BY JACLYN GRIMM
Lake Highland Preparatory School, ’17
2016 Adroit Prize for Prose: Editors’ List
Her name was Lenny, short for Lenore, short for Eleanor. Born in an electrical storm, took her mother’s name and life with her first cry and never did stop crying. Her father was a cold, cold man with big cold hands and a mind stuck in hell. Till his death, age 65, he never forgot the light that passed from his wife’s eyes to his daughter’s. He was a religious man, with a name like Ephraim he couldn’t help it, and all the blood convinced him that Eleanor was his own personal plague.
For week’s nice women from church with plastic smiles brought him casseroles and condolences. All he could do was muster up a smile and wonder to himself how they didn’t melt in the summer heat. Several of them offered to help with Eleanor, just for a few weeks, but Ephraim had enough trouble. He didn’t need anyone doing what his wife would’ve done.
Eleanor got her first nickname at six months, in Gerry’s Grocery. Ephraim never did understand the child seats in Gerry’s carts and he didn’t realize Eleanor had slipped right out with a loaf of bread until he was checking out. Bread was on his list, after all.
Isabelle did not know what to do with an infant. She especially did not know what to do with a crying infant lying on a loaf of WonderBread in the frozen section. Isabelle was a nervous women who wore too much coral lipstick and finding the parents of a crying child was the last thing she wanted to do.
Ephraim was not a nervous man, except for that moment. If he was being honest, the idea of never finding Eleanor was relieving. Ephraim was rarely honest, so he called the manager and explained the situation.
At Gerry’s, the manager was a pimply kid not a day over nineteen. Out of twelve people milling around the store, he knew less about infants than everyone but Eleanor herself. Immediately, he went to the front of the store and said on the loud speaker, “If anyone sees an unattended infant who responds to the name ‘Lenore,’ please bring her to the front of the store.”
Ephraim considered telling him her name was Eleanor, not Lenore, but he figured since the only response Eleanor had to anything was crying, it didn’t matter anyways.
Relieved to hear the announcement echoing around the store, Isabelle picked Lenore up from the produce bin she’d put her in. She hoped the parents wouldn’t cry or hug her.
Luckily for Isabelle, the only person that cried was Lenore. Ephraim just sighed and held Eleanor close to him. Isabelle quickly left the store without buying anything. When she got to her car, she locked herself in and cried without knowing why.
Leaving the store, Ephraim thought about the name Lenore, and decided it fit better than Eleanor.
It started with a dog, as many things with Lenore did. She nursed him back to health when he’d come crying at her front porch steps. Lenore knew a thing or two about crying herself and she wrapped his legs in gauze and put a band-aid on his nose. Her babysitter Hadley, going on seventeen, smoked a cigarette and stretched her long, long legs.
“You’re a little nurse, aren’t ya Lenore?” Hadley took a long drag and starting dialing her boyfriend’s number on the kitchen phone.
“No,” Lenore said, because anything her babysitter said was wrong. She overheard Hadley’s boyfriend say so last Thursday afternoon.
When Lenore’s father came back from the shoe factory at seven p.m., Hadley was passed out on their denim couch. Lenore had taught the dog, Rover, to sit at the kitchen table and was feeding him leftover pork chops on her dead mother’s fine china.
Ephraim woke up Hadley and told her he’d pay her double to babysit for another hour and a half while he got a drink. Of course, she agreed; he paid more than anyone else in town.
When Hadley saw Lenore petting Rover’s head and pouring him a glass of milk, she rolled her eyes. Maybe she could get Ephraim to pay her extra for babysitting the dog, too.
“Whatcha doing, Lenore?” Hadley said, eating out of a bag of potato chips. Lenore, as usual, ignored Hadley and kissed Rover’s head instead. “Hey, where’d you get a name like Lenore, anyways?”
Lenore didn’t look at her when she responded, “It’s short for Eleanor.”
