The airless room was oppressively hot, but that is not what awakened Marcy. Loud shouting continued in the next room while the banging of doors and thrown objects reverberated through the thin walls. Her stomach knotting, she rolled off the sheet-less flattened mattress and tiptoed over to her brother and sister who were sleeping together on some couch cushions. Four-year-old Tyler was vigorously sucking his raisin-like wrinkled thumb. Kayla, five years old, stirred, clutching her “blankie” to her tiny breast. Marcy winced at the sound of a fist meeting flesh and bone and her mother’s corresponding cry.
“Leave her alone, you drunken _________,” she whispered between clenched teeth, “go away, go away, go away—just go away!”
As if in answer to her plea, the creaky porch screen door slammed, followed by the noisy muffler of her father’s truck as it sped down the dirt road.
“I’m hungry, Mar,” wide-awake Kayla complained.
“Me, too. Hun-gy,” Tyler’s lisping echo making his oldest sister smile in spite of herself.
“I’ll go see if Mom’s awake yet,” Marcy already tapping softly on the loose-hinged door to her parent’s room before entering, “You awake, Mom?”
Marcy’s eyes scanned the disheveled litter everywhere and wrinkled her nose at the familiar unwashed body stench coming from the worn mattress in the middle of the room. A light snore, a red welt swelling on her mother’s cheek, and a wine bottle laying beside her. Kayla and Tyler, who had shadowed her, were grimly ushered out and down the hall to the messy kitchen where the two littlest siblings sat down at the table expectantly.
“Tyler, did you go to the potty and wash your hands? Kayla?”
Both scampered to reach the tiny bathroom first. The sound of flushing and water running assured their sister they were cooperating for a change. She rinsed out two little bowls setting in week-old dishwater and poured the last of the cornflakes into them. Searching, she found the container of powdered milk, measured a little out into the servings, adding a little water from the tap and stirring the concoctions with her finger. Grabbing two none-too-clean spoons from the counter, she sat down with the children while they ate their skimpy breakfast . . . The day progressed much like the ones before, with the average challenges of tending to little ones.
Several hours later, their dad returned home, subdued and repentant, with flowers for his wife and lollipops for his kids. He then plopped himself down on the cushion-less couch to watch a baseball game on television.
Tyler and Kayla were out back, playing with some neighborhood friends, while Marcy tried to tidy up the place. Gathering up discarded dirty clothing to soak in the bathtub, she first emptied pockets, especially since Tyler hoarded the strangest things in his; and sometimes, if she was lucky, there would be some forgotten coins in her father’s pant pockets. But all she discovered this time was a ripped up traffic ticket.
“Great, just great. If he would just PAY, we wouldn’t have to run away all the time to keep him out of jail.”
(What she hadn’t figured out yet was that when they moved again, he would also fail to pay off the landlord, another reason for escaping different rental properties.)
Screams and car tires squealing from the backyard interrupted Marcy’s laundering. She rushed outdoors to find Tyler crying and sucking his thumb in the middle of the road, a car in the opposite ditch, the driver having landed in a cloud of dust as he tried to miss the little tyke.
“How many times have I told you to keep an eye on Tyler when he’s outside?” Marcy’s dad yelled menacingly from the porch, “Now that snoopy old Mrs. Gunny will report us to Social Services again, and this time it’s all your fault!”
“I’m scared, Mar. I want Mommy,” Tyler wailed, as Marcy tried to calm him while they walked on the strange linoleum of yet another pre-school.
“Mommy doesn’t feel so good today, Ty-Ty, so I’m in charge. Here, take my hand and Kay-Kay, you take my other one.”
And they walked down the hall together, purposely not looking back, two children and their surrogate parent, an eight-year-old adult.
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