by John Danahy
“I wouldn’t even touch Cliff,” Chloe said, cradling the phone between her neck and shoulder, “never mind actually do it with him. Not that I’m saying I’d actually do it with anyone. But Cliff thinks he’s God’s gift, and he’s definitely not my type.”
“So who is your type?” Miriam asked.
Ignoring her new best friend, Chloe said, “Where did you get this about me and Cliff?”
“You know, in the girls’ room. I was in a stall having a smoke and I heard somebody talking.”
Chloe snorted. “All you ever hear in there is BS and wishful thinking. Would you tell the truth with half the class peeing and listening in?”
“No way. So anyway, how long are you grounded for? What did your mom say about the beer?”
“Sylvia always overreacts.” Chloe pushed aside the unopened schoolbooks on her bed, hopped up, and picked her way through the clothes and shoes haphazardly dotting the floor. She stood in front of her dresser, scrutinizing her face in the mirror as she talked.
“I’m sure old man Barnard heard us screaming all the way down at his house, and he’s nearly deaf. Mom says she’s locking me in my room until the turn of the century.”
Miriam gasped. “Oh my god, she’s not going to make you miss the prom, is she?”
“The last big dance of my senior year? I doubt it.”
“Are you losing your license?”
“Nope,” Chloe answered with a chuckle. “Brinkman stopped me. You know, Edna’s cousin.”
“The dumb-looking cop who’s always scratching his crotch?”
“Yeah. When he saw the six-pack on the floor, he said we’d have to have like a talk with my mother. So he followed me home, rang the bell until he woke her, and told her that her little girl had liquor in the car—even though the beer wasn’t even open! She got so damned upset, he just gave me a speeding ticket and left out the alcohol.”
“You lucked out,” Miriam said. “Even so, my parents would go ballistic if I got caught with beer in the car.”
“Not mine. They don’t agree on anything. It’s probably the only good thing about them being divorced. My mom’s always saying, ‘I can’t be mother and father.’ You know, in that whiny voice she uses when she’s pissing and moaning about being a single parent.”
Miriam paused for a beat. “You try to be like a hard-ass, Chloe, but you’re really not. Besides, your mom’s not that bad.”
Chloe switched the phone to her other ear. “I guess. I mean, I know she tries really hard. I think she’s just bummed out about being alone. Still, she carried on about the evils of alcohol like I’m a hard-core wino or something. She was always on Dad’s butt about drinking too. I heard them arguing about it plenty of times.”
“Is that why they split?”
“Maybe. Partly. She thought he drank too much, but there was like other stuff. You know.”
Chloe sniffed the armpits of the shirt she’d hung on a knob of her dresser, then sprayed it with a little perfume and replaced it as she considered how to answer. “Well, he and his friend Jeff Hooley used to stop for drinks after work a lot,” she said. “Mom didn’t like Jeff. She thought he was sort of coaxing Dad to stay out late. And she thought he was cheating on his wife.”
“Your mother actually said that?”
“I told you, I heard them arguing.” Glancing in the mirror, Chloe bundled her hair into a glamourous upsweep. “What a damn joke. She thought Jeff was cheating, but it was my dad.” She swiveled to examine both profiles.
“Your dad? Chloe! You mean like with another woman?”
“Mir, really. What else would I mean?” Chloe let her hair drop and shook her head. “To this day, my dad has never talked to me about the divorce. You know, about why they split or how I feel about it. Not once in the whole three years.”
“Parents never talk to kids about stuff like that,” Miriam said.
Chloe kicked at her favorite jeans where they lay on her fuzzy throw rug. “No,” she said, “but maybe they should.”
“You think your dad knows how you feel?”
“I don’t even know. He acted like if he didn’t talk about it, like it wasn’t really happening.” She retrieved the jeans and smoothed them out. “Boy, was he wrong. Besides, I overheard the whole damned thing, like a freaking soap opera.”
“Did you hate him when you found out?” Miriam asked.
“For ages,” Chloe said. “It was like he ruined my life. I don’t know, like I was a partial person or something.”
After a long silence, Miriam said, “That must have been a bummer, but I don’t know if I could hate my dad, even if he left us.”
Chloe glanced at her dad’s picture on her dresser. “It didn’t matter. Why he left, I mean.”
“You said he was cheating on your mom.”
“Yeah, but my dad was gone, no matter why. And I don’t think the cheating was why he left.”
“I’m not sure exactly. You know how your parents are like friends too?”
“Yeah, kind of. They yell once in a while, but they do stuff together too, and with my sister and me.”
“Right,” Chloe said, “but mine were never like that.” She frowned and flopped on the bed. “The cheating sort of, I don’t know, like did Mom in, and she’s not over it yet.” She lay on her back, silently staring at the ceiling.
“Chloe? Are you okay?”
“So anyway,” Chloe said after clearing her throat, “she’s like lecturing me about the beer, and I say it’s not like I’ve never had a drink before in my life, for God’s sake. That did it. She goes hysterical and starts screaming that it’s all my dad’s doing.”
“His fault? I don’t get it.”
“Because he bought the first drink I ever had.”
“Whoa,” Miriam said. “No way.”
“Yes way. Last year, on my sixteenth birthday.”
“Your mom let him?”
“She didn’t know until after. We went to Georgetown for dinner.”
“How come you never told me?”
“It was like a special night, just between me and my dad. I’ve never told anyone.”
