the drops of water hit the pots and pans on and off through the night. penny moves through the dilapidated house carefully, pushing her too long hair out of her face as the wind makes the house rattle from the force of it all.
she hates hurricane season. it's always unpredictable, wet, and with her grandmother's wavering health, each year was harder than the last. the only good thing about this season is that it seemed to be calmer than usual--and that for once, her father had come down to assist with adelaide.
or perhaps that was too harsh, to say that he had come to assist. penny had always resisted her mother coming to the house to help, refusing to listen to any of her opinions on her bedmates (whether penny had any or not!) or to hear her mother's opinions on tabitha, despite her hands off approach with tabitha in general.
she had considered asking her sister to come--and one look at adelaide's shaking hands, her wan face, made penny decide it was better to not do so.
so here she was, trying to make sure the house was full of pots and pans to catch every drip drip of water, hearing it groan and creak with every movement from the wind. her father's footsteps seemed to echo through the house, despite how big it was. penny counted them as she reached into her pocket for a cigarette, deeming it safe enough to light it.
unbidden, she thinks of a passage in the moment: one of her heroines, up to her neck in water, flailing helplessly. someone peering down at her, as she shouts for help, and receives none. the shimmer of light on something in the water-- a fin? a tail? a fish or a mermaid?
penny lets the idea ruminate there, thinking of how blue the water would be, the color of the light hitting those scales in the water. she brings the cigarette to her lips, clenching down on it with her teeth, hand sinking into her pocket for a lighter.
"you should be reaching for a pencil, not a lighter," her father's voice calls from the hallway.
like she's thirteen again, her hand jerks up from her pocket, face flushing. "daddy--! i'm not a child anymore--"
"think i don't know that with the wrinkles i've got?" he laughs, coming into the room with a full pot of dank water. he gives penny a keen look over the rim of his glasses, glittering in the lowlight of the room. "penelope dupree, we both know what smoking does. so how about you put it away for my sake?"
penny obediently, with her own wrinkled up nose, puts the unlit cigarette in her pocket. he moves past her, out to the kitchen. the sound of water going down the drain fills the silence, and penny goes back to her previous task of checking all the pots and pans currently out. once she's satisfied, she follows his trail into the sprawling, warm kitchen. the wood groans beneath her footsteps, the door frame more so as she leans against it to look at her father.
she had cleared his height by the time she was twelve. at fifteen, she had hit six feet, and at nineteen, had finally capped off at 6'3". having to look down at her father wasn't entirely new for her despite how od it had been to do so growing up.
right now, however, penny looks at his slate grey hair, the slope of his shoulders. how she can see a bit of liver spotting here and there, comparing it to her grandmother's own upstairs, her much weaker, more fragile state. it makes her all the more aware of her own age--and the possibility of having to lose her father soon. or, having to step in to care for him too.
her stomach makes a painful turn in her gut at the thought. logically, it's silly to feel this way. tabitha, her mother, his siblings were all candidates who could help him if he ever needed it. he was in good health, he was active and aware.
the rest of her remembers: that was how her grandmother had been before she had forced her to go to the doctors. she had been healthy, strong for so long until--
"we ought to talk about it," her father's voice interrupts her thoughts abruptly. he turns around, his expression stern and more than a little stubborn in it's own familiar way.
she knows what it is, dancing around the subject, "gonna have to be specific, daddy." penny takes a stride to the left inside of the kitchen, heading for the cabinets. "lot of its around here."
"don't play with me, girl," penny opens the cabinets as his gravelly voice pours over her, "you and i know both that you're too young to be doing this for your grandmother--and that there's plenty of ways to remove yourself from this situation--"
penny pulls down the plates, ancient, cracking in places, keeping her voice steady, "i'm not leaving her, daddy. we've talked about this when i was twenty, we talked about it two years ago. i'm not even thirty yet. momma's not equipped for this, and we both know," she turns on her heels, glaring at him as she slams down the plates with finality, "you ain't exactly the most attentive person out there."
his jaw goes taut. penny draws herself to her full height.
"leave it," she commands him. "just be happy that i take an interest in helping my grandmother for as long as she needs."
penny can see on her father's face he wants to argue. he probably has some kind of service or pamphlet in mind, numbers ready to dial to force her out of the house, to make her start putting out books again, to be his pride. penny understands his needs, that he wants more for her than anyone else. he doesn't, however understand her.
that's always been the issue with them, understanding in stops and starts, always half a step behind each other, and never quite getting there. penny is tired, too tired to do this now. her hands ball themselves into fists at her sides with all the things she could say, things she wanted to say, hoping her father wouldn't make her do this now.
he throws up his hands in defeat. penny bottles up her words for another time, and the rain continues on outside.