Fiction

Dinner with Daddy

By: Anna Villegas

Fawn follows Tammy into the women’s restroom as soon as the hostess shows them to their table.  Taking Daddy out to dinner for Father’s Day was the last-minute Saturday night thought of Earl, Fawn’s brother.  But lately Fawn is more interested in Tammy, who has been sending elliptical e-mails about relationship distress to Fawn, than in Daddy.  Daddy never changes; Tammy is becoming more and more intriguing.  She is not Earl’s wife, though Earl does have a wife; she is just Earl’s girlfriend, who has fed him and housed him, washed his clothes and scheduled his dentist appointments, for seven years while Earl dips in and out of depression, moving from pillar to post, paying more attention to what Daddy thinks than to what Earl himself thinks.

            Fawn’s family of origin does not manage marriage and family well.  Daddy is working on his third wife.  His first wife, Fawn and Earl’s mother, died when Fawn was born.  His second wife embezzled from Daddy’s well-drilling outfit, and stealing from his coffers is one line Daddy draws firmly.  His third wife, Sabra, happens to be taking her grandkids to Disneyland and the La Brea Tar Pits this weekend, June being their vacation month in a year-round calendar in Southern California, where they live. 

When Daddy married Sabra, Fawn was fifteen and a sophomore in high school.  Those kids of yours have got to go, Sabra told Daddy two weeks after their wedding, loud enough so Fawn could hear a rare trill in Sabra’s voice.  I cannot live in the same house with them.  Since Earl was eighteen and nearly adult by that time, Fawn understood Sabra to be, essentially, instructing Daddy to forget he’d ever had kids with a woman who’d died because remembering their existence would mean rough sailing with Sabra.

            Fawn got out as soon as she could get pregnant and moved right in with the couple who would become her in-laws.  When she miscarried the baby, that didn’t change their minds one bit about having Fawn around.  Pete and Lois were standing in the reception line of her high school graduation ceremony, Lois’s round face almost masked by the bouquet of ferns and red roses she was holding for Fawn.  Daddy and Sabra couldn’t come because Sabra had to baby-sit for one of her grandkids—the youngest one who still stutters, Fawn remembers now—but Fawn had pretty much learned by then that Daddy handled parenting about as well as he did marriage.  Children he could overlook; Sabra’s commandments he could not.

Earl’s wife Joyce is a big-busted always-has-to-be-right woman whom Earl married when he was twenty-five.  Really, if the grammar is right, it should be said she married Earl.  She will not discuss divorce with Earl, who has let it lie for seven years.  Fawn can appreciate that Joyce might have vengeful feelings toward Earl’s leaving her for Tammy.  What she cannot comprehend is why Joyce didn’t rake Earl over the coals financially, the way Fawn has seen other women do to salve their hurt feelings about adulterous husbands, and then find somebody else.  If that had been me, Fawn has told Tammy, momentarily forgetting Tammy’s position at the tip of the triangle, I would have gotten the hell out of Dallas.  Fawn is a person who learned early on not to stay in a place where she was unwelcome.

Fawn’s own husband, Kenny, is a keeper.  He is a sweet-natured man with his mother’s accepting temperament and his father’s big hands, one of which reaches to draw back Fawn’s chair when she and Tammy return from the restroom.  Fawn doesn’t like to make mistakes. She didn’t make one with Kenny, who sat behind her in Driver’s Ed in high school and taught her to manage the stick shift in his Volkswagen Beetle.

Contrary to Fawn’s expectations, in the restroom Tammy didn’t speak to her except to say, let me get that, hon, as she smoothed away a speck of mascara under Fawn’s left eye.  Tammy wears a faint, seductive perfume, and Fawn wishes she could have stayed in the restroom under the spell of Tammy’s scent and soft touch for the next half of her life.  Fawn understands why Earl left Joyce. 

