew in breath quickly. A hand went up to the chest. “My! Bill was saying the bank was getting funny businesses nowadays. They must be renting out!”
I understood nothing, but it was clear that daddy was happy. But if he hadn’t come to sell insurance, why were we here?
“Now, I must suggest some security for your family ma’am. I mean, I look at these figures in the newspaper everyday… so many people jumping off rooftops, the accidents, the helplessness. And what with massive unemployment, and poverty and then the needs… I think you’re very deep in trouble.”
Was she, I thought. I heard food cooking in the kitchen. Her house, though small, was comfortable. Pictures of her kids covered the walls. But then, what did I know? Daddy must be right.
“Yes I am…” I heard her whisper, her eyes glazed and staring…
Daddy shifted suddenly.
“There’s another reason I came to you today, Ma’am… Every time I think about it, it saddens me so much. I used to work at a store once. It wasn’t a big job, but we were happy. My wife would take of the kids and every evening I would come to my small flat and sit with my family. But then the stores closed downand suddenly we were poor. And then, my wife.. my wife, died of asthma. I couldn’t do anything. I just… I wished I had a policy or something because then it would have been so easy for her to be alive…”
The woman was crying. Jacko’s eyes was wide. Daddy had another wife? We had step-siblings?!
The woman grabbed me in a hug suddenly. “Oh the poor dears! How bad!” She wailed.
Wait, my mommy’s not dead. It’s his first wife…. but I couldn’t say anything.
“Son, I think I want to buy some insurance now.”
Daddy had crossed the street when Jacko and I realised it was over and ran out after him. We wanted explanation.
“Daddy, mommy isn’t dead!” I whispered, as if revealing a secret he didn’t know.
“And granny is!” joined Jacko.
“What? Of course… Oh, I was just selling it to her.”
“You lied?” I was shocked.
“Is mommy dead, Jenny? No. Then yes, I lied. I got to do it. It’s how you play it.”
“So the company lies?” I asked, not wanting to discuss mommy’s death anymore.
“Insurance is a lie! It’s a gamble. Why will anyone buy it if they think they are safe and comfortable?!”
“So you fool people for your business?” Jacko asked, disgusted.
“Hey. What are you guys angry about? If the folks are stupid enough to listen to some sob story and be influenced, I’m gonna do my business!” Daddy laughed.
“Does everyone do that, at the company?” I asked meekly.
“No… that’s just my style. And it’s different with those up-street houses. There you got to talk all about money and management and more money. Half the Life insurance sells because the family will get more money after the father’s death…”
That was all we had to say. Daddy was… clever. But somehow, I didn’t like insurance much. And I don’t think Jacko did too.
It was Tuesday. We loved Tuesday.
For me, it meant Games Period at school. For Jacko, it was a break from homework. Mommy though, liked it because no pubs would open. I didn’t know why that mattered to her.
We were back from school. Jacko was taking a bath, I was playing with the snow-globe. Mr. Matthew was taking awfully long to earn it, I had realised. It was the middle of day. I didn’t expect daddy to come home then.
But in he came, at 2:46, five hours before his scheduled release at the company. I was delighted. But for some weird reason, nobody else seemed to be.
“Honey, I’m hooome.” He sang out from the door. There was no response. I ran out and jumped into his arms, “Daddy! You’re home early!”
“Yeah… The company gave me an early release today. They have been doing it for some time now. Funny people. Always complaining of a short staff and then giving these breaks and off-days so often.”
“Must be a reward, daddy.” I said.
“I don’t know… nothing big been happening lately… can’t say…” He mumbled to himself.
“Hey! You guys are home now. What do you say- wanna see daddy at work?” He cried out, suddenly.
I was thrilled. I had always wanted to visit daddy at the company.
“I got this break. I might just show you guys around. Probably sell some in front of you- let you see daddy at the job, eh?”
I wasted no time. “Three minuted daddyyy!” I screamed, running up the stairs to tell Jacko.
“Jackooo!” I came in singing. “Jacko, daddy’s taking us to the company in three, come out quick!”