“Is it, you know, too personal?”
“Not with you, Mir.” Chloe paused. “Dad didn’t get to see me much after he left, you know?”
“Sylvia didn’t want him in the house. Just seeing him like freaked her. It still does a little, but back then it was major. I guess she was trying to put the hurt behind her.”
“Maybe she’s still trying,” Miriam said. “It must have really hurt a lot.”
“A lot. I think it hurt Dad pretty bad too. Anyway, whenever I saw him, he’d make like a big deal out of doing stuff with me. I think he felt guilty, but I didn’t want him, you know, fawning over me.” Chloe stepped to her dresser and picked up the picture of her father. “I don’t know. Maybe I was trying to get back at him. One time, he knew I was mad and he got mad, and we ended up screaming at each other. He turned his back on me, but I could tell he was crying.”
“I’d hate seeing my dad cry.”
“I felt awful. First because I didn’t get to see him, and then because I’d hurt him.”
Chloe set her father’s picture on the spot she’d reserved for it and returned to the bed. “That night with Dad was something he’d promised me. He said when I turned sixteen I wouldn’t be his little girl anymore. I’d always be his daughter, you know, but not his little girl.”
Her eyes moistened. She took a deep breath and smiled. “So he said he’d take me out for dinner, like a grown-up.”
“Cool,” said Miriam. “What did you wear?”
“The dress I wore to the May Day dance last year. Dad really treated me like a grown-up, a lady. He let me pick where we went, order what I wanted. He opened doors for me, stuff like that.”
“And he bought you a drink?”
“Just chill. I’ll get there. So there I was, all dressed up, waiting for my dad in the living room, with Sylvia lecturing me about how to behave and about not staying out too late. Do you believe it? My own father, and I got the ‘you’re still a young girl’ speech. But the topper was when she gave me the change for the phone. Like she actually gave me money for the phone in case Dad got too drunk to drive me home. Sylvia is unbelievable.”
“Where in Georgetown?” Miriam asked.
“Another Brick in the Wall.”
“Was it as great as kids say?”
“It was fabulous. And my dad and I talked, like we used to, and we danced.”
“Wow! My dad’s never danced with me.”
“Dad acted funny after the first dance, though.”
“At first I thought maybe he was getting drunk, because he looked like his eyes weren’t focused right. When the band took a break, the lights came up, and I could see he was smiling at me and crying at the same time.”
“Yeah,” Miriam said. “My parents did that at my sister’s graduation. Mom said it’s like being happy and sad all at once.”
“My dad said he was proud of me. Right then, Mir, I felt better than I had since he left us. The best ever, maybe.” She held her hand over the phone, her chin and lower lip quivering.
“Oh, geez. I’d cry too if my dad said that to me.” After several long moments, she asked, “Chloe? Are you okay?”
“You still didn’t tell me about the drink.”
Chloe sniffled. “Well, we talked some more, and he was trying to tell me how grown-ups look at things differently. He was fiddling with his glass like he was nervous. I think he was trying to explain about him and Mom, but it never came out. Then he asked me if I wanted a cocktail. Said it wouldn’t hurt me, and it was okay because I was with him. I just said sure. I mean, why not? Before I knew it, he ordered me a Blue Cowboy.”
“Gin and some kind of blue liqueur. A Blue Cowboy. He said it was sweet and he thought I’d like it.”
“So, did you?”
“Well, yeah, kind of. It was sweet, but it was strong too. I just sipped it real slow.”
“Did you get loaded?”
“For God’s sake, Mir. I only had one.”
“Even so. What a night,” Miriam said.
Chloe sighed. “It was the best night of my life.” She stood and paced from her bed to the mirror and back, talking as she walked. “The food, the music, the time with my dad, and drinking a Blue Cowboy.” She halted. “But then it was over. At eleven, Dad said we had to leave.”
“That was your curfew?”
“I’m sure Mom had like laid down the law. Then, as Dad was paying the bill, Jeff Hooley came up to our table. He was drunk, and he said some stupid, kind of nasty things to me. Dad was furious. He stood and pushed Jeff away from our table. When he turned back to me, he had like a sad look on his face, like he was sorry and wanted it to never have happened.
“Guess your mother was right about Jeff.”
“Uh-huh,” Chloe answered softly. She stared at her reflection. “Mom’s right about a lot of things. If only we didn’t like set each other off so easily.” She shrugged and turned away from the mirror. “Anyway, Dad was really pissed at Jeff, and I think he was like embarrassed, so we left right away.
“When we got home Dad walked me to the front door. He held my hands and started to say something, but Mom opened the door. Dad flinched and pulled his hands away, and they just stood there looking at each other. For a long time. Or what felt like a long time, anyway. He started to say something to Mom, then just stopped. He hugged me good night and left.”
“Oh, Chloe, what a night,” Miriam said with an exaggerated sigh.
Chloe cradled the phone to her ear with her shoulder and picked up her dad’s picture with both hands. She rubbed two fingers slowly across his face as if it were a magic lamp. “You know the best part?” she asked.
“The Brick? The Blue Cowboy?”
Chloe frowned, then set the picture face down. “Nope. There was no best part. Dad wanted to say something to me just as Mom opened the door, and he wanted to tell her something too. I could feel it. And I’ve had the feeling ever since that whatever he was going to tell me and Mom would have been the best part of the whole night.
“But the best part didn’t happen.”
Category: Fiction, Short Story