The air was thick with the smell of jasmine and it took me back 30 years. The tiny white flowers and deep green leaves flattened against the yellowed mesh of a dingy bounce castle crammed into the corner of the yard. The guests to Sami’s eighth birthday had trickled away after they slammed beers, devoured cake and helped her open presents. Or, they may have bolted when our dad’s ‘girlfriend’, Sheena, OD’d in the kitchen. The ensuing gaggle of cops weren’t as entertaining as a fishnet clad ‘clown’ giving celebratory lap dances to daddy’s friends.
Sami and I huddled on the squishy step of the castle and listened to the chatter of the cops and neighbors. Bright balloons labored to stay aloft in the fading sun and added to the mood of doom. Sami leaned against me and braided the shiny tail hair on a plastic horse. I watched as two officers walked toward us with my dad between them.
Sheepishly, dad knelt and gathered us into an awkward embrace. Relenting, he pulled Sami onto his knee and looked at me. “Look here, Billy boy. You and Sami are gonna go visit some friends of mine while I take care of some stuff here.”
I leveled a hard 10-year-old’s glare at him, “Yeah, some friends. Foster services again, right Dad?”
He smiled weakly at me, “Billy boy, don’t be angry. It’s not my fault. Sheena just…”
“Liar!” I yelled, “It is your fault! It’s always your fault, every time!” I bolted for the back of the bounce house, “I hate you! I hate you!” The sweet smell of jasmine flooded my lungs and I choked.
Sami wailed and clung to dad’s arm. When the officers finally separated them, she tore away the black buttoned cuff of dad’s shirt. Her new horse lay in pieces on the lawn. She retrieved its head and fumblingly ran to me in the shelter of the inflated pink castle.
Two scrawny kids, a cop, and a disheveled social worker arrived on the stoop of a rambling white farmhouse in the sweltering darkness. Sami clung to me and sobbed a slimy puddle onto my sleeve. I wouldn’t cry, not this time.
A wiry old woman with rollers in her grey hair unlatched the screen door and stepped into the yellowed light bathing the porch. She ignored the adults and bent low to greet us, “Billy, Sami, call me Nan. I know it’s late but today’s my birthday too.” She caressed the tears off Sami’s face, “I’ve a few brownies left from my party. Would you like one?” Sami nodded.
The woman met my stare, “Looks like you’ve had your hands full.” Nan gently examined the horse with the bandage of blue fabric held around its jagged neck by the black button. Her tone implied more than the bags of our worldly possessions in my arms.
I nodded cautiously.
She put an arm around each of us, “Come on in. And don’t worry, you’re home now.”