Hummingbirds (Memoir Opener)

published in The Woven Tale Press

“Amy, you’re gonna get it,” Nikki tells me. I’m hiding between the lilac bushes, Barbie’s head in my hand. It’s our weekend at our father’s old farmhouse.
“What’d you use?”
“Daddy John’s pocket knife.” I’m not afraid. My father is harmless, even almost scared sometimes.
“I’m telling!” And she runs toward the house. I fish for the knife in the pocket of my dirty overalls and slice at Barbie’s pretty blue eyes so they open. I sit and poke little holes where her pupils are and then I saw at her ratty hair. I lick my bottom lip, almost got it. A pleasure fills me.
“Amy! You get in here!” It’s Grandma Helen—I can see her wiping her fat hands on her apron through the lilac branches. The white house is blinding but filthy. The shutters are falling off. My Uncle Bob saunters up the dirt driveway and tosses a beer can near my hiding spot. He doesn’t see me, I breathe. His hands, I don’t like his hands.
I wait for him to get to the porch before I emerge. I stuff the knife in my pocket and leave Barbie behind.
“Amy, what are you doing? Give your daddy his knife back, you don’t belong with that. Come in it’s lunch time.” I race up the stairs and into the kitchen where Grandpa Leo sits in his brown chair that spins and spins when you lay across it. He’s next to the window, above the lilacs, watching the humming bird feeder as usual, sipping his Old Style. I know it’s time to be good so I toss the knife on the table and take my seat. Nikki and Jodie are already eating their Spaghettios from the chipped blue China dishes I always love to look at.
The kitchen is a dismal yellow place with large wooden silverware hanging on the wall. There’s dishes and beer cans and paper bags all over. The floor is a brown linoleum that slants down into the next room where Grandma’s organ sits. My sisters and I sing church hymnals with her on Sundays. There are old jelly jars all over, filled with old fashioned candy, and flowers fill white bubbly vases. The floor then rolls into the paneled living room. On my tricycle I barely have to pedal around the rooms. Grandpa’s torn, black leather chair sits in the corner. The first time he gave me a sip of his beer, I was sitting on his lap, picking at the stuffing coming out of the arm.
Daddy John walks into the kitchen on his long, faded denim legs. He wears one of three shirts—this one brown and white plaid with the pretty metal buttons. He sits down at the table and opens another beer.
“Jesus Christ, John. You’re good for nothin’. Good for nothin’. You got three babies here and alls you do is sit around and drink, pissin’ your life away. Can’t even hold a job.” I don’t look at my dad, because he’s silent. Grandpa shakes his bald head. I finish and get up to go outside, reaching across the table, barely reaching the knife but I do, and slide it towards Daddy John and look at him. He pinches my cheek.
Outside we race for the huge apple trees. The pink blossoms fall across the yard like snow and if you stand beneath the two of them, they arch over you and it’s like being in a snow globe. The swing Daddy John built is a board on one piece of rope. Nikki gets there first and Daddy John comes out to push her. I climb the tree, up the nailed-in boards my cousins pounded into the bark. Heavy bumble bees buzz all about in the honeysuckle fragrance.
me22“Daddy John, daddy—when’s it my turn?” Jodie and I take turns asking. For the first and last time I see my father get angry.
“I’m not ‘daddy John’ I am your dad! He can’t take you’s away from me!” He walks away and out into the field where the hay bales dot the horizon. We follow him, chanting his name.

It’s getting dark and Grandma tells him to put us in the tub. All three of us strip down, shameless with the door open. He fills the tub, sees us and looks away. He gets up and says “Okay, okay you’s, wash up,” and he leaves, making Grandma come in to wash our hair. She calls me Salt for my white-blond hair. Nikki is Pepper and Jodie, Paprika. I know it’s safe here, where Daddy Scott isn’t.
We march up the nappy orange stairs to the room we share with our father. It’s divided in two by an orange afghan. We crawl up into the high double bed we share, Jodie in the middle because she’s the smallest and we don’t want her to fall out. It’s dark up here and my pajamas are clinging to my wet body. Daddy John kisses us good night and says “I love you’,” and walks toward the light in the door, descending the creaking steps. I watch him disappear and then my eyes catch, as they do every weekend we are here, on the haunting picture of The Last Supper. There are golds and silvers and glittery greens in it and it shimmers somehow, in the dark. I stare at it, somewhat afraid and I don’t know why the terror, and doze off.

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