And another thing about my old man, Angie says out of the clear blue sky which is actually a hazy gray. She's been doing this for the last two months now, since her father died out in Arizona, trying to deal with his dying by talking her way through her unresolved issues. That's her signature segue: And another thing about my old man.
One card in eight years, she says. For my sixteenth birthday. Like it meant something to him. You know? she says, adjusting her sunglasses, And you should have seen the card. I'll never forget it:
This birthday card
is just to say,
I hope you have
a special day.
Christ—it had a clown with a big painted-on smile. What a pile of crap. Like he remembered for a second he had a daughter and then ran into some awful store and just yanked a card of the rack and mailed it.
Angie and I are in the yard on lawn chairs, lying on our backs. She has rubbed a strong sun screen on, but I've used one of those tropical tanning oils that smells of papaya and coconut. I smell like a fruit salad. I'm thinking this is what meat must feel like when it is slathered in marinade. We glisten in sweat in the humid July weather of Ohio.
I'm watching the sky while I listen. I can see dark clouds forming and moving in from the northwest. The summer started normal, but for the last two months we've had barely any rain. And though clouds come and clouds go, it seems we couldn't buy a rainstorm even if we had a credit card for the weather.
And another thing about my old man, Angie continues, is how he signed the card: Your dad. Just that. Not Love, Dad like real fathers do, but Your dad. Like he was trying to distinguish himself from all the other dads in the world, you know? Well, she says, running her right hand through her thick brown hair, I guess he did.
Did what? I ask.
Distinguish himself from other dads, Angie replies.
I think about my father. A gray ghost who was always there but was never there, a cardboard cut-out father who represents to Angie what a real dad is. One Who Is There. Period. I try to picture myself as her dad, a weak drunk who took off. Crying, I imagine, in his beer, and missing his kid back in Ohio.
Maybe, I say carefully, he bought the card another time.
What do you mean? asks Angie in a wary tone.
Well, I say, watching the clouds thicken, what if he bought it for you on another birthday. An earlier one. Maybe when you were nine or something. Because he missed you. But he didn't send it.
Why would he do that? she snaps.
Maybe he was embarrassed. Maybe he felt like too big a shit. Maybe it scared him to care. I don't know. I mean, so what if he saved it in a drawer? And then, when you were sixteen, he sent you that card, the one he'd saved in a drawer. A special card. What if it happened like that? I ask.
I look over at the silent space occupied by Angie. She has turned on her side toward me, her lips pursed like she does when she knows what she wants to say but knows she shouldn't. She uses her index finger to slide her sunglasses down her nose so I can see her eyes. I do. Blue. Dyed Easter Egg blue. Prom Dress Blue. Early-in-the-morning-on-a-sunny-summer-day blue. Serious blue.
What if it didn't happen like that? she replies slowly. What if it didn't? Then she turns on her back again and looks up at the gray sky.
We lie there, quiet. I hear a fly or a yellow jacket buzz between us.
It's Love, isn't it? I ask.
I hear her turn on her side again. What do you mean, love? she asks, her tone bruised, raw. What do you mean, love? Do you mean did I love him? Do you mean did he love me? Of course I loved him. He was my father.
I know that, I say, answering a question I wasn't asked. That's not it. You're upset that he didn't live up to your expectations, that he only signed that card Your dad. You're upset that he didn't sign that card Love, Dad.
Angie doesn't say anything. Behind her sunglasses, I picture her starting to cry, but I know she won't. She doesn't. She holds everything in.
You're upset that he never told you he loved you, I add carefully.
You're wrong, Angie says, catching her breath. He did.
When? I ask.
When he called me from the hospital, just before he died, she says. I told him I loved him. And he told me he loved me. He told me first. Before I told him. Before I told him, get it? So I know he did.
You didn't tell me that, I say. You didn't tell me that when it happened.
I couldn't tell you, she says. Then she says, I was too embarrassed.
Embarrassed? I reply. Why would your telling me you told your father you loved him embarrass you? I ask. I think that's a beautiful thing, I add, saying it like that.
I was embarrassed because it wasn't what I wanted to say, Angie says, practically in a whisper. I said that because I had to say it. Not that I didn't mean it, she adds earnestly. But it wasn't what I wanted to say. It wasn't at all I wanted to say.
What else was there to say? I ask. I mean, he was your father, and he was dying.
I wanted to tell him to go fuck off. I wanted to tell him to go fuck himself for all the years and hours he kept himself from me. For all the nights he sat around talking with a glass of beer instead of with me. And for all the nights I cried in my room with the tv set turned up so no one could hear me. That's what I wanted to say: fuck you. And all I could say was I love you.
Angie is silent. I roll over and can see how the sweat from her hair line and temples runs down the sides of her face, slowly dripping off her cheeks.
And I see rain on her face too. A few drops. Then more. Then a lot. The rain runs from the top of her head, down behind her glasses, and onto her face. Suddenly there is a downpour, and we are in an outdoor shower, getting soaked.
But we don't move. We lay in our lawnchairs, the rain beading on our oiled bodies and rolling off. We lay still. This feels good, the rain running down our bodies, beading up on our sunglasses.
We sure needed this rain, Angie says, as I feel her take my hand.
I want to tell her this is what we needed, rain. And honesty too, and that it didn't matter what she said to her father. That they spoke at all is what mattered. And that I think she is being stubborn. Fuck you is what I want to tell her instead.
Fuck you, I say.
I love you too, she says.