Black Petals Issue #97, Autumn, 2021

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Editor's Page
BP Artist's Page
BP Guidelines
Mars-News, Views and Commentary
A World of Sensations-Fiction by Michael Dority
Goddess Deva-Fiction by David Starobin
Hunting Ground-Fiction by N. G. Leonetti
Love Letters-Fiction by S. J. Townend
No Content Available-Fiction by Richard Brown
Phantom Smell-Fiction by Daniel G. Snethen
Predatory Peepers-Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
The Visit-Fiction by B. E. Nugent
The Working Man-Fiction by Christopher Hivner
The Extermination-Fiction By Dominique K. Pierce
Win-A-Burger-Fiction by Glenn Dungan
Counting Time-Flash Fiction by Ramon F. Irizarri
Terry and the Techo-Frog-Flash Fiction by Hillary Lyon
The Epistolean-Flash Fiction by Harris Coverly
Labelled Rocks-Flash Fiction by Holden Zuras
Along Side of the Road-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Beneath the Weeping Willow-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Half-Life-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Liquid Darkness-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Lost-Poem by Carl E. Reed
Succubus Seductress-Poem by Carl E. Reed
The Crime of Frankenstein-Poem by Carl E. Reed
Brother's Keeper-Poem by Cassandra O'Sullivan Sachar
Razor Beak-Poem by Jessica Heron
The Fall of Vampire Hunters-Poem by Matthew Wilson

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Art by Henry Stanton 2021

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Richard Brown

 

 

                Hello? I hope this thing is on. I don’t think my voice will hold out long enough to do this again if it isn’t. I used to act, did you know that? Of course, you didn’t. You don’t even know who I am. I am… I was… I will have been… Malcolm Jones. Not ‘Mal’. Not ‘Mack’. Malcolm. Should I be so insistent on my identity at this point? Probably not. Hard habit to break, though, you know?

          Yeah, I acted, back in high school. I could make my voice reach the very back of a thousand-seat auditorium. I knew how to project! They never had me sing, though. No, the point of a dramatic production is to bring audiences into the seats; not drive them away with their hands clapped over their ears, screaming in a desperate effort to drown out the insane sounds of horror. Maria was the only person to ever ask me to sing, after having heard my atonal, pitch-resistant crooning before. Even that request was made out of imagined necessity, though. The poor girl must have really been terrified.

          Voices are physical things, you know that? Breath, blown across the vocal cords, resulting in vibrations that float through the air. Those sound waves bounce off eardrums, or voice-activation sensors in the case of this recorder. Voices have force. Substance. Which is why I wonder if the recorder turned on… and I doubt that I could repeat this story. I guess I’d better get to the point, then, and stop wasting what words I have left. It was July when people started asking me to speak up, or to repeat what I’d said. My guide dog lives for attention, but I have to yell at the top of my lungs for him to hear me from the next room in my cramped, little apartment. Right, the story. Sorry. It bothers me, though, you know? Losing my voice was the first sign.

          The last time I saw Maria was at my niece’s tenth birthday party. Maria adored her cousins. She’d talk about them for days before a visit. “Kylie lets me get gumballs from the gumball machine!” and “Can I sit between Emily and Kylie at dinner?”. On and on, she wouldn’t stop. It was like that after visits, too. For days afterward, it was “Look what Ky-Ky showed me how to do!” or “Listen to the song Emmy taught me!”. The day Kylie turned ten, though, Maria wouldn’t leave my side. She clutched my hand fiercely, and only sat next to me on the porch swing. “They have the Slip-N-Slide out, sweetie,” I encouraged her, but she only scootched a fraction of an inch closer to me. I was surprised there was that much room left between us. “Is something wrong, Maria?” I asked, but she wouldn’t answer. When she left with her mother, I knelt to hug her goodbye. If she hadn’t been a slender five-year old, the ferocity of her hug surely would have choked me to death. I wondered what she was misunderstanding about the situation, but didn’t want to talk about her parents’s separation during a children’s birthday party. There would be countless other days to discuss it. Heather and I had agreed to that. That was the main point that finally led me to agree to a peaceful divorce.

