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.
“Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit…” I would have kept up with my chant had Jacko not thrown a pillow right into my face.
“Oh shut up will you! It’s just a dress!” He cried as he pulled the laces on his shoes.
“It’s not just any dress, Jacko Jackson, it’s my- ballet- show-dress.” I said in a very low whisper, because I was so scared and feared that if I said it even an iota louder, Mistress would hear me back in the dressing rooms and come charging into Jacko’s room and smack me so hard that I wouldn’t have a face to perform with after all. Then I wouldn’t have to perform but it wasn’t much consolation. Already I had missed evening practice yesterday.
“It’s just a tear for crying out loud! Stitch it up or something!” He went on, stamping his foot and admiring the shoes.
“I can’t! Would-” I pushed the sunflower dress towards him.
“No. Don’t even think about it. I am going out with the boys.”
“But won’t you even come to the ballet?”
“Can’t say anything. And mom’s gonna be there anyway.”
“But she doesn’t want to go!” I cried.
“She IS going, right? Want to or not. Have fun.” And Jacko went out, leaving me with my torn dress.
I wore the dress. I hid the tear with the only scarf I own- blue. I know sunflowers aren’t supposed to be blue but it was either that or a smack.
Mommy only said, “Geez, I didn’t know it was so cold!” and laughed at her joke and we drove off, as the horrid sun outside made me itchy in the scarf.
I thought about my position on the way. Just how deep in shit was I. I had a tear in my dress and I was in the front row. I had missed the most important practice last evening thanks to Amelia who made me want to know/play cricket and I was not prepared for any changes that had been made. I had not called up anyone to ask because mommy had been on the phone and I couldn’t explain to her why I needed to talk to a friend so urgently because I couldn’t have her realise I had missed practice, even though it was her job to drop me off.
I could only hope that Mistress had not noticed, though how she would overlook the fact that a front row dancer was missing a DAY before the ballet with no news, no message and no explanation- I didn’t understand. I guess she HAS noticed. Then I’d better hide that tear at least.
Mommy stopped at the school gate, told me to ‘run along’ and she’d be in the hall. But she wasn’t turning off the engine so I asked where she was going and she said, “Oh some urgent matter. But I’ll be there.” and roared off towards the market.
So in I went, without my family to see me, without any clue of procedures, but I was saved for just as I entered backstage, I ran into Alan Boyd.
“OUCH! Look where you are going Jenny Jackson!”
“Alan, I need your help.”
“No, no, no, I am not helping you. You’re just bad news. And anyway, Mistress has put a mark on your name- she says anyone who sees you is to report you to her room IMMEDIATELY. I guess I should just-”
“Oh nooo. She knows. Oh no, Alan please. You have got to help me! Because if you take me to Mistress she will smack me and it will all be because of you!”
“Me? I didn’t not attend practice yesterday!”
“Yes, but I’ll get a smack only if you tell Mistress I am here!”
“Okay, so I might not have seen you after all. But aren’t you going to dance then?”
“Umm… can you cover me, huh?” Since Alan was placed right next to me, it was a pretty good idea. Only Alan didn’t think so.
“No. NO! Bad idea, Jackson. I am NOT in this shit.” He shook his head and tried to get away but I used yesterday’s cricket practice and covered the entire corridor like it was a wicket.
“Alan Boyd, will you really leave me in this all-”
But I couldn’t complete because Alan jumped through between my arm and leg, crashed on the ground, and skippered off fast backstage. I guess he would leave me in the rut.
I followed him backstage. Okay, so I’m on my own. At least I can find out if there are any changes to the setting. On the stage, behind the curtain, cardboard trees and clouds were set, a cardboard train was being moved in and everything was where I expected it. The costumes seemed alright. The lines were familiar-
And that was all I noticed. Because I was whirled around and pulled by the scarf and I had to hold on else it would fall and show the dreadful tear. I looked up and it was Mistress. I looked further up and saw the frown. And so I prayed.
“Jenny Jackson, Where. were. you. yesterday.” Mistress fumed as she shut the door of a classroom behind her. I hadn’t even realised we had entered one.
“I had a cold.”
“Don’t lie to me.”
“I am not.”
“I didn’t get a message.”
“Mommy probably forgot.”
“I’ll ask her.”
It wasn’t okay but I couldn’t say anything else. Then Mistress looked at the scarf around my neck and I wrapped it tighter. See, I have a cold.
“Sunflowers aren’t blue.”
“I didn’t have it in yellow.”
“Sunflowers aren’t blue.”
She looked at me, I tried not to look at her.
“Oh alright.” and before I could even see what she was doing, she pulled the scarf off and shrieked and jumped back.
“JENNY JACKSON WHAT IN THE WORLD HAVE YOU DONE TO YOUR DRESSSSSS!!!!!!!!”
