“Gladiolus” by Cass Graybeal Brown

While I always had my head in a book, my Dad was busy cleaning his guns.

I’m still not sure what there is to clean in a gun, but there was never a cleaner gun than his. He took them apart on a little wooden TV tray table while he sat at the edge of his blue recliner. He’d crack open a Bud, crank up the TV and go at it—it being whatever he was doing with those little pipe cleaner things.

The year he cleaned them the most was when my parents were going through a divorce. I was 15, and that was the last year I lived in that house. One weekend he caught me looking out the wooden blinds at the car my brother said belonged to my Mom’s new boyfriend. His name was Ed, and I hated how dumb it sounded, how simple-minded, how country. Ed.

What are you looking at, my Dad asked behind me, making me jump.

I don’t know, I said.

But he did, because he said, time to clean my guns.

Since whichever gun he was working on was sitting there, broken apart in several black lumps, I wasn’t sure what scared me about them. It wasn’t like he could put it together in two seconds and shoot someone. And when they weren’t dismembered, they were always kept in a safe. But his swelling rage against my mother always seemed to coincide with his housekeeping activity.

If I saw a gun on the tray when I came through the door, I’d just hightail it to my room and shut the door. He’d ask questions, like whether I ate or not, and I’d scream my answer as I rushed down the hall. There I was, left with him and my older brother, who had a huge poster of Mariah Carey stapled to his ceiling, directly over his bed. Mariah was now the closest to another woman in the house, so clearly, I was outnumbered. 

I was becoming a woman and my development looked a lot like my Mom’s. I was lanky, and I still played basketball every day, but my boobs were starting to get in the way. That’s when I noticed my Dad no longer looked at me when he was talking. Usually an engaged and curious person, he now seemed distracted or annoyed, and maybe even repelled. He’d ask something only when necessary, and his eyes would point off to the side.

My solution was to disappear like my mother. Instead of using the hoop across the street at my neighbor’s house, I took my basketball down to the elementary school. The hoops were set low, and that made it too easy, but I felt tired all the time, so too easy sounded good. I started going down to the school every day around sunset, and in the mornings on the weekends. One Sunday, I got up and saw my Dad passed out in the blue recliner. He forgot to put one of the guns back together. Dad? I asked. I saw a near-empty bottle of vodka on the tray. Dad? I stepped down into the living room and he woke.

The look on his face was of pure anger. Not for waking him up. It was for my big curly hair and the complexion of my mother. The figure he saw standing there, he could hardly stand. I had my basketball in the crook of my arm but put it in front of me to remind him of who I was. It’s me, I said hardly above a whisper. His eyes did a funny quick shift in their sockets and he laid his head back, and I turned to leave. I bounced the ball down the street not caring who I would wake up. 

I bounced it harder and harder, almost violently as I crossed an intersection to the school. I went into the courts and I was the only person around. Just me and the hoop. A bird swirled around in the overcast sky. It was so quiet that I could hear something far off, something squeaky. There was a grown man on a BMX bike riding toward me. I was frozen with the basketball in my hands. I told myself to act natural and keep playing, so he’d know I wasn’t scared, but I couldn’t move. He was skinny and weasley, probably even my weight. He came into the courts and rode his bike in tighter and tighter circles around me. Soon, he was right next to me, saying things under his breath. I didn’t recognize any of the words he was saying. But the fear I felt was the same familiar fear over the guns. It made me suddenly take a shot at the basket. By then, I could smell his stale, straw-colored hair and he stopped his bike, standing hip to hip with me. He reached around me, putting his left hand on my crotch and the right on my backside.

The basketball was bouncing away from me, and I couldn’t stop it.

I turned and ran and ran through the field at the back of the school. It backed up to a busy street, and when I reached it, I looked back. He was now just a black lump on top of the field of dead, wooden-colored weeds.

I didn’t stop running. I was panting when I got home. I pushed open the front door and saw my Dad there, busy putting his gun back together. He was almost done and was using a little rag to wipe it down. He didn’t look over at me, but he did ask how was it? I wanted to cry. He sounded like my old Dad. I said fine before my words twisted in my throat as I kept walking down the hall. My brother’s door was open, and he wasn’t there, but there was Mariah, in her minidress and flat-ironed hair.

Welcome to womanhood, her arched eyebrow seemed to be telling me. Isn’t this some shit.

T. Abeyta is a Latinx third grade dropout who didn’t get a GED but did snag two Master’s degrees. She lives in Oakland with Betty, her lionhead bunny. When she turned 40 last year, she decided to write for real and was quickly published by Hobart. The story you just read belongs to Smile, a memoir she is currently writing. Follow her on Tabeyta.com or tweet @abeytawrites.

Cass Graybeal Brown graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2017 with a BFA in Illustration and a minor in Scientific Illustration (SCAD). She has been working as a professional illustrator and patent draftsperson for three years. Inspired by her study of scientific illustration at the SCAD, Cass Graybeal Brown turned her creative talents toward conservation initiatives. With this in mind, much of her subject matter revolves around highlighting the beauty in our natural world. Her specialties are in traditional watercolor and digital technical illustration.