A Good Family from Tennessee by Aleyna Rentz
My father was the type of man who refused to pull over for anything. I learned early on not to drink anything before getting in the car with him, and for car rides whose lengths challenged my bladder’s endurance, I knew to bring along empty Gatorade bottles. I don’t know how my mom and baby sister Junie managed, nor do I know how my dad made it through. He didn’t stop for dinner, snacks, stretching, or even gas—he always had enough gas to get him wherever he needed to be. Not even my violent episodes of carsickness moved him to so much as ease off the accelerator. An endless supply of grocery bags were kept under the passenger seat and were readily available should I need one—and I always did. My father would not even stop to throw out my sick bags. He owned a butcher shop, so I suppose the smell of food, both raw and digested, did not bother him.
As we drove home from visiting our family in Florida, I stared into the filmy white bottom of a shopping bag. I considered asking to pull over, but thought better of it. An incident during yesterday’s Thanksgiving dinner had wedged a frigid silence between us, and driving had only worsened his mood. There was nothing I could do but listen to him curse at the car, which had been sputtering and grunting since we’d made the drive from Tennessee to Florida two days ago.
“The goddamn Grand Am,” he called it, showing off his latent poetry skills. If his family had encouraged academic excellence, he might have made an exceptional wordsmith. Once, on his birthday, when we stuck a solitary trick candle in his cupcake—my brilliant idea, hatched in the party aisle at K-Mart—he tried to extinguish the flame several times before grunting, “Out, out, fucking candle.” He was our quotidian Macbeth, Shakespeare transcribed for the blue-collar man, but his ambition to transcend his impoverished childhood in Florida only carried him so far as his butcher shop in the suburbs of Chattanooga.
My mother was certainly no Lady Macbeth; her only reading material was Chicken Soup for the Soul books and Readers’ Digest magazines purchased from the Rite-Aid checkout lane. A King James Bible rested on a lace doily on her dresser, but I think its only purpose in her life was to look pretty on a lace doily. The formidable language of King James would not have appealed to her.
“Are you all right back there, Ollie?” she asked, twisting all the way around in her seat.
“No,” I moaned into the plastic bag.
“What in the world did you eat for breakfast?”
“It’s the car,” my dad said before I could respond. “Doesn’t matter what he ate for breakfast.”
“What’d you eat?”
“Egg,” I said. This was not a lie, I decided, but merely a truncated version of the truth, the best I could muster in my current condition. The continental breakfast at our motel had a waffle maker and a maple syrup dispenser, and I was an unattended nine-year-old—no one should have expected me to act with restraint.
“Egg,” my dad grunted. “Egg my ass.”
Distilled images of Florida passed through my peripheral vision, shades of brown and green runny with sunlight, fuzzy like a home movie. Moss hung from large oak trees, matted like witch’s hair. This was a fearful place, I thought, full of swamp monsters and feral alligators, the type of place they baptized you in a creek and you rose up with a new soul and leeches clinging to your skin, hungry for the blood of Christ running through your veins.
We had not visited Mickey Mouse or dolphins playing in the Gulf; instead, we spent two nights in the remote part of north central Florida where my father grew up, far enough from the coast that my cousins felt it necessary to have an inflatable, aboveground pool in their backyard.
“Got our own private beach right here,” Aunt Trish explained, reclining in a plastic Adirondack chair next to the pool (no one ever got in it; the pool was treated more like a stone fountain or bird bath, something pretty to admire). “Don’t need to drive nowhere.”
While I admired Aunt Trish’s attitude toward driving, little else about my relatives impressed me. We had come down from Tennessee for my Uncle Mark’s memorial service. It was 1996, and he was one of the last few men in Florida lucky enough to sit in the electric chair. He had been executed in September, but we did not have the service until Thanksgiving Day, my Aunt Trish’s decision. It made the most sense to hold the service when everyone was already in town, she said. Even murderers, I realized, have families, and I was shocked to discover I belonged to one.
Before we left, my mother tried to explain the concept of capital punishment to me with the sugary brightness of a Muppet.
“Sometimes men are not nice,” she told me, noticeably excluding her own gender from the evils of humanity. “Some, in fact, are just plain wicked—God knows why. Now imagine what the world would be like if we let wicked people run loose.”