But here she is seated beside her quiet husband, his hand now on her bare shoulder, across the gingham-draped table from Daddy, Tammy and Earl sitting on either side of him like brackets.  Daddy tells Earl he will order the salmon and wild rice because Sabra, she keeps track of his cholesterol count with the same rigor she applies to the company books.

Fawn, honey, Kenny asks.  What are you having?

Fawn pats Kenny’s knee.  Daddy has stopped talking.

I think I’ll have the chicken, Fawn says, pointing to the second item on the specials list of the sticky laminated menu.  Fawn hates to be the last person deciding; she never changes her mind once she’s picked.  And she never, ever complains to the waiter about the meal she’s ordered.  She’d eat raw chicken if it came to her that way, without a squeak. 

Kenny knows this.  Not the fettuccine?  He pinches her at the waste, right above the bony point of her hipbone.

Fawn reaches for the thick hair on the nape of Kenny’s neck, the place she likes her hand to be when they make love, and tugs it, softly. 

Nope. 

Daddy is watching, wide-eyed.  Fawn knows he can hear perfectly well because he showed her his new hearing aids, tucked into his leathery ears like pink lima beans.

What are you having, Fawn?  Daddy says. 

The chicken, Daddy.

A whole half a chicken!  You must be going on a diet.  Daddy laughs at his joke.  Sometimes Fawn imagines Daddy grew up on a planet without people, which is why he doesn’t know how to behave properly.

Tammy winks at Fawn.  Earl is doing tricks with his fork and spoon.  He has done this forever: fiddled with things to keep the air moving in a social situation.  This pains Fawn, Earl’s constant discomfort.  Kenny says Earl is a born clown; Fawn knows, along with Tammy, that the clown gig is a cover-up.

Daddy catches the waiter’s eye.  We’re ready to order, he says, then picks at one of his hearing aids as if it’s set too loud, even for him.  He looks straight across the table at Fawn.

Sabra’s going to call home at 8:30, he says, so that even though Sabra isn’t, of course, seated there at the table with them, it feels as if she is: glowering, paws planted.

Kenny edges his chair closer to hers to make the long line of his lean thigh match her own.  Kenny calls Sabra saber-tooth, but not much lately, because Fawn is letting go of her old obsession: analyzing Daddy and Sabra’s relationship.  Tammy and Earl worry her, but these days Daddy’s on his own as far as Fawn is concerned.

Ladies? 

The waiter takes Tammy’s order, then Fawn’s, and then the men’s.  Earl chooses a bottle of Merlot that comes from a vineyard in a town he recognizes, one in the Napa Valley where he services vending machines.  You wouldn’t think a business built on leased vending machines would make much money, but Earl is extremely well-off.  He has pop and candy machines up and down Northern California.  You can tell if a machine is Earl’s because on the lower left of the back side, if you can get to it, there’s a metal plate stamped “Vendley’s Vending.”  To Fawn, the alliteration is what accounts for Earl’s success, but Kenny says, oh, sweetie, for a lost soul, Earl is a canny businessman.

The waiter gathers their menus with a flourish.  Earl looks up, bewildered now that his hands are empty, and Fawn wants to reach across the table and pat him, the way she would an old dog who wakes up, startled at nothing, when he is better off sleeping through.

Hey, Earlie, Fawn says.  How’s business?

Fine, fine, Earl answers.  He’d say a whole lot more if Daddy would ask him the exact same question.  Fawn counts: one, two, three, four—

Earl, how’s business?  Daddy repeats.

Well, we got the contract for a couple of middle schools up in Humboldt, which is good.

Yes, Daddy says.  You can’t beat a new contract.  That new driver working out?

So-so.  Earl paddles his hand to match his words.  He seems to be a straight-shooter.

I’ll tell you what, Daddy says.  He likes to preface what he’s about to say with I’ll tell you what.  This has the same effect on Fawn as when somebody forwards her an e-mail joke which has been sent to an entire address book.  I’ll tell you what from Daddy means nothing new can ever follow.

