The Girl's Father

The house was spacious and white and there were columns along the porch. John could see them gleaming through the windows behind the faces across the table from him. The legs were artistically uneven and they shifted every time he leaned forward to impress upon them the gravity of the situation.

“She hasn’t left her room for days.”

“What is it you want from us?”

“Just an apology. That’s all.”

“From our son.”


John tried to look them both in the eyes at the same time. He looked at them both back and forth when he spoke. It made him nervous. He couldn’t look at either of them for very long before shifting to the other. They were so clean. They both had bright thick hair and white teeth and green eyes. Their fingernails were smooth and there were sharp creases in their clothing. The man’s cufflinks glinted when he cracked his knuckles. He cracked something every time he spoke.

“Why don’t we all have something to drink?” said the woman. “Would you like something to drink?” She had a large mouth and she bared her teeth like a lion when she spoke. Her teeth were as white as walls and beautiful to look at, the way they contrasted with her lipstick. “What would you like to drink?”

“Just water, thanks.” John leaned back in his chair and the table clunked.

“Nonsense,” said the man. “We should all loosen up a bit. Bring out the wine, Daphne.” His wife stood up and smiled generously down at John. He scooted forward in his chair and tried to return her grin. He met her eyes and her mouth twitched. She went for the drinks.

She came back with a dark bottle and three Bordeaux glasses. She set them down on the table and pushed one towards John. She had a ring with a large diamond on her middle finger. The light coming in from the windows glared into John’s eyes and he blinked, surprised. She smiled again and got to work on the cork. She twisted the screw in and pulled it out with a pop that sort of echoed in the room. The smell of the wine filled the air. Daphne poured liberal glasses for she and her husband. She put the bottle down next to John.

“Help yourself.”

John poured a small amount but didn’t drink any.

“Thank you, dear,” said Arnold. He picked up his glass and smelled it and smiled to himself before drinking. “Great stuff isn’t it?” He gestured at his glass. “If I told you how we got this—well, you wouldn’t believe it.” John quickly took up his own and sipped.

“Yeah, wonderful,” said John.

“Do you like wine, John?”

“Yeah, it’s good.”

Arnold nodded and sniffed at his glass again.

“Or are you more of a beer man?”

“I like this fine.”

“Daphne, do we have any beer?” said Arnold.

She looked over her glass at her husband and raised her eyebrows. She drank.

“This is great, thanks a lot,” said John. He took a larger drink.

“You’re welcome, John,” said Daphne.

Arnold and Daphne enjoyed their wine. They drank it quickly and their glasses were half-full when Arnold spoke again. He put his hand to his chin and pushed till his neck popped. “Well, we’d better get down to the dirty business, shouldn’t we?”

“Yes,” said Daphne. “Tell us again, John, what it is you think happened.”

“It’s pretty simple,” said John. He leaned forward and the table shifted again. His glass nearly tipped but he caught it.

“Should we get a few coasters, Daphne?”

“Look. It’s simple,” said John. “Your son’s been bullying my daughter—“

“Caroline?” said Daphne. She looked at John with her eyes half closed and serene.

“Yes. Your son needs to leave Caroline alone. And I think he should apologize to her.”

“Really?” Her teeth were still so white, even with the wine. John could smell her perfume. Arnold finished his glass and sighed contentedly.

“Expensive stuff, this—we shouldn’t let it go to waste, John. Would you like another?”

“He hasn’t finished his yet, dear.”

“Well, we shouldn’t let it go off.” He poured himself another glass and topped off Daphne’s goblet. “We’ve gotten off track. John, you were saying?”

“I just want your son to apologize. That’s all. I’m thinking of moving her to another school.”

Daphne inclined her head to her shoulder. Her smile never left her lips. Her lipstick was brilliant.

“Do you really think that will help things?” She said.

“What do you mean?” John pushed his glass to the edge of the table.

“Don’t you think your child will bring similar problems to every other school?”

“My daughter isn’t the problem. I’m sorry, but it’s your son.”

“Our son tells a different story than Caroline does, John,” said Arnold. “He says your child harassed him. He says she tried to kiss him.”

Daphne smiled widely at Arnold.

“For God’s sake, dear, you don’t have to beat around the bush like that,” she said. She turned to John. “You call your child Caroline, do you? Did you pick the name or did she?”

“Her name is Caroline. She picked it. That’s her name,” said John. “She also says your boy won’t call her Caroline.”

“Well really, why should he?” said Daphne. “That’s not her real name, is it?” She downed the rest of her drink.

“Dear.” Arnold placed his hand on her knee and patted it. “It’s alright.”

“No it isn’t.” she was still smiling but her knee quivered under her husband’s hand. She spoke quietly. “It’s not alright for some freak to sexually harass our son.”

John stood up and knocked the table. The glasses and bottle crashed to the floor. The wine spread out and began sinking into the carpet. John clenched his fists. Daphne looked up at him. Her eyes were cold.

“Not a problem, not a problem,” said Arnold, standing up and brushing himself off. “We’ve got something for this, don’t we, dear? It’s a sort of marker. Stains will come right out.” He left the room and Daphne and John stared at each other. Her teeth were maddening.

“I’m sorry, John, I don’t know what could have come over me. But when one’s child is being attacked, physically or otherwise, you just can’t help but lose yourself in the heat of the moment. Wouldn’t you agree?”

John bent down to retie his boots. The steel toe was poking out through the leather on the left one. His hands kept fumbling till he got them tied. He stood up.

“You just tell your son to leave my boy alone. I’m not looking for trouble.”

“You may have found it, John.” She kept on smiling and John left the house.

He picked up the battered lunch cooler he’d left on the porch, threw it in the bed of his truck, and climbed into the driver’s seat. Sitting in the sweltering truck, John could smell the oil and dirt worked into the upholstery. He leaned his head on the steering wheel and tried to force down the lump rising in his throat. He reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a dog-eared photograph of Caroline wearing a blue ribbon. It was a school photo. John fingered the edges of the picture for a minute, finally put the keys in the ignition, and went to pick up his child. He held the photo in one hand while he drove, his grip slowly tightening. By the time he arrived at the school, it was crumpled. But he smiled and kissed Caroline when she got into the truck.

Tim Slover is a writer living in Salt Lake City, currently attending the U of U.


Daxson said...

Okay. I like it. Did what I think happened actually happen?

Miss Manners said...

three tims for cheer

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