I ride in the passenger seat. My dad drives. I've been crying again. "You're a big girl," he says. I'm nine, but I'm a big-girl nine. I know what this means, and him saying it just makes it worse for me. My dad says it like it's gonna make me feel okay. I press the bottoms of my shoes harder on the glove box. My knees are bent to my chest for protection in case we crash. I feel like an idiot for wearing shorts. I stare at my calves. They jiggle when I push at them with my fingers. Fat flags. They look like droopy flags of white fat wobbling back and forth.
We stop at the 7-Eleven. Inside, I leave my dad for the Slurpee station to mix all of the flavors in one giant cup. On the other side of the aisle, my dad pours coffee into his metal thermos. This is what we do on Saturday mornings when I stay with him, unless he's sick. I keep one eye peeled. Don't want him to leave me here. My mom is always worried he'll leave me someplace, like the Mc Donald's bathroom. I am, too. That's why if I have to pee, I hold it.
My dad's taking extras from the bins on the coffee counter. Stuffing little pink packets of sweetener, teeny creamer cups and wooden stirring sticks in his biker jacket. I don't know what the point is of taking so many extras that he won't use, or how he can stand the taste of coffee. It tastes like hot dirt and smells like acid rain, which is a real thing because of pollution. He told me, "You'll like coffee when you're older. It's an adult drink." My dad is always saying I'm gonna like things and be different when I'm an adult. Like mushrooms, beer, smoking, and he even told me that when I'm bigger, I'll get bloody noses. He gets lots of bloody noses, but I never had one. He can spit a good loogie, too. When I spit, it's all clear and it dribbles down my chin. My mom says my dad's a pig in the way he acts. I don't know.
I hope we stay out all day driving the neighborhood. Tons of "people to see and places to go," my dad says. North Philadelphia is a big and small place. It's ugly. I've seen how pretty places look on television. I don't like it that much. But maybe when I'm bigger, I will. If we go back to my dad's apartment, he'll disappear or get sick or he might sleep. If he sleeps, I will be very bored and cry. My dad might get himself into trouble at his place. He gets ants in his pants really easy and that's when he starts scaring me. I get stomachaches when I think of all of it. My mom says he's a fiend and that my stomach aches because I'm a worrywart. Maybe my fatness makes my stomach hurt worse than smaller girls. When my dad sleeps, I eat up his entire kitchen, even if I hate the food. He hates the regular grocery store, so there isn't much at his place. The cereal in the cabinet is old and might have moths, but I'll eat it anyway if there's no more jelly and bread. I can always make Raman on the stove. I pray we keep driving today. We can both keep busy. Keep our mind off our worries.
Across the store, some woman starts talking to my dad. I reach for a plastic, dome lid and go near them, but pretend I'm looking at a package of beef jerky. "I need some money, baby. You know I'm good for it," the woman says. I keep my eyes on the jerky, like I'm real interested in getting it.
"I'm tapped," he says. My dad is smiling like a wolf does. I'm not sure if his smile is sneaky or if he's irritated. My dad can be nice to people at first, but I've seen him hate women so much he bloodied them, so she better be careful.
The woman's hair looks like hay. She's wearing jean shorts too, but they're shorter than mine. She's got a cut-off shirt and big leather boots that come up to her knees. My mom would say they look slutty. She's really skinny. Skinnier than some of the skinny girls at my stupid school. It hurts to look at her cause she's got pointy teeth like a jack o' lantern. I would take her teeth if I could be that skinny, I guess. I'd just keep my mouth shut, and nobody would know to tease me. Being big, you can't hide.
My dad says I'm big because I have big bones. At night before bed, I press at them. My big, dumb bones make all the rest of me look big. It's not fair. I can't even see 'em. Even my stomach is big, and it has no bones at all from what I can tell when I push my fingers so deep I get polka dot bruises. Being embarrassed all the time because I'm such a fatty is probably why my dad gets irritated and has rage. I don't say it, but I'm real sorry.
I see my dad staring at the skinny woman's belly button. He whispers something in her ear. I want to hear because I don't like surprising things. This one time my dad stopped the car in the middle of the street, jumped out and started punching this older kid. I just stayed in the car and watched like everyone else who was around, which was a bunch of people cause it was summertime and right outside Sam's corner store. One boy from my class was there. When he looked at me I smiled at him because I wasn't sure what to do. He gave me a bad look and flipped me the bird.
The skinny woman laughs and coughs at the same time. I can't tell for sure, but I think she takes some money from my dad and then she walks away. My mom would say she walks like a slut in her slutty boots. I don't like the woman. I stand near my dad, sipping from my giant Slurpee mixture. I roll my eyes at my dad cause he's staring at her butt. He wouldn't want me to see him so I walk away, too.
