By: Shoshana Gertler
My mama tells me I’m rotted through ‘cause when I was nine years old and first started helping out my daddy in his liquor store out on Connecticut Ave, I killed him dead. My daddy, I mean. My mama wasn’t there the day it happened but I was, so I know she’s right. She knew it ‘cause she knows everything. The cops didn’t ask me who done it when they came by so I didn’t tell them it was me ‘cause I didn’t wanna be put in handcuffs, so a bunch of them went round the block looking for someone who looked like they coulda just killed someone or for a gun ‘cause there was only bullets left, and broken stuff everywhere. But I think they kinda guessed it coulda been me ‘cause one of them waited there for my mama to pick me up so I wouldn’t escape while they were all gone. We hadda wait a whole long while in the end ‘cause my mama went to see my daddy in the hospital before she bothered coming round for me. I knew he was dead the minute I saw it happen—I guess killers just know things like that about the people they kill—but the cops sent him off in the ambulance anyway ‘cause they don’t like when nine-year-olds know better than them so they don’t listen much when you talk if you’re only that old. Cops pretty much don’t wanna hear a peep of you except when they ask a straight question like, “What’s your address, sonny?” which they do if it’s late at night and they don’t wanna wait around anymore in a smashed-up liquor store for some kid—that’s me—to get picked up by his no-show mama. Then they don’t care if it’s just a nine-year-old they’re askin’, even though they think we’re dummies, ‘cause they just wanna dump you off and go on home. But I didn’t tell my address to the cop who asked me for it (even though I knew it already for near on five years) ‘cause none of them listened when I told ‘em my daddy was dead—and also ‘cause I didn’t much wanna go home to my mama ‘cause I knew she’d know it was me who done it. When my mama did finally come by she stood in the doorway, the little welcome bell jingled over her head, she looked something awful. She stared over the cop’s fatty bald head, at me, sitting up on the counter, swinging my feet back and forth, kicking my heels into the wood, she stared and stared and then “he’s dead,” but like I said I already knew that ‘cause I’m the one who done it, I’m the one who shot him dead with a gun the cops couldn’t find afterwards. I musta thrown it in a dumpster somewhere round the block, that’s what killers do, innit?
Now, don’t you get the wrong idea, I liked my daddy all right. It wasn’t something I done on purpose. My mama says it’s ‘cause I’m rotted through, but I was just scared ‘cause I was nine years old and a liquor store is a scary place sometimes. My daddy would leave me alone at the counter while he went round back to pay bills, mostly, and to write letters to Nana up in Good Ol’ En-Why-See, he’d say, and it’d be my job to call for him if he had a customer. But I couldn’t holler, that was his big rule, ‘cause he said no self-respecting storeowner would let his employee holler the customers away, and my daddy was very self-respecting. He always wore a suit to work and his best dress shoes, excepting his Sunday shoes, and shined them every night after work, and he made me wear a button-down shirt and a clip-on tie so I could be self-respecting, too. But being scared makes you do all sorts of rotten things. Sometimes people come in that are so big their bellies wobble when they walk and they look like they could sit on you, just squash you flat, and like they’d wanna do it, too, like they get their laughs sittin’ on nine-year-olds. They think since there’s no one else round they can do whatever they feel like and take stuff that isn’t theirs and that there’s nobody round to stop ‘em. And I did it, I got scared ‘cause of this one guy, he wasn’t self-respecting, I could tell, ‘cause he had on just an undershirt with giant wet circles under his pits and down his front and a sweaty little mustache—my daddy says every self-respecting storeowner oughta be clean-shaved—and no one else was round ‘cause it was a slow time, right after lunch, which I think he done on purpose, and so I hollered like I’m not supposed to. My daddy came barging outta his back office with his tie loose, which he’d never a done excepting that I was hollering. The man sure didn’t look too happy ‘cause now my daddy was round to tell him what to do and he did, he told the man what’s what, “We’re closed, you’ll have to come back later,” good riddance, sometimes self-respecting storeowners lie about their hours, they’re the boss so they can do that sort of thing, except the man didn’t much like that and there was a gun and my daddy’s hand on my shoulder pushing me off the stool under the counter outta sight bang bang bang bang no more window, just like that, just pieces all over the tile floor, wine seeping under the counter, the knees of my pants, the jingle of the bell over the door, my daddy lying face-up behind the counter, eyes open staring right at me, I’m hollering again, now the customers really won’t wanna come round, not much help in a liquor store, am I, and I killed him, lips twitching like he wants to say something, I killed my daddy, but he’s dead before he can say it—I could tell the minute it happens—‘cause in real life you don’t get no time for last words you just die and I killed him, didn’t I, I killed my daddy dead.