“I already know all this stuff, Mom.” I didn’t appreciate her condescending lecture on crime and punishment—I considered myself an expert on the subject. The third grade had been my literary year. A straight-A student and spelling bee champion, I had fallen into the habit of exclusively reading the Hardy Boys’ detective series. This obsession led me to walk around the house with a magnifying glass permanently held to my eye as I closely inspected carpet fuzz and peeling wallpaper for damning fingerprints or strands of DNA. This game lasted until I accused my dad of siphoning M&Ms from my Halloween stash—I knew he was guilty because I found one of his grey mustache hairs next to a box of Milk Duds. This indictment sent my father into one of his fits of rage; he threw my magnifying glass against the kitchen window, leaving me to clean up both of their shattered remains.
“Just let me finish, Ollie,” my mom snapped. “Now, we have to put bad people in jail. Otherwise,” she added, noting my fading interest, “there’d be too many bad guys for the Hardy Boys to catch, right?”
I tried not to roll my eyes. “Right.”
“But some people are just so bad, we can’t let them live anymore,” She said. “Like your Uncle Mark.”
But she had failed to mention the electric chair. An ancient relative whose right eye swam aimlessly in its socket educated me on the science behind Florida’s primitive means of execution.
“What happens is they send lightning through your skull and your eyeballs pop right out of your head,” was all he had time to tell me before my father dragged me away by the wrist.
Uncle Mark had done a wicked thing, and the wicked thing was this: fifteen years ago on a Saturday afternoon, he had walked into Mia and Mindy’s Beauty Salon downtown and shot Mindy, his wife, while she was giving Mrs. Peterson her monthly dye job. Uncle Mark claimed in court that he would’ve only shot his wife and been on his way had Mrs. Peterson not sat there screaming her head off, but she scared him so bad he shot her, too. This explanation did not account for the three other women also found dead. My idea of crime, perpetuated by Frank and Joe Hardy, was diamond smuggling and kidnapping racehorses, not mass murder.
The two days in Florida, particularly Thanksgiving, had put my dad in the one of the most violent tempers in which I’d ever seen him. All of us were in sour moods except Junie, who was three-years-old. The trip had only exhausted her, and she slept quietly in her car seat.
“I wish you could turn around and see how precious Junie looks right now,” my mom said. “Should’ve brought my camera up here with me.”
I wasn’t entirely sure my dad heard her. “Stupid piece of shit,” he said under his breath, ostensibly referring to the car.
If my mother took this comment personally, she did not show it. She turned to me and said, “Do you wanna practice spelling bee words?”
I told her no. I had recently won the school-wide spelling bee, beating out fifth-graders whose mothers thought they were geniuses because they could spell “philosophy” and “photosynthesis.” I was scheduled to compete in the Hamilton County bee next week and knew I was going to win. My future was certain: I was going to go all the way to the Scripps’ National Bee in Washington, D.C., and I was never coming home. A strange fantasy had begun playing in my head before I fell asleep, in which, after accepting a giant trophy on behalf of the E. W. Scripps Company, I would be introduced to President Bill Clinton, who would, of course, want to hear my life story. I’d tell him about everything: the electric chair, the broken window, the disappearance of my fun-sized M&M packages. Moved to pity by these harrowing scenes from my tragic existence, he would take me in as his own—he didn’t have a son, after all. And if not President Clinton, then someone else. Ruth Bader Ginsberg, perhaps, who would have made a nice grandmother.
“All right, sweetie,” my mom said. “Maybe once you’re feeling better.” Then she shrieked, apropos of nothing, causing my dad to nearly veer into a semi-truck.
“Jesus Christ, Joan.”
Junie woke up and began to wail. I couldn’t help but feel persecuted by her, even though she could barely speak, for she seemed to always strategically choose to throw fits during car rides whenever I felt my worst.
“I’m sorry,” my mom said and gave an uneasy laugh. She pointed at the passenger seat window. “He just scared me, is all.”
I looked up, expecting to see a snake stretched across the windshield, an ominous face in the rearview mirror, or even an alligator stranded in the middle of the road. My dad had bolstered the old stereotype, claiming Florida was crawling with gators and that he’d spent his childhood wrestling them in the backyard.
Instead, I saw a frog, its tiny webbed feet clinging to the window.
“Lord, Joan,” my dad said. “It’s just a frog. It’s not like he’s gonna get in the car.”
“You never know.”
“What the hell do you mean, you never know?”
In a sudden burst of optimism and nausea, I pleaded, “Mom, can we pull over?”
“What if he managed to squeeze through the crack between the car door and the window?”
