The Prominent Father
When I moved back from the Rain Forrest, it had been two years since I spoke to my father. He saw I was back on-line, the picture of me, standing in front of the Museum of Fine Art, with a former boyfriend he couldn’t stand because he was much grittier than me. He “liked” it anyway and then my phone rang, but I was saved; I knew Facebook is empty, my voice mailbox was full.
So after a few IPAs, some Ativan and Phil getting me off, I felt relaxed enough to call my father back. Phil’s hand was still on my thigh, “Hello, Daddy,” I said, my voice now hoarse.
“Nicolle, I’ve been trying to reach you,” he said.
“I just got back,” I said.
“I couldn’t leave you a message,” he said.
No matter what day, what time, or what age I’d ever been, Daddy always sounded worried. I believed he bore filters that allowed him to see me as twelve year old girl he still wanted to control. Truth was, he never controlled me all that much.
“Well, I’m calling you back now,” I said, feeling my throat close slightly. Phil moved his hand upward and I nudged it back down. “How are you?”
“Well, Nicolle, I started a new job,” he said.
“Really? That’s great. What is it?”
“I’m in charge of their mobile catering service. I’m pretty high up there.”
“Really, that’s great…”
“Say, you know there’s this Chinese banquet tomorrow. How would you like to go with me?”
“Do we have plans?” I asked Phil, knowing Daddy could hear, crossing a line I hated to cross, to which Phil silently shook his head. “I’m free, Daddy.”
“Be at my house at five,” he said, as Phil crawled up my leg once more with his warm hand. There was no stopping any of this.
The phone started ringing at noon, and I kept letting it go to the non-voicemail. Phil knew enough to cook me breakfast, drop me off and leave me alone today. When I arrived at my father’s he was waiting outside with the engine running. I saw Daddy tilt his head away from the sight of Phil, after I kissed my father’s dry skinned cheek. “Come on honey, we have to work.”
“Work? Aren’t we going to a banquet.”
“Yes, kind of, but Friday nights are busy.”
“I thought we…”
“Yes, it is a Chinese banquet.” Then the phone rang and Daddy repeated an address. We drove to Chop Sun and I was told to wait. He returned with ten brown paper sacks and we drove a few miles, to a few houses, where Daddy exchanged the bags for cash.
“So this is the banquet?” I asked.
“It’s also the mobile catering?”
“Yes,” he said, as we pulled up to the next house. “Want to do this one?” he asked. “You might get a tip.”
“No,” I said, as he rolled his eyes, then immediately changed my mind, taking the bag from his hand.
“Don’t forget to bring back the cash,” he said. After all this time, my father was still my father, and I frowned at him, the same disapproving frown he often made at me.
By the end of the night, Daddy earned $261 dollars. He assured me he was the only one who did this for Chop Sun. He gave me a twenty. “Look, I’m sorry,” he said. “Let me make it up to you. Tomorrow, I’m going to a wedding. The food will be wonderful. It will be fun.”
“I’m all about wanting to have fun,” I said.
“I’ll pick you up at two,” he said.
Phil and I were doing the things Phil and I did, which Daddy didn’t want to think about, the next afternoon. My legs were still weak when the doorbell rang and it was him.
“Come on, we’ve got to hurry,” he said. I wore a white dress and was braiding my hair, pulling it over like a band.
“You look very pretty, honey,” he said. It was the only type of comment he had which was sincere and honest. It was how he regarded me. I yelled goodbye to Phil, feeling the muscles in my legs sore from him.
“So, who’s getting married?”
He pulled out a card. “Oh, Claire Martin and Peter Anda..Ando…umm…Anadaisia,” he replied.
“You don’t know them, do you?”
“No, but you can move the gear into the back seat if you want,” he said, pointing a camera bag and collapsed tripod. “You can help.”
Daddy was as important here as he was to the customers last night at the catering job.
“Nicolle, direct the wedding party to get closer,” he said, bouncing his hands together. “Make them look to the left,” he snapped. The grooms broke their huddle and then the brides and bridal party entered without the Maid of Honor. “Go find her Nicolle.” he ordered.
“Right on it,” I said, but as I left the room, and headed into the hall, one of the groomsman motioned toward me, palming a glass bowl. Outside we passed it around four or five times, until one of the other groomsman showed up and said something about partying with “the pretty hired help”. No place seemed safe and I was high and the avoidance of quality time I needed with father was abundant.
On the trip home, Daddy wanted to talk to me about it.
“I just went outside,” I said, but he kept asking. I knew he knew, so finally I confessed to a whole lot of nothing, which is what tends to happen when I spend too much time with my father. “Daddy,” I said. “I was doing something important.”
“Just a realization,” I said, as I then sat silently, letting the car take us closer and closer to Phil. As we pulled in I said, “I was involved in an important field study.” My father, confused, yet still held tight his frown, visible all the way until he drove off. I laughed knowing what my field study had done, hoping to be able to dodge him, longer and longer in time.
Timothy Gager is the author of eleven books of short fiction and poetry. His latest, The Thursday Appointments of Bill Sloan, (Big Table Publishing) is his first novel. He hosts the successful Dire Literary Series in Cambridge, Massachusetts for over fourteen years and is the co-founder of Somerville News Writers Festival. His work appears in over 300 journals, of which nine have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His work has been read on National Public Radio.
Allison Goldin is an artist living in California. Her work is a collection of spontaneous drawings from the imagination. The most common link throughout her art are the semi-recognizable creatures scattered amongst and bringing together the surrounding doodles.