It was late September when I was surprised by one of his spontaneous visits; I had been practicing hurdles and 200-meter sprints with my track coach after school with my teammates. Some of my friends were smiling and their eyes twinkled as they looked past my shoulders, curious I spun around.
“Daddy!”, I squealed with happiness. Dressed in the latest fashion and driving a cool borrowed sportscar I waved for my friends to run over. My closest friends had met him over the years and my new ones loved hearing about my trips to new places and asking questions about this mysterious and exciting father of mine. Unlike their father´s boring day jobs and stuffy rules and routines, my father was all about adventure, charm and damn was he cool.
He sat up in the empty bleachers until practice was over. I am not sure if I were nervous because he was watching or if I was just having a bad day but I knocked over all but one of my hurdles, more than once. I was usually like a gazelle, leaping long and gracefully and other than Tina Woodridge, I had no competition. I was embarrassed my practice went so horribly and met my father´s eyes reluctantly. We got in the small, two-seater green car and drove into the city; the sun brilliant and my hair flying wildly with the top down, I quickly left my failure to shine behind me.
We met up with one of his old friends, someone who I referred to as an “Uncle” but knew we weren´t related. Together they were working on a deal, a bigger than life deal that was going to make Daddy rich and he was extremely excited about it. He was always talking about deals and how when they came through our lives would never be the same. Just walking along the sidewalk holding his hand was a thrill to me. Stu, the fake uncle did everything for my father. He was a presence that I can only liken to a scruffy cat. A faithful dog would want something back, like a scratch behind the ears or a ball tossed to engage in play, but Stu was not that kind of loyal. He was like the cat that hung in the corners of the room and who seemed happy to slink around quietly, he occasionally made a sound, but it was never directed toward anyone intentionally and he liked to smoke hand rolled cigarettes. He was scruffy and wore black leather and had dark, distant eyes. His hair was unkempt, and he sometimes wore a cowboy hat. The contrast between the two was blinding. My father´s hair was always cut neatly; he was always fresh shaven and wearing the latest style in eyeglasses. He liked tweed, warm colors such as maroon and texture, as in suede shoes. He dressed for the season, like he walked off the page of a New York city magazine.
When he wasn´t in Nashville, my father lived near Washington, D.C. with either a girlfriend or a roommate. He had lived too many places for me to remember by my 13th year. I loved flying and meeting his friends. They would drink red wine and talk late into the night; I always fell asleep and missed the conversation I yearned to overhear.
This visit we went to pick out school clothes at a mall in west Nashville near my paternal grandmother. She did not like Uncle Stu or my dad staying out late at night with me. In the past, he would drop me off and my grandmother would generally watch a little television with me, then tuck me in. I would try to wait up until my Daddy rolled in, but it was always extremely late, and I would rarely recall him fumbling around the bedroom, pulling off his clothes and climbing into our shared bed. After shopping, my father had me wear one of my new outfits and decided I was old enough to go along with him and Stu to dinner and make the rounds of visiting old friends with them. It was a Friday, no school the next day and I was a teenager now. I was thrilled.
At dinner my father ordered with a flare that no other father I knew had. He sampled wine and sent food back saying it wasn´t palatable. He held up one finger and a server would jump to his side. Stu just ate. My father would get loud, sometimes so loud the other patrons would stare. I was never sure if they were staring because he dressed like a movie star or if they were as mesmerized as I was by his enthusiasm. Wine came and was poured again and again. I yawned and he told me to cover my mouth. He told me I didn´t have good manners and it was my mother´s fault for moving me out of the city and putting me into that hick school with nobodies. Made sense. None of my friend´s parents drank wine or sent food back that I knew of; other than Dairy Queen after a football game I never recalled going out to dinner or anywhere with people dressed so beautifully. My friends’ fathers grilled hamburgers and asked if I wanted cheese or not. I liked that. Sometimes I wanted my dad to stick around and grill a hamburger, but I knew that he would never be able to do that in such fine clothes with such fine manners.
The same night, hours later, my eyelids grew heavier and heavier, and I think my head had tilted to the side when I heard shattered glass. I jumped in my seat and saw Uncle Stu trying to talk to a terribly angry man. I looked across the table and my father´s jaws were clenched and his steal blue eyes afire with rage. He picked up his wine glass and threw it to the floor. I gasped while others in the restaurant glared and whispered in circles. They were not staring at my father with envy, they didn´t see he was so much better than they would ever be. They did not know he could tell a story which compelled everyone in the room to listen and applaud when he had finished. The man said we had to leave, or the police would come. What had I missed? If only I could have stayed awake. My father could not walk straight, and Stu led him to a van he'd driven that night. All three of us couldn't fit into the dazzling sportscar.
“What happened to Daddy, Uncle Stu?” Daddy was screaming and swatting at the black sky, “Dirty bastards”, then “I´ll have the place closed down like a whorehouse with cockroaches”. Stu slid open the van door and I hopped in. The floor was covered in brown shaggy carpet and stunk of cigarette smoke. “Get in, Dave”, “let´s get out of here before the piggy´s show up”. Daddy grumbled and instead of getting in the front seat he fell onto the floor next to me. Stu started up the engine and the gears made a grinding sound when he yanked the floor lever into reverse. The van jerked, then stalled and Stu silent, but clearly nervous got it going again quickly and spun out onto the main road.
