The Schuker's Fourth
by Kim Chinquee
THE GIRLS' ROOM
Kate and Suzy Schuker lie in their
bedroom talking of ways to kill their father. The
eight-year-old twins prop their feet on pillows facing
the head of the bed, and let their heads hang from
its foot so their long hair skims the wooden floor.
Kate slides her cow slippers on and off her feet and
wiggles her toes. Suzy watches her own skin turn red
as she looks at her features in the compact mirror:
her fiery green eyes, bold freckles, and make-believe
smile. She lets her pink-and-white polka-dot Drowsy
doll, a hand-me-down from her older cousin, fall to
the floor and Suzy soundlessly criticizes her own
appearance, wondering if her father would like her
if she were more attractive.
Janet, the twins' mother, sits on a
varnished kitchen chair and talks on the phone to
Yvonne, the overweight lady who lives two miles down
the road. Janet laughs into the receiver as her black-bottom
cupcakes bake in the gas oven. She makes them for
a Ladies Aid church event -- the cupcakes make the
house smell like a mixture of Hershey's candy bars
and cut-out Christmas cookies. She props her feet
on a padded stool and stares at the cooking timer
in her hand. The women talk about the upcoming Fourth
of July celebration, the aftermath of the Columbine
shootings, then Yvonne talks about her latest visit
to the hairdresser, Mrs. Dee. Janet says, "Oh,
really," "Uh huh," and "Yeah,"
as Yvonne tells her of the latest gossip. Janet wants
to hear all about it.
Stanley's rubber boots make shuffling
sounds on the concrete floor as he milks his cows.
He cleans Tiny's udder with water from a hose with
his callused hands, then puts the milkers on each
teat, one at a time. He checks on his other three
cows in the milking parlor and pulls the milkers from
Sugar's udder and puts them on a metal rack. He opens
the sliding door for Sugar to get out and when she
doesn't move, he slaps her ribs with a wooden stick.
"Stupid cow," he says. He lets the next
Stanley mutters to himself as the milkers
make sucking sounds and the milk makes whooshing sounds
and the pipes carry the liquid to a big metal tank.
He laughs to himself as he remembers a joke that his
teammate, Alex told at a dartball game last night.
Stanley wipes his wet hands on his
gray work pants, his fingers touching a place where
manure splashed on a spot that was sticky from syrup.
The muck lodges itself between the cracked callused
parts of Stanley's hands that sometimes shake. Stanley
This morning for breakfast the family
ate pancakes. Janet made them big and dark for Stanley.
Medium-sized light for the twins. Stanley put Mrs.
Butterworth's on his, while the girls ate theirs with
butter and Janet's strawberry jam. Janet took hers
plain. They all drank milk that came from Stanley's
Stanley got a Charlie horse and he
grabbed his leg while it jerked. The table shook,
spilling milk. Syrup dripped on Stanley's leg. Then
everything was still.
Janet got up, cleaning up milk in places,
wiping Mrs. Butterworth's from Stanley's gray pants.
The twins chewed. They sat and stared. Then Stanley
looked at them.
"What you two lookin at? You lookin
at me?" His eyes veered away. He shook his head.
"Damn." He looked at Janet. "Clean
it up. Clean it all up. Get it off me. Get it all.
That damn Butterworth. I told you to not to get that
"Sorry. I'll get it. I'll get
it all cleaned up," Janet said.
"Damn bitch of a Butterworth."
Stanley got up and stormed off, limping a little.
He reached for the Mrs. Butterworth's bottle, took
it outside and slammed it against the cement steps,
breaking glass, leaving the stairs sticky in places.
Then he went to the barn.
Janet cleaned up and the girls lost
their appetites. Then the three recited the Lord's
Prayer. It was something they always did after Stanley
THE GIRLS' ROOM
"Maybe we can poison his food,"
Suzy sits up and puts down the mirror. She looks at
"What about the Ten Commandments?"
"Don't worry." Suzy gets
up, finds her Drowsy doll and picks it up. "I
know where the key to his gun cabinet is. I saw him
shoot a skunk once. His guns look easy to use."
"Skunks are easy. They're dumb.
Dad could be smart." Kate sits up, grabs her
Mrs. Beasley doll (which Janet bought at the last
antique rummage sale), and looks into the doll's plastic
face. She thinks she looks like her doll, except for
"What do we do with him when he's
"I'm not doing it. I'm not going
to hell." Kate pushes up her glasses.
"We have to do something,"
Suzy gets up and puts on her plastic necklace. She
looks into the vanity next to the bed and puts on
cherry lip gloss. She smacks her lips, imitating the
way her mother looks into the mirror, turning her
chin up and rotating it from left to right. Her red
"Let's face it. We're doomed."
Kate's chin quivers and a tear rolls down her cheek,
making her glasses wet. She hugs Mrs. Beasley.