          When I married Heather, I made a commitment to Maria that same day. She had turned two only two weeks earlier. My first dance at the reception was with Heather, as is the custom. My second dance was with Maria, when my father-in-law broke in for the traditional father-daughter dance. I didn’t know where to go or what to do, so I picked up my new daughter and had my own father-daughter dance. Maria liked the movement, but looked appropriately concerned about being held so far up from the solid floor by her clumsy new dad. Nothing bad happened, though, and maybe her trust in me deepened a bit. She’d be terrified if I tried that in my present condition, of course. Would I even be in my present condition if we were in that situation again, though? I don’t know… I really don’t know.

          I had met Maria a year and a half prior to the wedding day, at a Mexican restaurant in my hometown of Wren Lake. Heather and I had known each other for a couple of years by that time, but were meeting up again after a six-month estrangement. It was late September, and I was on my way to the first youth group meeting of the school year. I had met Heather at my first event with that same youth group two years before. St. Augustine’s had just hired a young, energetic Youth Minister, and I had been searching for a career working with kids. I thought volunteer experience with a youth group would help with that endeavor. I was given the Youth Minister’s number, and called.

          “St. Augustine’s, this is Mickey,” came the slow, deep rumbling voice through the telephone.

          “Hi, my name is Malcolm Jones. I’m wondering if you could use some volunteer help with your youth group. I’ve volunteered before, but-“

          “That would be great! We have a Lock-In this Friday. Would you be able to come by then?” he asked.

          “Sure,” I said. “What’s a Lock-In?”

          “We gather in The Hall, lock the doors, and play games, watch movies, and eat pizza until eight the next morning. It’s a blast!” Mickey explained. The Hall was the building owned by the church and used for school assemblies, church fundraisers like auctions and spaghetti dinners, and youth group meetings.

         

          When I stepped off of the bus on the evening of the Lock-In, I wished I had worn gloves. And a hat. Maybe strapped a portable heater to my chest. What I’m saying is, it was a wet, cold, windy October night. I hurried to the big front doors of The Hall, and yanked, anxious to get out of the weather. I actually took a step forward, and nearly mashed my nose into the locked door. “Dummy,” I thought, “It is called a ‘Lock-In’, after all.” I could hear the kids inside yelling and having fun. I knocked, and waited. It soon became clear that no one was hanging out by the front door, so I walked around the side of the building until I came to the kitchen entrance. The noise inside was even louder here, but I thought there was a good chance that adults would be in the kitchen. I knocked, and was surprised when the most beautiful girl I had ever seen opened it and bluntly said, “Who are you?”. She was short, with thick, dark hair falling in waves over her shoulders. Her brown eyes were flashing with intelligence and suspicion, while her button nose and full lips made me wish I was still in high school, as she was certainly still a teenager. High school kids sometimes volunteered in activities for the junior high group, and I assumed this was the case for her. I appreciated her caution, but her frankness made me laugh.

          “My name is Malcolm,” I told her. “Mickey told me to meet him here. Is he inside?”

          “Oh! Yes, come in. Wait here, though, and I’ll go get him.”

          She returned long before Mickey could break away from whatever activity he was leading, and I chatted with the girl long enough to discover that she was barely a year younger than myself, and rarely volunteered with the youth group. Knowing our proximity in age would normally have caused me to clam up in nervous self-protection. They can’t reject you if you don’t give them the chance, right? But whenever I tried to interact with the kids, instead, I was reminded of young teens’s inclination to not trust adults the first time they meet one. And I couldn’t get the raven-haired beauty out of my head for even a minute.

          She stayed until around three in the morning. I stayed until the last kid had been picked up by his parents. Until she left, Heather and I talked and ate pizza. We watched two of my favorite movies, but even The Sandlot and The Princess Bride couldn’t distract me from her. I’d never seen The Rocketeer before, and wanted to, but I barely remember what it was about after viewing it that night.

          For Christmas the year before, my dad had given me a generous gift card to Sears, and I had bought myself a leather jacket. It was my first leather coat, and I loved it dearly. I’ve always been a man of few possessions, and I am well aware of their lack of importance in the grander scheme of things, but I was proud of that coat… even though I hadn’t earned it. It was only given to me. During the showing of The Sandlot, Heather murmured that she was cold. I didn’t hesitate for a second before shedding my beloved leather jacket and wrapping it around her shoulders.

