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Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

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We’re not in the car two seconds when the argument starts. Shell calls her sister a butt-face and threatens to slap her if she doesn’t hand over the twenty-five cent plastic bracelet Shell says belongs to her.

Caz tells her, “Go ahead, see what it gets you.”

Then the tussling starts. I catch bits and pieces of it in the mirror: Shell in her car seat trying to reach across and slap her sister, Caz, with her hands up to protect herself. If not for her seatbelt, Shell might have some luck. When she realizes her arms are too short to make good on her threat, she starts to scream.

“You’re the worstest daddy in the world,” she says, “If you cared about me, you’d make butt-face give me my bracelet.”

“That’s enough out of you, girl,” I tell her. “You better get control of yourself ‘cause I promise you won’t like the punishment.”

She answers by kicking the back of my seat, her feet like miniature jackhammers trying to pound their way through the upholstery and sever my spine. Shell’s only four, and already her temper controls nearly every aspect of her young life. I’m about to pull over and sort it out myself, make some more threats of my own if that’s what it takes. But then the kicking stops, and I hear Shell say, “Daddy, I didn’t hit her. I promise I didn’t.”

I’m not sure what to make of it until I turn and see Caz crying in the corner.

“What’s the matter, honey?”

“I miss Pearl, Daddy. Can’t you take us to Tennessee so I can see her? You have a map. I know you do.”

“Listen, Caz,” I say. “It’s only natural that you miss her. But even if we knew where she lived, we couldn’t go see her.” Pearl is Caz and Shell’s birth mother. Shell is too young to remember, but Caz, three years older, has at least some memory of her past.

“Please, Daddy?” she begs.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I’ll tell you what. When you’re old enough, your mom and I will help you find Pearl if that’s what you want.”

In the months after the girls moved in with us, Caz talked less and less about Pearl. But I guess signing the adoption papers yesterday, coupled with a new last name, has reignited her sense of loss. Just when I think my offer to help is enough to calm her, she starts to cry again.

“Daddy,” she sobs, “what if we find her and she doesn’t remember me?”

Right away, I realize her pain is greater than I could imagine. I want to tell her a mother never forgets a child. I want to wave my hand in front of her beautiful face and erase her memory Pearl. I want to do almost anything to ease the hurt she feels inside.

Before I can think of something to say, I hear a thud and then a slap followed by a scream from Shell’s side of the backseat. In the mirror, I see Shell waving the pink-leather purse she has fished from her door panel. Caz is rubbing her ear with one hand and swatting at Shell with the other. Both girls are screaming now. This is where a good daddy intervenes, steps in before somebody gets hurt. But I keep quiet.

Only when the screams become louder, do I check the mirror again. But there is nothing more to see, save the memory of Pearl fading into the past with each swing of Shell’s purse.

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