Plenty Porter was nearly thirteen when her brother smacked her face red. I am Plenty Porter and my brother is Jerry and that was yesterday.
Now I’m upstairs in bed next to Margie who’s saying, Quit crying, Plenty, that was yesterday and there’s no use crying about yesterday. But I hadn’t thought about it all that much until now. Everyone else is sleeping, except Margie, who is easily disturbed. Peggy, Marlene, Martha, Joyce, and Debbie, split up on two beds, all of us in the same room, but who-is-where I’m not sure. I’m only certain about Margie because she keeps sighing at my left; by the time the others made it upstairs and climbed under the covers my eyes were already flooded. And now they’re asleep and all I feel is the collective weight in the room. Of which I am not.
On Margie’s suggestion I go downstairs, passing the room of my brothers—of Jerry who slapped my face red for scratching the hood of his Chevy with a butterfly net, of Johnny, Bob, and Dean—who with the other five sisters makes ten. Plus one, who is me, and that is eleven. One more than a handful for each parent. Then passing the room of my parents, a room that is always half empty, different at day and different at night, depending on who is working. Then downstairs and outside. Onto the porch where it is cool.
Across the road a dim light wobbles inside a window on the top floor of the Pendergast place. That is Ed’s room, I know because I was invited inside once. Ed is in my grade and shares a bedroom with no one. His family owns the land we look after. He reads with a flashlight under the covers, the light dim, the light wobbling. Ed does not know that I am outside, that I am crying. Ed does not know because Ed doesn’t need to think of those things outside his window, those things his flashlight touches when it wobbles, like me.
My father keeps a pack of cigarettes under a loose brick in the wall next to our mailbox. I caught him smoking one morning and he gave me a quarter for the secret. I told him a quarter was a one-time payment, but if he kept smoking there would be more secrets to keep, more quarters to take. He said I’d be a rich woman for every cigarette he planned on smoking. We settled on one quarter a week. And I’ve kept the secret and learned to smoke, which he does not know, which when he does know, when he finds out, will be his secret to keep, and I will pay, or he will stop paying and no money will pass between us. But for now it is not worth thinking about the future of our secrets, the secrets between my father and me, because it is midnight and unlike Ed I hate reading and have nothing to do but have a smoke and air out some before going back to bed.
You can read Plenty Porter in its entirety in the premiere issue of Swink.