Be A Good Girl

I squiggled my feet sideways on the tile floor until I was just inside the doorway. Mae was sitting on the edge of a stinky chair with her arms folded. She looked as uncomfortable as I felt. But she was a good girl, and did as Daddy had told her. Daddy stood up, but hadn’t taken a step yet. I scrambled back to the chair closest to the doorway and hopped up on it. Maybe he wouldn’t spank me if I was sitting.

It worked. He gave me one of those ‘looks’ and sat back down. Mae stuck her tongue out at me, because Daddy didn’t spank me. After Daddy looked away, I stuck mine out at her. An elderly man using a cane hobbled into the waiting room. He had seen me sticking my tongue out at Mae and chuckled. He tipped his cane in my direction and said to Daddy, “That ones got a little fire to her.” He coughed and sat down in the chair beside mine.

His cough sent stale smoke and moth ball smells in my direction. Without taking my eyes off of him, I curled up on my knees and scooted to the far arm of chair. I wanted as far away from him as I could get. Mae kept close watch of the man as well. “You know, I have two grandsons around your ages. They live so far away – Michigan,” he said, nodding at Daddy.

“Their baby sister was born yesterday. They can hardly wait to take her home. Right, girls?” asked Daddy. Mae and I nodded, but neither of us spoke.

The old man’s heavy breathing stunk. He must have sucked moth balls like candy to hide his smoker’s breath. He leaned towards me and I smelled an additional sour odor I couldn’t identify. I couldn’t stop looking at his bloodshot eyes, purplish nose, or crooked yellow teeth. I wanted to go to Daddy, but managed only to uncurl my legs and was now sitting rather than kneeling.

“You know what would make my day?” The old man looked at Daddy with sad eyes. “A kiss from each of these sweethearts.” He then looked from me to Mae and the back before looking at Daddy again.

Daddy nodded at me and motioned for Mae to get up and go to the old man. Neither of us moved towards the old man. In fact, I shook my head. “Oh, it would so make my day to get a kiss from each of you.” He reached into his pocket for a plastic oval. He squeezed it and pulled out two quarters. He held them up and said, “I’ll give you each a quarter if you give me a kiss.” He pointed to his cheek as he looked at me.

I sat still for a long time staring into those bloodshot eyes before I slid off the chair. I took several steps backwards towards Daddy. I’ve seen how Grandpa Taylor hooks people with his cane to draw them close. The old man wasn’t going to get me without me seeing it coming.

“Go, ahead. He misses his grandsons. Give him a kiss girls,” said Daddy. My stomach felt sick. A quarter was a lot of money, but the old man was downright yucky. I don’t want to touch him with my fingers and I definitely don’t want to put my lips on him.

I looked back at Daddy. He nodded and motioned for me to do as I was told. Mae was now standing by her chair. The look on Daddy’s face said I was being rude. I slowly walked up to the old man, held my breath, kept my eyes open, and barely touched my lips to his cheek. Then took two quick steps backwards.

“Awe, thank you, sweetheart,” the old man said as he held a quarter out to me. I stuck my hand out, but he wouldn’t drop it. I had to touch him because he tight grip on it. After I got the quarter, I ran over to the side of Daddy’s chair. I held my lips really still because they felt dirty and I didn’t want that in me. The quarter felt filthy in my hand.

Daddy motioned for Mae to do the same. While Daddy and the old man were watching Mae, I turned my head away and rubbed my lips on the back of my hand. I wanted to wipe my lips harder, but didn’t want to get into trouble.

Mae quickly kissed the old man’s cheek, yanked the quarter from between his fingers, and then ran back to her chair. “You have two sweet daughters,” he said. “And I’ll bet your baby sister is just as sweet,” he said as he looked at Mae and then me. “Well, better see my sister.” The old man heaved himself out of his chair and hobbled out of the waiting room.

I thought, Sarah was lucky. Daddy couldn’t make her kiss the old man like he did Mae and me. As soon as he was gone, I said, “I didn’t want to do that. I don’t know him and he was weird.”

“He was a nice, lonely man,” Daddy said, wrapping his arm around me giving me a side hug. “I’m proud of you.”

Mae was smiling, “Be happy. We each got a quarter for doing almost nothing.”

I didn’t say anything. I felt dirty. It didn’t feel right. But they were both older than me and must have understood something I didn’t. Maybe when I’m older I will.

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