I like it best when Daddy picks us up
to spend the night at his house.
When his wife comes in her van
we sit in the very back
because her cigarette smoke makes us cough.
Sometimes we eat yucky things for dinner
like hominy and clam chowder.
I spit them out because I really don’t like
mealy corn and fishy milk soup
not because she cooked them
even though she probably thinks that’s why.
Also I don’t like the HBO movies
with bad words and naked ladies.
I cover my eyes with my fingers
and my ears with my thumbs
but I’m usually not fast enough.
We sleep in a bunk bed
me on bottom, Sister on top
because I’m afraid to be up high.
Daddy got us karate pajamas that tie shut like a robe
and I wear them because he likes them
even though they’re made for boys.
During the night the pajamas twist open
then I’m cold and naked
so I change into the nightgown I brought
but I put the karate pajamas back on before he sees.
For breakfast Daddy gives us junk food.
He lets us eat peanut M&M’s or warm liquid Jello
that makes my tummy really full later.
We drink orange Tang for vitamin C, Daddy says.
I like to stay outside at his house
to get away from the smoke
and so I can’t hear the mean things she says.
I take my Barbies out on the porch
with my drawing pad and my books.
We have our own bikes to ride too.
One time I secretly picked the neighbor’s cornflowers
in beautiful pink and purple and blue
but Daddy found out and made me say sorry
even though the lady wasn’t mad.
Now I stay by the concrete basin in Daddy’s driveway
where lily-of-the-valley grows.
I like to pull apart the green leaves
to find the tiny white bells
that smell just like heaven.
I want so bad to carry one little stem around
to block out the nasty smoke
but I don’t pick any
because they’re his wife’s flowers.
One time Daddy and his wife had a Halloween party
with grownups that dressed up too.
She showed off in front of her friends
and asked me to give her a kiss
but I never, ever kissed her before
or even hugged her.
But everyone was watching and waiting
and even though I hated it
I put a kiss on her cheek.
Then I ran upstairs and hid
and rubbed my mouth hard with my sleeve.
Some nights Sister and I talk in our bunk beds
real quiet so they don’t hear us.
Sometimes we ask each other
“Do you wish you could go home?”
We want Mommy
but we want Daddy too.
One night we couldn’t sleep
no matter how hard we tried
and we both cried and wished for Mommy.
Even though Daddy was already snoring
we tiptoed into his room and woke him up
and asked him to take us home.
He put on a T-shirt, shorts, and socks
and told us to get our stuff right away.
For just a second I thought I saw him crying
but I’m still not sure.
While he drove us back to our house
I worried that the cops would pull him over
for driving with no shoes on
I worried that he’d be mad at me
and I worried that Daddy will always carry
the hurt I gave him.
I felt so very glad to see Mommy again
and I tried hard to keep it in until he left
but I think a little gladness must have leaked out
because his face looked so sad when he said goodbye.
Mommy’s hug made it better
and she wasn’t mad that we woke her up
and I could tell she held back
some of her own gladness too.