Suzy gets out her drawing pad and draws
a black flower.
The Schuker's brick two-story is centered
on the seven-acre lawn, a small part of the 80-acre
farm. Ivy vines creep up the red brick, touching the
roof. Purple lilac bushes, and a garden of pansies,
daisies, and sunflowers mask the manure smell that
sometimes looms when the wind blows from the east.
Five oak trees bud.
A metal clothesline, white oil tank,
and two barrels for burning waste sit in the back
yard. In the front, white rocks make a trail, connecting
the house to the gravel driveway, which separates
the home from the barn, silo, manure pit, and other
things needed for dairy-farm operations. The place
is surrounded by nothing but fields, except for a
narrow road, which forms a T with the gravel path.
From this road, the home looks quaint and quiet, and
everyone who passes by deems this a fact.
Stanley punished Suzy for running from
the house to the barn naked. Suzy asked Janet why
people needed to wear clothes. Janet told Suzy that
if she wanted to find out, to run from the house to
the barn in the nude -- Janet didn't think Suzy really
Stanley was scraping manure from the
heifers' stalls at the time, and he saw her. When
Suzy saw him she ran back to the house. Stanley grabbed
his stick from the barn, but he couldn't catch her
-- she was already out of sight.
Suzy ran to her room and crawled in
bed. Janet saw what was coming so she locked the door,
then went back to making monster cookies. Stanley
banged on the door. Then kicked. Then took his stick
and pounded some more. "Hey you, come back here.
What you doing running around here like that? Around
my barn. Around my cows. Around my yard."
Janet pretended not to hear, humming
Suzy shook under the sheets. Kate stood
by the bedroom door. "At least you got away,"
"It's my damn house. My house.
Let me in my damn house." Stanley yanked on the
doorknob. His hands shook like wild. He took his stick,
threw it on the ground, then sat on the front step
banging his knees. Then he got up, picked up his pole
and stormed to the barn. "My damn house,"
he said, talking to his cows.
Stanley slapped the stick, jabbing
Maybell's ribs. "My damn house." Then he
got Sharona. The rest of the cows hustled, kicking
After it was quiet and Janet knew he
was gone, she went upstairs. She saw Suzy shaking
on the bed, Kate sitting by her side.
"I guess we got him in a bad mood.
Sorry," Janet said, "But to answer your
question: I'm not sure why people need clothes. It
has something to do with Adam and Eve." The twins
shook their heads. Janet did too.
Then they said the Lord's Prayer.
"Mom, why is Daddy so mean?"
"Well, like I said before, your
dad gets grumpy from all his work. Things will get
better, you'll see."
Suzy and Kate tried to believe.
Janet went downstairs and unlocked
the door. The doorknob fell. Janet tried to fix it.
Stanley always lived there. After marrying
Janet, his parents moved to a nearby town, leaving
him to take over the farm. The newlyweds were happy
together. Every night after Stanley finished milking
the cows, and after Janet finished her household chores,
they would stroll down the paths of the pastures.
They would hold hands as Stanley led the way with
his flashlight. They often stopped to look at the
Stanley would talk about the plans
for his crops and his herd, and Janet always listened.
Then Stanley would tell his wife that he loved her
and that he only wanted what was best for their future.
Janet would smile and tell Stanley what a great husband
Within a year, they started a family.
Stanley wanted a son to help with the farm. But Janet
had complications after giving birth to Kate and Suzy,
and could no longer bear children. After the twins
came home from the hospital, sleep was scarce, meals
weren't always cooked, and the couple no longer made
time for walks and talks. So Stanley worked harder,
increasing his herd, and he purchased more land to
harvest more crops. Yet he would not hire a helping
hand -- he told himself that no one could do the job
the way he would have wanted. And he would not let
Janet help, saying her place was in the house, keeping
it clean, cooking the meals, and raising the children.
He stopped confiding in her. Soon all Stanley did
was eat, sleep, work, go to church, and play dartball.
His hands shook a lot and some nights
he didn't sleep at all. His big, strong frame turned
narrow and gaunt. The hair on his head became scarce
-- it emphasized the hazel eyes that used to be so
Stanley just kept getting worse.
LATER THIS AFTERNOON
The twins play in their room upstairs.
Janet bakes white rocket brownies while chatting on
the phone. Stanley holds his rifle between his legs
as he drives his John Deere in the fields. He travels
on the same path that Janet used to walk with him.
Suzy pretends to give Kate art lessons.
Suzy likes drawing and acting, while Kate prefers
math and numbers. Suzy, being fifteen minutes older
and one inch taller, tries to dominate and protect
her younger twin.
The girls imagine they are in school.
They sit on the wooden floor with a bucket of broken
crayons between them. Mrs. Beasley and Drowsy sit
in fake desks. Suzy draws black flowers with brown
and red leaves. She says she is making clothes for
Ken and Barbie. They talk to their dolls, saying they
can't wait for summer vacation to be over.
