It is my night to do the dishes. Like every other night. And it’s also my night to cook, and to clean the kitchen, and to slave away, while my STEPmother, Mrs. Queen Bee, sits on her Almighty Recliner Throne in the living room. I am tired of this unfair dictation of power, but I just let my anger seethe red on my face and in my thoughts and do nothing more.
I had to make meatloaf tonight. My STEPmother also told me to make scalloped potatoes. I hate making scalloped potatoes. It’s impossible to wash the pan that they’re cooked in. Eventually I’ll have to resort to taking my cleaning gloves off and scraping the caked-on potato remnants off the pan with my fingernails. I guess if I get hungry later I’ll have some Potato Nails to munch on. I’m not allowed snacks this week because of my “attitude.” I feel like such a little kid. But then again, do little kids have to cook and clean for their parents?
I don’t mind cooking and cleaning for Dad. He deserves it. But there’s someone else in this picture who doesn’t…hmm.
I silently fume as I fill the sink up with water. My STEPmother hasn’t washed the dishes all day. She’s probably been sitting in the living room with her glass of Mountain Dew watching a televangelist on the Christian network yelling, “I’M HAVING A FIT! I’M HAVING A FIT OF CARNALITY!”
How ironic. I wonder if he had meatloaf for dinner too.
We all used to sit at the dinner table together to eat--just the three of us. Now Dad and STEPmother have migrated into the living room for their dining. I’m relieved. Maybe I won’t get so many lessons on etiquette: “Get your elbows off the table! Don’t talk with your mouth full! You pig! You can’t do anything right! You--you---”
A couple teardrops roll off my face into the murky dishwater as I remember these things, but I’m used to this. The water needs that salty kick that tears provide. Something needs a kick anyway. In the face.
Scrub, scrub, scrub. Rinse, rinse, rinse.
My STEPmother told me that I should always wash cups first. I wash them last just to spite her.
Now my fingernails are getting their buffing as I come to the Potato Pan. After a minute of feverish Brillo Pad scrubbing, I leave it to soak in surrender and wipe the counters off. The crumbs from the counters and table fall to the floor. I sweep them up. I mop the floor. I then return to my cookware opposition and finally conquer it.
Dry, dry, dry. I am done.
I watch the soap suds linger on the metal basin of the sink after the water drains. Then I grab the sprayer and send the suds down into a drainpipe oblivion.
I am ringing out the washrag and wiping down the sink when I hear footsteps behind me. . .and the tinkling of glass.
Without turning around, I know what’s there. My hands begin to form into fists. I clench the washrag tightly and grit my teeth.
My STEPmother doesn’t utter a single word. My head is bent over, looking into the sink, but my peripheral vision catches her stride up to the counter and place no less than five empty glasses by the sink. They look sticky. No doubt they all had Mountain Dew in them.
I don’t want to look at her. I’ll lose control. Tears of fury are already forming in my eyes. I knew she was waiting to bring the glasses into the kitchen. I knew she was waiting for the sound of draining dishwater. I knew she was waiting, waiting, waiting, for the sole purpose of provoking my anger.
I will say nothing. That’s what she wants. I will pretend I am a monk, a mute, a mime. I have no voice. It’s almost true anyway.
My STEPmother turns around to face me. I refuse to make eye contact but instead glare at her manicured fingernails tapping the countertop.
Sometimes three words can change a life. “I love you,” for instance. Sometimes they can make things better: “Grandpa will live.” Sometimes they have no impact: “Want an orange?” I, however, hear three words that make my blood boil.
“You missed these.”
I say nothing. I am almost certain that there is visible steam rising out of my head.
My STEPmother waits for a moment. I reach my hand out and grab a glass, still looking down, as I begin the dishwater again. Not a word, girl, not a word. My STEPmother is a cold calculator, a grand gauger of behavior. She knows how to manipulate me down to the punctuation mark. But not this time. Without another word (but with a haughty snuff of the nose), she turns on her heel and walks out of the kitchen.
I chance to look behind me after she’s gone. I spot several dirty footprints on my freshly-mopped floor. Upon closer inspection I notice a small puddle of Mountain Dew on the floor too.
It’s too much. Words begin to creak loudly out of my mouth, delayed but potent. “Why didn’t she bring these to me while I was washing the dishes!?” I fume aloud.
Like the quick snapping of a whip, she is instantly back in the kitchen. She’s been waiting for the Grand Event, waiting to exercise her power over me. “What did you say?” she asks, standing at the entrance with her arms crossed against her puffed-up chest.
I choose to be silent. I stare at the Mountain Dew puddle on the floor.
“Look at me!” My STEPmother’s voice is raising.
I don’t look at her.
“LOOK AT ME!!”
With the utmost reproach I slowly meet her eyes, fists clenched at my sides. Her gray eyes are full of malice and her mouth is snagged in an evil snarl. “WHAT-DID-YOU-SAY?” she demands.
I breathe out slowly. I am shaking beyond control. “I said, why didn’t you bring those cups to me sooner?” I mutter. When I finish speaking I look at the floor again. Defiantly.
Now that I have spoken, the Floodgates of Fury have crashed open. A river of horrible words start shooting out of my STEPmother’s mouth. I don’t pick up on a lot through the rush, but I hear “you little--,” “good-for-nothing,” “how dare you talk back to me,” “brat,” “ungrateful,” and the ending sentence/command--”LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME WHILE I’M TALKING TO YOU!!!”
Somewhere in time and space an invisible cap rockets off my head. It must’ve been holding my thoughts in, because now they are bursting out.
“You brought these cups in after I was done with the dishes just to spite me!” I yell, this time looking at my STEPmother square in the eyes. A look of amusement has crossed her face, but she’s howling mad. She’s enjoying her anger.
