Sunday, August 19, 2007

My first short story

All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction, remember that. Any similarities are pure coincidence.

"A little bit of milk and no sugar"

The day Dana left her home her mom hugged her and wished her well. Her father didn’t say anything, he didn’t say goodbye. Now, five years later, he was coming to visit. She had waited for him all day. She thought about his arrival all week. These years her dad and she had been apart felt like an eternity to Dana. And now he was coming to see her, he would be here and things between them would be fine. Even if it was only for a few days while he stopped on his way to visit her brother, at least she would get to see him again.
She waited in the blue chair in the living room. The book on her lap was the same book she had seen him reading last time she saw him. She had read it a few times because she knew how much he loved it. When he got there they could talk about the book, or about the author. They could talk about her apartment, or about the fact he hadn’t spoken to her for two months after she left until the day he answered the phone because he thought it’d be the cable company calling him back. Or maybe they would just play chess, like they used to do on nights when there was no soccer on TV. She wanted them to have a real conversation, not like the times they talked on the phone for five minutes before he would hand the phone to somebody else. They were both bad about keeping up phone conversations, even when they had so much to say. Dana’s mother always said it was because Dana was just like her dad. They both needed to see people’s faces to fully understand them, so phone calls were just not good enough for them.
She just wanted to see that face again. She wanted to hug him. She wanted to stay late listening to the stories of his life abroad, and have coffee with a little bit of milk and no sugar while watching the news. She wanted to play chess with him. She wanted life to stop for a moment and be able to feel like his daughter again.
The wait was getting too long. She was ready for anything during the visit. She was thinking of what she would say if he were to ask about her job, about the pictures on her wall or the ones that were in the copy of yesterday’s newspaper with her name in the credit line. She was looking for the right words in her head and for the right explanations to everything, when she heard the motor of a car pulling in. She saw the car out the window, and she saw him with his orange sweater; but she couldn’t see his face so she ran to the door.
“Dad” she said, in a tone that revealed her excitement, “Hi! How was the drive? Do you have any bags? Let me help you get them inside. It's been a long time. Are you hungry? I made lasagna, just like mom makes it, with extra cheese. You'll love it.”
He looked up after closing the back door of the car and saw her coming down the steps. She grabbed the bag he had just gotten out of the car and smiled at him.
“You must be tired. I like that sweater! Hurry let's get inside, it's too cold out here. I'm not used to the weather still. But tell me, how was the drive? I was getting worried about you. I thought you'd be here before five.”
“There was no rush. I tried to enjoy the drive. Did you say you made lasagna?”
“Yes, yes. Let’s go inside, you must be hungry. And maybe we can play chess after dinner. I have the chessboard you got me in Panama. Maybe I’ll finally get to win for once!”
He didn’t say anything. He hadn’t played chess since she left.

The apartment was warm and cozy compared to outside, but it was still colder than what he was used to back at home. So he didn’t take off his sweater. He looked around the place, Dana disappeared with his bag and he didn’t see what room she went into. There were photos all over the walls with cityscapes and sunsets. Next to the bookcase there were more pictures. Dana was in most of them, but he didn’t recognize anyone else. There was only one of those pictures he had seen before. They had taken it at the beach years ago. The three kids had been playing with sand all afternoon, and they were covered up in it. And he was holding his wife by the waist with his right hand, his left hand was on Dana’s head which barely came up to his shoulders. Christopher and Daniel looked like they were pushing against each other fighting for the middle of the frame. He looked at that photo until he heard Dana coming out of the room, asking again if he was hungry.
“Did you take those pictures on the wall?” he said before she could finish what she was saying.
“Most of them. Those were just for fun. When I still didn’t know many people here I used to go walk around the city after work to take pictures. And lately I’ve been doing some freelance projects, a lot of family portraits. Last time I saw Chris with his family I took their portraits and they turned out nice.”
“I liked your paintings better. You should’ve never stopped painting.”
She didn’t expect him to say that. “I think I still have some paintings here. I'll look for them later. It was hard for me to paint when I moved here. I didn't find a studio and the apartment was too small. But I can start again. And if you want to, you can take home some of the paintings I have saved. If you like any.”
“Where are the pictures of Chris you said you have? Last time I saw your brother he didn't have that little girl yet. I haven’t seen him in a while.”
“In the room. I have some copies for you.”
She looked at him. She’d always thought he didn’t like her paintings, he never said anything about them before. So she looked for clues to see he had lied about liking the paintings, but she didn’t find any. He was still looking at the pictures by the bookshelf.
“I stopped for food on the way here,” he said.
“You don’t want any lasagna?”
“Show me where I'm staying. I'm tired and my back hurts after all the driving today. I just want to rest.”
“But are you sure you don’t want anything?” she insisted. “I could make some coffee. No sugar. Maybe we can just sit and talk. You just got here.”
“We'll talk tomorrow, Dana.”
She smiled and nodded. She took him over to her room. She would stay in the room where she had set up an office. The couch there had served as a bed for many before, and she was ok with using it, but she could have never put her dad in there.
“Hey dad, there’s an extra blanket here, in case you get cold,” she said, and left him in the room after giving him a glass of water for his medicine.

