Mama told me to put the chicken in the oven when I get home from school because Bill is tired of eating dinner at ten o’clock. Well, tough.
I toss my bookbag on the floor by the door and crash on the living room couch. If Bill wants to eat dinner at a reasonable hour, he should come home at a reasonable time and cook it himself. It doesn’t make any sense how lazy he is—talking about it’s women’s work. He’s the one hungry, and Mama works twelve hours.
Bill gets off before school’s out, but does he bother to pick me up? No. He’d rather drink beer at the bar with his work buddies all afternoon and make me walk three miles because there’s no bus route near our house. Ugh! I hate him! I miss Dad.
I turn on the TV and flip through channels. There’s nothing on but court shows and the evening news. Who wants to watch the evening news at three in the afternoon? Can the bad news not wait until six? Like we really need to know that our idiot President discontinued the former First Lady’s healthy lunch program.
Kids are fat enough as it is, and I would know. One of them sat on me at lunch today, crushed my sandwich between our thighs and spread peanut butter and strawberry jam all over my white capri pants. Do you have any idea how embarrassing that is? To spend the rest of the day being called shitty period girl because of the brown and red stains, which only got worse after I tried to scrub them off with a damp paper towel in the girl’s bathroom.
“Shitty period girl! Shitty period girl!” they cackled whenever I sat down and the stains grew bigger because I have Mama’s watermelon thunder thighs. Fucking great. How would I even shit on the front of my pants anyway? Ugh! I hate people.
I switch to Nickelodeon. SpongeBob is on; an older episode, when SpongeBob and Mr. Krabs kill the health inspector. Good. I hate the newer ones. They’re so stupid. Can SpongeBob and Patrick get any dumber? And I swear there was one episode where I saw them kiss. Yes, they freaking kissed! Burt and Ernie can’t get married, but SpongeBob and Patrick can French kiss! Sex sells, even for kids apparently. Television gets raunchier and raunchier.
I hit the power button—I should probably start on my homework anyway—but the TV doesn’t shut off. Instead, I’m looking at my reflection, sitting on the couch, watching the TV. What the hell? Is there camera in here somewhere? I knew Bill was creepy, but oh my god. I wave my hand in front of the TV, in front of the digital cable box. My image doesn’t move. But it’s me, it’s definitely me, and it’s from today because I’m wearing those disgustingly stained capri pants.
I take them off. I don’t know why I take them off, since it’s obvious that I’m being recorded for God knows what reasons, but I want to be sure, I want to see my pixelated self remove her pants too.
But she doesn’t, she continues to lie on the couch, arms above her head, flipping through channels. Do I always look like that when I’m watching TV? One leg draped over the top of the couch, the other planted on the floor? I don’t like that they’re wide open. Maybe that’s why he’s been recording me. He does.
Suddenly the door bursts open, and I jump, because I half-expect the door behind me to open too. And now I’m standing here in the middle of the living room half-naked and terrified because the look in the eyes of Bill on the screen is that same look that gives every stepdaughter nightmares in real life.
I scramble for the remote as his pants drop to the floor and frantically hit the power button again and again until my thumb cramps. Finally, the screen goes black, but it’s too late. I’ve seen the worst part of Bill, and the scarier thing is when he get’s home—before Mama does—I know he’ll be drunk. I try to stand, but my legs are weak, and I’m out of breath—it’s as if it’s already happened. But I know it will. The TV has predicted my future.
I go to the kitchen, take the pan of marinating chicken out of the refrigerator, put it in the oven, and turn the temperature to 350. Maybe he’ll be hungrier for food. Maybe if dinner is ready by the time he gets home, he’ll forget about me. He’ll eat, be full, fall asleep, and I’ll be safe at least until tomorrow. I can beat this. The future is ever changing, right? Based on the decisions we make. I was still on the couch in the TV version of the future; I still had my pants on, the chicken wasn’t cooking. See, I’ve already changed my fate.
Wishful thinking. My fate was sealed the day Dad left. And now I have to accept it, because I hear the front door open, and I realize I’m still in my underwear.
It is Short Story A Day May, and while I said I would only write 100-300 words a day, I got carried away with another great prompt from Jerry B. Jenkins: “The Latchkey Kid.” This prompt reminds me of that Twilight Zone episode “What’s in the Box,” where the TV shows a man his future self killing his wife…