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Every time I walked into Charlie Brown’s, the stench of cigarettes watered my eyes and burned my nose. The bar was smoky enough that as a child, I imagined you could cut a square out of the thick gray band that hovered over everyone’s heads. Usually one of my father’s buddies spotted me first and gave him a nudge. They’d swivel around on their barstools in unison, each of them looking different but also the same, enough that they blended into one looming, blurred mass of men. I saw different colors of hair, but it was all side-parted with greasy Brylcreem. They had red faces with deep creases around their eyes and mouths as they laughed at me, and all their teeth were big and yellow. Their hands were huge with ridged fingernails that looked as thick as a horse’s hoof. They ribbed my father about being fetched by a little girl, now he’d gone and done it, he was in the doghouse for sure. My father never thought it was as funny as they did. My stomach squiggled when he bore into me with angry eyes, his mouth pressed into a thin, straight line. The nights we didn’t go looking for him, the tension of waiting and listening slowed down the clock and muffled our voices. Most times my sisters and I were asleep by the time he stumbled through the front door. His vomiting or the thudding of his heavy feet on the creaking floorboards usually woke me up, but I was too scared to get out of bed. I’d never seen his eyes at the tail end of drinking until the night of the chocolate-almond ice cream incident. On this particular night, my sisters and I were up late, so it must have been the weekend. We were waiting for him to get home so we could have a special treat: fancy-brand, store-bought, chocolate-almond ice cream. My family ate squirrels, cow tongue covered in gravy, and dented-can discounts for supper. Ice cream, when we had it, was homemade and runny and vaguely vanilla. The silken goodness of machine-churned milk and cream was a rare extravagance. Chocolate was amazing, but almonds made it exotic. My mother had bought it for us in an attempt to foster some family bonding. My sisters and I gathered in the kitchen around the large oak table. Each of us held a spoon at the ready, chipped bowls empty and waiting. My mother stood at the counter next to the sink, watching the kitchen clock tick closer to midnight. In a display of false optimism, she set out the half-gallon of Breyers ice cream to soften. A few minutes later, she peeled the carton away from the ice cream, waiting to slice the block into two-inch slabs. She preferred slices over scoops. By the time my father sauntered into the kitchen all easy-breezy, the ice cream was pooling at the bottom. The tails of his wrinkled work shirt were sticking out, and he had sweat stains under his arms. The first few buttons of his shirt were undone, and I could see his graying undershirt. One of his pant legs was caught in the elastic of his regulation work socks. His hat sat cockeyed, making the eagle look silly. But it was my father’s surreal grin that unsettled me the most. His mouth looked plump and oversized like a pair of red wax lips. My mother peppered him with questions: “Where have you been? Who were you with? Do you know what time it is? Did you not think of how worried 156  Wind/Mill Prizes

Profile for Hofstra University

Windmill - December 2016  

The Hofstra Journal of Literature and Art

Windmill - December 2016  

The Hofstra Journal of Literature and Art

Profile for hofstra