Daddy was laughing. “I love you so much my sweet, sweet girl.” Daddy pulled my hand to his heart. Both of us were on the stinking carpet floor and Daddy smelled like the wine he drank. Uncle Stu had his eyes on the road and was a careful driver I thought, but Daddy still rumbled around and couldn´t stay in one spot. I tried to move to the front seat and Daddy grabbed my ankles and yanked me backwards so as I fell to me knees and landed right on top of him. Before I knew it, he had rolled me over and he was on top, my small body pinned beneath him. I heard I was pretty, and repeatedly he said he loved me. He roughly brushed his hands through my thick red-brown hair then tried to stick his tongue in my mouth. Stu stopped the van abruptly and turned around, “What the hell are you doing Dave, that´s your own goddamn daughter!” Luckily Uncle Stu had been looking in his rear-view mirror. Stu grabbed my Daddy´s jacket and pulled him off me, then told me to get in front and put on my seatbelt.
Instead of going to my grandmother´s we went to “the office”, some rented place in the city where there was a fold out sofa bed and a lounge chair. Stu gave me the bed and he sat in the chair all night smoking and staring out at the van, which was eerily illuminated in the otherwise empty, fluorescent lit parking lot. He´d left Daddy in the van. “Sleep.” Is all he said. And sleep I did.
I woke to the smell of cigarettes; a thick haze of smoke filled the slightly sunlit room. Old venetian blinds were angled so the yellow light hit the dark paneled wall and slid down onto a dusty television set. The television was on top of a stack of milk crates and there were bottles of liquor and beer cans covering the beige formican counter piece that separated the fold out sofa bed from what appeared to be a small kitchen. Uncle Stu was not in his chair. I looked out the blinds for the van and it was gone, too.
I found my way to the bathroom; there was a stand-up shower with plexiglass sliding doors, a toilet with a cracked seat and a stained sink with an annoying drip. I was afraid to touch the mismatched towels that hung sloppily on the hooks and opted for some paper towels I spotted in the kitchen. My eyes took in the new surroundings rapidly. I opened the door and called for Daddy and Uncle Stu. No one was around this part of town on a Saturday morning. We were in a business district, and everything was closed. The telephone, sitting on a disheveled desk in one corner of the office was attached to an answering machine and the light was blinking. I couldn´t call my mother. She could ruin a good time fast. I thought of calling my grandmother. She would come and get me but then she would be mad at Daddy. I sat back down on the fold out bed which I had returned to its sofa position and opted for turning on the television. Saturday cartoons were on. I was hungry though. I looked through empty cupboards and opened the fridge. An old pizza, half out of its takeaway box was all there was. Then I spotted some Wrigley’s peppermint gum on the desk. I peeled the silver foil off piece by piece and chomped away and giggled at Scooby-Doo´s “rot-row” voice that he made when he was scared.
Time seemed to pass quickly and around lunch Daddy drove up in the shiny green sportscar dressed in khaki pants and a black cashmere turtleneck. His shoes were new, too. I could always tell when Daddy had new shoes. “Sleep good little darling?” he winked and ushered me to the car. The sun was shining and a whole new day of adventures lied ahead. Wait, where was Uncle Stu? He had work to do, a lot of work to do muttered my father.
We pulled up to my grandmother´s large brick home and she greeted us warmly. We sat under her veranda eating ham sandwiches and sweet, tiny pickles and nothing was mentioned about the night before. I brought in my bags of new clothes and showed them to her. She looked pleased and proud of my father. While they chatted about something serious, I laid across her giant four poster bed and flipped through some magazines, then before I knew it, I had dozed off. When I woke, I asked for my father. “I am sorry sweetie, he had to go to meet some men for business.” She patted me on the back and told me to freshen up and let her launder my clothes which wreaked of cigarettes. She commented disapprovingly that my weird “Uncle” Stu sure could cause a stink. I thought about it differently, how he had somehow saved the night but at thirteen who has words to describe a night on the town with an amazing man like my father. My father didn´t come back to my grandmother´s that night and I lay in bed wondering if he was smashing glasses or sending unpalatable food back.
Sunday morning, I heard my Daddy honk the horn of that cute little green sportscar and I reeled with excitement once again. I hopped in with my things packed nicely by my grandmother and realized my father had on riding gear. We drove out into the countryside to a horse farm and a beautiful woman met us each with a kiss on the cheek. “Dave, is this your marvelous daughter?” I was marvelous? She led me to the tack room and loaned me some tall boots and a black hooded coat and introduced me to Lenny. Lenny was a thin tan man, not so old like my father but not a teenager either. He helped me saddle up and the pretty lady and my father took off ahead of us down an Oaktree lined path. I wasn´t a rider but held on the best I could. Lenny sat behind me and gently shared what I should do and what I should say to the horse. The leaves were beginning to turn yellow and orange; it was the end of a perfect weekend.
That evening I was to be home before dinner. My mother was extremely strict when it came to my time spent with my father. When we pulled up the long-paved drive, he had a tear in his eye. He turned off the car and I cried a bit, too. “I want to tell you something little darling. When you fell trying to jump those hurdles Friday, I have never been prouder.” I was puzzled and then he added, “because you got back up and tried again.” He hugged me tight, I sobbed as I never knew when I would see him again.
My mother stood with her arms crossed on the steps and her eyes unforgiving, focused on him until the little green car could no longer be seen. Once inside she began to serve dinner quietly. It was tense. I waited for what felt like forever for her to say, “well, how was your visit with your father?”. I put my napkin in my lap and took a heap of tuna casserole on to my plate. I thought of Friday night, the shattered glass, the stares and Uncle Stu pulling Daddy off me. I swallowed. I thought of the Wrigley´s chewing gum for breakfast and the dripping faucet in the stained sink. “Anne?”, is something wrong? My mother prodded.
I smiled and looked her in the eyes and said, “It was the perfect weekend.”
About the Creator
Writing whether truth or fiction, feels as if I am stroking across a canvas, painting colorful words straight from my heart.
I am both a USA and Swedish citizen; from my old farmhouse in western Sweden I tap into my muse via nature.
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