I didn’t wait for his response and ran down to my own room, and checked myself in the mirror. I got to look neat. Must not set off daddy’s boss. I pulled up my socks, stuffed my shirt in proper in the dungarees, ran my hands through my hair. My hair never really needed tending, they always just fell down to my chin and rarely ever were even tousled. I was ready.
I ran back to Jacko’s room, and cried, “Jacko! Don’t get us late! Daddy’s only just got a limited break!”
“Oh calm down, will ya?” He was buttoning up his shirt. “What are you shouting about, anyway?”
“Daddy’s come home. And he ‘s taking us to the company, to see him at work.” I said in one breath.
“Oh..um.. we going now?” He fell quiet suddenly.
“Yeah. One minute. You do want to go right?”
“Yeah.. Okay, I’ll come.” He shrugged.
“Okay great. Come down when you’re done.” As I passed his door, I heard him draw breath in quickly. Jacko acted strange sometimes. But I liked it.
Daddy walked ahead of us.
Jacko and I followed. I was skipping beside him, and he was walking very quietly.
It was hot. But daddy was shielding us from the sun. With all the direct sunlight he was blocking, they also formed a thin golden outline around his frame. A dark mass with a golden lining… like an angel. That’s what daddy was for me, right then.
Jacko missed all of that. He looked sideways or down constantly, and wouldn’t listen when I told him to look at daddy. I gave up soon. He must be nervous.
We walked around some houses, some corners turned, and I didn’t even realize we had covered the distance when daddy stopped in front of a white, two-storey building and motioned. “Watch and learn.”
I zipped up. As still as Jacko. Like robots, we followed daddy inside the wide, white building. The man at the gate knew daddy. “Hey Tom! Ain’t you got a break just now?”
“Ya, come back to show my kids around. Wanted to see their daddy at the job, these little ones.”
He waved, and we entered. The cool air and the white lights… the people at their desks… the hussle with the papers… the cardboard cut outs of company logos and schemes… the white board filled with deadlines and projects…
It was a marvel. Daddy’s office was a better, bigger, and white-r version of our school’s Teachers’ Room. I loved it.
Daddy worked at the insurance company. He went to the office every morning to collect his office material and then out in the city, to sell some insurance. He told me that a month ago, when I had to write a page on ‘My dad’ as homework.
“This is where the desk-guys sit. See, not more than five will be up from their chairs at the same time, but it seems like the whole HALL is buzzing with movement. That’s because of the files and papers and phones. Hell, this floor itself employs six peons!” Daddy whispered to us.
As we passed through the mesh of cubicles, hardly anyone looked up to see the two kids walking past. In the center of the room however, a tall, pot-bellied man stood idly, and watched everyone with squinted eyes. And when daddy reached close, he turned those squinted eyes to us. To me.
“Hey Tom. What you doing over here?” he said, in a heavy, dull voice.
“Hey Terry. Just got the kids to see the place.”
Terry nodded. “Make sure they don’t touch anything.”
And he turned away. He was scary. The hair in his ears stuck out and I wanted to run away from him.
When we were some distance away, Daddy explained. “Terry Fisherman. He’s head of them desk-guys. Doesn’t do much. Just stands and signs papers and things.” I wondered if one of those ‘things’ was to scare his department to work.
“And now, you’ll see where we guys sit. The real players.”
At the end of the hall, was a glass division. On the other side of the glass wall hung long orange strips of plastic curtain, which was probably the only colour in the white hall. Somewhere in the glass must have been a door, and it’s handle which daddy pulled and we went inside. And then we stopped.
In a tiny one-room, on three sofas, sat about nine men, while seven stood and talked. Besides the glass wall, all three were coloured pale yellow. Some lockers lined one wall, not unlike our school lockers and that was about all the furnishing in the room. A better contrast with the White Hall could not have been possible.
“This, kids, is where I work. That’s my stuff right there in the first locker. Cosy, huh?” Daddy smiled.
“Small.” I whispered.
“What’s that?” Daddy asked, frowning.
“It’s too small.”
