Cheryl's mother didn't call her. Instead she sent an email. Cheryl didn't know her mother emailed. Did she buy a computer? Probably went to the library. Cheryl closed her eyes and imagined the endless line at the library while her mother demanded the librarian's attention, taking up the allocated time of two or three people, just to get what she wanted. Her mother always got what she wanted. Cheryl could see it now.
The subject of the email was This is from your mother. Looking back, it was worse than any virus, worse than any malware a Korean psychopath could have dreamed up.
Your father, said the email, is back in my life. After fifty years! Do you believe it! The wedding's Saturday at noon. St. Christopher's. Hope you can make it. Love, Mom
Cheryl was sixty years old. The last time she saw her father she was ten. They were in the kitchen of the only house Cheryl ever lived in. White shutters. Blue paint. A calendar with kittens on the wall. She remembered her mother crying, her father screaming, chairs being upended. A vase with limp flowers crashed to the floor. Cheryl hid in the corner with the cat. Then the front door slammed shut and he was gone.
Every day when she came home from school she expected him back. She'd walk from the bus stop hoping and not hoping, fearing and not fearing her father's return. Past the O'Malley's house. Then the Lopez's. Looping the corner she'd swipe her hand over the big blue mailbox. Then she'd kick a pebble and watch the pebble bump along the sidewalk. Right. Left. Stop. Then again. Right. Left. Stop. Finally lifting her head and seeing the empty driveway, relieved and not relieved at the same time.
For fifty years not a birthday card, not a Christmas present. Her father's name became a curse word. If the disposal was clogged, he was the grit in the drain. He was the misplaced key, the swallowed pit, the filthy puddle that ruined their shoes. The incubus. The bogeyman. He was bad luck in a suit.
A year went by. They moved to the apartment on Kendall-who could afford a house-and lived paycheck to paycheck. Her mother went back to the community college and learned bookkeeping. Each night when she came home her lipstick was smeared, a button undone. The boss had me stay late, she told Cheryl. Each year a different boss.
As soon as she could, Cheryl got her own apartment. She adopted a cat. She wallpapered the kitchen. She bought fresh flowers and placed them in a vase. But like the pattern on the walls, her life repeated itself. Cat. Flowers. Tears. Cat. Flowers. Tears. When her children were born, she told them that their fathers were dead. It was kinder that way. They could skip the sidewalks unencumbered, their chins high.
Glad to know you're happy.
Then she pressed delete.
Born in Brooklyn, raised in Miami, and educated at the University of Michigan, Marlene Olin recently completed her first novel. Her short stories have been featured or are forthcoming in publications such as Emrys Journal, upstreet Magazine, Steam Ticket, Vine Leaves, Crack the Spine, Poetica, Edge, Meat for Tea, The Broken Plate and The Saturday Evening Post online. She is a contributing editor at Arcadia magazine.
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