May 7, 2009

Close Range


My dad, Mark Malone, is perched on the edge of a wicker rocking chair on our front porch. He looks up at the sound of my voice and smiles, his tanned face breaking into deep grooves like dry leather. “Lulu…” Standing slowly, he takes the faded Ranger hat he has been fiddling with in his lap and drapes it over the banister post.

“Dad!” I sprint up the front steps and throw myself against his chest, wrapping my arms around his thin frame. His canvas uniform feels rough and starchy against my cheek. He smells like incense and freshly turned soil.

“Hey there kiddo.” Dad’s callused thumb scratches my forehead as he pushes my bangs out of my eyes. “What’s new?”

Behind us, the car door slams. “Hi Mark.” Mom’s tone is cut and dry, and I immediately loosen my grip on my father and turn to face her. Her forced smile is painful. She gives Dad a slight nod.

“Bonnie. Hi.” Dad’s voice is soft and calm. He runs his fingers through his sand-colored hair.

Mom adjusts her pocketbook on her shoulder and clears her throat. “Well. I’ll let you two catch up.” She sweeps past us up the porch stairs and into the house.

The uncomfortable silence only lasts a moment. “Dad! What are you doing here?”

“To see you, of course.”

I’m so happy to see him that I hold back my knee-jerk response to say that you should only use “of course” when something is obvious, since Dad coming to see me is anything but obvious. He hasn’t been to the house since the divorce. The few times I have seen him I’ve gone to stay at his small one-bedroom apartment in Homestead, right outside Everglades National Park.

I try to put all that aside and focus on the fact that Dad is actually here. “Of course. Well, I’m glad you’re here.” I pause. “So … I guess you heard about the move.”

“You guessed right.”

I bite my lip. Planning for the move has been a busy, frantic, exciting whirlwind. For the past two weeks, I’ve willingly let myself get caught in it, ignoring the nagging feeling in the back of my mind that keeps reminding me how hurt everyone will be when they find out. Because it’s not just Dad who has been kept in the dark – I haven’t built up the courage to tell Katie or Brandon either. But that’s another story.

In my mind, I can justify not telling Dad. I just tell myself that he did the same thing to me – he moved away and left Mom and me alone. But now, seeing him in person, all I remember is how hurt I was when he moved out. I don’t wish that on him. I don’t wish that on anyone.

“Sorry I didn’t say anything.”

“Your mother called last night. I have to say I was taken aback. Moving in two weeks? That’s not enough warning.”

It was when you left.

Although I don’t say it, Dad can read it on my face. He squats down next to me and grabs my hands in his.

“Lucy. I’m here because, well, I don’t want you to go. I know I haven’t been here for you as much as your mother has, but I’m ready to make a change.”

Dad takes a deep breath. “I’m here to ask you to come live with me instead. Stay in Florida. Don’t go to Connecticut.”

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