          After The Princess Bride, Heather excused herself and took my coat with her to the restroom. She talked with Mickey for a minute when she came out, waved to me, and exited through the kitchen door. Several minutes went by, and I asked Mickey if she was coming back. “She said she couldn’t stay up any longer and went home,” was his reply. My heart sank. She had taken my coat. What’s worse is that I had neglected to ask for her phone number.

          I sat on the edge of the stage. Most of the kids were sprawled on the floor, sleeping, but my head was too filled with images of Heather, and replays of our conversations. I didn’t want to sleep, in fear that the memories would fade in slumber. I heard the kitchen door open a few minutes later, and saw Heather, wearing my black leather coat, walk back into The Hall. She turned, looking for something, causing her hair to wave and shimmer. When she saw me, she walked to me, shrugged out of my coat, and handed it to me, laughing as she apologized for leaving with it. Then she left, again.

          I could have asked for her number then, or offered mine, but for the young man she was leaving with. He had entered after her, but I hadn’t noticed him until he put his hand on her back as they left.

          The collar of that coat wore out about ten years ago. The one I bought to replace it is too heavy. It just falls to the floor.

          For an entire year, I thought of Heather. I tried to forget her, of course. I dated a co-worker from… well, let’s call them Toys ‘M’ Us to avoid legal issues. That experience was the first time I was cheated on in a relationship, but not the last. Crushed me. Ripped my heart out and tore it into little strips, like wet paper. And made me long to see the dark-haired, friendly goddess who had almost stolen my jacket. Who knows what might’ve happened if I had asked for her number? I might never have had my soul crushed to gelatinous ooze, like a fistful of Jell-O.

          I was still volunteering with the youth group, and Mickey had been urging me to attend a Bible discussion group that he was part of. I can’t remember why I resisted. Probably because I was afraid of getting mixed up with a group of Bible-thumpers and fanatics. Every religion has them. Having my heart and soul stomped on made me weak, though, and I finally consented.

          On a beautiful Fall day in September, I arrived at the rectory door. It was locked. Looking back, there’s almost a feeling of paranoia around St. Augustine’s. Distrust, at least.

          “Are you here for the Bible group?” came an anxious-sounding voice from my right. A young woman was approaching, mouth frowning, and eyebrows narrowed.

          “I am, but the door’s locked,” I responded.

          “I hope he hurries,” she said, and checked her watch.

          I didn’t enjoy her anxiety, and wanted to relieve it, if possible, but didn’t know what to say. I was still surrounded by my own personal darkness, and social skills aren’t my strong suit in the best of times. I was still struggling to find a charming comment when I noticed my fondest wish approaching from around the corner. The girl-in-a-hurry, along with my depression, vanished from my awareness. Heather wore blue jeans and a long, brown cardigan sweater that hugged and accentuated her perfect curves.

          “Hi,” I said.

          “Still locked?” she replied. “Father James is always a few minutes late.”

          The aforementioned Father unlocked and opened the door at that moment, and welcomed us all inside. At the threshold, Heather turned to me, and asked, “Do I know you?”. I smiled my crooked version of a wry smile, and reminded her. Then we ascended the stairs to the meeting room.

          Heather offered to give me a ride home that night, and it became a usual occurrence. We talked about music, values, and life. She introduced me to the joys of Led Zeppelin, and I overjoyed her by singing sincerely misheard lyrics to many songs. Did you know that David Lee Roth doesn’t say “See me standing here, got my back against the record machine. I eat the words that you see” in Jump? No, it’s actually “I ain’t the worst that you’ve seen.” Shocked the hell outta me, too.

          Eventually, we both stopped attending the Bible group, but we remained friends. I think she finally got the idea that she was important to me at a Halloween party that she invited me to. I didn’t know anyone there but her, yet I jumped at the chance to accompany her. It started raining while we were there, and she wanted to go outside when the marijuana started filling the air inside with its unique aroma. The front stoop was a tiny square that only allowed one person to occupy its space at a time. Naturally, I stood in the downpour so that she could stay dry on the stoop, and didn’t mind it for a second. That was the first time I saw her look at me differently. Her eyes narrowed, her lips turned up at the corners just a touch, and she blushed. I’d never seen her look so angelic.

          I don’t like the rain. My hair, never particularly thick, has departed my skull long ago, and rain bounces off of my pate like hail on the roof of an aluminum shed. Therefore, I haven’t ventured outside to discover if it still does that. I think I’d hate the result, no matter which way it went.

