“Judy,” I whispered. “Are you still up?” I stood in the doorway that separated our bedrooms. Of course, I knew she was reading. That’s all she ever did. Being smart was so boring.
“Maybe. What do you want?” She turned the flashlight off and slid her book underneath the pillow.
“Do you think Daddy’s okay?” I asked.
“How should I know?”
“I don’t want him to die.”
“Don’t be stupid, my sister replied. “He’s not gonna die.”
It was a bunch of hours since the last time Daddy called, around dinnertime. Mommy couldn’t even understand what he was saying. She screamed into the phone, trying to get him to tell her where he was, who he was with, but he couldn’t answer any of her questions. Somehow, he’d gotten lost, somewhere between downtown and the Bronx.
“I can hear you breathing. Gene,” she said. No response from his end of the receiver. “Honey, are you hurt? Gene.” She was angry, but at least she called him ‘Honey.’
Mommy made us girls go to bed when the 11 o’clock news ended. I wasn’t even tired. I could stay awake alot longer. I paid attention to the whole program too, just in case there was a story about a man who was drunk and forgot where he lived.
“We want to wait for Daddy,” Judy said.
“Get upstairs.” Mommy’s rosary beads were in her lap. She cleared the phlegm from her throat and lit another cigarette. “You’ll be dragging your butts in the morning.”
I laid in bed for nearly an hour, trying to make the phone ring with my mind. Wishing Daddy could find his way back to our house. Praying God would keep him safe.
“Judy, can I sleep with you?”
“Please,” I begged.
“Fine. But just for a little while. And keep your big leg away from mine. You make everything all sweaty.”
“I promise I won’t move or sweat.”
I woke up when the doorbell rang. It was still dark outside.
It’s him,” Judy said. “I told you he’d be all right.”
At first, I was glad Daddy was okay and not dead. But things always turned into a different kind of scary once he resurfaced. He’d deny he was drinking, but it was obvious. He thought it was funny, staggering around while Mommy yelled. If he wasn’t so bad off, Mommy would try and sit him down at the table where he ate like an animal, spilling food all over whatever he was wearing.
She tried keeping him away from the second floor so he wouldn’t get hurt, but he needed to use the toilet, and he couldn’t understand why she wanted him to pee in a big pot. We all climbed the stairs all together, in case he lost his balance. Me and Judy waited outside the bathroom door while Mommy helped him with his pants.
This time, when he finally made it home, we creeped into the hallway and peered down the stairs into the foyer. Mommy unlocked the door, and Daddy bounced from one wall to the other as she tried to get him out of his coat.
“Why are you all wet? Did you?” She leaned in to smell his clothes. “You did, you dirty bastard. You pissed yourself. I’ve had it with this shit. I mean it this time.” Daddy just stood there, like a dummy. “What is it that you want from me?” Mommy pounded a weak fist into his chest. She made like she was gonna cry. Her voice got wobbly, but she never gave in all the way. She wouldn’t let herself be sad.
Me? I cried at everything, including right then. Judy ran and got me some toilet paper from the bathroom, but she only brought back two measly sheets. So when I blew my nose, it went all over my hand and face. I wiped it on my nightgown and the rug. “Mommy,” I sobbed loud enough so she could hear me.
“Get your asses into bed, girls. “Father of the Year” is home!” She said it in an ugly voice. “I hope you’re proud of yourself, Gene. I sure married a winner.”
Judy stood up and climbed onto her mattress. She arranged her blanket and stuffed animals for sleep. When I tried crawling in next to her, she stretched her arms out at her sides. “No more, Mary,” she said. “Go back to your own room. It’s too crowded with you here.”
I stood there, waiting for her to change her mind, but she wouldn’t.
“You don’t love me.” I said, even though I knew she did.
“That’s not true. You just want your way.”
“It doesn’t matter. I never get my way.” I started crying again.
“Well, neither do I.”