Son, what I’ve found in business is that you can’t get around the necessity of a first-rate book-keeper.  Somebody in the office who knows receipts payable, somebody who can call in an overdue payment.  Somebody who’s psychologically vested in the company. 

Daddy looks at Fawn.  Fawn, Daddy says, I told Earl he ought to find him an accounting graduate or something like.   

It’s almost a question, but not quite, because Daddy doesn’t need Fawn’s agreement.  He never has.  What Daddy needs is a congregation.  Or maybe it’s as simple as Fawn’s being seated across the table from Daddy.  Of course he’d look at her.  Fawn reminds herself: you are nearly thirty years old.  You are a big girl now.  A counselor advised her to use woman in her affirmations, but Fawn prefers to speak to herself as her long dead mother might, which allows for the inclusion of endearments in baby-talk and other politically incorrect formations.   

Somebody with a steady hand and a calculating brain.  Daddy chuckles.

The somebody Daddy is describing Sabra.  Everybody at the table knows it.  Tammy puts her hand up to block her face from Daddy’s peripheral vision, which may not be all that good any more, and sticks her tongue out: the puke gesture.  Fawn shuts down a giggle, but not before part of it shoots out the side of her mouth in a runaway snort.  Kenny told her the sky wouldn’t fall if she were to lighten up and laugh at Daddy.  Kenny does it; Tammy clearly can.  But Fawn and Earl have a harder time levitating themselves out of grimness where their father’s concerned.  Earl, he’s stuck wallowing in a mud hole of misery, Fawn often complains to Kenny.  She has written as much to Tammy, too, as recently as this week, in their back-and-forth diagnosis and prescription of Earl’s emotional ailment and its remedy. 

Tammy knows all about how Earl didn’t ever get what he needed from Daddy.  Preferring e-mail, she doesn’t invite too much face-to-face conversation with Fawn, although Fawn thinks Tammy would listen carefully if Fawn needed to speak.  But sometimes Tammy will say something quick and sideways that makes Fawn realize how much Earl has told Tammy about their growing up.  As it should be, Fawn has told herself, when two people really need to know each other.  She herself told Kenny everything very early on, in between starting and stalling his Volkswagen, a lack of skill he took upon himself to correct, just he took it on to make it his life’s work to love her right.  

The time their second mother, the embezzler, took them to Las Vegas and left them all alone in the double room at the Gold Digger for two days with nothing to eat but the candy bars in the no-host mini refrigerator.

The time Daddy didn’t say a word when Sabra decided Fawn’s bedroom would make a nice setting for her oldest daughter’s Lane cedar chest, which just happened to be filled with the grandbabies’ toys.  Fawn put her clothes into three cardboard boxes and kept her sleeping bag rolled up in the hall closet.  She hadn’t left home yet, but did soon after, when Kenny carried the three boxes down the front porch steps and put them in the passenger seat of the Volkswagen.  Waiting on the street with Daddy standing just inside the living room window, Fawn was afraid Kenny might not come back for her once he’d unloaded the boxes.  But he did.

The time, times really, Sabra wouldn’t pass the phone to Daddy when Earl called because Daddy was, Sabra said, otherwise occupied.

Because Tammy has a fairly clear grasp, at least to Fawn’s way of thinking, of Vendley Family dynamics, Fawn pays close attention when Tammy writes to her from her e-mail account in the clerk’s office at the government center and confides, I believe your daddy is trying to work things out between Earl and Joyce.  I believe that is why Earl will not ask Joyce for a divorce.  I believe Earl may be considering going back to Joyce, to please your daddy by keeping the assets intact.

Fawn herself doesn’t believe Earl would go back to Joyce, but she does know Earl would do almost anything to garner Daddy’s approval.  That’s what happens, her therapist told her, when children aren’t given sufficient love for being themselves.  When they aren’t nurtured and protected (this is the therapist’s language, which Fawn found faintly embarrassing and sentimental), children don’t believe in their essential self-worth, their essential lovability.  So they keep trying to please the people who didn’t love them when they were supposed to. 

