The Last Time

by | Dec 7, 2021 | Fiction, Issue Twenty Four

This time, the father parks his truck in the shade.

            “I’ll just be a few minutes,” he tells the girl. “When I’m done, we’ll go to the park.” He squeezes her shoulder and hands her a box of Junior Mints. “There’s a can of Coke under your seat,” he says.

            At home, where it has been only the girl and her mother for the past three years, candy and soda are forbidden. Her mother says processed food is for trashy people like the father.

            He gets out of the truck and slams the door too hard. His hair is longer than it was the last time she saw him and he has it tied back in a tiny ponytail. He sticks his head through the open driver’s side window and tells the girl not to talk to strangers. “I’ll just be a few minutes,” he says again.

            The father jogs across the parking lot to the little building with the blue door.

            “Your shoe’s untied!” she calls out to him, but he has disappeared into the darkness of Pete’s Pub.

            The girl opens the Junior Mints and peeks inside. The chocolate has started to melt. She brings the box to her face, pours the candy into her mouth. She uses her fingers to reach the pieces of chocolate that are stuck to the bottom of the box. The girl opens the glove compartment to look for a napkin, but all she finds are empty cigarette boxes, lottery tickets, and a bar of soap. She wipes her hands on her shorts and rummages around under her seat for the Coke. She taps the top of the can six times before popping it open. It’s a trick the father taught her, to keep the soda from exploding.

            The girl means to drink the soda slowly so she won’t get a stomach ache, but all it takes is one sip and she’s guzzling down the warm bubbles. Just like last time, the girl’s arms and legs go tingly and she is filled with a jolt of energy. She wonders when her father will be back, whether he’ll be well enough to drive them to the park. Will he tell her the joke about the rabbi and the priest, or will he rest his head on the steering wheel and say sorrysorrysorry? This time, though, the girl is hot even in the shade and she can’t sit still. She gets out of the truck and runs to the blue door.

            The air inside Pete’s Pub smells like cigarettes and fried food. It takes the girl’s eyes a minute to adjust to the dim lighting and when they do, she sees her father hunched over the bar, three empty glasses in front of him.

            “Another,” he says, raising his hand in the direction of the bartender. The girl watches as the father finishes a pint of beer in just a couple of gulps. He laughs and slams his hand down on the bar. “That’s what I’m talking about!” he says.

            The girl taps the father on the shoulder and asks him if his arms and legs feel tingly. He looks angry at first, to find her here inside this place, but then he laughs and says, “You’re my daughter,” like he’s realizing it for the first time. “One more and we’ll head to the park,” he says, but his words sound funny. This means he isn’t well enough to drive.

            “I don’t feel like going to the park,” the girl says.

            She would rather sit with him here than beside him in the truck as he swerves in and out of traffic, his hand over his left eye to help him focus on the road ahead.

            The father orders a Coke for the girl and another beer for himself. He begins, “A priest and a rabbi walk into a bar. . .” She tries to pay attention to the words, but her mind wanders to the time when they went to the park and sat across from each other at the picnic table and ate sandwiches.

            “I can’t remember what kind of sandwiches we ate,” she says to the father. He isn’t listening, so she jabs him in the side until he looks at her. “Peanut butter and jelly? Bologna?”

            “What sandwiches?” the father says and it’s as if he’s looking straight through her skin and bones and blood and it makes her shiver even though it’s July and she thinks maybe it never happened.

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