“Well, Joan, that just might be the dumbest thing you’ve ever said.”
“Mom, please can we—”
“No, we can’t,” said my dad. The gruffness in his voice was unmistakable. He craned his neck to find my eyes in the dashboard mirror and I immediately stuck my head inside the grocery bag. “And don’t you ask again.”
I thought my mom’s shy appeal was being made on my behalf, that she meant to convince my dad to make an exception just this once and pull over. I waited hopefully.
“What, do you have more theories about how this frog might get into our car?”
“How long ‘til we reach the interstate?”
“I don’t know. Five miles or so.”
After a brief pause, my dad let out something between a sigh and a growl. “Don’t just ‘oh’ me. Say whatever you were going to say.”
“Well,” my mother began, “we’re about to get on I-75.”
“And—well, how do you expect a little frog in his position to last on the interstate?”
Plainly, my dad said, “I don’t.”
I had not expected my mother’s sympathy to be so misplaced. Gutted by betrayal, I put my head between my knees and waited for the inevitable.
All conversation gave way to Junie’s crying, a sustained, almost musical sound. Abruptly my mom joined her, the two crying in dissonant harmony. For a brief interval, this was the only sound in the car—mother and daughter crying in unison.
“Junie,” my dad finally said, “just go on back to sleep, okay?”
I think my mom must have heard a completely different question, for she said, her voice both shaky and defiant, “If you could j-j-just pull over and maybe p-p-pull him off—”
“Pull over. I tell you what, Joan. What I would be absolutely thrilled to know is when you became so interested in frogs.”
My dad was referring to my mom’s abhorrence for all things small and capable of getting into the house without her consent. He still had not fixed the cracked kitchen window, which gave lizards and skinks and cockroaches—and the occasional malnourished frog—access to our kitchen. This invasion marked the end of family dinners, as my mom had not cooked a meal for us in nearly a month. I had been subsisting almost entirely on Chef Boyardee ravioli.
My mom sniffed back tears. “Well, I don’t like to touch them, and I certainly don’t like them in my kitchen, but that doesn’t mean I want them to die a cruel death.”
“It’s the circle of life,” my dad said. “Fucking hakuna matata.”
“It most certainly is not,” she said. “You know, you’ve been almost intolerable lately.”
"I guess I’d be in a better mood if the family genius hadn’t opened his big mouth yesterday.”
“You were the one who made a scene at Thanksgiving dinner, not Ollie. Don’t know why I put up with it. The nasty language around the kids, the thing with the magnifying glass, all of it.”
“Maybe you should just go ahead and leave, since I’m such a shitty husband.”
“Maybe I will,” my mom said quietly.
Divorce was my mom’s chief weapon against my father. To add to this threat’s effectiveness, she often made it while throwing clothes into a suitcase or pulling recklessly out of the driveway, shouting about child support through the half-opened window. But even without props, the vaguest allusion to divorce could give my mother power over my father. It threatened to destroy his idealistic notion of his own existence, his perfect family of four, far away from trailer parks and murderers and Florida.
Her threat had worked again: The car pivoted violently and screeched to a stop in a strip mall parking lot containing an IGA grocery store, a Blockbuster, a nail salon, an abandoned Chinese restaurant, and a Church of Christ. Before anyone could say anything else, I unbuckled and ran as far as I could from the Grand Am and threw up. I made a silent vow to myself to never eat waffles again as I shakily got back to my feet (I’d pitched forward on my knees, swept up in the drama of the moment, hoping my parents would watch and feel sorry for me) and took in my surroundings.
I walked back to the car, wiping my mouth on my bare arm. “I’m fine,” I assured everyone. “I threw up, but I’m fine now.”
Nobody said anything. Even Junie had quit crying and found another occupation. I looked over and saw her chewing a corner of her Winnie-the-Pooh blanket with apparent relish.
“Thank you for stopping so I could throw up,” I continued, hoping my gratitude would encourage my dad to pull over more often. “I was feeling pretty—”
My dad turned around and arched an eyebrow at me. “Don’t think I pulled into this parking lot for your sake.” He jerked a thumb at Mom, who was staring at the frog on the window. “Your mother here is apparently real concerned about the well-being of this frog.”
“Oh,” I said. It was only the second time he had spoken directly to me since Thanksgiving dinner. His anger at my mom must have surpassed his anger at me. He had seen right through her ruse and apparently felt stupid for falling for it, and now he was going to get back at her.