Tammy agrees that Earl is driven by a need to please Daddy, to have Daddy turn to him at a time like this and say, Earl, Joe Ray Williams says the Volunteer Fireman have never had a chief like you.

Even Daddy can be proud, Fawn thinks.  Of course it helps pride that a big-shot like Joe Ray Williams, who runs cattle on half the acreage in the county, complimented Earl, but Daddy is still fanned out wide as a peacock’s tail right now.

Joe Ray is right, says Kenny, who moves Fawn’s wine glass to make way for the salad plate of curlicue lettuce and fine-cut bell peppers the waiter puts down in front of her.  In every part of her life, Kenny makes things smooth for Fawn, including picking out the three Greek olives which have hidden themselves under what looks like a leaf of baby spinach and putting them on his own plate. 

Tammy praises Earl—Fawn’s heard her a dozen times that she can remember right now—and Tammy’s is a devout appreciation uncluttered by a whole lot of self-interest, which is why Fawn finds it incredible that Earl might be considering a reunion with Joyce.  What sort of approval Earl could possibly require beyond Tammy’s unconditional love is hard for Fawn to grasp.  When the waiter sets down a basket of crusty rolls next to Earl, Earl passes it to Daddy first.  Fawn suddenly sees it might be true that Daddy has said something to Earl about the difficulty of protecting his assets if he allows what seems to be an indefinite separation from Joyce to stretch out much longer.  Daddy is a second-hand expert on divorce proceedings, a student of the Sabra-school of personal finance.  And Earl is still, in multiple ways Fawn can count, the gangly, off-balance boy pushed into self-sufficiency way too early, a perennial grown leggy with too much water and not enough nitrogen.

Tammy is not prone to hysteria, let alone a woman of suspicious nature.  Because her e-mails to Fawn are building in intensity, they confirm Fawn’s right to be worrying about Earl.  And what hand Daddy might be playing in Earl’s emotional life. 

Earl was over at the house last weekend for six whole hours, Tammy had written on Monday.  How could it take six whole hours to unplug a bathroom drain?  Joyce lives in the big house Earl and she had built, even though they never filled it with children, nature somehow having assisted both Earl and Fawn in averting the sad disaster they felt, deep in their bones, their own children–Daddy’s grandchildren–might become.   Joyce filled the four-bedroom house with antique furniture she has made a career out of stripping and refinishing.  Boy, you better not sit too still, or that woman’s going to wrestle you right into the dip tank, Daddy had said one Easter when Joyce and Earl were first married, a rare family holiday he could attend because of Sabra’s attendance at her third grandbaby’s birth.  One of the few times Daddy showed some insight, Fawn thinks.

On Wednesday, Tammy wrote to Fawn that Earl had driven straight home from checking the machines at Hanford Mall and gone to bed for a whole day.  Tammy had to bring him his meals in bed.  He hasn’t been this depressed since Tammy asked him to talk to a divorce lawyer; she even offered to call the lawyer herself.  But Earl wouldn’t hear of it, California property laws entitling Joyce to half of the house and Earl’s company.  Fawn remembers Earl saying, soon after he’d moved into Tammy’s apartment, that he dealt with his problems by running as fast as he could in the other direction.  He laughed when he said it, pumping his fisted arms in a jogging gesture, but he pulled at his thinning hair afterwards, a dead giveaway for internal strife.

Friday, when Fawn responded by telling Tammy she needed to let Earl know how she felt, how the dread of intuition was making Tammy’s ulcers bleed, Tammy had written back: don’t worry about me.  I’m taking it one day at a time.

