I sneak down the stairs and hope she’s passed out in her chair. She awakens in a coughing fit and glares at me. “Get me a beer, girl.”
My name is Jenni. She hates me. Calls me “girl.” Whips me when she can catch me.
I hate being “girl.”
Some days I’m Ruth when I need to be naughty. Other days, I’m Zanna when I have to be brave.
Today I’m Tabatha. Just for fun. A famous ballerina that everyone loves and admires. I turn on my bare feet and dance to the kitchen. I grab a beer from the fridge and prance back into the living room. I spin, trying to imitate a ballerina jump I saw on TV.
She jerks the beer from my hand. I try not to snicker as she struggles to pull the tab. She’s fifty. Had me when she was forty. Regretted it ever since. Lets me know it every day.
Beer bubbles out and down the side. She lifts the can to her lips and licks the foam. Her t-shirt stinks of beer and sweat. She scratches a scab on her fat arm and curls a bloody fingernail to her face.
“Get me a rag, girl.”
I dance back to the kitchen and get a rag. She wipes her blood.
“You gonna fix your momma some dinner, or what?”
“Or what?” I reply.
“Or you’re grounded for a week.”
“So what?” I taunt.
“Don’t smart-mouth me, girl.”
“Or what?” I feel “girl” building inside, ready to hurl.
“Or I’ll whip your ass, that’s what.”
She lunges. Her pudgy hands push up on the arms of the chair. Her wet hand slips, and her butt plops. The beer topples from her fingers onto the floor. Foam belches over once-pink slippers.
“Damn you girl. See what you done? Now you’re gonna get it.”
I turn to the screen door and jab it with my hand. It swings into a galvanized bucket overflowing with crushed cans and sends them scattering. I’m off the porch.
My feet dance across my hopscotch game chalked on the concrete.
1, 2, 3-4, 5, 6-7, 8, 9.
Her bellowing continues. “Get your ass back here right now, or I’m gonna call your father.” She waves her cell phone at me like a weapon.
I yell back, “He ain’t my father.” I feel Tabatha fading.
He’s just Robert. He told me that the first night he touched me. That made it okay.
My real father’s the king of some small country. Europe, I think. I looked for it on a map. His people love him. He’s going to send for me soon.
I’m standing on the nine-spot. I turn and watch her bloated body teetering. Her tattooed leg reaches for the second step.
“Hey,” I yell. “Got you something else.” I shoot her the finger.
She looks at me, and her foot misses. She tumbles to the concrete. Head first. She doesn’t move. I stand like a statue. My finger’s still in the air.
9, 8, 7-6, 5, 4-3, 2, 1.
I skip toward her. My arms stretch like wings. I give her a bow and look at one open eye. It doesn’t look back.
“Can I get you a beer?”
“Can I get you a rag?”
I dance in circles around her body to a tune in my head.
“Ashes. Ashes. We all fall down.”
A neighbor points at me and rushes into her home. A shiver crawls my spine. Reality sets in. My mom’s dead. It’s just me and him.
I reach for her phone and punch seven random numbers. I need to talk to my real father. A voice answers, “The number you have reached is not a working…”
I hit the red button and try seven different numbers. A kind voice answers, “Hello?”
“Daddy? It’s Jenni. Come get me. Please?”
The voice replies, “I’m sorry. You have the wrong number.” Then, silence.
A distant siren wails. The neighbor’s called the cops. I run inside to the stairs. Two steps at a time. Then just one. My legs shake. I slam my bedroom door as I run through. It bounces back. Its latch got broken the night Robert kicked it in.
I climb through my open window onto the flat roof of the carport. It’s our private place. Jenni. Tabatha. Ruth. Zanna. Where we hide from Robert. And get away from “girl.”
I hear yelling from the sidewalk. It’s Robert. He’s home. He’s angry. He’ll hurt me. Do things to me. I have to change.
“Hi, Robert,” I taunt, as I dance along the edge of the roof. I am now Ruth. If I’m nice to him he buys me presents. I lift the hem of my dress and show him what he likes.
“You little bitch. What did you do?” He turns toward the front door and begins to run.
It didn’t work. He’s going to hurt me again. I know it.
White clouds float high in the blue sky. If I can reach them, I’ll be safe. I shed my dress and stand naked, now Zanna, the fairy warrior. My winged horse nuzzles me. Her anger starts to show. Her eyes glow red as I mount her back. Fire shoots from her nostrils.
Heavy boots echo across the hardwood floor, up the stairs.
I nudge my horse to the far corner, and we turn. I grab her mane with both hands and give her my heels. Sparks fly from her hooves as they strike the metal roof. In four steps we are at the edge. At the fifth, we fly.
Jeff Switt is a retired advertising agency guy who loves writing flash fiction, some days to curb his angst, other days to fuel it. His words have been featured online at Every Day Fiction, Out of the Gutter Online, Dogzplot, Boston Literary Magazine, Shotgun Honey, and several other sites.