“I told her if she cares so much about the little bastard then she can personally pull him off the window and escort him back to his lily pad.” He squinted at my mom as if he had trouble seeing her from where he was sitting. “She’s too afraid to touch it, though. Hasn’t moved a muscle. If you need to take a leak and aren’t fond of utilizing the old lemon-lime Gatorade bottle, now’s your chance.”
I looked warily at the bottle and thought about Uncle Mark, who, according to Aunt Trish, had to take care of his business before God and everybody in jail.
“Don’t think he was ever too concerned about God watching him before,” had been my dad’s response.
He’d spent the weekend subtly reminding everyone of the glaring differences between himself and Uncle Mark, between himself and the entire family he’d left behind. We were Presbyterians who feared the Lord. Better yet, we were bona-fide homeowners, mortgage and all. We sprinkled instead of dunked and had a pretty front porch with flowerpots and rocking chairs and we certainly weren’t murderers. We may not have been rich, but business was good at the butcher shop and I was probably going to attend Harvard for free (my dad claimed this whenever anyone asked how I was doing in school), so we couldn’t complain. We were a good family from Tennessee, he insisted. He might have been from Florida, but he had gotten away. That’s what mattered.
He had become particularly defensive on Thanksgiving Day. We had crammed the entire family into Aunt Trish’s dining room, except for the kids, who ate on a tarp spread out on the living room floor. This was the first year I’d been allowed at the grown-ups’ table.
“So Ollie thinks he’s a big man now, huh,” said Uncle Hank, Aunt Trish’s husband. He was working on his fifth beer.
I didn’t. Aunt Trish’s eighteen-year-old daughter, Anne Marie, had run off with her boyfriend and eloped during the summer. Someone had to take her seat at the table, and even though I wasn’t next in line, the adults all agreed I was the only kid well mannered enough to make the upgrade.
“Y’all sure raised a good boy,” Aunt Trish said, grinning at me.
I prodded a grape around my fruit salad bowl in silence, feeling grim. Eating nothing but ravioli for a month had impaired my ability to stomach food that didn’t come from a can. That, or else I was wary of anything prepared in Aunt Trish’s kitchen. Perhaps a combination of both.
My dad nodded, taking advantage of yet another opportunity to separate himself from his family. “Did I tell y’all he won the spelling bee? And not just for the third grade, either. He beat the whole damn school. He gets to go to a countywide tournament next week. And who knows—he might make it to the national one.”
This comment stunned me. He seemingly had few opinions about my spelling bee participation except for where my clothes were concerned. I wore a sweater vest and bowtie to my school competition, an ensemble my dad said ought to be burned.
“Isn’t that on TV?” Aunt Trish asked.
“You goddamn bet it is,” my dad said.
"Why don’t you spell some words for us?” my dad’s cousin Janice asked.
“Spell somethin’ real tough, like Thanksgiving,” Aunt Trish said, her smile revealing nearly all of her gums.
“That ain’t tough,” Cousin Janice said. “Spell Leviticus.”
After silently spelling I-M-B-E-C-I-L-E-S to myself, I granted this request: “L-E-V-I-T-I-C-U-S.”
Everyone clapped and cheered.
Uncle Hank jabbed my dad with his elbow. “The real question here is how well he can throw a football. How well can you throw a football, Ollie?”
The grape I was pushing around my bowl grew immensely interesting. It was tiny and shriveled, the kind you find at the bottom of the bag. I knew my dad was looking at me, but I refused to meet his gaze.
“I’m not really into sports,” I said to the grape. The grape said nothing back.
The men howled.
“What’s the matter with you, Stan?” Uncle Hank asked. “You haven’t taught this boy to throw a football yet?”
My dad mumbled, “I tried.”
His sole attempt at teaching me the fine art of throwing a spiral had been thwarted by a colony of fire-ants in the backyard. Sports had never captivated my interest, but after scratching at my swollen feet for a week, my dad could never get me to touch a football again. Not that he would’ve had much luck, anyways.
“Well, it doesn’t matter,” my mom said, coming to my rescue. “He’ll get to be on ESPN if he makes it to the national spelling bee.”
This only made the men laugh harder.
“Who gives a damn whether or not he can throw a ball?” my dad said. “Kid’s smarter than any of you assholes will ever be.” In a show of affability, he attempted a laugh, but it came out as a cough. My grandpa, an almost translucent man of eighty-seven years, told him to chew his damn food.