Fawn wants to tell Tammy, tonight would be best, that she needs to set Earl a deadline for divorce, the same way Sabra set a deadline for getting Daddy’s kids out of the house.  The truth is that Earl responds well to the crystal-clear severity Sabra brought into their lives.  In fact, it has not escaped Fawn that Joyce bears a good resemblance to Sabra.  In Fawn’s experience, men either marry a replica of their mothers or somebody who’s a polar opposite.  Fawn herself likes to think that somehow the cosmos gave her Kenny’s mother’s good qualities, and that’s why Kenny loves Fawn so much, and Fawn loves Lois.  You can make the family you didn’t have, the therapist told Fawn.  She was probably talking about children, which Fawn and Kenny don’t have and won’t, now, but Fawn thinks that Pete and Lois are as good to her as Daddy and her mother might have been, if only her mother hadn’t died when she did.

Daddy and Earl are eating their salads in tandem, eyes on their plates.  Tammy pushes the lettuce around on her own plate.  Kenny pours Fawn more water from the icy pitcher the bus boy left on their table, thereby saving himself from refilling their water glasses.  Kenny raises his eyebrows.  Fawn knows this means new topic, but she can’t for the life of her think of anything easy to say.  What she wants to blurt out is Earlie!  What are you doing hurting Tammy’s feelings, this woman who has been so good to you?

Goodness is Fawn’s obsession, the source of her moral outlook.  She knows that she cuts a too-clean line between good and bad, and that more information about whatever it is that Earl’s doing would complicate her conviction it must be wrong.  But it’s hard not to take sides with Tammy against Daddy.

Joyce is putting a lot of money into that automatic sprinkling system, Daddy says, pushing away his salad plate.  He too has left the Greek olives, three of them in their little bath of vinaigrette.

Earl’s head jerks up.  He and Fawn exchange a long look.

She’s going to be gone for August, Earl says.  She’s worried about the new almond trees.

Where’s she headed, Earlie?  Fawn asks.

Some women’s retreat thing at Tahoe.  Earl realizes he’s slipped up, sitting there one body away from Tammy.  He’s been talking to Joyce about more than plugged-up drains.

Fawn imagines the words shooting through Daddy’s pink hearing aids, going right through his head and coming out the other side like captions landing in Tammy’s lap, splat, eggs cracked outside the bowl.  The therapist encouraged her to see conversations, especially difficult ones, as images rather than words.  Little did the good counselor realize that she’d endorsed a lifelong habit of Fawn’s, given it such a boost, in fact, that Kenny began asking babe, what are you seeing now, instead of offering a penny for what she was thinking.

Tammy speaks, false chipper: That’s the first I’ve heard, Earl.  Who’s going to feed the cats?

Joyce has four cats, a female and her three daughters, all spayed.  Daddy once said to Earl, better watch out she don’t get ahold of you, Earl!  Fawn found such a comment to be terribly cruel, a manhood challenge, and unforgivable for a father to be saying to his only son, especially one like Earl, who moves through the sea of his own life like an ostracized Eskimo, jumping from iceberg to iceberg, drifting further and further from solid ground through no fault of his own.

Earl says, I, uh, told Joyce I’d watch out for things when she’s gone. 

Daddy smiles.  Keeping tabs on your investments, Earl?   

Tammy is turning green.  She looks down at the broken yolk mess in her lap.  Fawn wishes Tammy could speak up now, even though Daddy’s being there makes it trying for all of them.  Earl should tell the truth, not be telling Joyce one thing, Tammy another, Daddy yet a third.

Earlie?  You’re working on the divorce settlement, aren’t you?  Fawn reaches across the table and stills Earl’s hand, the one holding the soup spoon by the bowl end.  Her hands twin the form of her brother’s,  except her fingers are skinnier by half.

Well, I—

Course he isn’t, Fawn!  Daddy barks.  Maybe his hearing aids are tuned wrong.  More likely, he’s angry at Fawn’s interference in financial doings.  Her daddy, who spent not one penny on her wedding reception, a serve-yourself ravioli buffet in the Town Hall, sees Earl’s money matters as his own.

Because, Earl, it’s making you depressed, isn’t it?  Fawn persists. 

