Promise: A Loving Daughter’s Honest Retrospective
Carroll Ann Susco, Writers Bureau Author
July 29, 2016
Go down the long white hallway and listen to the black sucking noise each step makes. Notice the light bulbs in cages, the smell of roach powder. This, real like a dream but not. Pause to breathe before you knock. Here lives the father discarded, the father unwanted. Wearing his crown of thorns, he sits on his throne made of fiber-foam, watching Japanese action flicks, drinking liters of Coke, not waiting for the phone to ring. It won’t. He sits in the terry cloth bathrobe he will die in because he has gotten too fat for his pants–can’t spare the five dollars for another pair.
See him in the McDonald’s. He gets free coffee because they know his face there. He comes everyday to smoke the cigarettes that will give him lung cancer, says hello to the girl at the register, the boy making fries, the manager. They say Hi back, used to seeing men like him with his pants safety-pinned together or only partly zipped up. They’re glad this one is friendly. He sits in the plastic booth by the door greeting anyone he recognizes. Some know his name, wave or shake his hand, bum a smoke. He is the swollen-faced man with big brown eyes like a deer’s, like a deer grazing that looks up at the sound of footsteps. Medication has made him an herbivore.
Sit down across from him at his booth. Imagine you take a picture. A camera can be a tool for seeing, not just something you keep between you. Press your eye wide against the viewfinder and stare with big lashes unblinking, safe behind the glass. We need the camera because we insist on frames for seeing. This is another man, not your father. Ask him to tell you his story. Listen. If you probe, a fact or two will roll out onto the table and stare up at you. He will say he has a beautiful daughter. He’ll show you a dated picture of her. She’s older now, has breasts.
There is no girl in the picture, only you looking angry and old. He will tell you his favorite song is Eleanor Rigby, the one about all the lonely people, but he will say this with a laugh that makes his head go up and turn, makes him look at you out of the corner of his eye like it’s a joke. Get it? He’ll tell you he has fungus in his ears. You’ll see the crust and believe him.
What is wrong can’t be fixed, like death or past mistakes. So forget.
“She sits with him in the McDonald’s embarrassed because she is from the suburbs and she knows how bad this looks.”
His daughter is sent to have lunch with him, because he is still her father, even though her mother is not his wife. The daughter has left the three-story house she lives in to sit in his smokey room filled with furniture the social worker gave him and will take back when he is gone to give to the next person. She sits with him in the McDonald’s embarrassed because she is from the suburbs and she knows how bad this looks. It is a sickly smile she offers to the girl at the register, the boy making fries, the manager, when her father introduces her, his daughter. She smiles sickly and looks into their eyes, a secret between them he cannot share.
When he takes her picture, she tries not to frown. Back at his apartment he offers her Coke in a dirty glass and will not take no for an answer. He wants to give her something. Gives her cookies out of a tin on the table, the chain he was wearing. The tin is dusty, the chain caked with greasy dead skin. When she gets home, she tells herself, she will wash. Every time she starts to speak she stops when she looks into his eyes. She stops at the eyes because they look like hers. Her tongue swells and sticks to the roof of her mouth. She pulls it loose and sucks it down into her esophagus. He gives her a sweaty hug that leaves her smelling of Old Spice and body fluids, waves goodbye until she is out of sight. On the bus, she knows she has forgotten to do something when she looks at him on the other side of the glass and so gives him the smile she can give him now that she is leaving.
She rides on the bus with eyes open, watching the sidewalks change from dirty to clean, wanting to be home already, but when she gets to her house she can’t feel the comfort there. If she could close her eyes and forget seeing his, it might be different, but those eyes wait for her behind her eyelids, make the green grass spread out before her become a lie, full of secrets she cannot share. This house before her becomes for dolls, a play house, pretend.
His past lives, the ones that can’t be seen: his father chasing him around the dining room table with a long, sharp knife. The boy runs, escapes, manages to get good grades besides, looked like the perfect American. That first life he left, rose up out of.
His second life: the tall young man walking home, greeting the folks in the old neighborhood, smiling because he has a new suit, a new job, a new wife, and a new baby. He is on a roll now, walking home to the shy Catholic girl he’d fallen in love with, a woman with brown hair that flips up when it hits her shoulders
and her wide smile of red lips and white teeth. She has manners, nice legs, dresses with class, gave him a baby. People boasted, see the tall young man with a thick head of black hair over there? He’s one of us. He works hard. Made straight, as in school and pizzas at night to earn extra money. Won a scholarship to City College. Knows five languages. Five. The next president, his family said, this man people want to follow. And likeable. Disregarded, no one noticed the tick in the neck.
In army intelligence they paid him to be paranoid. The constant foot tapping, the sweaty palms, the mind misfires. They still don’t know why. Now he can’t tell his story; this narrator can only tell parts, having found no explanation for how that world, gone, spun out and away from him. Explanations should make sense, have a right and wrong to them.
The father discarded does not read. Words become bloated and fill his head with fumes. His law books smell old on his bookshelf. God tells him he is Weingert Saint Weingert. Medication makes his hands shake, his tongue thick in his mouth so he slurs his words and drools. If he can sleep, he sometimes walks out into the hall, locks himself out of his apartment. There is no one to let him back in. He did not mean to leave, but now he has. He stands in his underwear in the hall light, confused.
It is too sad, this before and after picture, for his wife, his daughter. The mug that was his long since washed and drunk from by another, broken and not replaced.
It is good when he dies. Not that day, alone, in his robe, reaching for the ventilator, knocking over the chair, but after, when he is a coffin with a flag on it and the picture above it is of him as a young man. The family talks of how he was loved then and of his promise- the trail of cars following the hearse giving him what he had lost.
At the graveyard, there is a short service. People sit with a view of the coffin while the priest says words. When he is done, they say goodbye and go home. The father remains in the casket flanked by palms. Empty chairs sit in rows facing it, as if there were to be another service later. But all that is left is to put the chairs and plants away until next time and to bury the coffin in the ground. It sits waiting.
Visions that alter a day: go to the beach and click your hard white teeth, the you that will remain, and see your primitive-looking footprints picked up by the wind, grain by grain, swirled in brown clouds and scattered, dropped back down, but by then, your trace, imperceptible.
Carroll Ann Susco
Carroll is a Freelance Author for the Thero Writers Bureau. She received her my Master of Fine Art in fiction writing. She specializes in writing fiction stories and autobiographical essays about her experiences with mental health and disorder. She’s committed to helping others remove stigma, adjust and live well. You can see more of her essays at www.smashwords.com/profile/view/csusco.