“Figures, anyways,” said Dad’s older brother, my Uncle John, his mouth half-full of sweet potatoes. While my dad and Aunt Trish were both lean and angular, Uncle John nearly occupied two places at the table. Whenever he talked, my grandpa eyed him with outright disgust. “Stan here could barely throw a ball ten yards.”
Uncle Hank said, “No kidding?”
“No kidding. Was always a little skittish when it came to tackling people, too. It was a small town, and he didn’t wanna be responsible for hurting anybody’s son. That’s Stan, though.” He winked at me. “Always a softie.”
“Now who was on the high school football team, John, me or you?” my dad asked.
“JV don’t count,” Uncle John said smugly.
“Your Uncle Mark was the football star,” Aunt Trish said with a tone of reverence that surprised me. “Now there was a man who knew how to handle a ball.”
My father regarded her coldly and took a swig from his beer. “Knew how to handle a gun, too.”
The sound of silverware clinking against plates would have filled the room had we not been dining with plastic forks and Dixie paper plates. I shrugged at my dad in a show of solidarity, a gesture signifying we might have been the only two men with brains in the room, but he only shook his head at me.
Sullen with rejection, I returned to my grape until it occurred to me to look up and say, “Uncle Mark could’ve been a villain in a Hardy Boys book. The worst one of them all. He really could’ve.” Forks slowed to a halt. “They catch all kinds of bad guys.”
I suddenly could not remember what I had meant with this announcement. I looked to my father, expecting his support and approval. A thin line of turkey juice had trickled down the side of his mouth. He wiped it on the back of his hand.
“I don’t mean to say I think what he did was, well, um, entertaining, because that’s not what I mean. I mean books can be very much like real life sometimes, is all.” I swallowed. “Life can be pretty bad.”
Uncle Hank, wilting under the strain of a full Thanksgiving meal and several cans of Budweiser, nodded solemnly. “Yes, it can, Ollie. Yes, it can.”
Before I could respond, my dad held up a hand to signal me to please stop talking. He rose from his chair, his knees banging against the table, and left the room. I heard the screen door slam shut, and when I looked out the window, he was sitting in one of the chairs next to the pool, an unlit cigarette in his mouth, opening and closing his lighter with ambivalence. It took him a full five minutes to finally slide the cigarette back into his pocket.
He had reentered the trailer after dinner in a mood that refused to leave him, even when we left his hometown for what he swore was the last time. It occurred to me that maybe the cigarette would have quelled him, and even though I sometimes campaigned for him to quit, I almost hoped he would take our brief recess in the abandoned parking lot as an opportunity to smoke.
My mom banged on the window.
“And what good do you suppose that’s gonna do?” my dad asked.
“Maybe it’ll scare him and he’ll jump off.”
He scratched his beard meditatively. “All right, then. Bang on the window. Bang on the window until your knuckles bleed. By all means.”
At these words, my mom’s knocking grew harder, louder, until it lost all rhythm and she hit the window too hard, instantly recoiling and shaking her injured hand.
“I don’t know why you can’t do this simple thing for me,” my mom said, voice shuddering. “You could pull that thing off the window in two seconds and we could be out of here.”
If my dad had any rebuttal, Junie gave him no time to voice it. “Hello, frog!” she said, waving, as if her inchoate brain had only just processed the last fifteen minutes.
Dad turned around and grinned at Junie. I had developed a theory she was the only person in the family he liked. When I once alluded to this concern, he said that was because Junie wasn’t old enough to sass him yet. “Yes, June Bug, it seems like we’ve picked up a little hitchhiker. Did you know Mommy’s afraid of him? Isn’t that silly? Isn’t Mommy silly?”
"Mommy silly,” Junie giggled. “Mommy silly!”
My mom’s face appeared suddenly in the backseat. A vein I had never noticed before was throbbing in her forehead. “Now you stop that, Junie. Just stop that.” Her lip trembled as she looked back at my dad. “Say whatever you want to me, Stan, but don’t you go teaching our daughter to disrespect me.”
“Nobody’s teaching Junie anything. But I do have a lesson for these kids. You listening, Ollie?”
“Good. If there’s anything you ought to learn today, it’s that your mother is a hypocrite. Acts like she values this frog’s life, but is too sickened to get him off the car.” He turned to my mom. “Now hurry up and get rid of the damn thing. I wanna get home and to bed by a decent hour. Tomorrow’s gonna be a busy day.”