Kenny is right beside her, close enough that he could pick her up and sit her on his lap if he wanted.  It’s not as though there’s anything Daddy can do to get her.  She has Kenny and Pete and Lois.  She has never spoken up for herself to Daddy, not really, but finds it in herself to speak for her big brother, who now winces as if he’d been elbowed in the ribs by Joyce in one of her more affectionate moments.

Why shouldn’t he be getting divorced, Daddy?

Tammy’s pretty brown eyes scrinch tight.  Fawn does this herself: clamps her eyes shut when she doesn’t want to see what’s coming.

Because he’s got a lot to lose!  Daddy says, turning to Tammy as if she of all people will give him agreement.

Daddy, Fawn says firmly, surprising herself.  It’s just money.  Earl can make more, can’t he?

Fawn, Daddy says, framing his words with hands mapped by liver spots standing out like small continents on a relief map.  Fawn has not noticed them before.  She needs to work harder on seeing Daddy as he is now, almost eighty years old, and not as she remembers him in the living room of the house she left as a refugee, handing her one-by-one the three cardboard boxes containing the accumulation of her fifteen-year tenure as Daddy’s daughter, assisting her mute escape from the House of Sabra.  The present, Fawn is trying to believe, is what saves you from the past.    

Fawn, Daddy explains.  There are community property laws in this state.   

Daddy points at Fawn, gun-style.  Fawn wants to yell, Daddy!  Don’t point that barrel at me!  Instead she speaks so calmly she wishes she had a tape to capture the timbre of her own voice.  She would send it to the therapist.

Other people get divorced and manage to move on, Daddy.   It can be done fairly. 

Fawn senses the table tipping toward Daddy, toward her, and back to Daddy, like a rowboat working up to capsize.  Out of body might be a better way to describe what she feels.  When she places her left hand on the tabletop to feel if it’s really pitching, Kenny straightjackets it with his own.  The table isn’t what’s moving: Fawn’s insides are.

Earl’s got assets to protect.  Daddy answers.  He turns to Tammy and smiles his impersonal-I’m-a-good-ole-boy smile, as though Tammy of all people present should understand the priority of protecting one’s assets.  Tammy smiles back at him.  She’s better at e-mail; she’s useless in an intervention.

It’s not very nice, Earlie, to Joyce nor Tammy, Fawn tells her brother, conscripting an unwilling partner in the War on Daddy.

Nice has got nothing to do with it!  Daddy hammers the table so everybody’s wine glasses jump. 

Kenny lifts his hand from Fawn’s, has a second thought and presses his palm, just once, on her trembly knuckles.  I’m here if you need me.  What Fawn needs is to tell Daddy, for herself and Earlie, that she knows exactly what’s motivating Daddy.  That it is not acceptable to her for Daddy to put his own financial preferences in front of Earl’s mental health.  That just because Sabra saber-tooth has conveyed in no uncertain terms her dislike of Tammy—a girl that dark’s got to have Filipino blood somewhere—Daddy doesn’t have to mess in Earl’s affairs. 

Nice has everything to do with it!  And something else, Daddy.  You think Earl’s company is yours because you lent him that start-up money.  Earl can repay you after the settlement, can’t you, Earlie?

Fawn’s gears are turning now, emotional engines readying for lift-off.  She can say what she needs to say to Daddy by enabling Earl to extract himself from his marriage.  Remediation by proxy.  Earl needs to escape Daddy, just the way Fawn did.  He needs to box himself up and shuttle over to Tammy’s apartment for good.

Daddy hunches his shoulders.  Old man shoulders, Fawn reminds herself. 

Fawn, you don’t know what you’re talking about.  Daddy can speak without moving his lips when he’s really mad about being crossed.  His lips tighten themselves into the line of a bowstring drawn taut right before the arrow’s launched.

I know my brother, Daddy.  And he’s not happy.  It’s not the end of the world for a man to get divorced—

There isn’t a word you can tell me about divorce, Fawn Lee!  You don’t know the first thing about divorce, let me tell you.

