Dad gave me a wink, like we were pals or something. Little did he know,that I hated him, had hated him for years. Little did he know that the very reason that I hated him was because he reminded me far, far too much of me, or rather the parts of me that I disliked the most. Little did he know that I envied him, because he had given into those parts, had lived his life just the way he wanted to, had left chaos and destruction in his path like the tornadoes that plagued our part of the world, and yet I, I had not. And he seemed not to care. Here he was, sitting opposite me in the bar, sipping meditatively on his scotch on the rocks like the past twenty years just hadn’t happened.
“So, Shelley, how’re you findin’ motherhood? It’s a tough call, am I right?”
Huh. ‘Am I right’ – that phrase that took me back to my shitty teens, when he went to work one day and never came back, when he tossed us all out of his life like so much trash, when he shacked up with that two bit floozy in her mouldy old trailer and was happy, dammit.He hadn’t had to pick up the pieces, watch Mom take away the pain by losing all our meagre savings at the casino, lose herself in a rainbow of meds, and then finally walk away from me and my brother once I turned seventeen.
“There you go, making up lies again.”
“What?” I double-taked, cartoon style. “What did you say – err, Dad?” The word still felt uncomfortable in my mouth. Like eating chalk.
“You didn’t answer, so I know that means you’re thinking. Thinking about all the bad stuff – and Shell, I know it was bad. I know you thought it was all my fault.”
“Wasn’t it?” I demanded, heart thumping. Our relationship, such as it had been, hadn’t been built on blunt questions, let alone honest answers.
“Shell, your mom, God love her soul, well, she was sick. Sick for a long, long time. I couldn’t handle it any more. Granted, I wasn’t always on it, wasn’t always there for you kids when I shoulda been, but she wanted it all, Shell. The 6 bed 3 bath house, the cars, the housekeeper, the chef, the gardener, the pool. And it was just me earning. I couldn’t be there to look after you and work all the hours to provide that for her. She wasn’t a happy woman, Shell.”
I looked at him. I mean, really, really looked at him. Searched the expression on his face, the look in his eyes, noted the silver hair, the crows feet, the nails bitten down to the quick as he nervously turned his scotch glass round and round in his hands.
“There was only me, Shell, only me. And I wasn’t enough for her. She told me to leave, told me not to contact you or her ever again, told me I was a piece of trash, so I should go and live with the trash, out at Riverside Park. What could I do?”
“And Lucille? Who the fuck was Lucille?”
“Is. She and I are still together. I worked with her, kinda. You know, she was a cleaner at the office, nobody gave her a second of their time exceptin’ me. But I was there all the hours, saw how she did her work, polished every inch of every desk, every bin properly emptied. She was good to me, brought me a Subway every night, and God, she didn’t ask me for anything in return. I just moved in to the spare room to begin with. It grew from there.”
“A cleaner, Dad? Really?”I shook my head. Why sink so low?
He looked at me, sadly. “You may think you’re too much like me, Shell. You may hate the parts of me that remind me of you. But really, it’s your mom you don’t like the reflection of. I loved her, but she never really loved me, for me. Only what I could buy for her. That ain’t love, Shell. Better wake up before it’s too late.”