By Lee Reilly
Now, it’s true, someone did tell me, Don’t run over people, cats, deer, or dogs. Deer can kill you. Cats and dogs, the owner’ll kill you. And people—well, that one’s supposed to be obvious.
“Where you going?” my sister Nina asks.
But mostly, all my life, people don’t tell me enough. Like this: No one said, When your grandfather kisses you goodnight, it shouldn’t be deep in your mouth. They didn’t say that. All they said was, “Kiss your grandpa goodnight.”
And now here he is. It’s my birthday, and he’s pumping gas at the Caseys with cash sticking out of his shirt pocket and a curvy lady in cowboy boots. Out of jail, already. Maybe cuz the time he did in jail didn’t include me, is that why? Gammy and the lady with the notebook should’ve told me, That’s the way it works: What he did to you doesn’t count; it’s bargained out when your cousin’s case goes first.
I hide in the chip aisle to make sure. He comes in loudly and goes for beer, and I slip out.
Nina says, “What’re you doing?” She’s eleven and has green cut-glass eyes that startle you sometimes.
“Seatbelts,” I tell her.
I remember being sick once when Grandpa put me to bed. I coughed and coughed, and he slapped me and then he did me. Then he said, “Now you pray to God, girl. He don’t like it when you don’t like your grandpa.” So I prayed all night like a moron, cuz I didn’t know until the girl down at the Chicken Shack with the press-on nails with Jesus on them told me, “That’s not the way God works.”
It’s nasty the way Grandpa looks the same but skinnier, and closes her car door. No one ever said, You’ll have to watch him have fun, even if it’s your birthday.
“That’s him!” Nina yells.
Later, I tell the psych doctor that the lawyer sent in, I don’t remember hitting Grandpa with the car, it’s all a blur with no sound but arms waving and the Coors can hitting the windshield. But the doctor says it don’t count as crazy if I remember pausing and looking into Grandpa’s eyes. Grandpa’s eyes were surprised.
I was surprised, too. Cuz of his eyes, which made it so I stopped pressing the gas pedal. Then Nina’s hands surprised me, sudden on the wheel, and her foot, too, pushing down hard.
The doctor says, “Someone should’ve told you, if you were going to do this, do it before your eighteenth birthday. I understand what happened. But it counts now, you being an adult. Maybe jail.” Then he asks, friendly, “Is there anything else—any other circumstance—that might help you? Get some leniency?” Like he’s on my side.
But is he on Nina’s side too?
“No,” I tell him, “I don’t know anything. Nothing at all.”