$issue= 'Fiction, December 2008 — March 2009'; $description = 'A collection of inspiring poetry, art and literature written for women. Moondance e-zine has opinions, columns, fiction, writing, song and story, inspirational art and fine poetry.'; $title = 'The Preacher′s Daughters'; $keywords = 'humiliation, sisters, power, control, fear, father, daughter, broken dreams, religion, minister'; $articlecss = 'css/article.css'; include INCDIR.'/header_content.inc'; ?>
Our bedroom door trembled under the roar of our father's voice from across the hall.
"Who left this filth in the bathroom?" he demanded.
His question meant only one thing: there were pubic hairs in the tub.
In the bedroom we three teenaged sisters shared, Roxanne lay on her bed, sketching another of her designs, clothing that our father would never allow us to wear: A vivid red, sleeveless dress cut deep and high, revealing skin, cleavage and thigh. I sat beside her, flipping through a beauty magazine a friend bought for me at my request. We glanced at each other. Sure that the door would fly open, Father looming in the doorway as he sought out the culprit, we quickly slipped our forbidden pleasures away, the drawing under the pillow, the magazine into the nightstand drawer. We waited.
His hollering, however, moved down the hall.
I got up and eased the door open a bit.
Their voices: my sister Viola's and Father's, though I couldn't make out the words in their brisk conversation.
She had taken a bath last.
The dialogue between them soon turned simply into a terse monologue. What Father said was lost in the sudden rattle of pots and pans.
Someone was coming down the hall so I closed the door. The toilet seat thunked down.
I waited, then opened the door and peeked across the hall. Roxanne took a viewing spot, crouching below me.
Viola sat on the toilet, hands in her lap, head bowed.
We watched her for minutes, each of us in our own minds pondering what was to come.
At the sound of Father's steps coming down the hall, I pushed the door slightly closed, but not completely, afraid that he might hear the sound of it. Joining Viola in the bathroom, Father began his retribution speech, which we waited out.
"My rules are simple and clear," he told her. "Your punishment will be as well."
From the other side of the door, we heard his heavy steps as he left and then, minutes later, returned.
Roxanne placed her hand over mine still on the knob and pulled the door open.
Viola was on her knees, leaning into the tub. Father stood over her, a pot in his hands. He tilted it, pouring water into the tub, the steam visible from where we watched. The sharp smell of lye wafted across the hall.
Viola was scrubbing the porcelain with her hands. After awhile, she looked up at Father. "My hands," she told him, tears in her voice. "They're burning."
He told her that was good. "Pain is the quickest teacher," he said.
* * *
Daughters were not the inheritance Father had wanted. He seemed always unnerved by our presence, more so as we approached and entered our adolescent years. He insisted, through Mother, that we never leave used sanitary napkins in the bathroom trashcan, that we clean the tub completely after use, that we never hang our bras or panties to dry in his public view.
* * *
The knock at the door startled me so that I almost slipped off the toilet. Constipated, I'd been staring at a diamond shape on the bathroom tile, waiting for my intestines to cooperate.
"You've been in there awhile."
"I'm almost finished," I said.
He asked what I was doing.
Father kept himself aware of how much time we spent in the bathroom. He was determined that we would not give in to vanity, staring at our reflections or, even more importantly, to immorality by pleasuring ourselves.
"I'm having a bowel movement," I said, though I had not yet.
I heard Father's hand on the doorknob.
I crossed my arms around my middle and doubled over. I thought of the pig intestines Mother cleaned so that we could have chitlins for Sunday supper, the way she tightened her hand along the length of them, squeezing until they were empty. In the time that it took Father to turn the knob, to open the door and enter, I'd thought of my intestines like those and with all my might, I bore down. So when Father commanded that I stand, and I rose without argument, scooting forward as far as the shackles of panties would allow, there, floating in the water, was a brown stool to vindicate me.
* * *
Father expected Mother to keep the house immaculate. Cleanliness is next to Godliness. No labor was done on the Sabbath so Mother began her cleaning on Friday while we were at school and completed it on Saturday with us girls helping. Drawers were organized, mattresses were turned, closets were straightened. Roxanne must have forgotten this.
After school, we entered the house through the living room and found Mother and Father waiting. Our attention was immediately drawn to the raggedly torn papers on the coffee table because nothing was ever placed on it except the family Bible.
Recognizing what they were, I turned toward Roxanne. There were tears in her eyes – her designs! her dreams!— but she didn't allow them to fall. She dared not cry over the loss of sinful or worldly things.
Father asked, "Did I raise you to think as a painted Jezebel?"
Roxanne stared at the pictures. She shook her head slowly.
"Then what is this?" Father swatted the pile of papers, sending them to the floor.
He told Viola and I to get to our chores. I moved slowly, stepping on the strewn drawings as I went, because I was afraid not to. Still, I thought to claim ownership, spare my younger sister. But Roxanne was a proud artist. She'd signed every one.
* * *
It was a Saturday, much like all others. The church secretary arrived to verify the sermon title and hymnal choices; the deacons came by to discuss church business; and the treasurer brought the weekly financial statement.
I don't know what the others thought of the sight in the living room, but I was sweeping that floor when the treasurer was present. Several times from his place he'd taken on the couch next to Father, he glanced over before turning his attention back to the ledger before them, shuffling a bit in his seat.
The treasurer cleared his throat.
"Is something the matter?" Father asked.
The treasurer looked over at him.
Father's eyes did not waver.
"No, nothing, nothing at all," the treasurer said.
Roxanne herself acted as if any day anyone could walk into their preacher's home and find his daughter on naked display.
"Strip," Father had ordered, turning the crate on which she'd spend much of the day upside down. "If you have no shame, you have no shame."
Her arms outstretched, palms upward, her right leg turned a bit seductively inward like she was some pagan goddess, Roxanne focused her eyes on the corner of the ceiling, her body almost completely still; but one looking close enough would have seen her lower lip trembling just so.
Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz is a fiction writer and poet. Visit her blog at www.gwennotes.blogspot.com