Short Fiction Piece: Waiting for Daddy
As I grow older, it amazes me how crystalline some memories become, while others fade or are forgotten. Even important memories are lost, or relegated to a dusty area in my brain. That day stays sharp in my memory. The dingy beige color of the Sears manufactured house, the scratchy feel of the cement step against the back of my chubby little girl thigh, the sound of traffic as it bent and rounded a sharp curve on a street a block away. That day was my birthday, and I would be five, a big girl in my opinion. Not as old as the sister who lived with us, but old enough to start school in a few months.
I was dressed in a new cheery yellow shorts outfit my grandmother had bought me, new white socks, and the orthopedic shoes that seemed to anchor me down like cement. A pair of white Keds sneakers with four or two lace holes was want I wanted, something that would let me run. The doctors said otherwise. My hair was clean and brushed, and small faux tortoiseshell barrettes held back the heavy curtain of bright auburn hair from my face.
Daddy was coming, and I had to be ready.
He wasn’t supposed to be there for an hour or two, but I didn’t mind waiting. He’d bring me a birthday present and kiss my cheek. Despite the early north Louisiana June heat, a breeze was blowing down Allen Avenue and kept me from breaking into a sweat. I had cake and presents earlier that afternoon with my mother, sister, and grandparents. My aunt and cousins were busy. There wouldn’t be a kid’s birthday party for me since we didn’t have the money, and I didn’t have that many friends from Miss Roby’s day care. But my dad was coming.
Every car that came down the street made me stand up and wait to see if it would stop. Daddy had a new car, so I didn’t know what color to look for. An hour went by, and the time got closer. And passed. Another hour. My mother came to the screen door and asked me if I wanted some Kool-Aid, a special treat, or to come in and watch TV. Nope. I was going to wait.
When it got to be supper time and the mosquitoes were too bad, I went inside and ate the special barbecue chicken dinner my mother had made for me. I could tell she was angry but didn’t know why. It worried me that I’d done something. My sister was reading a book under the table ignoring us both. We ate quietly, and I said little, afraid what words might do, what might stop my dad from showing up. Even though we didn’t live together, hadn’t lived together for a long time, mother and daddy fought with sharp little words that hurt.
I got extra time in the bathtub, as long as I wanted, with lots of bubble bath and hot water. The water got cold, and my mother fell asleep somewhere in the house. My sister was somewhere else. I called for someone to help me out of the cold water and the huge tub, but no one came. After a while, I pulled the rubber stopper and watched the water drain out. Called for someone to help, but the house was dark and quiet. Holding on tightly to the high porcelain sides, I gingerly climbed out, dried myself off, and put on the folded pajamas left on the toilet seat. Mama was asleep on her bed, clothes still on, the bed still made. My sister was reading and ignored me.
The old black phone in the kitchen shelf rang, and rang, and rang until mother got up and answered it. My sister and I weren’t allowed to pick it up. The short hurtful words spilled from my pretty mama’s mouth into the hard plastic mouthpiece. I heard “waited all day”, “you only care for yourself”, “we have no money for rent”, “If you actually loved your children”. Each one was like a needle prick on my skin. She slammed down the receiver and glared at me.
“Time for bed.”
“Your daddy doesn’t love you. He’s not coming tonight because he has a date with that woman. Brush your teeth.”
The tears of disappointment came, a flood of sorts, and I walked into the bathroom we all shared, with the hanging ivory colored porcelain clad sink and a dingy plastic step stool. I was too short to see into the metal and glass medicine cabinet mirror. With too much toothpaste squeezed out of the tube, I glanced back to make sure no one was watching, and crammed the whole thing into my mouth. It wouldn’t go back and waste wasn’t tolerated in our house. I brushed and spit, brushed and spit, and rinsed with the iron tasting water, so cold it made my teeth hurt.
My sister was still reading, not registering anything when I climbed into bed and said my prayers. My old bear was a tiny panda, a black and nearly brown toy loved until almost all the fur was gone. He fit just right under my arm at night, when I rolled into the smallest ball I could make, and fell asleep. Traffic had grown fainter out on the road blocks away. The house was still when my sister turned off her light. A tight slice of light from the yellow tinged bathroom spilled out into our room. Hours later I woke when my mother got up in the middle of the night and began to cry.