Saturday, 6 June 2020

'Stephanie' by Carrie Etter

How’d you do it, girl? Waitressing part-time at Steak ‘n’ Shake since the day after your sixteenth birthday, working weekends through high school and full-time in the summers, putting the checks in the bank the day they arrived and hiding any cash in the box of tampons because you knew however drunk and stupid he got he’d never look there, saving up $2.13 an hour plus tips till on your last day of high school you had a one-way train ticket and money to start your city life, close enough your brother Tom could come in an emergency, far enough your dad would be sober or arrested for a DUI by the time he arrived, so in two days you had another waitressing job, in a week you had a little studio above a bakery and woke early mornings to the sound of banging steel trays and the smell of yeast, in a month you started a night class at the community college, in four years including summers you finished your gen ed requirements and only had to see your dad in the city once, not at the studio, no, never, but an old-style diner in an upscale neighbourhood, lunch, where your first thought was to pay for you both, a gesture, and your second thought was if you paid, he’d think you had money to spare, so you lied—you know how to lie—and said you only had a fiver, could he get the rest, and didn’t say anything when he used it as an opportunity for a monologue on the cost of city living and there’d always be a place for you at home, and you didn’t nod or give any sign he might take as encouragement, that he might talk up to Tom, no she’ll be home before long, only I saw her, she’s doin’ all right I guess, and all that time holding yourself in, not screaming, not looking for a steak knife you could stab him with, not spewing so many years of kept-back words because Tom, Tom, just two more years till Tom’s graduation and then, oh then you’d let it out, then you would be sure of the best words, you would have just enough time and schooling and distance to not just make him angry and defensive but show him his guilt and watch him choke on it. You hand him the five-dollar bill and leave before he can hug you, before he can put his hand on your ass.

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