“Yeah- but none of us sit along much. We just drink coffee and report for meetings… we’re out all the time.” Daddy said.
Jacko, I knew, was thinking the same thing. This wasn’t much fun. We wished daddy was a desk-guy. He would have had his own desk.
“Come on, there’s more…” he grumbled.
We willingly walked out of the room and didn’t say anything. We didn’t want to see daddy’s office anymore.
Mommy tells me every day that I am a hurricane. Jacko has long declared me stupid. Daddy has not yet given me a name, but I’m sure he will have one for me just as soon as he has the time to call me that.
So, it was only a matter of time till I justified their feelings COMPLETELY.
I jumped on beds, leaped down stairs, juggled heavy stuff and what not on a regular basis. But when Mandy Carter dared me to a game of “Roolet” (Roulette) after school, I did something out of my own league of mischief. It was the new trend. And Mandy was the proud boaster of winning every single game she had played. I had to play her!
So that Monday, after school, I walked with Mandy, and Alison who came along as witness and the rat to spread the results, to Mandy’s house. She said she had just the things we needed. Which only just seemed exciting until we saw what it actually was. Not impressive.
What’s so dangerous about snakes and ladders?!
Mandy got a chance to explain herself. I glanced at Alison. Tell everyone what a dud Mandy is!
“Ok-ok- this isn’t what it looks like. My daddy has got an actual Roulette set. The table and the dice and everything. But we don’t need all that. It’s a simple game, and we can play it on a Snakes And Ladders board anyway.” It sounded well rehearsed.
I sighed. Whatever, I said.
Mandy told us what we had to do. Not impressive, again.
“Say a number and roll the dice. You get that number on the dice you win.”
I looked at Mandy. Alison looked at Mandy. I knew Mandy too would have looked at Mandy had she been on our side.
“That’s all.” Mandy smiled. She rubbed the dice in her hands.
“Mandy, I have to go home.” I said. Alison giggled. Mandy froze. She turned red.
“No- no- it’s good. It’s a very special game. Big people play it. It’s a game for RICH PEOPLE!”
I turned and walked away, hands in my pockets. I could see Alison being impressed. I could HEAR Mandy being embarrassed. I was happy. 🙂
Four steps down the road, I heard Mandy’s voice.
“Fine then Jenny Jackson. I challenge you to a game of RUSSIAN Roulette. Let’s see you laugh at that.” Mandy screamed.
I turned. What now? “I accept.” I said in the same cool air, and walked back in.
“Let’s go inside.”
Mandy’s house was quiet. Her mother was out. Her father was at work. Only her brother was in. And he opened the door and went back to his room. We didn’t see him again.
Mandy took us to her room. (For once, impressive. She had her own bathroom.)
“So here’s how you play it. We put one bullet in a pistol of six rounds, and take turns putting it to our head and pulling the trigger. The one who pulls the trigger when the bullet is in place-”
“Dies!” I gasped.
“Loses.” Mandy says.
I looked at her.
I looked at her. Mandy stares back.
“You- you scared?” She said.
“Bring it on.” I whispered.
I didn’t tell you what happened that day when Jacko had dropped his stuff and woken daddy, and mommy had told us to stay in my room while she talked to daddy. When it had ended, mommy lay on the floor, and Jacko shut me in as he went out. He had promised he’d be back in fifteen minutes. And he was.
Jacko had told me to sit still. He had told me to listen.
And then Jacko had told me why violence was bad. He said it hurt everyone. The person you hit hurt on the surface. And the person who hits hurt underneath. I didn’t understand that. And Jacko said,” Jenny, every time I hit you I feel like I am more powerful than you. No, listen Jenny. But after some time- ten minutes, an hour, a day- I feel ashamed. I feel bad about myself for hurting some one else, for taking advantage of a stronger fist. Now Jenny, I want you to promise me that every time you think about violence, OF ANY KIND, you’ll first think about this. Do you really want to hurt the person you are hurting?”
Of any kind?
“Hitting someone is not the only violence we do everyday, Jen. We say hard words, we wish someone bad, we hurt ourselves. It’s all violence.”
