by Jessica Wimmer
My foot slips out of my left high heel as the front door opens.
“Get on in here, chicken. Heat’s gettin’ out.”
He watches me wiggle my foot back in. I cross the threshold and wrap an arm around his neck. My palm squeezes his shoulder. I breathe in minty aftershave. His hand pats me two times between the shoulder blades.
“You should get you some better shoes. How much those cost you?” he asks. He asks every time, but I tell him I am thirty-two, and I will wear whatever shoes I please.
“All right. All right,” he says, and he sits in that orange recliner opposite the TV. He smacks the handle and the recliner’s foot rest springs up. I see his holey socks. His “Sunday socks” he calls them. “What’s that you got, chicken?” He calls me chicken because of my legs. Only my legs don’t look like that anymore—I got older.
“Papers,” I say. “I printed some stuff out. I think you ought to reconsider selling and come live with me, Daddy.” He stares at the TV.
“Shoot,” he says. “That place ain’t big enough to squat in.” He picks up a ratty couch pillow and positions it behind his head.
“Daddy, the guest house has a full bathroom and its own kitchen. It’s plenty big. It’s huge. There’s not a thing you have here that you won’t have there except a mortgage.” He grunts and walks by me into the kitchen. I watch him open the end of a sausage package with his aged teeth.
“You want some of this sausage? I’m gonna fry me up some.” I shake my head and grab scissors out of the tool drawer. “Well, it’s gonna be good,” he says as he puts the pan on the stove. I grab the couch pillow and cut the stray threads off. I flip it over a couple times to make sure I didn’t miss any.
THUD. That’s the sound a bird makes when it flies into a window. Or maybe it’s more of a clang. Depends on the bird. My Daddy laughs when I jump at the noise and turn to look out the window. “Scare ya, chicken?” he asks. It did scare me. Whenever a bird flies into the window, I always go look out and expect to see it helpless on the ground, but it’s strangely already flown away.
When I was nine I spotted a bird on the ground from up in a tree. I climbed down and walked over to it, hesitant, like it might pop up and bite me. The wind was blowing and I caught a bad smell. Dead. That bird was dead. I sat on my shins and stared at it. Must have been a dog or something. It was flat on its back with its wings out to the sides, like a little Jesus. For reasons I couldn’t really explain, I started crying. My daddy stopped his lawn mower and came over to see what I was messing with. “Don’t touch it,” he said, and he got his shovel from the garage and pitched that bird over the fence like garbage, like manure. I sat there for a few seconds, then I got up and went over and drove my fist down into my daddy’s stomach. “What’d you do that for?” he asked. His mouth hung open a little. But none of my words would come out. I just ran inside. Later that day, he came in while I sat on my bed. He slid a peanut butter and banana sandwich over to me, and hung his head kind of low as he walked back out.
The sausage grease sizzles. I walk over to the cupboard and push things around until I find a paper plate. I pick the pan up and tilt it over the plate so the grease runs out.
Daddy grunts. “Don’t touch that grease. That’s my grease. I like that grease in there. That’s the whole point.”
“You need to eat better,” I tell him. “You need to eat a lot better. A little more green, a little less grease.” He picks up the plate. The grease drips back into the pan. My earrings rattle as I shake my head. My mother’s face smiles from a photograph on the wall. Her curls are perfect. She made pin curls, nothing else, and slept on them. Pin curls make the best curls. I have spent about seven hundred and ninety-four nights in front of a mirror trying to get the curls just right, but I can’t. She had beautiful hair and beautiful cheekbones. But until I see a photograph, I almost can’t picture either anymore.
Daddy plops the sausage down onto a clean paper plate and sits back down in the recliner. “This sausage sure is gonna be good, chicken. You’re missin’ out.”
“I can bring you some real plates. We got all new plates when we moved into the new house. The old ones are real nice, though. You want me to bring over those nice plates for you?”
“Don’t matter what it costs. Paper sits under the food the same way. Don’t need shiny plates.” He changes the TV channel, then looks back at me. “Well, take your coat off. Stay a while.” I pull my coat off and drape it over the back of the couch and sit down. I pick lint off the couch cushion.
“Fancy coat,” Daddy says. “I bet you spent half a paycheck on that coat. How much that coat cost, chicken?”
“Don’t matter what it costs. Keeps me warm the same way,” I tell him. “I like this coat. I love this coat.”
I got asked to go to another school’s prom when I was sixteen because an older boy liked me. I was the only sixteen-year-old I knew that got asked to go. I told Daddy I needed a dress, so he took me to a department store. He looked at price tags. When I turned around, he shoved a green dress at me. “Here. This one,” he said. “Daddy, that won’t work. It’s ugly,” I told him. He shoved another at me. A yellow one with black polka dots. But my eye had caught the most beautiful blue dress. I wanted that dress. I could feel that dress on my skin. I could see how everyone would look at me when I walked in wearing it. My daddy looked at the price tag. “No way in Hell I’m payin’ this much for a dress. It’s the green one, or the yellow one. Which one you want?” I looked over and saw another girl draping that blue dress over a pile of dresses in her mother’s arms before they walked off to the dressing room together. “Well, hurry up and make a decision, chicken. We been in here almost an hour.” I didn’t go to that prom. I spent most of the night in my room until I walked into the garage and found my daddy changing the oil in my car. He’d put air in the tires and washed it, too.
Daddy laughs at the TV. Some old show is on I don’t recognize. “Daddy, I really think you’d be happy in the guest house. This house is too much for you; it’s eating your money up. Come stay with us, Daddy. We bought that house so you could sell this one.” He shushes me.
“Well, never asked you to,” he says. He gets up and throws his plate in the trashcan. The bottom button falls off his shirt and rolls towards me.
“Button fell off, Daddy. Here, let me fix it.”
“It’s fine. Don’t bother me none,” he says. I pick the button up and go into the kitchen. I look through all the drawers until I find a needle.
“Where’s the thread?” He takes a coffee cup out and sits it on the counter. I shake my head. “Coffee after sausage. Let me make you some tea. Tea is good for you.”
“It’s fine; it’s fine,” he says and fills his cup until the black rises to the top.
“Well, let me find the thread and I’ll fix that shirt for you,” I tell him. But I forget the thread when the coffee cup shatters on the kitchen floor. Coffee runs down the kitchen cabinets and a piece of that ugly cup spins off behind the trashcan.
“Hell,” he says, and he lowers himself onto one knee and reaches behind the trashcan. I pull out a wad of paper towels and wipe up the runny river on the floor. “Damn it,” Daddy says, and I turn around to see blood on his hand. Cut right between the index finger and his thumb on that cup. I wet a rag and bend down to him. “It’s fine,” he says, and he swats me away. I sit on my shins and stare at him as he runs his hand under the sink faucet and then shakes it off.
“I guess I’ll give you back your space,” I say. I slip my coat back on. “Gonna get going.”
“Well, wait a minute,” he says. He digs around in the drawers. His tools clink and clank into each other. He walks over to me at the front door. “Here. Take this.” He hands me a small black flash light. “For your car,” he says. “Or wherever. Just keep it on you in case you ever need it. New batteries. I checked.” I take it and put it in my purse.
“Thanks,” I say, and I wrap an arm around him. My palm squeezes his shoulder. His hand pats me between the shoulder blades. Three times, not two.
Jessica Wimmer was born and raised in Franklin County, Virginia, the Moonshine Capital of the World. A graduate of Longwood University, she now lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, where her office is quickly becoming a shrine to Flannery O’Connor.