I don’t think I’m going too far by putting this exquisite story up there along with Steinbeck and Faulkner. Humming Birds, by Amy Jo Sprague
“Amy, you’re gonna get it,” Nikki tells me. I’m hiding between the lilac bushes, Barbie’s head in my hand. It’s our weekend at our father’s house.
“What’d you use?”
“Daddy John’s knife.” I’m not afraid. My father is harmless, even almost afraid of us. It’s my stepfather I’m scared of.
“I’m telling!” And off she runs toward the farmhouse. I fish for the knife in the pocket of my dirty overalls and slice at Barbie’s pretty blue eyes so they open. I sit and poke little holes where her pupils are and then I saw at her ratty hair. I lick my bottom lip, almost got it. A pleasure fills me.
“Amy! You get in here!” It’s Grandma Helen, I can see her wiping her hands on her apron through the lilac branches. The white house is blinding but filthy. The shutters are falling off. My Uncle Bob saunters up the dirt driveway and tosses a beer can near my hiding spot. He doesn’t see me, I breathe. His hands, I don’t like his hands.
I wait for him to get to the porch before I emerge. I stuff the knife in my pocket and leave Barbie behind.
“Amy what are you doing? Give your daddy his knife back, you don’t belong with that. Come in it’s lunch time.” I race up the stairs and into the kitchen where Grandpa Leo sits in his brown leather chair that spins and spins when you lay across it. He’s next to the window, above the lilac bushes, watching the humming bird feeder as usual, sipping his Old Style. I know it’s time to be a little more civilized so I toss the knife on the table and take my seat. Nikki and Jodie are already eating their Spaghettios from the chipped blue China dishes I always loved to look at.
The kitchen is a dismal yellow place with large wooden silverware hanging on the walls. There’s dishes and beer cans and paper bags all over. The floor is a brown linoleum that slants down into the next room where grandma’s organ sits. My sisters and I sing church hymnals with her on Sundays. There are old jelly jars all over, filled with old fashioned candy, and lilacs fill white bubbly vases. The floor then rolls into the dark living room. On my tricycle I barely have to pedal around the rooms. Grandpa’s torn, black leather chair sits in the corner against the gray paneling. The first time he gave me a sip of his beer I was sitting on his lap in that chair, picking at the white stuffing coming out of the arm.
Daddy John walks into the kitchen on his long, faded denim legs. He wears one of three shirts, this one the brown and white plaid one with the pretty white metal buttons. He sits down at the little table and opens another beer.
“Jesus Christ, John. You’re good for nothin’. Good for nothing. You got three babies here and alls you do is sit around and drink, piss your life away, can’t hold a job. You’re a miserable failure dammit.” My dad’s head bows a little and he’s quiet. Grandpa shakes his bald head and Daddy John looks at us and looks away. We smile and eat in the silence. As I get up to go outside, I reach across and can barely reach the knife but I do, and I slide it towards Daddy John and say sorry. He pinches my cheek.
Outside we race for the huge apple trees. The pink blossoms fall across the yard like snow and if you stand beneath the two of them, they arch over you and it’s like being in one of those snow globes. The swing Daddy John built is a board on one piece of rope. Nikki gets there first and Daddy John comes out to push her. I climb the tree, up the nailed-in boards my cousins pounded in for steps. Fat bumble bees buzz all about in the pink honeysuckle fragrance.
“Daddy John, Daddy John, when’s it my turn?” Jodie and I take turns asking. For the first and last time I see my father get angry.
“I’m not ‘Daddy John’ I’m your daddy! He can’t take my place with you’s!” and just like that he stormed off into the field where the hay bales dot the horizon.
It’s getting dark and grandma tells Daddy John to put us in the tub. All three of us strip down, shameless with the door wide open. Daddy John, filling the tub, sees us and blushes, looking away. He gets up and says, “Okay, okay you’s (he always calls us ‘you’s’), wash up,,” and he leaves, too embarrassed to stay, so grandma comes in to wash our hair. She calls salt, pepper, and paprika because of our blond, brunette, and red hair. It’s different at mom and Scott’s house, where we’re ashamed.
We march up the nappy green stairs to the room we share with our father. It’s divided in two by an orange afghan. We crawl up into the high double bed we share, Jodie in the middle because she’s the smallest and might fall out. It’s dark up here and my pajamas are still clinging to my wet body. Daddy John kisses us good night saying “I love you’s” and he walks toward the light in the door and descends the creaky stairs. I watch him disappear and then my eyes get caught, as they do every weekend I’m here, on the haunting picture of The Last Supper. There are golds and silvers and glittery greens in it and it and it shimmers somehow, in the dark. I stare at it, somewhat afraid and I don’t know why the terror, until I doze off.