I should probably tell you about the tear now. It’s not just a tear. It’s a canyon. It starts at the neck band, wedges off half the band, then comes down and rips the dress halfway down the back and the stitching comes out in a line in the front. It might not be just a tear. I honestly don’t know how I managed so much destruction.
“What- is this- Jenny?” Mistress breathed heavily.
“I sort of tore my dress a little…”
“A little?! How, did this happen!”
“I was running out and it must have caught in my leg and I must have pulled without looking because I was running out and it was near the edge of the bed so I think that’s when it got tore but I didn’t do it inten-”
Mistress held up a hand.
“You were running out?”
“Why weren’t you in bed?”
“I was trying to make it to the practice when I felt a little better.
“Why would you run to the practice without your dress?”
“Jenny Jackson, don’t lie to me.”
And so I told her everything.
“WHAT?! YOU SKIPPED PRACTICE FOR A RUDDY GAME OF -CRICKET?! AND YOU-YOU HAD THE CHEEK TO LIE TO ME AND YOU TOREEE YOUR DRESS AND YOU DID IT BECAUSE OF CRICKET?!!!”
And that was the end of my dancing days. Because Mistress kicked me out of the ballet, and I had to sit next to Mr. Matthew and watch the entire performance and I didn’t speak because Mr. Matthew wasn’t happy when Mistress told him why I was going to sit next to him and not perform. Mommy didn’t come to see my dance but I guess it was alright because it wasn’t my dance anymore. But the dance was great because Mistress went in, in place of me, and I heard someone say ‘she was a swan’. Weird compliment because she was being a sunflower really.
Why didn’t she just give me another dress, I wondered, because she did manage something for herself after all. Mr. Matthew said it was to teach me a lesson. But I didn’t care about ballet that much so the lesson must be-
If you tear one dress you don’t get another.
Well, that makes sense.
This Saturday, I had a dance ‘jig’ in school. Jacko said it was a jig. Mr.Matthew said, it was a ballet; one where all the parents were to come and sit and see their kids dance. But I couldn’t understand how so many parents would fit in the hall and how all the students of all the grades would fit on the stage and if we won’t hurt each other when we moved, on which Mandy made a strange cooing sound. But Mr.Matthew said that all the grades had a day of their own. And Grade One had Saturday.
That wasn’t the problem. I was doing pretty good. And even though I flopped a couple of times between the turns and twisted when we were to roll, Mistress put me in the first row, at the end though. Mistress was a new teacher in school. Like Mr.Matthew. I didn’t know her real name, but she just asked us to call her ‘Mistress’. Even Mr. Matthew calls her Miss M.
So my dancing was going good. Even the costume fit well. I was a sunflower and the yellow suit they gave me was not too big. The only problem was that Mistress made us practice in socks. She said it was how it should be. And because of that, I had ruined the pair of cream socks that I had. Because of all the flopping and turning and twisting and rolling. And since there were still two more days of practice, I needed new ones urgently.
Surprisingly, I had no ‘stand-by’s in my sock drawer. Mommy shook her head and said ‘uh-huh’ when she saw that. I tried Jacko’s but they were too big and the elastic fell loose. Mommy didn’t have any socks of her own, because she never wore shoes.
On Wednesday, I had managed in the old ones that had worn out and though Mistress stared at them when I went on stage, she didn’t say anything. When I was going out she said, “Jenny Jackson?” and i cut in before she could tell the whole Grade One about my socks, “New ones tomorrow Mistress.” and ran away. After the glory from the Thumb Gash Incident, I couldn’t afford a sting and ruin it all.
On Thursday, mommy and me went sock-shopping. Evening practice had begun and if I wanted to attend, I had to have new socks.
It was hot outside. And that’s all there is to say about the whether. It was always hot outside. Except when it was winter, and then it was always cold.
So it was hot outside and mommy had dressed up in her red pants and red stilettos and white sunhat and I had worn my blue pants. And off we went down to the market and there’s not much to say about that. Except that I kept skipping ahead and only knew mommy was behind because her heels clicked.
There’s not much to say about the store we went in either. I couldn’t read the name, and there was nothing very special. Except it was cool inside, and I remember hoping it wasn’t as cool in winter. Mommy went and found the Kid’s Section and a man started following us and only went away when I stuck my tongue out really long and squinted my eyes. And when he went, he said this- ‘Weird kid. Hot mom… but weird kid. Well, she’s got to find the stuff on her then.”
And mommy went through the Kid’s Section and then went through it again, but she couldn’t find the socks and it was taking too much time. And then that man came up again, and asked, “May i help you?” and then mommy smiled differently and touched her hair suddenly and said, “Ohh. Yes please. I seem to be very lost.” in a very thin voice.
