Wheres Daddy going?
Quiet. Mommys busy. The harsh rake of a metal zipper closing. The girl carefully lays her bear on the bed covers, then picks him up again.
When will he be back?
When hes finished.
Finished doing what hes doing.
What is he doing? Her mother pulls the curtains, shutting out the dull, feeble light of the muted sun.
So many damn questions. The squeak of the springs as she lifts the heavy suitcase off of the sagging mattress.
Will he be back for my birthday? The timid voice questions.
No? But he said he would get me a bike, a blue one, we saw it in the window and he said I could have it for my birthd-
No. He wont be back for your birthday.
Im getting old, arent I mommy? she asks proudly.
Old? Hell, youre only six. A raspy laugh, a smokers laugh.
Seven. Is that old? Are you old?
Im old. Im real old. She places her hand in the small of her back and grimaces.
How old is too old?
Listen, will you just shut your mouth? Ive got a headache.
Sorry. She gazes at the floor, at the shiny Mary-Janes that are too small on her feet. When will Daddy come home?
I told you, hell come home when hes done. Hell come home when hes served his time at the penitentiary.
Serving? Like Cinderella? That raspy laugh again.
Yeah, Cinderdaddy and his singing mice.
Will there be mice?
No. No mice.
Oh. Whats a pentilenchery?
Penitentiary. Its a jail, kid.
Jail? Why is he going there?
Why do I even send you to school? she is quiet for a moment. A windchime sends its empty, lonely call through the mornings thin air. Hes going there because he did something against the law.
What? What did he do?
Too many questions. The girl is silent, waiting. He had weed in his car. And he was smoking it while he was driving.
Weeds? Like dandelions?
Too many questions, she repeats. Taking the girls hand, she opens the door and hauls her through. Cant you go anywhere without that stupid bear?
Kitty? The girl asks, surprised.
Yeah, your bear. Youre so stupid you even named it after the wrong animal. That laugh, like sandpaper.
Kitty would be lonely without me.
She shrugs, looking disgusted. Run on out to the car. Mommys gonna lock the house. Her feet crunch on the gravel, and Kitty dangles from her hand by one leg, swinging back and forth.
The air is cool and the wind whips the dead leaves into a frenzied dance. She looks up at the sky. It is the color of dishwater, and she cant see the sun.
The engine turns over a few times before the car finally starts, giving a roar like some prehistoric beast.
Wheres the chenipentally?
The jail, where Daddy is.
Oh, the penitentiary. Its up in Springfield.
About a half an hour.
Will we visit him?
Visit him? If you want to drive. The girl looks puzzled by this.
Can I? She asks doubtfully.
No! You're only six.
Oh, she says, not bothering to correct her. She presses her face against the window, and it fogs up with her breath. She draws an awkward little heart with her stubby forefinger in the mist. The sky is a sheet of gray, unbroken clouds.
Mommy, wheres the sun? Her mother laughs. Krckack, krckack, krckack, wheeze.
Honey, I havent seen it for fifteen years.