When school let out, I walked across the busy four lane road to get to McNichols Road. I had thought up a story to tell my uncle when I got home to explain how late it was when I arrived. There were numerous fast food restaurants on McNichols, and if I got lucky and was hired, I wouldn’t be that far from home. I hadn’t decided how I was going to hide getting a job from my uncle, but I was mentally working on it.
By the time I got home, it was seven-fifteen in the evening. Even though I knew Pumpkin didn’t really care about me, I knew he would still give me a hard time about the time of night I was coming in.
To my surprise, the house was dark and quiet when I opened the side door that led to the kitchen. Tired from walking to several different restaurants filling out applications, I hung up my coat on the hook by the back door and retrieved my back pack from the floor where I had dropped it and headed for the kitchen. I flipped the light switch on in the kitchen and stumbled backwards when I saw my uncle sitting in a kitchen chair with a belt in his hand.
“Hi, Uncle Pumpkin, what’s up?” I said, looking nervously at the belt he held. Pumpkin had never hit me before, but as the money began to run out, he became meaner and meaner. He began yelling at me for small things like not replacing toilet paper in the bathroom, even when he knew that we were all out. I could have bought some toilet paper at the dollar store, but then he would want to know where I got the money from.
“You think I’m stupid, don’t you, Muffin?” he began. “Every night you come home later and later. When you do come straight home from school, you try to get back out. I should have known that your fast ass would go boy crazy as soon as my mama died. It’s hard enough to keep up with you, but I’ll be damned if you think you’re going to bring home a baby.”
Fear gripped me when he stood and tightened his hands around the leather belt.
My grandmother never hit or spanked me, so I wasn’t used to being hit. My mind was racing a hundred miles a second, trying to think of something to say so that he wouldn’t hit me with the belt. I had intended to keep my job search a secret, but I didn’t want my uncle beating on me either. My seventeen-year-old mind quickly reasoned that if I told him about my job search he would understand since it was his suggestion that I find a job in the first place.
“I haven’t been with a boy or anything. I went looking for a job. Remember yesterday you told me I needed to find one,” I told him.
I slung my book bag on the floor and pulled out the business card the manager at Burger King gave me and held it out for him to see.
Without warning, the belt whipped through the air and struck me on my back and left shoulder. The sting of it caught me off guard, causing me to fall back against the sink. When I saw his arm go up again, I threw my hands up to block the next blow. When the belt struck my arm, a large welt rose on my skin.
“I don’t give a fuck where you went. You better have your ass in my house before it gets dark. Do you hear me?” Pumpkin said angrily.
“Yes, I hear you,” I said in a trembling voice.
“When you start working, I want a copy of the schedule and every dime you make is to go on bills around here, too. Your days of staying in my house for free are over.”
I only needed to make it until August. Then I would be on my way to college, and my uncle wouldn’t be able to keep telling me how lucky I was that he was willing to let me stay in his mother’s house nor would he be able to beat on me.
I wanted to remind him that since my mother wasn’t dead, she was part owner, too, which gave me a right to stay there as well. I kept my thoughts to myself though because it would only make things worse.
I really didn’t know my uncle, and all I wanted was for us to get along with each other long enough for me to finish high school, and then I would be out of there.
I hadn’t seen much of my uncle while I was growing up. When Nana was alive, he would stop by and borrow money from her, but he never interacted with me. In fact, he usually ignored me. Even when I would say hello, he would turn his head and act like he didn’t hear or see me. I had never done anything to him, but he just seemed to not like me. That’s why I was surprised and suspicious when he offered to look after me when Nana died.
He acted like he was so fond of me when Aunt Mattie or any other family members were around, but as soon as they left, he cursed at me and told me to take my ass somewhere.
I knew Pumpkin was a no good drunk because Nana told me herself, which was why I never told him that I received a social security check from my father’s death. When Nana died, I knew right away that I was going to need “mad money.” Mad money was what Nana called the money every woman should have saved just in case she got mad and wanted to leave. It was obvious to me that I could only put up with my uncle for so long before I was going to get mad and want to leave.
Aunt Mattie knew it, too, and she agreed with my idea to not tell Pumpkin about my social security check. My check was only three hundred and eighty-two dollars a month, and I was saving as much of it as I could for college expenses. I only spent small amounts on food and toiletries when necessary.
Two weeks earlier, I found a stack of mail thrown on the side of the couch. I took all of it upstairs to my room and sorted it all out even though some of it was wet from a wasted beer. I found notices from the light and gas company that my uncle hadn’t paid since he had arrived. The last payment the utility company received was three months prior when I paid them with the money I got from donations at Nana’s funeral. The only reason I paid the bill then was because Pumpkin said he would give me back the money if I did. I waited two weeks and then asked him for my money. He started cursing at me and telling me that if I asked him again I could get out of his house. It wouldn’t be long before the utilities would be shut off, and I still wouldn’t have anywhere to live.
It was obvious I wasn’t going to make it until the school year was over.
I watched Uncle Pumpkin walk out of the kitchen with a cocky swagger. I could tell he was proud of himself. If I had any doubts he cared about me, they had all just been removed.
I gathered my things and headed to my room. I needed to sit still and figure out what my next move was going to be.