          When Heather told me she was pregnant, I was worried for her. I didn’t even know she was seeing anyone. That guy from the Lock-In? According to her, he was only a friend, and I never saw him again. She explained how she and her long-time, on-again off-again boyfriend had set off fireworks of their own on the Fourth of July, then he had ghosted her, before that was even a term, when she told him she was pregnant. Oh, but she had a new boyfriend now, only he was going to school in Iowa or Ohio, or was it India? It might as well have been. He wasn’t around when Heather needed someone. When I told her, over a game of cards, that there were plenty of schools here in Washington for her wonderfully supportive boyfriend to attend, she showed me her fiery temper for the first time. With the benefit of hindsight, I can admit that criticism of someone who’s going to school to make something of himself and support the woman and her baby that he’s promised to support and love, coming from a guy nearing his late-twenties with a nearly forgotten thirty or so college credits under his belt, and no real prospects for a meaningful career, seems a little hypocritical and far-fetched. I only knew that I would never have left her if there had been any other option. I couldn’t understand how this Mike character could do it… unless he wasn’t all that serious about her. Heather knocked my deck of cards to the floor and stormed out of my apartment. I felt terrible. People had been mad at me before, and I was used to it, but this was Heather. I knew, right at the surface of my thoughts, that I was deeply in love with this girl. She was my angel, my goddess. To incur her anger was akin to suffering in Hell, itself. I panicked for a few minutes, then. I couldn’t let her leave angry with me! But I reminded myself that we were close friends. She would calm down and, while not necessarily forgiving me, at least understand that I said what I said out of love for her. Our friendship would survive this brief tempest. I picked up the cards.

          Over the next six months, I lost my job, was kicked out of my apartment over an issue with mistaken identity – the property management ran a background check and mixed me up with another Malcolm Jones, who had a long criminal record and terrible credit – and didn’t hear from Heather at all. I found another place to live, another job, and a dark depression. I was living in an area where I knew no one, I was a cashier at a gas station – which is not a bad thing, but it is minimum wage and not where I thought I’d be in my late twenties – and missing Heather. She had become my best friend and, of course, I still loved her as though I was some character in a Disney movie.

          January blew into Wren Lake followed by snow and ice. Mickey planned a ski trip for the youth group and, devoted as I was, I agreed to chaperone. I loathe snow and ice, and I’d never been skiing, but some of the kids hadn’t been, either, and were talking about staying in the lodge the whole time. I couldn’t allow that, so I bargained with them, agreeing to strap some sticks to my feet if they would, too.

          We were leaving on a Sunday, right after the last Mass of the morning, and I was loading luggage onto the school bus we had rented for the occasion. The sidewalks were thick with ice, and openly treacherous. I looked up from my toils to witness an overstuffed pillow with hands and feet at its corners slowly trundling toward me. When I recognized the luxuriant hair and seductive eyes at the top of the pillow, I realized that Heather was nearing the end of her pregnancy. “Heather! Go inside the Hall! I’ll meet you there in a minute. I don’t want you to fall on this sidewalk!”

          “I’m heading home. I just wanted to wish you a fun trip. Maybe we can talk after you come back?” she asked.

          “Of course,” I responded without hesitation. “I’ll be home tonight. I’ll call you?”

          I did exactly that, and our friendship resumed as though it never suffered any interruption. She told me about her struggles living with her parents through her pregnancy, and trying to arrange to work and find childcare after the birth. She shared my happiness at being promoted to assistant manager after only four months. That summer, I decided to join the highschool youth group members who were going through the sacrament of Confirmation, affirming their commitment to Catholicism. I had declined the ritual when I was a teen, but felt ready to make the decision nearly ten years later. I asked Heather to witness my commitment, and I could see the pride in her eyes after the sacrament had been performed. Heather always made a point of showing how Catholic she was. She learned that from her parents.

          In September, I met her and Maria at the Mexican restaurant. Todo Loco, I think it was called. Too bad I didn’t see the symbolism in that, then.

          “Shhh, she’s sleeping,” Heather said, and lifted a car seat onto the table.