Somewhere in the back closet of Fawn’s thinking, she’s aware that Kenny and Earl and Tammy’s heads snap toward Daddy, then back to her, like cartoon faces watching a ping-pong match.  She’s surprising them, all right, these three people who’ve always acted as if Daddy were somebody whose slightest contact could give her hives.

I do know my brother!  Earl, tell Daddy how happy you’d be to get this behind you!  Tell him, Earlie!  You don’t have to do everything Daddy says, Earl.  You don’t!

Well, I—

Son, you never walk away without a fight.

Fawn could scream.  She’s not a user of sarcasm, but she finds she can’t resist what’s fizzing inside her like a shaken soda.  She pops the lid.

You can’t be serious.  You want Earl to fight over money when you didn’t put up a fight for your own children?

 And Happy Father’s Day to you, Fawn Lee.  You left me when you were fifteen years old.  Your own father.  Who’s saying what about standing by family?

Excuse me!  You handed me my things, Daddy!  You didn’t say one word to keep me there! 

No offense, Kenny.  Daddy squints—it could be a wink—at Fawn’s husband.  You two were set on eloping, isn’t that right?

Kenny–Fawn will never leave this man,  not ever—corrects Daddy: Actually, Fawn left because your new wife—

God damn it!  It always comes down to Sabra—

It comes down to you!  Fawn shrieks, just as Tammy soothes, Fawn, honey, why don’t—

And Earl, sun struck or moonblind or punch-drunk by his sister’s boldness, it seems, says Okay, okay, okay!  I’m giving the Joyce the house, anyway!  Earl backs his chair from the table and reaches both arms behind Daddy to turn Tammy toward him. 

I didn’t want to say anything to you in case it turned out wrong.  She gets the house, Tam.  Six months and I’ll be divorced. 

Daddy is sinking into himself, stiff-necked and melting at once, an ice-cream cone overstaying its welcome.  Kenny rubs circles on Fawn’s back: calm down, calm down, calm down.

Tammy has pushed her chair back from the table, out of reach of Earl’s hands. 

The waiter appears.  Everything all right here, folks?  What are we having for dessert?  The strawberry cheesecake is—

No dessert!  Fawn tells him sternly, her voice restored to its ordinary register. 

I’m having dessert, Daddy corrects, pushing himself up out of his puddle.  I’m having a cup of coffee and some goddamn dessert here.  It’s my dinner and I’m having dessert.  My son and I are having dessert.

Sir?  The waiter asks, tipping his head, daring a glance at Earl, who is looking more miserable than mud.  Ladies?

What have you got besides cheesecake?

We have spumoni, a three-layer chocolate cake, Granny Smith apple pie—

We’re all having the chocolate cake, Daddy interrupts.  Chocolate cake all around.  And cream with that coffee.  This is a Father’s Day dinner here.

Kenny strokes Fawn’s knee.  Don’t say it, he’s warning her.  Don’t say anything about Sabra’s cholesterol counting.

Fawn eases back so the waiter can take her plate, the picked-at half chicken and the baked potato.  The table is not rocking; the waters are perfectly still.  Tammy has not left the table.  Earl is pulling at his hair.  Daddy lines up his fork and knife on his cleaned plate.  Kenny clears his throat but doesn’t speak.  Fawn doesn’t take her eyes off Earl.  She wonders what he’s thinking, if he’ll say anything to her, ever, about this dinner.  Maybe he will, and maybe he won’t.  No matter which way it goes, Fawn feels pride in herself, sprouting up like an elapsed time video of grass growing.  She pulls the plate of chocolate cake, cake for which she didn’t ask, closer to her edge of the table and takes a tentative bite.  It’s dry, box bakery cake, with thick lardy frosting.  Daddy has almost finished his; he’s eating like a famished man.

Daddy, Fawn asks.  Do you want mine, too?   

Categories: Fiction

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