Clean Sheets

(Just a little something written years ago under a pen name in Brooklyn)

Mom took us on a little trip, just to get us off the island before summer vacation ended. Dad couldn’t go. He works all the time. He leaves the house before I get up and sometimes doesn’t come home until after I go to bed. When he’s home we have to be quiet, so we don’t bother him, because he’s so tired and over-worked. Once he said it was killing him, and then mom told him not to say that in front of me. He sits in the living room and reads a lot. Sometimes I say, “Dad,” to tell him something and he doesn’t look up, so I say it a couple more times, but then I give up and go do something else. We are nicer to him than we are to Mom. We feel sorry for him all the time. When he gets angry he’s scary, and he might just say one loud thing, like “FUCK.” Then he’ll be quiet for the rest of the day. Mom’s a yeller, but she gets over it fast.

I felt bad that we went on a trip without Dad. He took us to the ferry dock. When the boat pulled away, we stood on-deck and waved at Dad. He waved wide and crazy with both arms. I felt so bad leaving him all alone. He didn’t just walk home like I thought he would. He ran back up the dock to the road and raced the ferry toward town. I couldn’t believe it! I never saw him move that fast before. He ran out to the end of another dock and waved some more. Mom giggled. He jumped up in the air and spread his arms wide like he was excited. I knew he was really sad, though, not happy. He just wanted to show us how much he loved us. I started to cry, partly because I hadn’t known that he loved us that much. Mostly I felt guilty and worried about him being alone.

I cried for a long time in my bunk. Mom said, “It’s okay, honey—he’ll be fine.” Then after awhile she said, “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP CRYING.” And then my brother said, “Yeah—shut up.” Then my mom yelled at him not to tell me to shut up. The rocking boat and the crying made me tired, so I fell asleep.

We had fun on our trip! We stayed in a bed and breakfast that used to be a whorehouse, and we saw things we don’t see at home—like horses and a train. Mom let us have Belgian waffles for breakfast. I sent a postcard to my best friend. We saw some rainbow pencils in a store, so I got some of those for when school starts again.

When we got home Dad was in a quiet mood. I expected him to be really happy to see us—I know I was glad to see him! I still felt guilty, so I tried to make it sound like we only had an okay time. He didn’t look as happy as he did when we were leaving. I figured he was jealous.

We took our bags upstairs and Mom said to Dad, “Wow, you changed the sheets. Why did you do that?” I looked at Dad. He doesn’t normally wash things. He shrugged and smiled a little bit. He didn’t say why he changed the sheets. Mom started talking about something else.

I went in my room and put my backpack on my own bed. I had to lie down for a few minutes because my stomach felt bad all of a sudden, like the time at Christmas when I overdid it on eggnog then threw up on the linoleum. I got my new pencils out and fiddled with them and thought about coloring on the wall a little bit, which I was too old for. I wasn’t sure if fifth grade was going to be okay or not.

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