          Babies are babies. I mean, really, they all look pretty much the same. Other people’s babies, I mean. I get that a parent will see their own child differently… but Maria was not my child. To me, she looked like a baby. I had to admit, though, that Maria was one of the cutest I’d seen. She slept peacefully, head turned to her right, long eyelashes closed above her button-nose, and one tiny fist clenched around her stuffed rabbit’s leg.

          Heather and I agreed to keep meeting up for social visits, and Maria was always with us. I started changing diapers and spooning creamed mush into Maria’s usually eager mouth early on. Heather was reluctant to let anyone else carry her daughter anywhere, but I could often be seen pushing a stroller, with two diaper bags slung over either shoulder. When Heather finally admitted in November that we were dating, Maria didn’t notice any difference. I had been that guy who carried her things and went to parks and museums with her and her mom long enough to be familiar.

          As Maria grew, and Heather trusted me more, I took over carseat-lugging duties more often. There were times when I had the two diaper bags over my shoulders and Maria in her carseat in one hand. I was solid, then. I don’t mean I was a bodybuilder or anything like that. No, I’ve always had an average physique. But I was solid. I never faltered with Maria in my arms. As time wore on, Maria gave me more and more substance. Being her dad made me the most real I’d ever been. You ever read that old children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit? Caring for Maria made me understand the Old Skin Horse’s words about how being loved made a toy real, except that it wasn’t being loved, but loving someone else that did it.

          Okay, yes, being loved was pretty fantastical. Is that a word? It doesn’t matter; it’s what it was. The angel I adored and stoked the passionate flames in my heart loved me, and her child, my child, loved me. I knew by how she hugged me, always threatening to choke me into unconsciousness with her loving arms. I knew by the pictures she drew for me at daycare. I knew by the faith in her wide, brown eyes when she asked for my help, my protection, from the monsters that infested her closet.

          Heather and I were watching American Idol about thirty minutes after Maria had been put to bed, when a shaky, timid voice asked from the living room doorway, “Daddy, there are monsters in my closet. Will you sing to make them go away?”

          Heather laughed. My musical talent was a reliable source for humor. I smiled at Maria, struck by the realization that my voice was so horrendous that it would scare the scariest things in my child’s imagination away. The three of us made our way down the hallway to Maria’s bedroom, and I urged the two of them to stand outside the doorway, so as to protect them from any resistant monsters… or maybe panicky ones. Maria nodded her vigorous assent, and clung to Heather’s waist, eyes wide with fear and brimming with tears. I stole into the bedroom, warned the monsters of my intentions, and slid the closet door open. That left half of the closet still in deep shadow, and Maria, peeking around the corner, alerted me to the still-present danger. “They’re still in there, Daddy!” she whispered. Everyone knows that idle threats are counter-productive when dealing with monsters, so I drew in a deep breath, poked my head into the shadowy depths, and sang. I considered trying to make my voice even worse than normal, but decided that Maria thought it was already bad enough, and I didn’t want to risk sounding phony to my daughter. So I sang. I sang with the heartfelt intention and desire to banish any slimy, scaly, or slobbering creature that remained to harm my little girl. I sang,

All you critters

Horned and fanged

Clawed and tentacled

Who delight in frightening kids

You are now vanquished, banished, and defeated.

Return to your shadowy homes,

Your dripping caves,

Your stinky holes.

Bother my little girl no more

For she is my daughter,

And has inherited my voice!

          After a long, hushed pause, Maria inspected the closet and declared it safe. I received an extra tight hug for my bravery, and Maria gratefully went to bed. As Heather and I retreated from the room, Maria turned her little head to look me directly in the eyes, and whispered her thanks.

          Several months later, during a period of civility which marked the short times between our ferocious arguments, Heather muted the television, and interrupted my reading by blurting out, “I don’t love you.”

          Unsurprised that she would look for a way to hurt me, but stunned by the depths to which she would venture, I marked my page and turned to her, curled at one end of the couch.

          “Did you ever?” I asked.

          She thought about this for several seconds before answering. “I had love feelings for you,” she answered.

          “You didn’t love me when you said you’d marry me?” I asked, eyes wide with disbelief.

          “No. I thought you’d be a good dad for Maria,” was the cold response.