I gave my word.
But I forgot about it that day, with Mandy. With Russian Roulette. It was dangerous I knew. But was it violence?
“Bring it on” I said.
“Please! Don’t use bullets.” shrieked Alison. She was pale. “Uhh- Paint?”
We readily agreed.
Mandy ran downstairs. She came back. “No gun.”
Alison sighed VERY LOUDLY. We looked at her.
“Get a knife.”
Mandy ran back down. This time she came back with a shiny silver vegetable knife.
This was it. Out with Roulette, and Russian roulette. The matter had to be settled with the Knife Game. It was too late to delay things, to let it pass. A challenge had to happen.
Mandy went first. She opened her fingers wide. She put the knife next to her thumb. She breathed…
Slowly, she tapped the spaces between the fingers…
She increased her pace… “39-40-”
I held my breath… I focused…
The knife was quivering. Her hand was shaking. “48-49-50-”
I was sweating. “51-”
And Mandy threw the knife away, clutching her hand hard. 51. That was her record. I had to break it.
I got into position. I wiped the knife clean of sweat. I stretched my own fingers apart…
My eyes focused on the blade, moving steadily, taking in nothing but the shiny tip. Keeping the flesh away..45…
My pace increased. Get it over with! Come on, number 52!
I scraped close to my little finger. i drew my breath in. Focus… focus… 48…
My little finger… it hurt… I looked at it… It was okay. No blood. 50…
But I lost sight of the blade.
Lots of blood.
I dropped the knife. Pain writhing in my hand…
I looked at my thumb.
The warm stickiness spread on it… it poured down my arm.
A loud gash at the base of the thumb looked eerily at me. The deep red blood flowed silently.
I looked at Mandy, who was staring at my hand open-mouthed, frightened.
I said sorry, to Jacko.
And I fainted.
It was a Saturday. The one day in the week when I actually liked the idea of no school! (By Sunday, Jacko became such a bore that I wanted to go to school…)
So there I was, in mid-air, with a five-inch smile, my hair out of their place, (or in their place given that they were sooo often ‘out of place), and frozen. I’m not yet Superman so the screen-roll moment ended and I dropped back on my bed. With a THUD. Thank God for the fat mattress. Or Thank Jacko, who had recently decided he didn’t want it.
“Yay Jacko! Yay Jacko! Jay Yackoooo!” I laughed. This crazy chant had been going on for the last half hour, alongside me jumping on my fat-mattress-bed, and Jacko sitting near it- far enough to be out of danger. Jacko was doing his homework. As always. And trying to ignore the fun I was having, despite the sniggers he had let out in between. “Come on Jacko. Don’t be a DUDDD! Come on, it’s fun!”
But however much I tried to entice him to the free jumping session, Jacko still managed to control. He said he had to finish the work. I knew it wasn’t the work that was concerning him. Since morning, Jacko had been glancing up, down, sideways, and trying to pass his own room. Behind the door, daddy was sleeping. Yesterday, daddy had come home very late in the night, and mommy had sent Jacko to my room to sleep. Daddy had slept in Jacko’s room, mummy in her’s and Jacko and I in mine. Which meant I got to hold his arm all night long. I wished daddy would be late every day.
Jacko was peeking again. I don’t know what he expected to see.
“Hey Jacko, what do ya think of Mr.Matthew?”
“Jenny, I am doing my work.”
“No, you aren’t. You’re looking at your bedroom.”
“He isn’t bad… but he won’t stay long.”
“He said he hoped to.”
“He told you guys he hoped to stay?” Jacko made a face. I felt I had to defend Mr. Matthew.
“He didn’t exactly tell… us. I kind of heard him say that to Miss Abigail…”
“Jenny don’t listen at doors. And that Winston woman is on him, huh? Conformation he won’t last long. ”
Sometimes Jacko said some very confusing things. I think it’s because he’s older. He says it’s because he is more ed-u-cat-ed.
“Jacko, what do you mean?”
“Later Jen. Got to do something right now.” Jacko got up and left. He had been ‘doing something’ since morning.
