Petra Searching: Little Bastard


Winter 2000

Maria leaned over our first-grade lunch table, her brown bob swinging. She wanted my last Cheeto, which I considered my end-meal treat. It had extra-large bumps, on which clung an ample dusting of cheese powder. It glowed fluorescent orange in the plastic baggie, taunting me. I practiced discipline, spooning applesauce until it was gone, before I would let myself eat it. My mom set rigorous rules for meals, one being that we needed to finish each meal’s designated fruits or vegetables before we ate a treat.

“You bookworm,” she said, which was not untrue. I read books by the dozen. “You freak.”

Maria often continued to test meaner and meaner words during the occasional cafeteria altercations. With a thrust of her skinny arm, she snatched the Cheeto with one hand and slammed down on my rising hand with her other.

“Faggot,” Maria said, settling on one.

She crammed the Cheeto into her mouth and crunched down on the fake-cheesy puff. I saw her glaring brown eyes think while I remained silent, lamenting my missing dessert. The slur wasn’t right. That awful word was what people called the drag queens I loved to watch in Milwaukee’s PrideFest performances every summer. My mom and her best friend Anna did not find drag shows an inappropriate place for a six-year-old. The queens showered me with glitter and complimented my shoes; I adored them. In return, as instructed by my mother, I told them how fabulous they looked and swayed my hips and arms to their singing.

“No, you’re a bastard,” Maria said, decided. “You don’t even know your dad. Little bastard.”

That night over dinner—dry supermarket special chicken breast with steamed broccoli—my mom asked how my lunch was and whether I’d finished my applesauce. I responded in the affirmative and then peered at her. My eyes must have filled with tears.

“What happened?” my mother asked. “Petra, what happened? Did you have a temper tantrum again?”

My kicking match with a wall was the talk of our tiny Catholic school a few months back. Both of my maternal grandparents died of smoking-related cancer shortly before I started first grade. One after the other, years of nicotine tar and cigarette smoke ravaged my grandparents’ white blood cells, leaving the Wolskis down a matriarch and patriarch. My mom and I did not adjust well to the loss. I remember only books—my social anesthetic—and blind fury from this time; the sadness couldn’t catch up with our anger at their sudden absences.

I toyed with my broccoli. “Don’t play with your food,” she said reflexively.

“Am I a…bastard?” I said, unsure if saying the bad word aloud would wreak punishment.

“What?” she said, surprised. “Not in the bad way, no, you’re not a bastard. That word means someone born to a mom who isn’t married. But it’s a terrible way to say it. I hope I never catch you saying that word.”

“A girl at school today called me that, and I didn’t know what it meant.”

My mother’s mouth contorted into an angry prune.

“Well, that girl’s a little snot. Who was it? I’m calling her mother,” she said, hazel eyes flaring the fiery temper I inherited from her.

“No, Mom. It’s okay.” I explained I didn’t care to lose any more lunchtime snacks over a tattletale phone call home to Maria’s mother.

“But, why don’t I know my dad?” I said. “Why isn’t he here?”

“Because he didn’t want to be involved,” Bettina said. “He’s not grown up enough to be a dad. Now, eat your dinner and do your homework.”

I obeyed.

I knew then why the nuns at school narrowed their eyes at my mom every time she came to teacher conferences late or couldn’t chaperone daytime field trips. I’m a “bastard”, I thought, but I’ll do everything I can to not be one. As soon as I’m old enough, I thought while sucking moisture out of the cheap broccoli florets, I’ll find him and figure out why I’m so weird, why I use such big words, and why he didn’t want me.


[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info] E.P. Floyd is currently an Assistant Editor of Flash Prose for Lunch Ticket and an MFA candidate in fiction at Antioch University Los Angeles. Her writing is published or forthcoming in Reservoir Journal, Eunoia Review, BusinessWeek, the Isthmus and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Her background is in creative nonfiction; E.P. Floyd graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Madison with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and English literature. She is at work on a novel and short story collection, and lives in rural Wisconsin. You can find her online at [/author_info] [/author]