Continued from: Beneath the Weeping Tree: Part 12— A Little Privacy
“You did a hell of a job out there today. You’re really getting good, Kid.”
“Dad, do you have to smoke in the car? It makes all my clothes stink. And, will you stop calling me Kid? I’m sixteen now, you know.”
“I mean it. Those girls on the other team were probably shaking in fear.”
“At least roll the window down. My eyes are starting to water.”
“You know any of those other girls? What town was that anyway?”
“Dad. Please. Will you roll down your window?”
Bender rolled his eyes a bit, but hoped she didn’t see him. She seemed just like her mother sometimes, as if nagging was a genetic trait like brown eyes or diabetes. He imagined some doctor slinking into a wating room and saying under his breath, We’re sorry, sir, but she seems to carry the genes for constant whining and extreme bitchiness. Each is untreatable at the present time.
Bender cranked the window down and began laughing. He found it difficult to stop. The image soon expanded, adopting cartoon-like characteristics that aligned Jesse and her mother, each with oversized heads, in an old laboratory. Guys in black smocks raced around monitoring their behavior and then punched numbers into a computer. Mother and daughter sat and stared at the geeky lab techs with bitchy disdane.
“What’s so funny?” Jesse asked, apparently eased by the freshened air.
“Oh nothing, honey. I was just thinking about something that happened at work today.”
“I don’t know what could happen in a guidance office that could be funny,” she sneered.
The word guidance fell from her mouth with distaste. It was the way that he imagined the lawn chair mothers would have spoken, and he wondered if Jesse would grow up to be just like them—scrambling eggs for some prick of a husband before he goes off to his office job and then sitting around scoping through gardening magazines before the afternoon soaps, whipping some sort of dinner-in-a-box together and then after the sit-coms, kissing the kids good night and shuffling off to bed with Mr. Wonderful. What a pitiful fucking existence.
“What was that all about, Jess?”
He was struggling to remain calm.
“What is what all about?”
“Guidance. You say it like I shovel shit for a living. Or sell used cars.”
“Missy Stapleton’s father sells used cars and they have two houses,” she said.
“Missy Stapleton is a little cunt.”
She recoiled, and he instantly regretted speaking the word to his daughter.
He then said, “And who needs two houses? He probably bought two of them so he could live in one and his wife and daughter can live in the other.”
“Is that what you want? To live in a different place, away from me and mommy?”
“No, that’s not what I want. I’m just making a point.”
He threw his cigarette out the window and watched in the side mirror as it bounced in the road, ashes sputtering each time it hit the pavement.
“Why are we even talking about this?” he continued. “And don’t call her mommy. Don’t you think you’re getting a little old for that? Hell, you just told me not to call you kid.”
“Oh, I could think of a few things I’d like to call you.”
The car screeched to a halt. A van traveling behind them swerved and its horn trailed as it sped past them. Bender maneuvered the car slowly to the side of the road and turned off the ignition. Jesse was staring out the passenger side window. The shoulder sloped down into a field that was sewn with potato chip wrappers and crinkled plastic bags. A rusty shopping cart peaked out of the tall weeds a few yards away like a small child playing hide-and-seek. She didn’t look like she was going to budge, but he figured he had all day to wait for her to turn toward him.
He dragged on the butt and exhaled through his nose. It seemed to tame the instinct to strike out at her, the child he had loved, the young woman that was forming and betraying him simultaneously.
“Jess, there are some things that we need to…”
“Let’s just go home,” she said. “I’m not interested in talking about this right now.”
“Not interested,” he whispered.
The cigarette tasted good, like a morsel of grilled meat to a starving man. Heat surged into his fingertips, bucked his knees with tension. His cheeks and forehead flushed the color of fresh brick. Bender flicked the cigarette out the window and then watched the cherry simmer atop the pavement. Gum wrappers and other spent butts adorned the road side and he reasoned that his cigarette would be able to mingle with other butts. Maybe catch up on old times with a friend who got shuffled off to a different carton down at the plant in Winston-Salem. Then he leaned out the window, the wind passing through his hair in invisible ribbons.
“She isn’t interestred in talking about it,” he screamed.
A station wagon passed and the little boy wedged against the backseat window smiled and flipped him the bird. Bender returned the gesture and was pleased by the kid’s scared look.
“Dad, get in the car,” she yelled. “Stop acting like such a retard. Start the car.”
He composed himself and settled back into the driver’s seat. His arms stretched forward, fingers webbed together and he waited for the knuckles to crack.
“I’ve got a better idea, Little Miss Jessica. Little Miss Replica of her mommy. Why don’t you get out of the car? Go ahead,” he whisked the air in front of her with his hand. “I’d hate to have anyone see you riding around with a low life guidance counselor.”
Her arms folded squarely beneath her freshly-formed breasts and she pouted toward the windshield.
“Get out, Kid. You can walk your smart ass right on home.”
She wasn’t budging. Her eyes were closed, her breathing steady.
“Okay,” he said. “Like Bogart said: ‘Here’s looking at you, Kid.’”
Bender yanked the keys from the ignition and stepped out of the Jeep. He lit another cigarette before walking away, wondering if she even knew who the hell Humphrey Bogart was.
If he’d looked back at the Jeep he would have seen the concerned eyes of his daughter watching him retreat from her. He would have seen his Jeep parked on the roadside choked with litter. He would have seen her wanting him to take her with him, or wanting him to come back to drive her home as planned.
But he kept on walking and didn’t look back.
Continued in: Beneath the Weeping Tree: Part 14 — In the Evening