I did not like frogs and tended to keep a respectful distance from them whenever they snuck into our kitchen, but there was my mother, gingerly rubbing her hand, red-faced and sniffling. I opened the car door.
“I’ll get the frog,” I said.
“The hell you will. You sit your ass down right this minute, Oliver Bishop.”
I slammed the door and slunk down in my seat and folded my arms.
“Sit up,” my dad said. “And put that lip away. You’re too old for that.”
I had been poking out my bottom lip for added pathos.
“Amazing,” he said. “Not even the family genius gets what I’m trying to do. Just amazing.” He shook his head. Its baldness was spectacular under the Florida sun. “I’m trying to prove a point. A goddamn metaphysical point.”
No one else had caught his misuse of “metaphysical.”
He put his key in the ignition. It took several tries and a string of obscenities for the car to finally start. “Well, folks, my daily limit for dealing with bullshit has officially been reached,” he said.
But before he could lift his foot off the gas pedal, my mom grabbed the steering wheel. “Please don’t.” When my dad turned to look at her, she lowered her head. The frog still remained on the windshield.“I won’t let you,” she said quietly.
My dad turned off the car and yanked the keys out. We sat in silence.
“Frog!” Junie said finally.
“Shut up, Junie.”
I knew then that my dad’s capacity for bullshit was not part of his usual, angry rhetoric, but was real and had indeed been surpassed. Wordlessly, he left the car. My mom perked up, but then slumped in her seat when she saw my dad walk into the grocery store. He emerged a few minutes later with a paper bag, from which he extracted a tall can of beer. He must have noticed I was watching him, for he waved in a travesty of friendliness before sitting down on the sidewalk and popping open the can.
Several minutes later, he came back to us looking refreshed.
“Eight hours to go,” he said. The car grumbled in protest when he tried to start it, but my father remained unfazed. “We’ll have to get this sonuvabitch looked at sometime this week, won’t we, Joan?”
My mother didn’t say anything.
As he pulled out of the parking lot, my father whistled along with the radio. We took the ramp onto I-75, and the orange needle on the speedometer, quivering with palsy, crawled toward seventy. My empty stomach twisted itself into knots. I thought it might help me to focus on something steady, so I locked my eyes on the frog. He had not moved yet; at this point, I figured he would remain still for the entire eight hours. But his tiny body began to shake and ripple in the wind. A foot rose, then fell back against the window. One of his hind legs lifted; his lower-half was airborne. I could see the outline of his heart in his chest thumping madly. I imagined I could hear it beating against the window. Perhaps I really could.
“Don’t look, Ollie,” my mother said.
And yet I could not tear my eyes away. I was prepared to see the frog sail through the sky, zoom past my window like a piece of gum or a balled-up cheeseburger wrapper. My fists clenched, my forehead perspired, my stomach squirmed—and then the orange needle swung slowly backwards. The car croaked and wheezed. My dad pulled over to the grass embankment.
“This piece of shit car,” he said.
Smeary headlights rolled past us as we sat motionless on the edge of the highway. And that’s when the frog left us. He hopped off the window to the safe grass below, and in spite of my sour stomach and ruined mood, I smiled. My mother cheered. Even Junie giggled in triumph. My dad wasn’t having it.
“Bet he’ll show up in our goddamn kitchen next week,” he said.
He exited the car and lifted the hood. I noticed he was no longer whistling, that whatever song had been in him had sputtered and died along with the engine. Whistling gave him the appearance of somebody nice, jovial, even. Sometimes kindness occurred to him in little epiphanies, like melodies from songs you haven’t heard in years. It hadn’t happened since Halloween. While cleaning up the cracked kitchen window, a piece of it found its way into the palm of my hand. Fear kept me from showing this wound to my father, and I sat up late into the night, whimpering into my dictionary, certain my skin would grow around the glass, a remnant of both the night and our house becoming an inextricable part of me. But my dad heard my blubbering and came into my room. He went to work silently removing the glass from my hand and dabbing it with rubbing alcohol and wrapping it in gauze. He did not shush me or tell me to be a man when the sharp sting of the alcohol made me cry out, nor did he speak as he turned out the lights and shut my door softly, all the words he did not say glowing dimly in the dark, longing to be spelled.
Aleyna Rentz is currently enrolled in Georgia Southern University's Honors Program, in which she is pursuing an English/writing double major. Her work has been featured or is forthcoming in Black Fox Literary, Deep South Magazine, and 30 North, and she is also one of the founding editors of Moonglasses Magazine.