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Relative Nouns

You flip on the fluorescent light above the speckled tri-fold mirror. Sitting on the cracked linoleum floor, you open the cabinet under the sink and dig through a stack of neatly folded towels. A small collection of books are hidden under the fabric and you grab a thick yellow volume from the top of the pile. It’s the dictionary that was passed out during class a couple of months ago, before summer started. You feel around the edges of the book with small fingers. They are well worn now, the spine broken and flexible, and you thumb to a dog-eared page.

Family [fam-uh-lee, fam-lee] noun

1. Social unit of parents and children.

a. A traditional family consists of a mother, father, and their children.

2. A group of people closely related by blood or marriage.

a. Parents, children, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

synonyms: kin, group, blood is thicker than water, sacrifice, unpredictable, unavoidable.

Knock, knock, knock.

You were expecting this, and yet you still flinch and feel a pulse of adrenaline that makes you lightheaded. Your eyes glance at the bathroom door for a moment to see if the lock is turned. It is. The bar of light flickers with the force of the knock on the door. The lid of the toilet seat feels cold against the bottoms of your thighs. Your tailbone aches from when he pushed you into the brick fireplace last night. You sit and try to continue to read.

Sister [sis-ter] noun

1. Female sibling; usually having both parents with other offspring.

a. For the first 15 years of my life, I didn’t have any sisters; I was an only child.

2. Half-sister; having one parent in common with other offspring.

a. My half-sister is my mom’s and newest stepdad’s daughter.

3. Stepsister; one’s stepfather’s daughter from a previous marriage or relationship.

a. I gained three stepsisters when my mom remarried. My stepsisters are backstabbing, but sometimes loving.

4. Sister-in-law; sister of one’s spouse.

a. When I get married this summer, I’ll have a sister-in-law who lives far away and I’ll only see her on holidays.

synonyms: sis, sissy, sweetheart, bastard, bitch, be the better sister, you are the oldest.

The rapping at the door grows louder, more desperate. You hold your breath and consider turning off the lights. Maybe your stepdad will forget that you’re hiding in here. The pounding stops and you flip the dictionary facedown, so that your lap is holding your spot between the pages. After the sharp crinkling of plastic, you hear a fresh carton of cigarettes being slapped against the palm of his hand.

Smack, smack, smack, smack.

You have the flashlight you took out of the garage last week if you choose to turn the light off. But, there’s an opaque window to the front porch on the wall next to you. If he sees that light from the window while he’s smoking, he’ll be even more angry. He hates being avoided more than being forgotten. Just wait for him to pass out on the couch.

Father [fah-ther] noun

1. Male parental figure.

a. My grandfather is like a father to me, since he’s been the most consistent male parental figure in my life.

2. Father-in-law; father of one’s spouse.

a. My future spouse’s dad will be my father-in-law; he’s the most put-together man I’ve ever met. I’m jealous that my fiancé has two good parents.

3. Biological father; the person who gave you half of their genes during conception.

a. My biological father and mother divorced when I was two years old, but he came back to start a relationship with me when I was 17 years old.

4. Stepfather; the later husband of one’s parent; there are two kinds of stepfathers.

a. One is redemptive and kind, looking for your approval at first since he’s mixing his family with yours.

b. The second is more malicious. He was the first one after the separation of your biological parents when you were very young. He took advantage of the fact that you vied for his approval as a child and told you year after year that you have daddy issues.

5. Adoptive father; a male figure not biologically related, but legally accepted as the caregiver of a child.

a. Neither type of stepfather got around to adopting you.

synonyms: dad, stepdad, patriarch, [insert first names here], abuser, provider.

“Hey, I’m sorry I yelled at you earlier,” He says, voice muffled through the wood of the door. Even filtered by layers of plywood, you can tell he is slurring his words. He waited until your mom had her evening dose of medicine and fell asleep in their bedroom before he drove to the minimart for a replacement 6 pack over an hour ago. Now, he sounds sleepy and ready to succumb to the numbing void of unconsciousness. Of course, you know the night won’t end this way, though. He begins to throw his body weight against the door when you stay silent and don't accept his apology.

Thud, thud, thud.

Mother [muhth-er] noun

1. Female parental figure.

a. The only one who is always there for you; guides you like the North Star, where some nights might be cloudy with lupus fog and you don’t see her, but she’s in the background waiting for you to reach out to her.

2. There is only one.

a. He’s just as good at manipulating her as he is at manipulating you.

synonyms: mom, mommy, mama.

The door finally gives and he falls into the room.

“Put the fucking book down. I’m talking to you,” He says, knocking it out of your hand. His hair is greased back from work to cover the bald spot on the top of his head. Pieces are pushed out of place from running his calloused hands through it. He’s still wearing the gray business slacks from his shift earlier. His skin is red and swollen above the neckline of his stained undershirt. He leans down low to meet your eyes, his face so close to yours, smelling like cheap cologne, booze, sweat, and rotten tobacco.

“Sorry,” you say, wincing as he kicks the dictionary away and reaches for you.

Jenna Schoepflin is a nonbinary, bisexual writer who specializes in fiction. They have earned an Associate of Arts from Linn Benton Community College and are pursuing Bachelors of Creative Writing at Oregon State University. Their work has been published by the literary journal Maudlin House and Linn Benton Community College’s The Commuter.

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