          Heather and I fought and argued almost constantly during the marriage, and the words spoken developed sharper and longer thorns each time. Six months into the blissful union, she discovered my poor credit rating, which I hadn’t been hiding. It simply didn’t seem important. Judging by her reaction, though, my credit rating was the lynchpin upon which the sanity of the universe depended. She asked for a divorce. My fiercely Catholic, loving new bride wanted a divorce because I had made poor financial decisions years before I had even met her. She finally settled for me asking her father for a personal loan to pay the debts. I have never been so humiliated.

          Every argument following that one resulted in a demand for divorce, always from her. The threat was omnipresent, even during good times. In the bad times, our fights would cause Maria to cry herself to sleep, no matter what time of day they occurred. As I talk into this device, reliving those times, I finally see my fault in one of Heather’s complaints to me:  My pride, my broken heart at being betrayed by my wife and by God, wouldn’t allow me to let Heather’s criticisms pass, at least until Maria wasn’t around. I had to confront Heather immediately, almost every time… and it caused my precious little girl emotional harm.

          That was the rub, as they say, wasn’t it? She wasn’t my little girl. Oh, genetics have never mattered to me, and that’s not what I mean, now. I mean that, from the day I proposed to Heather, I planned to adopt Maria. I wanted to adopt her. I didn’t want her to ever doubt for a second that I wanted to be her dad, and that she was my daughter. Something always came up, though. First, it was the credit issue. Then, we needed to find a better house to live in. When there were no other real-world obstacles, Heather was too afraid to notify the biological father. She convinced me to wait two more years – to strengthen our case that he had truly abandoned them. It seemed logical to me, and what could it matter? He obviously had no intention of being involved, and Heather, Maria, and I were inseparable.

          Twenty-two months later, we separated.

          Heather and I were having some fight about something or other, and I succumbed to the urge to look at other women. Infidelity was the furthest thing from my mind… but internet pornography was only fingertips away. I don’t have any idea what I might’ve done before that day to erode Heather’s trust in me, but she found my lapse into weakness the following day by looking at the search history on the computer. It was unforgivable. She was staunchly Catholic, remember. Porn is off-limits, of course, and forgiveness is apparently not as valued as the Church would have us believe.

          I was kicked out of the house, and the relentless pressure to agree to a divorce began in earnest.

          I won’t abandon Maria like her father did, I wrote in an email to Heather.

          Of course not. I would never take her away from the only dad she’s ever known, Heather promised in reply.

          I realized that my beautiful Heather had never been happy married to me… and after four years, she never would be. With tears splattering on my brother’s keyboard, I wrote to her that I had always only wanted her happiness, and I hoped she would find it without me.

          The emotions are still crystal clear in my memory, but I can no longer cry. Teardrops are too tangible.

          I tried calling. I attempted to schedule visitation days. I sent presents and cards and letters. The calls were ignored, the gifts and letters returned. With a scrawl of my name on the divorce papers, I was forcibly thrown out of Heather’s life… and Maria’s, by association. To Heather, I no longer existed.

          Five years passed, and I never forgot my daughter. My plan was to wait until she was an adult, then try to make contact again. But I couldn’t always control my curiosity, and I looked for Heather on Facebook. She had always like photography, and had many pictures in her photo album. Not many selfies – Heather never believed how beautiful she appeared – but pictures of Maria’s birthday parties, pictures of her parents and brother, and his family, abounded. Then, I saw a picture of Heather in a long, white dress, holding a bouquet of flowers. Next to her, hands on her waist, was a man I had seen photos of half a dozen years before. She had not only remarried, but she had reconciled with Maria’s biological father, the man who had run out on them both and never even attempted to meet his daughter.

          My plan took a hit, then. Suppose Heather somehow managed to keep from driving him away again… Maria would have a dad for those turbulent adolescent and teenage years, and it would be her natural father. What place could I hope to have in her life in that scenario?

          Eight more years went by, and I couldn’t think of a better plan than my first one. I just had to wait, and try my luck.

          Maria’s eighteenth birthday came and went, and I remained absent. I would wait until Maria was likely away at college, and out from under her mother’s spiteful eye. Obviously, Heather remembered me, because at some point in the previous eight years, she had blocked me from viewing her Facebook page.

          Midsummer, I could wait no longer. It had been thirteen years, after all. I found Maria’s Facebook page, and sent her a message.

