Recalibrate – Chapter Four – Bad Reputation

Chapter Four – Bad Reputation

Being the outsider—the city girl from Charleston—Jay had the fun toys, funky music, strange clothes, and a smart mouth. She spent the first twelve years of her life somewhat secluded deep in the hills thirty minutes outside of Charleston, three hours south of here. Still, she was considered far too citified for these folks.

In the mountains, Natalie and her family grew and canned their own food and used an outhouse that reeked of shit and had creepy crawlers in all corners. Jay sat halfway off the pot and gripped her pants barely pulled down so if one of those big black spiders started towards her, she was ready to run, ass hanging out and all.

And several times she did.

She wasn’t the only one. They personally witnessed Ben scream like the little boy he was while falling bare-ass-backward out the door. They laughed so hard they cried, and Ben got so constipated, Aunt gave him an Ex-Lax.

He had to go then.

One wood burning stove heated the entire four-room house that coated everything with black dust, even their toothbrushes. Well water came through the only spigot in the kitchen sink so they bathed in the creek—unless it was winter and were ordered to take a whore’s bath in the bedroom.

In the summer, they used the attic as another bedroom they climbed to through a makeshift hole in the ceiling of a downstairs closet. The attic—so small they could barely stand upright—managed to fit two single thin mattresses that sat on the floor on opposite sides, and homemade shelves for what little clothes they owned. A big hole in the wall facing south served as their window and enjoyed a nice all day sunshine that they curled in like a cat on the floor while reading. They left it mostly open throughout the summer, except when it rained—they covered it with a big piece of plastic that stank like wet socks when the sun hit it later. The raindrops sometimes slapped against it so loudly at times, Jay played her Sony Walkman with earphones to muffle the noise. Other times, they played music to drown out the sounds and danced as unobtrusively as they could without causing the cheap plaster to fall downstairs beneath their feet. The last time Jay and Nat had a two-party dance rave, Aunt and Uncle found their bed covered below in the cheap white dust and large crumbs that looked like Aunt’s cornbread.

They got an earful from uncle and an eyeroll from Aunt.

In the winter, they closed the attic off and moved downstairs where all four of them slept in the same room—the boys in the bunk beds and the girls in the double bed. Baby brother (yes, Jay had a baby brother) slept on the hard lumpy, straw-filled sofa in the living room.

During the night when the fire burned itself out, the house got so cold that frost formed on the inside of the windows like paint. They dressed in rubber boots and cheap parkas to go to the outhouse where they waded through four to six feet drifts of snow and wind and cold that made the tears and snot freeze on their faces. Often times when it was clear, they stooped beside the house and peed in the snow. The next day, they pretended to eat that yellow snow like a lemon snow cone.

Of their small clique, they ranged in age from fourteen to twelve, oldest to youngest: Trevor, Natalie, Jay, Cody, Reese, and Ben—typical pasty white hillbilly teenagers on the lower end of the class spectrum.

In the small seven-room middle school down the road that held barely eighty of them, Jay received a few popular points she never got from schools back home—for a little while at least, until the novelty of her eccentricity wore off. She figured it was when another new kid from Hawaii showed up and pointed out the dirt on her neck—something she must’ve missed from her whore’s bath. Her face flamed as the fickle cruel kids around her pointed and laughed. She tried to shake off the shame, but some things didn’t wash off so easily. It was okay for a boy to have dirt on them—that was expected, but a girl with a dirty neck was nasty.

Jay’s reply eventually was a curt fuck off, which got her a week of detention during recess. That was nothing compared to the month’s worth she got when she refused to memorize the 23rd Psalm.

“This ain’t church. This is school—why do I need to memorize that,” she demanded.

Her questions went unanswered. Her sass did not. The indoctrination and radicalization had started early—in a public school, no less.

The only things Jay remembered learning from that dog-awful school was the Gettysburg Address and how to find the square root of something, which she quickly forgot. The perpetually pink, pear-shaped, irate principal-teacher spent most of his time in the office dealing with the other rugrats. He prattled on about what each one did in detail, like when little Jimmy—the white trash kid from up the holler—finger painted poop all over the boys’ bathroom walls. Perhaps if the school district had enough money for paints, the poor kid wouldn’t have had to use his own feces to create art. Jay sympathized with the kid—artists did what they must to create; she knew this from experience.

Regardless, the stories were always about the poor kids. Jay realized early the principal was a bully and a redneck snob that hated dealing with the poor white trash kids basically because he kept on about it ad nauseam. Apparently, their little clique didn’t fall into that category for him.

The redneck and hillbilly social hierarchy was a confusing maze to manipulate for a poor kid like Jay.

There were times that awful man laughed at Jay’s sass and called her cute. This made the hair on the back of Jay’s neck stand up.

Like with Uncle.

Uncle said for a girl she had a mouth that didn’t know when to quit. Her sassiness got her into lots of trouble where, up here, a child was supposed to be compliant and silent—especially a girl. Told many times that she was obnoxious for speaking out, that her opinions were unwanted and she should keep them to herself, Jay often shrugged in reply and told them it wasn’t her problem. Uncle continuously threatened to beat Jay’s ass but didn’t. She kept pushing, watching him, daring him. The cousins stared at her shocked from her loose tongue and obstinacy never once standing up for her ultimately scared of the large battle-worn wooden paddle used to threaten them all into submission.

Uncle didn’t touch her in front of any of them. Only mumbled something incoherent and changed the subject. When Jay was in proximity to him, she made sure to know where he was, always, in the house, outside, anywhere within a mile of him. Experience taught her to never be caught alone with him, especially when she slept.

It hadn’t stopped him then either.

She waited and watched. She knew immediately when he woke. He was tall, bulky, greasy blond with pink skin and beady blue eyes. A nightly ritual, he made his way to the kitchen for his middle-of-the-night glass of thick yucky bovine juice, probably to counteract the twelve-pack of Old Milwaukee he consumed nightly. His ugly bulk lumbered through the house like a vacuum sucking up her peace and dreams.

Wide awake, adrenaline and cortisol rushing through her, she tensed ready to take flight until he waddled back to his hole.

She hated him, but he was necessary.

Like a scab.

© 2020 Pamela Gay Mullins

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