Hadley laughed too loudly, in a way Lenore hated. “Lenore’s the worst nickname I’ve ever heard. Ellie suits you better.” Lenore considered it for a moment before Rover bit her hand and didn’t let go.
At two a.m., Ephraim and Lenore finally came home from the hospital. Lenore cried, not because of her hand, but because her father had taken Rover to the pound to be put down.
“Calm down,” Ephraim said. “It’s just a dog, Lenore.”
Lenore did not calm down. Instead, she yelled, “It’s Ellie!” and slammed her bedroom door shut. For the first time, she reminded Ephraim of her mother.
At sixteen, the dogs around her didn’t have any fur, but rather cigarettes and beer. She’d always had a soft spot for animals.
“That girl of yours has gone a little bit wild,” the old women in church would tell Ephraim during every church service Ellie skipped.
Ephraim grunted a response, as he always did. Lenore had become more than a little bit wild. The only thing he could control was his refusal to call her Ellie.
On the Saturday before her seventeenth birthday, Ephraim had enough. Ellie had managed to sneak out of her bedroom using the tree outside her bathroom. Ephraim couldn’t imagine how she managed to squeeze through the window, but he’d realized he couldn’t put anything past her.
The town of Allensville, PA had approximately three neighborhoods and under 500 residents, meaning Ephraim only drove around twenty minutes before he found a house pulsing with music and a street almost too crowded by used cars to drive on. When he’d left the house, he didn’t know what he would do when he found her, but as he parked near the house he realized what he had to.
A kid, at least twenty, opened the door after Ephraim rang the doorbell three times. “Is Lenore here?” he asked.
The kid squinted at Ephraim, and yelled, “What?” over the music.
“Ellie? Is my daughter, Ellie, here?” Ephraim began to feel frantic. He debated whether he should go home and call the police about the party instead. He was fairly certain his daughter was there, but he didn’t know how he’d find her, much less get her to come home. Often, he’d imagined she must’ve gotten her personality from her mother, because she was certainly nothing like him.
Behind the kid, Ephraim saw his daughter turn the corner, beer in hand. Ellie wore a dress Ephraim knew he hadn’t bought her and flirted with boys years too old for her. Ephraim felt enraged; he usually felt too tired to care much about what Ellie did, but in that moment he could barely see.
Without thinking, Ephraim pushed past the boy at the door and grabbed Ellie’s arm. “Dad? What the hell?” Ellie had never felt more embarrassed. Except perhaps in the next moment, when Ephraim pulled one cold hand back and slapped her.
Time did not stop, and neither did the music. The party continued around them, the boys Ellie had flirted with clearing out quickly. Perhaps Ellie had a change of heart as she began to follow her father out of the house and to his car. More likely, she was too surprised by her father’s sudden anger to do anything but walk numbly, a hand clutching her face.
Ephraim couldn’t believe he’d slapped her. He didn’t feel particularly bad about it until further investigation showed he’d popped a blood vessel on the side of her eye. His guilt lasted only until the next morning, when Ellie got a call telling her the boys she was with the night before had died in a crash. After that, Ephraim felt nothing.
On her seventeenth birthday, she said, “I’m going by Lenny now.” Ephraim agreed that Ellie was a name to be forgotten.
After graduating high school, Lenny didn’t visit her father often. She’d come out of the woodwork on major holidays; Ephraim always suspected she wanted money, but she never asked and he never offered.
By the time she turned twenty five, Lenny hadn’t so much as called Ephraim. He felt as if that should disappoint him, but it didn’t.
Because of this, Ephraim was more than a little surprised when a wedding invitation from his daughter arrived at his door on June 12th. As far as he knew, she was never going to get married. Lenny was not the type of girl who got married, and definitely not the type of person to print invitations on lavender colored invitations and marry a man named George.
Ephraim assumed Lenny was marrying George for his money; although, he knew better than to assume anything about Lenny. He thought about attending, but knew Lenny well enough to know she didn’t really want him there. He smiled as he threw the invitation away, and for the first time in twenty five years, he meant it.