The lasagna went into the fridge; she didn’t see the point of getting some just for herself by the end of the evening. She didn’t like to cook and she had spent quite some time in the kitchen just to make sure it was all perfect. She even put extra cheese in it. It wouldn’t taste the same the day after, but she tried not to think about it. She told herself it wasn’t that important after all.

She couldn’t sleep that night. She had trouble sleeping and most nights she tried to not get in bed before two in the morning, she knew she’d stay in bed for hours before she could drift away. That night was a little worse than usual. She kept going over everything she said that evening, trying to find the moment when something went wrong. I should have taken him out to eat instead of cooking, she thought.

The next day her dad woke up a little before the sun came out. She heard him looking for something in the kitchen. It was too early for her, so she just stayed in the couch. She had gone back to sleep when he came in the room, telling her he couldn’t find the bowls. She glanced at the clock but couldn’t see the time. The numbers in the clock seemed to had disappeared during the night, or maybe she was still dreaming.
“Don’t get up,” he said, “just tell me where the bowls are.”
She started at him for a moment, while her brain processed whatever he had just said to her.
“Dana, I found the cereal and the milk, but I can’t find the bowls. Do you not have any?”
People don’t eat breakfast right after waking up, she thought. He must have been very hungry. She got up, the lack of sleep had caused a slight headache. She looked for the biggest bowl she had and gave it to him. She looked at the clock and saw it was six thirty. Growing up, her dad was the one waking up the whole family on Saturdays. He wouldn’t let the kids sleep in because he wanted everyone to have breakfast together. He also made the kids prepare breakfast, he used to say their mother had to put up with that all week long and Saturdays was their turn. Daniel, the youngest of the three, was the last one to get up and the slowest to get to the kitchen to help. He was the baby of the family, so their dad was more forgiving with him than with Chris and Dana.
After getting him the bowl, Dana sat with her dad while he ate his cereal. She started telling him about her plans to take him downtown and then to the modern art museum. They had a Dali traveling exhibit she knew he’d love. She even had plans to stop by her office so that he could see where she worked. So that he could go back home and tell her mom how nice the building was and how she well she was doing at her job. But he looked confused, like there was something missing from the day’s plans. His face was so easy to read, she thought. His expression was the exact same one he had when they talked about art school and he saw the catalog of studies. That day he made fun of every single class listed in the section of the catalog. From the art history to the drawing classes, it all had seemed ridiculous to him. He wanted her to study architecture or engineering, not art. She was great at math and he told her he didn’t want her to waste her brains in something that wasn’t worth it. That night she cried and he apologized and told her to do whatever she wanted, but still was surprised when she decided to still major in art. He had the same expression from that day. And she was still smiling, as if she hadn’t noticed.
“Well,” he said, “what about that boyfriend of yours? I thought I’d meet him today.”
“He’s coming by on Monday. I told him the weekend was ours.”
“Dana, if you’re marrying him I need to meet him. And a three minute chat with him’s not going to be enough. Tell him to come today so that I can talk to him and see if he’s any good.”
“He’s a sports’ reporter, so he’s out of town covering some game. He’ll be here on Monday. You’ll get to meet him. But listen, we’ve only gone out for a couple of months. I never said I’ll marry him.”
Her dad looked at her for a moment and didn’t say anything. He didn’t need to. His eyes were big and his pupils wide open. His face got red and then she knew she shouldn’t have said anything about marriage. He finished his cereal and got up. Not saying a word.
She saw him walk into the kitchen and put the bowl in the sink. “Hey, dad, I just want to show you around the city. Forget about the Dali exhibit, we’ll just go wherever you want. We can even go to the library, you’ll love it. It’s huge and the building is amazing.”
She had so many things in mind. Where to go, what to do, what to see, what to talk about, she even had in mind the right places to take pictures of them together. She would try not to mention her boyfriend anymore, or marriage.