Then bang-bang, gun shots fire. The
girls look at one another. Downstairs Janet hangs
up the phone. An odor, stronger than the manure smell,
seeps into the home's windows.
Janet runs to the door. Her cooking
buzzer rings and she runs back to the oven to take
out the brownies. She can't smell them because the
stench from outside takes over. She runs back to the
Suzy looks out the window and opens
it. Kate crawls under the covers with her cow slippers
"What are your doing letting that
smell in here?" Kate asks.
Suzy puts her face up to the open window
and takes a deep breath. "I love it. It reminds
me of Grandma's."
Kate thinks. Suzy walks to the bed.
They recite the Lord's Prayer, taking long breaths,
inhaling the scent.
Stanley stops the tractor in front
of the white rocks. He runs to the house, stepping
in old syrup. He pulls on the door handle and it wobbles.
The twins run to their door and listen.
"Finally shot the skunks. Every
one of em. Got em all. The whole family. Every one.
Got em all, " he says. "Got em out there
in the field. Every one of em. Got em all." He
wipes his rifle with his red handkerchief, then puts
the gun into the cabinet and locks the door. "I
got em all." Stanley paces, his boots sticking
to the floor.
Janet follows him, taking small, apprehensive
steps. She rubs her sweaty palms on her blue checkered
SUNDAY, JULY FOURTH
Stanley drives his family to church
in his '97 Ford Integra. He grasps the steering wheel
with both of his shaky hands. He shifts his body in
his seat and stares straight ahead, his eyes fixed
on the bumpy road. The car needs new shocks, so he
slows down each time he anticipates a pothole, which
is something he's gotten used to. Puddles make spots
on the blue car. Stanley hasn't slept much, and has
eaten very little over the past week. This morning
at breakfast, while staring at his eggs, he told his
family he loved them.
Janet rides in the front seat and hums
in her soprano voice songs that she has been recently
singing with her Sweet Adelines group. She looks out
the window and notices how green the fields have become
since the recent rainfall.
The twins sit silently in the back
seat, smelling Stanley's Old Spice. Suzy wants to
hum along with her mother, but is too afraid. Instead
she stares at her fingers and pretends to play the
piano. Kate examines the white dots on her red pants
and pretends there are lines connecting them.
The twins still wished Stanley were
At church, the family sits in a white
pew. They are afraid they smell like skunks. Like
every Sunday, the girls sit between their parents,
Stanley by the aisle, Suzy next to her father. Janet
sits by Mrs. Meyer, the girls' former first-grade
teacher, who offers Janet a hymnal. The Schukers bow
their heads to pray, and while the organist plays
a familiar melody, they wait for the service to begin.
Stanley hits his fists on his knees while Mrs. Meyer
stares. Janet looks at Mrs. Meyer's red lipstick and
smiles while Suzy shifts closer to her sister. Stanley
rests his elbows on his knees and buries his head
in his hands. Suzy and Kate look at one another, while
Janet silently hums the tune in her head and looks
at the figure of Jesus that stands behind the pulpit.
She thinks he looks so meek and kind.
In his white robe, Pastor George steps
onto the pulpit and greets his congregation, which
today is nearly two hundred. As he smiles and raises
his hand to make the sign of the cross Stanley yells,
"God help me now!"
Pastor George drops his hands, forgetting
his routine. He looks in Stanley's direction. The
congregation stares in wonder. Suzy moves even closer
to her sister.
Stanley lies in a hospital bed of the
psychiatric unit while Janet holds his hand. Her bloodshot
eyes mask their gray color. Stanley sleeps soundlessly
The girls stare out the window wishing
they could be at the Fourth of July celebration, watching
the parade, eating hot dogs, and playing in the playground
with their friends. The hospital smell nauseates them.
Suzy watches the cars that shuffle in the street below.
Kate does the same.
"How about angel food cake tonight?"
The girls look at Janet, shrug their
shoulders, look out the window again.
A nurse enters the room to take Stanley's
vital signs, but he doesn't wake up. "He just
needs his sleep," she says. "That stuff
really knocked him out." Janet and the girls
look at her, but say nothing, so the nurse quickly
Bangs from illegal fireworks sound
from outside. The sun shines.
Stanley grumbles in his sleep. The
three look up at him. "Why is he so high up?"
"Just because," Janet says.
Stanley's bed is raised to the highest
level. A white sheet covers him, leaving his head
and feet exposed. An overhead light shines on his
face, making his skin glow. Then Stanley takes smooth,
even breaths, his rhythm like a song.
"It's time we talk to God,"
Janet says. She caresses Stanley's rough fingers.
Kate, Suzy, and Janet gather round
the bed. They bow their heads, fold their hands, then
close their eyes and pray.