Challenge #02056-E232: Fudged-Up Normal
As an orphan you were adopted by the local crime syndicate, and we’re just adorable enough that they were determined to give you a better life.
You have just beat up someone from your school and a phone call has been made home for a disciplinary meeting. The school is about to meet “The Family”. -- Anon Guest
There's a phrase I've come to know well over the years. I couldn't repeat it in full before I turned sixteen, but the unedited version is "fucked up normal". As in, that's fucked up, but it's normal to the person experiencing it. Like - I spent my early childhood thinking that you got a window view for your birthday. Or 'health care' involved getting a gummy vitamin if you were good that day.
That stopped after I met my Godfather. But that's a different story. This story is how I learned that my adopted family was a crime syndicate.
My 'normal' had changed the day after Guido the Knife found me huddled in a doorway on one sleet-filled spring morning. I had a window view every day, and hot meals three times a day, and the softest, comfiest, warmest bed, and good, clean clothes. Every day. I used to call my Godfather 'Santa' because I honestly believed he was Santa Claus in disguise.
What I also got from my new family was lessons on defending myself. Practically from day one. Guido the Knife and Big Shasta taught me all kinds of things to do if someone 'got up in my business'. I hadn't had any call to use them until Bobby Johnson stuck his hand up my shirt "to see if I had boobs" and I threw him across the room into the trash can.
I remember crying in the office, thinking that Santa was going to give me coal for Christmas and put me back in the doorway where I'd started my odd life odyssey. And I really didn't see what I'd done wrong. My Godfather had told all the others to look after me and they had. They taught me everything I needed to know. They were proud of me. And now I was in trouble for the first time ever.
Godfather and Big Shasta turned up, with Slick Jimmy, 'Fists', Guido the Knife, and Queenie in tow. Big Shasta had to translate my tearful words, because I was incomprehensible and inconsolable by then.
The only thing that worked to calm me down was when Godfather took me in his arms and smoothed his hand down my head and whispered in my ear, "Santa's not mad at you."
I'll remember the rest of that day for the rest of my life. How Godfather held me tight on my lap and Principal Muertins had a sheen of sweat as half the family crowded his office.
"So you're telling me," said Godfather, "that a boy gets to lay hands on our little girl an' get away with -uh-"
"Sexual assault, boss," said Slick Jimmy.
"He can get away with sexual assault, but a little girl can't defend herself from his unwelcome touch without risk of expulsion?"
"There's no evidence," began Principal Muertins.
My breath still shook as I gasped it in. "I told! I told him 'no' and I told Mrs Feathers," she let us call her that, "and I yelled at him not to touch me an' he still did it so I throwed him away like th' garbage he is." Sob. "Like you said."
"Attagirl," muttered Big Shasta.
Queenie offered a high-five, which I only lightly patted in my extended grief.
They brought in Mrs Flesther, who always wore something feathery, and she confirmed a good three quarters of my testimony. And she further complained, "This has been the fifth time I've tried to say something about Bobby's... hands-on approach... to the girls in my class. You know I've written up the reports. I've sent home letters of complaint. I've even called his father. You know the most I've got out of all my efforts?" The feathers in her decorative clip bounced as she talked. I liked to pretend they were fairies, at the time. Little rainbow fairies that helped her be magic. "Boys will be boys. That's all Mr Johnson will say about the entire matter."
"That is not," said Guido the Knife, "how to raise a good boy."
Bobby Johnson was the next to come in. Not the slightest bit nervous about my family until Queenie started playing with her butterfly knife. He had more than a few choice words to say about women and where they belong - "chained to the kitchen sink" was the politest phrase out of his mouth, that afternoon. Principal Muertins took careful notes of all of it. Then called Mr Johnson in from his work.
'Fists' loomed at him. "You talk to your mother like that, kid?"
"I don't have a mom," he said. "She ran off when I was a baby. This week's girlfriend doesn't care what I do."
"How 'bout your gram'ma?" asked Big Shasta. "She put up with that kind of thing from anyone?"
"Grandma left gramgram when Dad was three."
"How long do your dad's girlfriends stick around for?" asked Slick Jimmy.
Bobby shrugged. "Weeks, most of the time. Months some of the time. They're all crazy."
My family exchanged looks. Not one of my family were related to one another, but we were a better whole for loving each other the way they did. Queenie took out her butterfly knife and started flicking it around like a magician. I wanted to do that but she said I had to be twelve or older to play.
"We would let you do the math," said Godfather, "but I think it might take you the rest of your life."
When Mr Johnson arrived, he came in all thunder and bluster until he saw who else was in the room. He looked at Mrs Flesther like she was furniture. He looked at Principal Muertins like he was some form of untrained puppy that had just wet the wrong place. But when he looked at us?
The colour went out of his face. The thunder went out of his voice. The Big Man Stance transformed into Mister Meek in less than a second.
"Señor Marchioni," Mr Johnson whispered.
Bobby spoke up, pointing at me. "It's her fault, Dad. She ain't got boobs and needs to learn how to be a real woman."
Godfather curled a protective arm around me. "It seems to me that both you and your son need to learn a few lessons about respecting women, and those who aren't women yet. Starting with - when it's appropriate to lay hands on a lady's body."
'Fists' cracked his knuckles. "You may have been called away from your business," he said. "We understand, being businessmen ourselves. But if your li'l Bobby keeps makin' trouble for our Annette... we might make your business our business."
"Same with the other girls in this school," said Big Shasta.
"Boys might be boys," said Guido the Knife, who was picking the gunk out of his nails with a letter-opener. "But 'no' also means 'no'. You need to learn this, and apply that knowledge in your everyday affairs."
'Fists' had a pamphlet, which he folded into Mr Johnson's hand. "These people do very good work."
"We recommend the week-long course," said Slick Jimmy. "Take a sabbatical."
"Mud baths are way better than the alternatives," said Queenie.
Mr Johnson understood that Bobby would be taking a week's suspension. During which the school expected Bobby to learn all about respecting other people's rights to their own personal space, bodies, and who gets to touch them.
Godfather handed me over to 'Fists' so that he could shake Mr Johnson's hand and say, "We will be keeping an eye on you and your son."
I was okay to return to class when Bobby wasn't in it, and walked with my hand in Mrs Flesther's all the way there. "I can't say I approve of your methods," she said. "And I definitely can't say your aim and form were extraordinary. I certainly would not be allowed to say that I told the rest of the staffroom and they laughed." She coughed. "I do have to say that it's wrong to throw people, Nettie."
"I know, Mrs Feathers. I didn't see any other way at the time."
Mrs Flesther looked worried. "Do you... know who your family is? I mean. Not their name. I mean... who they are to other people?"
I shrugged. "They're my family." Based entirely on a 'finders-keepers' model, but even the people who came to look at my house and my room had to admit that it was better than the orphanage.
"They're... they're people who make things happen," Mrs Flesther allowed. "Sometimes, it's good things that can't get done by people who follow the rules. Other times? It's... well... sometimes they do bad things."
I thought about this. People turned up dead who had disappointed Godfather. But they were the sort of people that the world could be better without them in it. I couldn't say the phrase I know now, but I said the next best thing. "It's my fudged-up normal, Mrs Feathers. They're good for me and I'm good for them and it's messed up in some places, but it's... it's better than it used to be. Godfather's just trying his best to make the world a better place and... sometimes the rules get in the way."
Mrs Flesther, who had just been telling me about what she was not allowed to say and what she had to say, nodded at that.
Bobby Johnson never did touch another girl again without her permission.
[Image (c) Can Stock Photo / Dubova]
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