I went back to free jumping. “Wooooooooooooo!” It WAS fun.
Then I heard the crash. My first impulse was to look around my own room, what did I break? Alarm clock intact, toys not in reach, pillows- can’t break. That was pretty much it. I was clear. Then who?
Half slipping, half getting off my bed, I ran out on the landing, just missing stepping on Jacko’s open assignment. There he was. the culprit. Jacko.
Under a rubble of photo-frames, Happy Meal toys, Jacko’s football, and baseball bat, was Jacko himself. Shit.
He looked at me. I stared back. We were right outside his bedroom door. Mummy was running up the stairs. Jacko was in serious trouble.
A grunt came from inside. If daddy had woken, Jacko wasn’t in trouble anymore. He was dead.
Mommy seemed to realise the same. She moved forward quickly and collected as many toys as she could, and ran to my room. I took the hint. Both Jacko and I picked the remaining, and leaped down to my room, flung the things on my bed, Jacko just managing it in time.
Daddy had come out. He grunted at the bedroom door.
“Jackooo! Come out here!” screamed daddy. It was a wonder how he could have seen through the door, when he was asleep. Mommy told me to keep quiet, nodded at Jacko and went out closing the door behind her.
Sometimes, everyone in my house does very confusing things. I still think it’s because they are older. And anyway, mommy isn’t very educated.
“Jacko what are we going to DO?” I pleaded him to hide. He just kept silent and covered my mouth with his hands tightly.
We could her mommy and daddy talking… or some kind of conversation, it was difficult to make out just what through the closed door. I made a mental note to hate closed doors when I was older. I made another to not forget the first.
Jacko gasped. He ran to the door and put his ear to it. I followed.
“Jacko! Don’t listen at doors!” He gave me a very angry frown and I shut up. Lord, what was I supposed to understand in this house?
I pressed my ear too. But I couldn’t hear anything. Then I realised no one was speaking.
“Old bitch.” said daddy. Then a door slammed.
Jacko pulled the door open a crack. I slipped in under him. Daddy had gone back in Jacko’s room. Mommy was lying near the staircase. Jacko opened the door full.
He pushed me back, in my room. “Oh come on Jacko!”
“Jenny. Not this time.”
“But Jacko, I can help!”
“Jenny Jackson, I am pleading you to stay inside for the next fifteen minutes. I want to know I can trust you.”
I stopped pushing. It was necessary to keep Jacko’s trust. “Fifteen.”
Jacko closed the door hurriedly and left me. I turned to stare at the clock.
Jacko Jackson had some explaining to do.
A milkshake was sitting ready on the table. It’s owner was missing. I was perched on the corner of the table, looking at it. I thought if I stared long enough, people would start noticing and the owner would finally come to take it away. Poor milkshake, it must be feeling so lonely!
I stared. Sooner than I had imagined, I got a response. Some one tapped my shoulder. “Yes?” I said. “Miss Jenny Jackson?” a polite voice asked.
“Miss don’t you think you’ll be late for class if you don’t finish your milkshake now?”
I turned. It was a young man I didn’t recognise. That was strange. I recognised every teacher in school, even Jacko’s. I let the matter out of my mind for then.
“Oh no sir! That milkshake isn’t mine. I don’t take cafeteria lunch. Jacko and I bring our own sandwiches everyday. I was simply giving the milkshake company- you see, it’s owner has left it.” I explained.
“Who’s Jacko, Miss Jackson?”
I liked the way he called me ‘Miss’. None of my teachers did that. They usually just hollered my name like an out of tune loudspeaker… JENNNNYYY JACK-SONNN!!!
“Why, Jacko’s my brother sir.” He nodded.
“A good brother?” I was puzzled.
“I don’t understand what you mean by that, sir.” He smiled.
“That’s alright Miss Jackson. I’m afraid now I have to go.” As he left the cafeteria hall, I looked at the back of his head all the way. Who was this character?
I liked him.
The bell rang. I walked back to my class, thinking up stories of the young man’s identity. I had had to believe he wasn’t a gentleman really- he hadn’t introduced himself while at the privilege position of knowing my full name. I missed Amelia very much. She had picked some king of skin rash from her trip to India and had been absent for a few days now. She would have liked him. I walked back to my desk in the classroom. I opened the desk and took out the present for Miss Cathy.
“Jenny! Stop playing with the snow-globe!” It was Crazy Mandy.
“Why Mandy, what is the problem now?”
“You might drop it, butterfingers! Then all the fluid and all the glass will be near MY seat! Haven’t you mopped enough puddles already.” She mocked.
My teachers’ favourite punishment was to make me bring the janitor’s mop and clear the puddles I created sometimes in class.
I made a face and played on. Miss Cathy was late. That was very strange.
And then, as we waited for Miss Cathy, the young man from the cafeteria entered the class. “Sorry, I’m late. But since it’s my first day at the school, I hope you’ll not report me.” He smiled. Some of the students in the first row laughed. I nearly dropped my snow-globe and Crazy Mandy shrieked.
“Hello Grade One. Miss Cathy is on leave for the time being. So I’m going to be her replacement. As I said, it’s my first day at this school, so we’ll start at the very beginning.” Twenty blank faces looked at him.
“Uhh… let’s just say I am here until Miss Cathy comes back. My name, by the way, is Matthew and-”
Before he could even complete, a hand rose up in the first row. Alan Boyd. I realised he was just waiting to catch the young man’s name- Mr. Matthew’s name- so he could put his question.
“Will Miss Cathy be gone a long while, Mr. Matthew?”
“She might be. But I promise I’ll try to fill her place the best way I can.”
Mr. Matthew waited for something. Whatever it was, it didn’t come, so he made his next announcement. “Let’s start with the names, right? You know mine, so let’s hear yours. Come on, from the right.”
As students gave their names one after the other, I wondered if this was really happening. I must tell Jacko everything about Mr. Matthew. I had to know what Jacko thought about him.
“Mister John Carter, sir.” Some people giggled.
“Mandy Carter. No relation.” More people laughed.
It was my turn. “Je-”
“Ah! But I know Miss Jackson. My colleagues give me a lot of information about you. Nice to meet you again, Jenny Jackson.”
I sat down to a classroom full of stares and envy. I liked it.
Soon the nineteen names and the one un-needed introduction was complete. Mr. Matthew was speaking again.
“I know that Miss Cathy started a picture story with you, but I will take…” He talked about his plans for the term. Everyone listened quietly. He asked, “Does anyone want to ask anything?” I raised my hand.
“Yes, Jenny?” He smiled. The class looked at me.
I got up rather slow and asked the question that had been troubling me for some time now. “Do you give punishments, Mr. Matthew?”
The class looked ahead, eager.
“All my teachers tell me to mop the puddles I make sometimes when I drop something… Do you too give punishments?”
The class was silent.
“Well, I can’t see any reason to mop a puddle actually… If there IS a pool in the class, I would rather have a nice pool party than spoil all the fun and have it cleared!” He said.
The class cheered.
The bell rang.
Almost everyone had left the class. I put the snow-globe back inside my desk. It might not go to Miss Cathy after all. But the new winner would first have to prove himself. As I picked my bag and slipped it on my arms, Miss Abigail from Grade Two came in.
I knew I had to go now. I didn’t like Miss Abigail much, even though she was beautiful. As I closed the door behind me, I heard Miss Abigail ask Mr. Matthew, “And? Did you learn anything new today, Matthew?”
“I sure did Miss Winston-”
“Please. It’s Abigail.”
“Ok. Abigail.” I could hear him smile.
“What I did learn today is that these little ones don’t waste much time on whys and why nots. They adapt. And they try to be happy. They don’t care why someone left a milkshake unattended! They just start at the solution. They don’t care why their teacher isn’t coming! They are simply hooked to what’s happening now. They carry no baggage.”
“You seem to have had a good day, Matthew.”
“Yes. Yes.. I think I’m going to have a good time here, Abigail.”
“I’m sure you will.” Miss Abigail replied.
“I’m sure you will.” I said under my breath.