In my most favorite aisle, I can't decide on a flavor of chips. After eenie meenie miney moe, I grab a bag and we both get in line. My dad will let me buy anything because he makes "good money" from painting houses, but I can't dilly-dally or be a pest. This will make him irritated.
The skinny woman is yelling at the cashier at the front of the line. She's cursing and being crazy.
All of the sudden, she turns around and points her dirty finger at my dad, and I think she might be telling the cashier that he was staring at her butt, but then she says, "He doesn't think I'm annoying."
"You're a doll," my dad says.
The skinny woman says to the cashier, "You see? This guy's on my side, asshole. He doesn't think I'm being annoying. You're the fucking asshole." She starts pulling on a metal grate that holds magazines, and the famous ladies start sliding to the floor. I look up at my dad, but he doesn't really seem to care all that much about this crazy, skinny lady.
We get up to the cashier, and the skinny woman is still there and she touches my dad on his shoulder and asks real soft, "You spot me a pack too, honey?" I've never heard anybody call my dad honey before. I wonder if this woman is gonna kiss my dad or something, so I pretend I don't see and like I'm counting the brown specks on the floor.
"Now I do think you're being annoying," my dad says.
The woman's face twists up and turns all red. "You fucker. My boyfriend will kick your ass." My dad pays, and the skinny woman runs to the door shouting. I'm a little worried in my stomach, and I hope I won't need a toilet soon.
We leave the store, and the woman is still yelling outside. "You're gonna be fucking sorry, asshole." People are watching her and shaking their heads and all because she's a shame. My dad keeps moving and I keep up as good as I can. She is running to this drunken guy sitting on the curb. I know when someone's drunk. All my family drinks alcohol. My dad, my mom, my aunts and my uncles, too.
"Crazy whore," I hear my dad say and I know he's pissed off, which is worse than irritated. The skinny woman points at us. I'm hurrying as quick as I can to get in the car and buckle my belt. I hate fights.
My dad starts the car. The drunken man is coming at us on his jelly legs. "You a pussy, man?" I put my fingers half over my eyes because he must be nuts saying the 'P' word. The skinny woman is running behind him, but her slutty boots make it hard for her to lift her legs. The drunken man has a big rock and looks like he's gonna throw it at the windshield, so I put my Slurpee in the holder and throw my chips down on the floor and curl myself up like a mouse. My dad doesn't drive yet, and I'm not sure if the car's out of gas or something. And I wonder if the drunken guy and the skinny woman are gonna kidnap me or kill us with the rock. Or if my dad is gonna bloody them both.
The car makes a screech sound and my dad almost runs the guy over. I tuck my head in and press my shoes against the glove box to help us go faster and prepare for an accident. I sink low in my seat and stare at the rolls of my belly—all the worry under them.
After a few minutes, I smell smoke, so I know it's safe. I roll down my window to let the smoke out. I look up at my dad. He has his cigarette in his mouth with lots of ashes at the end and he still seems irritated, but better than before. It's hard to get the straw of my Slurpee in my mouth cause my dad's going so fast and I can't keep it still.
We drive for a while. When we get to a red light, my dad reaches his arm around the back of his seat and pulls out a weapon. "A sickle," he says. He holds it up for me to see, and steers with one hand. Under my breath I practice, siiik kulll, sickul, sickkill…
"I got this so I never have to run away from anything," he tells me.
It must be heavy because my dad has white clouds on his knuckles. I can't tell if this thing, this sickle, is something bad or something good.
"I would've killed them," he says. He holds up the sickle in between us. And I hate seeing it.
I cry. I can't keep it in. I never can, like my tears are heavy too and fall out of me. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," I say. But he doesn't say anything. I look away so he doesn't think I'm being a pest. Outside there's a dog tied to a gate licking its paws. It's a guard dog for a mechanic, but it has white fur and doesn't look ferocious. I make whisper noises because I know dogs have good hearing and I wave without my dad seeing. The car makes a screech sound again when we start moving. The dog looks up at me.
The way my dad's driving, I can tell where we're headed. I want to beg him to go back for just a minute and use the sickle to cut the dog free. I want to cry and beg, but we're going too fast and I know I can't stop us.
BIO: Rana McCole traded the mean streets of North Philadelphia for the sun-drenched byways of Los Angeles at 18 years of age. She is currently completing her MFA in Creative Writing at Antioch University and writing her first novel. A strict pessimist, she is rumored to reveal rare instances of positive thinking under the cover of darkness only to her husband and their beloved dog.