          Hi, Maria. My name is Malcolm, and I used to be married to your mother when you were very young. I don’t know if you remember me or not, but I’ve never forgotten you. My best memories of my life are from when I was your dad. Trying to convince you that Santa liked macaroons and Coke far more than chocolate chip and milk; exploring the backyard with you so that you might overcome some of your fear of spiders; watching you swing from the monkey bars at the playground; seeing you pout and thrust your foot at me when you were learning to tie your shoes, and were having difficulties; your ferocious hugs; how furious you would become if anyone said that you were funny… the list goes on and on. Anyway, I’m writing to you to tell you that it wasn’t my choice to suddenly exit your life all those years ago. She probably had her reasons, but that was your mom’s doing. Not mine. I didn’t want to leave you, ever. Not for a second. I loved you, then, and I miss you, now. I understand that your real dad is back in your life, and I certainly don’t want to try to come between you and him. It’s just that now you’re an adult, it’s your choice whether to have any kind of relationship with me. It could be as a stepdaughter, or a friend… or nothing at all. It’s your choice. I hope I hear from you soon.

          I wished her a happy Thanksgiving in November, but didn’t receive any response to either message. At Christmas, I decided not to intrude on what was likely a joyous family holiday for her. In the Spring, when her birthday approached again, I logged in to Facebook, and looked in my message history for her, and found the two messages that Facebook ironically labeled a “conversation”, but Maria’s picture was gone. When I clicked on the conversation, three words appeared on my screen:

NO CONTENT AVAILABLE

          I sat, stunned. My hands trembled, my chin quivered, and my eyes filled as I forced my inert brain to put into words the realization that my mind railed against. My beloved daughter had either deleted her account, or blocked me. Either way, I was left with no way to reach out to her… and she had chosen that. Like her mother, she had made the conscious choice to scrub my existence from her life, her reality. So I thought at the time.

          Two weeks later, the remote control for the television fell through my fingers. A week after that, my socks refused to stay up, and pooled around my ankles. Friends started having trouble hearing me when I spoke. Sometimes, I have to blink once or twice before I can see my reflection in the mirror. I’ve begun to question my existence.

          The Velveteen Rabbit keeps bothering me. The book said that you become real when someone loves you. I’ve learned that you become even more real when you love someone else. What happens to you when you try to love someone else, and they refuse it? And they don’t love you anymore?

          What does it mean when you can’t hear noises anymore? I love listening to The Who. Roger Daltrey has the perfect scream for rock and roll, but he doesn’t overdo it. He uses it just enough so that when you’ve listened to a few Who songs that don’t have his scream, you start missing it. Their song Who Are You was just playing, but then it faded and disappeared, right before my favorite line – Ahh, who the fuck are you?

          I couldn’t taste my coffee this morning. Coffee! I hated coffee all my life, but started drinking it lately because if any taste could break through barriers, it’s the taste of coffee. Couldn’t smell that pungent, disgusting odor, either.

          I’ve been losing my eyesight for years, so I don’t know if my inability to penetrate the fog that has filled my apartment is related to this mess, or not.

          But it’s the lack of sound that’s loneliest of all. I’ve only been deaf for a few minutes, now, but it’s devastating. I’m completely alone. I mean, even if there were other people around, I wouldn’t know it. Of course, I know what’s happening. I only wish it would hurry more!

          If I’m going out with nothing left to me but memories, I’m making my last one that night you had me sing at the monsters in your closet. Your tears streaming down your round cheeks, and your eyes threatening to let loose the flood that would wash your whole face. Your shy, tremulous voice begging for help; pleading for me to save you from certain doom at the hands…paws?... of unspeakable horrors in your closet. That look of hero-worship on your joyous face after I drove them away. Your heart-melting smile as I turned off the light and said goodnight. I- I can … hear… a whisper… your whisper… I can-

          “Thank you, Daddy.”


#

      The recorder beeps when the battery dies. On the dining room table, slowly being absorbed by the thirsty, polished pine, lies one teardrop, exploded out of symmetrical form and bulbous shape by the impact of its fall.


Richard Brown is a multi-genre author who has contributed to Black Petals twice before (issues #91 and 96), and is currently working on two novels – a dark psychological thriller, and a young adult fantasy/adventure. He and his Guide Dog haunt the Pacific Northwest, rain or…well, rain.







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