By: John RC Potter
“You’re in big trouble now!” I shouted out the upstairs bedroom window into the inky black night.
At that precise moment when I was feeling very big about it all – telling, more than warning, my oldest sister that she was in for it – the storm window inexplicably dropped with a sudden bang. The middle finger of my left hand bore the brunt of the fallen window and the nail was shattered in two, with blood gushing from the wound.
There were three of us huddled around the bedroom window that particular late evening: my sister, Jo Ann, who was two years older than me, and my sister Laurie, who was two years older than her. It was the late winter of 1967, the year of Canada’s centenary, which was celebrated across the country. Perhaps more importantly, it was the year that my oldest sister, Cheri, had a turning point in her young life: at 14, she was discovering boys, exploring her femininity, and uncovering the more troubled side of her personality. She had gone with a group of students to Expo ’67 in Montreal earlier that year, which may or may not have been the catalyst for her rebellious and complicated nature to be exposed.
That evening our father as usual was working late at the gas station he owned in the town of Clinton. In addition, he also farmed; during his entire life, Dad always had two if not three jobs in order to provide for his large and expanding family. We lived on a farm on the first side road to the west of town. Our mother had five children by that point, between the ages of 14 (Cheri) and five (my youngest sister, Barb), with my three oldest sisters having been born within the duration of four years. This was not untypical of farm wives at that time, nor in generations earlier.
Unfortunately, due to Dad’s long hours at work, it fell on Mom’s shoulders to raise and discipline her brood. When Cheri became a young teenager and was increasingly more rebellious and difficult to manage, our mother no doubt despaired. Mom had dealt with bad nerves and sporadic poor mental health for many years, the worst of which had been after my sister, Jo Ann was born, when our mother was in a deep depression for months. Since then, Mom had mostly good mental health, and even during difficult times, she was first and foremost an attentive, loving and caring mother. Although we children all had our moments when we tested Mom’s patience, Cheri’s teenage rebellious streak must have been a great trial to our mother.
On that eventful evening back in the winter of ’67, our oldest sister had gone out with friends after school and not returned. My other sisters and I knew that Mom was both worried and upset because she suspected Cheri was in with a bad crowd. Our mother would have been in communication with Dad at the gas station, but he could not leave work and, in any case, expected that Cheri would soon come home.
As the evening progressed and Cheri had still not come home, our mother became increasingly agitated. It was a school night, and Mom told us to go to bed. My three older sisters slept in the large bedroom at the top of the stairs that had two double beds in it. I had the smaller bedroom just off their room; the two bedrooms were separated by a curtain rather than a door. Laurie, Jo Ann and I were in our respective beds when we heard the low rumble of a vehicle coming up the road. We jumped out of our beds and ran to the window in the girls’ bedroom that faced the gravel road in front of our house. The car’s lights were out, but from the sound we knew the vehicle was running.
We opened the bedroom window and peered into the night, trying to see what was happening in the car. We were certain that our sister, Cheri, was in that vehicle. Finally, she emerged from the passenger’s side of the car: from the inside car light we could see our sister in her fake fur mini jacket, tight clothing, and go-go boots. I pushed the window up higher in order to hear what was being said, and it was at that moment I yelled out into the night to my sister. Then the window fell on my finger.
I ran downstairs and into the kitchen, and my poor mother, already obviously stressed beyond endurance, heard my tale of what had happened. She guided me to the bathroom and turned on the cold water to run over my bleeding finger with its shattered nail. The bathroom was just off the kitchen, and through the open door my mother and I could see my sister Cheri, rather provocatively and nonchalantly, wander into the kitchen. Cheri wondered what had happened to me, no doubt in an attempt to divert attention away from herself.
My mother was shaking with rage and relief, all in one commingled emotion. She had been worried sick that her daughter could have been abducted or in danger, although no doubt commonsense told Mom exactly what Cheri was up to during her absence from late afternoon to late evening. My mother, who never or rarely would strike her children, said that Cheri would be getting punished with the belt.
I was staring in amazement from the bathroom, the cold water still pouring over my numbed and near-frozen finger, as my mother chased my sister around the kitchen table. Cheri was laughing, which only incensed my mother further. As Mom went to grab Cheri, my sister’s fake fun fur jacket came off in my mother’s hands. Cheri went running out of the house and into the cold winter night, on a journey that would have many repercussions for the rest of her life.
John RC Potter is a Canadian who is living in Istanbul. He had two poems published previously, as well as more recently three short stories in the Bosphorus Review of Books (‘The Fern That Fell’, ‘Ruth’s World’, ‘In Search of Alice Munro’).
Please finish this story!! I look forward to the next chapter in this young woman’s life. I find it interesting that the picture looks like a prison cell and the events in the story are happening in a bedroom. Hmmmm. Mr. Potter – I am waiting for more from you.