​East Fork:

A Journal of the Arts​​

The Can

By: Vanessa Jasek

Her pale blonde hair reflected glowing pink from the neon sign that read, “Funk’s Flowers” in the front window.  She carefully pulled one side behind her ear as she swept the floor.  It was 4:30AM.  Most girls her age were sleeping soundly in their beds, likely sleeping in that day; after all, it was Saturday.  But, Jessica Wolf was not most girls.  She was Bob Funk’s Step-Daughter, and with that came a certain amount of responsibility.

Bob woke Jessica up about half an hour earlier, having just returned from a night of bar hopping with the good ole neighborhood boys.

“Get up!” he yelled from her bedroom door.  She knew better than to let out a groan of protest.

“I’ll be right there,” Jessica whispered, trying not to wake her baby sister with whom she shared a bedroom.  Bob was satisfied with that, and wandered off, back towards the shop that was built as an addition to the back of their large home.  She silently wished to herself that he would just pass out soon, leave her be.

She swept in silence for a period of time, bending down with the rickety old dustpan, though they could certainly afford a nicer one.  Bob Funk was the kind of man who bought round after round at the bar, yet would not part with pennies for a new dustpan.

“Don’t you be thinkin’ you’re finished here Missy, jus’ the sweepin’ is done,” his speech still slightly slurred.  “I’m teachin’ you a valuable lesson, you know, hard work!”  Jessica stopped to look at Bob, something she did cautiously, as she emptied out the last of the shop’s dust bunnies.

“I understand,” she whispered.

“Speak up!” he roared at her as she flinched and took a step back.

“I understand,” Jessica spoke loud enough for him to hear, but not loud enough to be construed as raising her voice at him.  She knew this dance, and she knew it well.

“You don’t understand nothin’,” he shouted at her.

“I’m sorry.” She tried to use a neutral tone knowing this would go down one of two ways, and she just wanted to get through it.  Soon, her mom and siblings would be awake. She would not be alone with him; alone when it is still dark outside and your fears are creeping up the back of your neck. It was 4:45AM.

“You’re sorry all right. Sorry just like your Mother.  Scurrying about like the rats in the corncribs. Vermin.  Both of ya!” Bob sneered, as Jessica quickly came to realize which one of the two ways this had gone, and not to her favor.

“What would you like me to do next, Bob?” Jessica asked, looking at him carefully.  She knew to make eye contact.  He demanded it.

“Get some glass cleaner and clean all the glass cases,” Bob told her, rubbing his beard.  When she was a little girl, she used to love to tug on his beard.  He would make loud ‘Ouchie!’ calls and she would fall into a fit of giggles.

Jessica went down to the cleaning closet and got some rags and the glass cleaner.  She could hear Bob still grumbling at her, or rather, about her. Either way, what did it matter?  She felt a moment of brief anger.  Why did things have to be this way?  Why was he allowed to be so mean and hateful towards her?  She knew she needed to squash those thoughts back down in her skull unless she wanted serious trouble, should Bob see the fire in her eyes.  It was 4:57AM.

Jessica started cleaning the glass and admired the colorful beauty of the many flowers in her Mom’s shop.  Just when it was almost enough to make her feel a bit better, the bloom of all the colors, the pinks, the oranges, the deep reds, Bob’s voice came booming across the shop, “You hear me, you little twit? Don’t you ignore me!  I will not be ignored.”

She shook as his voice boomed down upon her. She tried to soak up all the colors before she shut her eyes. “I’m ok,” she whispered to herself.  He was there now, yelling in her face; spit splashing on her fair skin. It all ran together, the-same-as-it-ever-was. Just as suddenly as he came upon her, he loomed away, huffing and puffing. Before she could stop the words just came tumbling out.

“Why do you hate me?” She asked.  Not a whisper to be belittled, not too loud to be admonished, but just right. Just the way Bob had taught her.

He stopped in his tracks.  She could feel her heart pounding in her chest, desperate to escape whatever was to come next.  Time surely stood still, frozen in the moment of right before something happens that you just can’t take back, not ever in a lifetime.

She saw his hand reach for the can on the counter as if in slow motion and instinctively knew he was going to throw it at her.  In that split second she knew she didn’t have time to run. She turned her head and tried to put up an arm as protection but it was a fruitless effort. The heavy can hit the back of her skull with enough power to ricochet and shatter one of the glass doors on the flower cases.  It was 5:12AM.

Jessica fell forward, into the wall, a ringing sound in her ears.  Her hands went to her hair, feeling her skull. So much pain, it was just so much pain.  She felt a warm feeling and pulled her hands down. They were covered in blood, both of them, running down her wrists and she began to scream.

Bob left out the side door of the shop, but she could hear yelling, a woman’s voice, “You’re going to kill that girl, Bob, it just ain’t right!”  Bob’s voice was there, but his words were muddled.

Suddenly, her Mother was there, frantic, dragging her away from the flower shop, a trail of blood following them to the upstairs bathroom.

“Oh my God!  Jessica, what has he done to you?” her Mother pleaded.

All she could do was sob.  She was falling into a million little pieces.  The blood, the pain, her Mom’s screaming at her younger siblings to go back to their rooms, no focus.  It was everything and nothing all at once.

Her Mother held a washcloth over the gaping wound on her head, her pale blonde hair now a deep, dark crimson. Mother and daughter sat in silence occasionally marred by a sniffle, or a hiccup from the silent sobs between them. They both waited for the next thing.   It was 5:36AM

Soon, the sound of heavy work boots could be heard, storming through the flower shop and then the house.  Her mother wrapped around Jessica, ready to protect any further onslaught of violence.  Both women were shaking but were ready to fight if expecting how this was going to go.

“I love you, Momma,” Jessica whispered just as the bathroom door flew open and there stood Bob Funk, looking like a wild animal that had just been let loose from its cage.

“How bad is it?” he demanded.

“So bad you damn near killed her, Bob. That’s how bad it is!’ her Mother spat at him.

He took a few steps closer and his own eyes grew big as saucers. There they were the three of them. Just like that in the blood, the tears, the pain, the fight, the abuse, the fear, the injustice for Jessica. Just like that.

Bob took a step towards Jessica, “Come on, Girl. I gotta take you to the damn hospital to get you stitched up.”  Jessica recoiled and her mother stepped between them.

“Don’t you dare touch her, Bob, you’ve done enough.  I will take her.”  Bob began to raise hell when Jessica spoke up –

“I’m not going to the hospital with either of you.” Her mother started to speak, but Jessica cut her off, “No, Mom, how do we explain my injury anyway?  Oh, yes, ladies and gents, ‘Family-Man Bob Funk Abuses his Step Daughter, Went in for the Kill, and Nearly Missed!’  Or, how about this, ‘Charming Bob Funk hits and Scores in Flower Shop’s Toss the Can Family Fun Night!”  Jessica could feel all of her anger boiling up to the surface, the years of emotions, the years of hiding a secret that everybody in town knew was no damn secret.

Jessica Wolf had had enough. It was 6:12AM.