They got ready to leave and while she was looking for some change for the bus and getting her small camera he waited in the living room. He kept looking around, still feeling like a stranger in his daughter’s home, when he looked in the blue chair. It was his favorite book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He picked it up and saw some of the underlining was in the same places he had underlined his copy of the book. He even checked the inside cover for his name, he thought it might be his and maybe Dana had grabbed it when she moved. But it wasn’t his. It had her name and a date. Maybe it was the date she had bought it.
He put down the book on the table next to the blue chair. He wondered if that was also her favorite book. She came out of the room with a little bag, ready to go. He could tell she was excited. Her face was so easy to read.
Before she opened the door he said he wouldn’t be here on Monday. If she wanted him to meet her boyfriend she would have to ask him to come by later that day or Sunday morning. “I’m leaving tomorrow night. I don’t want to get to Chris’ house in the middle of the week. I rather he receives me before he starts his week.”
Dana was standing in front of the door. If she had just gotten out a little faster she wouldn’t have to be standing in from of that door, not knowing what to feel. She wouldn’t have to have to turn back and face him. She couldn’t pretend what he’d just say didn’t matter.
“You just got here,” she said.
Her face felt warm. She knew he would be able to tell she was upset.
“And you want to leave already?” she said, as her voice was breaking up.
“I haven’t seen Chris in a long time--”
“You haven’t seen me in a long time.” She couldn’t let him finish. She didn’t want to hear him say anything else. Everything he’d said so far was more than enough.
So she turned around and looked at him.
“Let’s go,” he said.
“No. — Why do you want to leave so soon? Chris knows you’re staying with me for a few days. You don’t have to leave tomorrow. I don’t know what else to do so that you’ll love me again. You used to talk to me. We were friends, but then you stopped talking to me. You think I didn’t know you were there all those times I asked to talk to you? You didn’t even want to hear my voice. And then you come here and you don’t even want to eat the food I make. What is it that’s so wrong about me? You need to tell me because I can’t figure it out. You got here and you didn’t even hug me. After all these years. You have no idea how excited I was to see you again. I didn’t know you didn’t want to see me.”
“You were the one who left, not me,” he said.
“This job was a great opportunity and you knew it. I needed your support. I didn’t leave you I just wanted to be somebody. Do something with my life. Life is like chess, remember? You have to think of the next move, you have to sacrifice some things if you want to win. You told me that.”
“Living alone, away from your family is not the best for you. You need someone to take care of you.”
“Is that the best for me? Depending on someone else? You don’t know what the best for me is, you don’t even care enough to ask me how I am now. You’ve never wanted to know about my job. You don’t like my photos or my friends. I even thought you didn’t like my paintings. You never said anything about them until I stopped painting. I’ve worked hard to make you proud. And I don’t know what else to do. — I need you in my life, dad. I need you to celebrate with me when I’m happy. I need you to talk to me like we did when I was a kid. I’m still here. I still need to know you love me. I didn’t move here to erase you from my life. I moved here to keep making you proud. I don’t know what else I can do. I don’t know how to get you back. I’m tired of trying so hard to be the best I can be, to not let you down. I’m tired.” She said as she sat down on the blue chair. Her legs couldn’t bear the weigh of her body anymore. She felt as if all her energy had gotten out of her body with every word she’d said to him. This wasn’t the day she’d plan, but she felt free. She didn’t know what would happen after that. He was still standing in front of her in silence. She expected him to leave that very morning, after all she’d said. He had chosen to leave her out of his life, she couldn’t make him forgive her for a sin she never committed. She would hold on to anything she could; the chessboard, that picture of them by the bookshelf, the simpler times when her dad loved her. But there was nothing else she could do about the future, or this moment.
He saw her in the blue chair and didn’t see his little daughter anymore. She was strong and everything she said reminded him of what he’d once said to his dad after returning from years of studying abroad. She was just like him. So he turned and went inside the room where he spent the night. And when he came out he was holding the chessboard she had left on the night table.
“Do you want to play?” he said, and put the board on the table. “All these years you’ve made me proud. I look for your photos on that newspaper.”
“Do you want coffee?” she said while getting up from the blue chair. She would hold on to the few words he’d said that morning.
He had told her what he wished his dad would have said. And he smiled and said yes to coffee, “A little bit of milk and no sugar.”

No comments: