“I’ll be checking them so be sure there are no spots and smudges after you wipe them clean and put them back. There’s polish and a rag on the counter. Do the dining room table after that, and I want the floor vacuumed.”
“What are you going to do?” I asked.
She smiled at my quick comeback.
“Why, I’m going to pray for you, Phoebe, pray for you every night, and so will your Uncle Buster and your cousins.”
“I don’t know how to thank you all,” I said.
She stood silent a moment and then in a cold, hard voice said, “I won’t mention any of this to your father if you do everything I’ve told you to do. We expected a crisis or two with you. We just didn’t expect it so soon, but I’m not about to give up on you. That is what you should be thankful for,” she concluded, turned, and left again.
I wondered if Ashley Porter had it any worse when he got home today.
I did all she wanted me to do. While I was vacuuming, the phone rang and she came into the dining room to tell me my daddy was on the phone.
“I kept my promise,” she said. “I didn’t tell him what you did. He’s waiting to talk to you. Go in the kitchen and pick up the phone.”
I set aside the vacuum cleaner and did as she asked.
“Hey,” Daddy said after I said hello. “How’s it going?”
My throat closed up.
“Fine,” I managed. What was the point in complaining? He would only moan and groan about how helpless he was until things changed.
“It’s a good school, isn’t it?”
“Terrific,” I said dryly.
“All well with Aunt Mae Louise? She seemed okay.”
“Daddy,” I said. “Don’t call me or come here until you can get me home.”
“You heard me, Daddy. I am never going to be happy here. There’s no sense pretending on the telephone.”
“Now don’t go and do anything stupid, Phoebe. You have a court record. Your mother’s nothing more than a tramp, and I don’t have the means to do what has to be done for you at the moment. You listening to me?”
“No,” I said, tears finally rushing into my eyes, tears I had no time to trap beneath my lids. I flicked them off my cheeks as fast as they came.
“I’m working at this, Phoebe. I’ll find a way. That’s a promise,” he said. “Be a good girl. Please,” he begged.
“I gotta go, Daddy. I’ve got to finish my chores or I’ll be locked in the basement.”
“Thanks for calling,” I said, and hung up.
Aunt Mae Louise was standing right behind me in the doorway to the dining room. I knew she had been listening in.
“Didn’t think you’d make it easy for him,” she said. “Just go do whatever schoolwork you have. I’ll finish up.”
I walked out without saying a word. As I passed Barbara Ann’s room, I looked in and saw her stuffing a chocolate bar in her mouth.
“I wonder what your mother would say if I told her about that,” I said.