Show Me The Way to Go Home
They were to meet outside the decommissioned battleship, just past the funnel cake store. He would recognize her by the red ribbon in her hair, she by the bouquet of flowers he carried. To anyone who observed the scene it would be obvious they were related, progeny and progenitor. Even in this city of casual encounters, in this era of nubile starlets marrying liver-spotted billionaires, it would be apparent that there was nothing more to this meeting than a father and daughter catching up for lost time down by the Wharf.
Of course, appearances would say nothing about the six years in which she had had every idea just how to track him down, and he would have had more luck spotting Neptune in the night sky; assuming he knew when and where to look. One hundred and fifty miles distance is worlds apart when you don’t know where to look.
Miranda Dibatsinni took a deep breath, and then a Xanax. Wobbling out of the bathroom on her four-inch heels an hour before the appointed time, she had opted for flats, and she was happy she had once she arrived; she’d forgotten the large, gapped planks that made up most of the Wharf. She had taken the cable car over because she thought it would give her some time to think, but in reality it had just given her a slight chill. She rounded the corner and the battleship came into sight and there he was.
He looked a bit shabby, she thought, though whether it was because of the clothes he wore or because the years since she’d seen him had not been kind she was not sure. It was the first glimpse of family she’d had in six years, and the thought that she had aged as much as he had sent shivers down her spine, for this was a town where age was immaterial — so long as you had the grit or the cash to keep it that way. A chill wind blew across the bay and Miranda readjusted the ribbon in her hair for effect. The Xanax was helping, but what she really wanted was a nice chair beside a fire and a whisky and a shoulder to cry on.
He turned his eyes towards her voice. She smiled. They embraced. Should there have been tears, she wondered? In any case, it was a dry event.
“It’s good to see you, Dad,” Miranda said.
“Good to see you too, Mir.”
They decided at long last to walk. No direction in mind, they just needed to put some space between themselves and all the questions that had started bubbling up between them like some sore canker.
“Well, Mir, it’s good to see you, too,” he told her. “I can’t rightly believe it.” His voice sounded weaker, to be sure, but still it was his.
“I know, Dad.”
“Well, it was just one of those things, I guess.”
“Uh-huh.” Her head was down. She watched the slow progress of her own slippered feet as they kept time with his sodden work boots, and she thought to herself that she shouldn’t give him such a hard time about his looks. She hadn’t got up at 07:00 and left the house at 08:00 to drive the two and a half hours west to meet her long lost daughter that she’d just randomly connected with on Facebook.
“It’s weird the way these things work out. Facebook, you know. Who’d have ever thought me getting on Facebook would put me in touch with my — ”
“Dad, I know…”
“I’m just so durn glad to see ya, is all, Mir.”
“Me too, Dad.”
“So, what’s new?” She looked deep into his eyes and noticed the capricious spark she had always remembered. He wasn’t expecting her to lay it all out on the line, just to keep the story flowing. In a few hours they’d go their separate ways, and that would be that. A few hours, she told herself, and then I can get back to the business of living, but in her mind she knew she meant forgetting, a few hours and I can get back to the business of forgetting.
“Why, it was Nora Severeson down at the post office that got me on this thing at all. And I wasn’t looking for you. I mean, I wasn’t tracking you, lest you worry.” His eyes softened against a glaze of forming tears.
“I don’t worry, Dad. I just…I don’t know, I’ve just been kind of busy.”
“For the last six years?” He caught himself, but too late. He’d let that fly, even after he’d told himself he would keep it in check.
She moved away, outside the distance of his arms, and tucked her own hands beneath her armpits.
“How’s mom then?” she asked austerely.
It was obvious that something was wrong from the way he fiddled with his hands. He used to play with his Zippo like that at the kitchen table, flicking it open and closed as he and Ma used to talk. Then, sometime when she was in middle school, he’d moved to the den and the La-Z-Boy he would occupy for the remainder of time that she stuck around.
How could she tell him she was glad she did what she did? she thought.
He pulled a pack of cigarettes from the sodden flap of his coat and lit up. No longer did he have the Zippo, or at least not with him today. Her father took a long, deep draw and then another, deeper breath and spoke the words she found she was not too surprised to hear, but which she could not brace for regardless of how clearly she heard them echoing already in her ears: “She’s dead, Mir. Sorry to say. Lung cancer. It got her quick. The doc says it’s good that way, when it gets you quick, then there’s not all this suffering and mucus and what not.”
She watched the smoke gather and plume off the front of his cigarette busily like some tireless soldier. “But you’re still smoking, dad?” she asked incredulously.
“Yeah. Well, I didn’t get cancer.”
“Yep, not yet.”
“But aren’t you worried?”
“Mir, I already lost you, and I already lost your Ma; I don’t think there’s much else that could worry me anymore.”
“Dad, but you haven’t — ” The words “ — lost me” trailed off into nothingness.
Her mother was dead. It hit her like a freight train going slow enough to stun and maim but not to kill immediately, and the memory drug her like a rag doll down the tracks and back to where she’d been born.
“We can talk on Sundays or something,” she told him.
And now it was his time to shake his head and mumble half-assed assurances: “Uh-huh. Yeah. Sure. That would be nice.”
Finally, she could hold it back no longer: “Well, dad, what do you want me to do?” She had slowed, and now she yelled this at his back as he shambled towards the aging, blue Dodge Ram pickup just a hundred feet ahead in the parking lot.
“There ain’t nothing left to do now, Mir. It’s already been done. Now we’re just left sorting out the pieces, you and I; and we both know that we won’t ever get the puzzle back to order but still we keep at it. We keep at it and we don’t ever mention that there’s nothing we can do; that’s what we do, Mir.”
“What are you, some kind of guru now?”
“Nope,” he told her, “Just your father.” He began to lope again towards the truck, a limp he’d had all morning seemed to bother him more, all of a sudden, and he threw his weight down heavily onto his left leg as he walked.
He sat now in the cab and she was close enough to lean through the window and give him a hug. She felt the pack of cigarettes against her cheek, and an odd compulsion possessed her, given the circumstances. “Can I have one of those?” she asked once she’d drawn away. “I do have one, on occasion, so it’s nothing to worry about.” He reached in for the pack and took it out and handed it to her.
“No, just one.”
He shook the pack in her direction and a single cigarette edged its way free of the rest. She lit it from his Bic just before he drove away.
The taste was familiar. It smelled like home, like old bed sheets, like Mom. It smelled like youth and age and River Falls.
She did eventually begin to cry, but not until the cable car ride home, a flock of tourists around her and she smelling of cheap cigarettes and sadness. If only there was some way to go home, she thought, eyeing some Italian looking for the slight catch in the hem of her dress. She readjusted it tersely and stared now straight ahead.