After that, the man and mommy started talking and he took her to where the socks were and mommy didn’t look at me or talk to me, and only turned when she told me to try a green pair on and then turned away to talk to the man again. I figured I had to warn mommy so I put the socks on real quick and then tugged at her hand.
She bent down and I whispered in her quickly, “Mommy, this man was following us!” and made my eyes really big. But mommy only said, “Was he?” and smiled at the man and talked to him some more. I looked down at my socks and pulled and adjust here and there.
They were alright. I wished mommy would just take them and we’d go. But she was talking to the man a lot now and he was making big gestures with his hand and mommy was touching her hair a lot now. She was also leaning on one foot so her hips came out very round.
“Mommy these are good.” I said and pulled at her. She finally looked at me, and said, “Oh-okay.” and the man didn’t leave us as we went to the billing counter and mommy paid up. I started pulling and jumping and groaning and mommy made a face and told the man, “This little one!” and then she said “Goodbye.”
We only just made it in time to the evening practice but I had new socks so it was fine. And I came back home and went to sleep real early. I didn’t play with Jacko much in the day, and I didn’t even see daddy the whole day. The only persons I seem to have met really were Grade One and Mistress and that man at the shop. The only persons mommy seems to have met really is the man at the shop too, because she went back to the store later because she said she’d forgotten to buy her socks. And I wondered when she had bought shoes.
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 tapped a kitchen knife between my fingers in a challenge. I cut the base of my thumb. I justified their feelings COMPLETELY.
Bloody and fainting, I lay comfortably in Mandy Carter’s room. Next to Alison. And on top of us, stood a very frightened, and very pale Mandy. To call our parents, specially mine, would simply be The End. But NOT calling… would be confessing to guilt. Mandy was in a fix. Her brother got her out of it.
“Yo Mand I’m like-” He came around to tell us he was going out for a while, ‘like a stroll or something’ as he always said, but never did really get to it, that day. What with two unconscious girls in his younger sister’s bedroom, a bloody hand and a knife nearby, a ‘stroll’ would only be slightly inappropriate.
“Holy shit.” were his next words.
He did what any scared teen would do in such unlikely circumstances. Call HIS parents. And they came running. (Or driving.)
Mandy told me all this. And quite a lot of this is her words really, so give her credit for it, by the way.
So they came, and they got scared too and then THEY did what any scared parents would do in such unlikely circumstances, and called OUR parents. “Please just come over sir/ma’am” they said.
My mom came. Alison’s dad did.
They sat in the Carter drawing room, wondering the cause for this weird gathering. Upstairs, Mandy and her brother bit their nails and Mandy cried. I feel the need to mention here that Mandy’s brother, Kevin, is older than Jacko, but not once have I seen him treat Mandy out the way Jacko does me. Just mentioning.
So they broke the news. Two hysterical parents came running. Alison’s daddy and Mandy’s.
Mommy, Mandy said, was such a lady, she didn’t let worry once cross her eyes. Such a lady.
Next I know, I am in my own bed, tucked well in, and it’s night.
My hand is in a thick bandage, which is slipping off at quite some places, out of its right position, but I guess it’s just me tossing and turning in bed. I am feeling all right. Just a little sting at the base of my thumb, at the trough between the forefinger and thumb, like some wet thing burning the gash.
Anyways, I fall back in a sleep again. And the next time I wake up, mommy is changing the dressing, and it’s the middle of the day.
Now I am frightened. Such an abrupt confrontation I am NOT prepared for. But then, I am not awake, right! I shut my eyes again…
…but too late.
“How ya feeling?” Mommy says.
“Alright I guess.” I whimper.
And then I burst out. “I’m sorry mommy, I am. I shouldn’t have played the game, I know. But I just didn’t want to say no to a dare and there was Alison and she was going to tell the whole school about it and Mandy is such a show-off and I couldn’t let her say I backed out. They would call me chicken and-”
“Aright. Go to sleep.” And mommy waked out of the room. I was stunned.
I had let her down. Oh shitty shit.
I banged my head into my pillow, and cursed myself. Why did I have to be such a nut?
Jacko. No, man. Not him too. I peeked. He seemed okay.
“What you doing banging your head?”
“Jacko, I’m junk.” I confided in him.
Jacko didn’t say anything.
“Hey! You think I’m junk!”
“I didn’t say it.” He shrugged. I went back to burying my head in the pillow.
“Okay. Why do think you are junk, Jen?”
“Because I let mommy down.”
“WHY did you let mommy down?”
“She challenged me Jacko! Alison would tell the whole school!”
Jacko nodded. That’s why I told him things. He didn’t attack me with shoulds and shouldn’ts.
“Did you think about violence Jen? He said suddenly.
“Then you ain’t junk. End of story.”
Jacko said goodbye, and he left.
I liked that too.
I swore never to let Jacko down, whatever happens. Because then, no doubt, I would be REAL junk.