“Maybe you should have looked around the house for dirty dishes before you washed!” she retorts, huffing and puffing. I almost impulsively want to laugh. She certainly looks like the Big Bad Wolf right now.
But I don’t. My mind is too shaken and livid.
“That’s not my job!” I scream. My voice has risen to a roaring crescendo. Tears are pushing their way out of my eyes. I hate being confrontational, but there is no stopping me now. “You leave cups in there on PURPOSE! You know it’ll make me mad! I CAN’T STAND YOU!!”
I kick one of the kitchen table chairs. I kick it again for good measure.
Another whip-snap. My STEPmother is in my face now. She has the front of my green t-shirt, still a little soggy from dishwater, bunched up in her hand, dragging it closer to her face. I look to the left. I look to the right. I can smell her terrible breath. I am a nutcase.
“Look at me, you ungrateful little bitch,” she snarls.
I shake my long brown hair in front of my face and glare through it into her eyes. She hates when I do that, more so than if I don’t look at her at all.
She shakes me. “Wash those glasses and go to your room. You’re not allowed out for the rest of the evening.” She lets go of me. I fall against the back of the sink, gasping, teeming with hatred.
“. . .And mop this soda mess off the floor, too,” she adds as she stomps out of the kitchen.
My tears are blurring my eyesight. I let my head fall down onto the sink and I weep silently for a moment. Then I drop the glasses into the dishwater---plop. plop. plop. plop. plop. Numbingly, I wash them. I wash them well. I don’t slam the glasses into the drainer. I don’t fume. I’m devoid of emotion.
I wipe the countertop off again, then mop up the Mountain Dew, which is dried up and sticky by now. I also wipe the tears off my face.
I have to pass through the living room on the way to my bedroom. SHE is undoubtedly there, sitting on her recliner, smoking a cigarette in one of those well-manicured hands, watching Benny Hinn heal a crippled woman on television and whispering to herself “Praise God, Praise God, Praise God.”
I take a deep breath as I near the living room, then walk right in. I spot her in my peripheral vision again and I am reminded of a haunted house, when you see something sinister lurking in the shadows and wonder when it’ll pop out and try to attack you.
I’m walking quite normally but she snaps at me, “Don’t stomp on the floor, brat.” I ignore her entirely and make it to the safe haven of my bedroom.
It really sucks that I don’t have an inside lock in here, though.
I scramble over to my bed, but instead of sitting on it, I grab my blanket and literally crawl on the floor to the opposite side of the bed and lean against the headboard--no once can see me from the entrance to my bedroom here. I pull my journal out from under my bed, then pull the blanket halfway over my head. I start writing.
My real mother, when I had the pleasure of seeing her last week, told me that my STEPmother has been reading my journal lately.
When she had told me that, I had started bawling immediately. “W-w-why?” I had choked. “Why would she do that to me??”
My mom had patted me on the back reassuringly as I sobbed, crouched over, panting in the heat of despair. “She says you’re not talking to her enough,” Mom had responded. “And who is Josh?”
Josh, a frequent subject of my journal entries, is a senior at my high school. I’m obsessed with him. I dream many nights of him rescuing me from my STEPmother and asking me to marry him and live happily ever after. Incidentally, I’ve never spoken a word to him in my life. I only look at him out of the corner of my eye in history class.
I’ve become pretty good at peripheral glances.
I’ve also become pretty good at hiding my journal now that I know SHE reads it. I even started to set up a decoy journal. In it I write about friends and fun and happiness. I possess none of these things in real life.
I could write for eternity in this thing. I love writing. It’s my only escape. Of course I am hurling vicious insults at the STEPmother in this entry. It’s almost therapeutic.
Uh-oh. I hear boots in the living room. Dad’s back.
Dad knows all about these quarrels of mine with the STEPmother. He detaches himself. He’ll go into the garage immediately after dinner and work on his beloved vehicles, accompanied by that heavenly friend, Silence Solitude.
Sometimes I feel like he loves those cars more than he does me.
In any case, he is back. And he’s in the living room. I stop writing, perk my ears up, and stare into the empty air. I hear a scornful, uppity voice, muffled through my walls, and I know Dad is getting filled in on all my wild and unruly antics.
A few tense minutes pass. Suddenly my bedroom door opens after a split-second pounding knock. I whip up from my Blanket Fortress in alarm.
Dad’s at the doorway. He’s mad.
The spiel starts out with “What the hell?” and then takes off into a full-out tirade. If spite works with STEPmother, it certainly does not work with Dad. I actually love him. I immediately wish I hadn’t talked back. I hate disappointing him. I start crying again.
He’ll mellow out by the end of this talking-at but he’ll ultimately still side with my STEPmother. I get the impression that he dislikes her as much as I do but it makes no sense. I shake the thought out of my head, as I do with so many others.
He leaves the room, taking whatever dignity and self-righteousness I had possessed with him. I feel like dirt. I am so alone.
I go and pick my blanket up off the floor and plop into bed, this time covering my head with the blanket all the way. It’s only 7:45 pm but I have no other aim but sleep. Wondrous sleep.
I begin to dream. I’m sitting in an audience of some sort. I hear a commanding voice through a microphone and I look in front of me at a stage.
It’s Benny Hinn, the televangelist. “Step up and be healed by the blood of Jesus Christ!” he roars.
A spotlight falls on me. “You! Girl! Come forward!” I see nothing but blinding lights. My legs move mechanically forward to the stage. I then feel hands on me, covering my face, covering my shoulders, covering my head.
“BE FREED!” many voices join in unison.
If you were in that dark, lonely bedroom as I slept that evening, you would have heard me whispering quietly to myself, “Praise God, Praise God, Praise God.”
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