Eyyyyy, May the Fourth be with you, amirite? So let me explain about this piece before you delve right in. So I thought it would be a good idea to set an alarm to wake me up at 3am and write a thing. That's what I did. I haven't re-read it yet; let's call this raw? Yea, so feedback would be DEFINITELY needed. The current working title is, "Carvel Daddy-o," so..
My daughter came by today. She knocked on the door and I answered it and I went, “Maddy?” And she went, “Yeah.” I didn’t know where to go from there, on account of we hadn’t spoken for three months and I didn’t even know where she was living. I knew she was still working at Stop and Shop because when I drove by sometimes I would see her with that dumb uniform five sizes too big. I didn’t invite her inside, but she probably would’ve refused anyhow.
“Let’s get Carvel,” she said.
“Okay,” I said.
I was going to tell her I missed her, and then I was going to tell her it was nice to see her, but then I didn’t say anything. She was bouncing around like she did every time she got nervous, ever since she was a kid. I wanted to tell a dumb joke and make her laugh, but that wouldn’t work anymore. I cleared my throat. She looked at me as though expecting me to speak.
“It sucks when it’s just you against the world, ya know that?” She said finally.
“It sucks not having someone to have your back and being completely alone and having a shitty day and not being able to go talk to your dad or whoever about it, ya know that?”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“Do you even know what you’re apologizing for?” She said. I glared at the road. I didn’t want to see what look was on her face.
“I went away and you were left with your mom,” I said.
“Are you fucking stupid? This isn’t about you getting your ass sent to prison, dad. This is about you lying to me all the fucking time and keeping shit from me that shouldn’t’ve been kept. This is about me having a father that sucks as a father. Do you know what that’s like?”
“I would never lie to you,” I said, but we both knew that was a lie.
“Oh really? Remember Uncle Tom? Remember how he was suing you because he was an asshole because Grandma Charlotte up and killed herself and then he wanted more money when ya sold the house?”
I could see where this was going.
“Remember how mom’s brother was awful and that’s all I needed to know about that?”
“No. Fuck you. Mom told me all about it, dad. How the money was split evenly and then Uncle Tom gave it to me so that I would be able to go to college but then you took that money to funnel into your dying fuckin’ business and oh, how’s that doing by the way? Failed? Figures.”
“It’s not like that,” I said. It was.
“Ya know, I always figured I’d end up hating mom. Not you.”
My heart sank at the word, ‘hate’ and I stared even harder at the road. She cleared her throat. I looked at her.
“How is she, by the way?” My daughter said. I shrugged.
“Yeah. Figures,” She said.
No one was at Carvel when we got there. It was weird to be there while the sun was still up, because every time in the past had been around midnight. We used to joke that we’d have to turn on the charm so the workers wouldn’t hate us. It usually worked. I parked, but didn’t get out of the car. Maddy looked at me, hand on the door handle for a few seconds. Her hand fell away.
“I,” I said, then stopped. Resumed.
“I’m really sorry, Mads. I know that doesn’t help and I. I know I lied and I lie and I’ve failed you in so many ways and so many times and-”
“Hey,” She said, no longer interested in me, peering out the window. She was looking inside the ice cream parlor, “Do you remember that time they lost power and tried to dump all of that ice cream out on us? Like ‘yo wanna free gallon with that kid’s cup?’”
“And you triedta convince me it was a bargain or some shit?” I said, abandoning the attempt at an apology. I couldn’t help but smile. We used to have some good times here.
“The only reason we didn’t was ‘cause of mom.”
“Well I mean.”
“Remember that fuckin’ limited-edition blackberry wasabi crap?”
“I remember you eating the whole thing, if that’s what ya mean.”
“Well you weren’t going to and I didn’t want it to go to waste-”
“That shit was waste.” She smiled. I smiled back. Things were okay, for just a moment.
“Still remember my order?” I said. Closing her eyes:
“Large vanilla with strawberry topping. Heath crunch if they have it, Reese’s pieces if they don’t.” Pause, “Right?”
“Close,” I said, “Reese’s were the third option. Heath if they have it, pralines if they don’t. I’m a suth’n boy, ‘member?”
“You moved here when you were like ten.”
“I was eleven.”
My daughter was a resilient one, just like her old man. We didn’t need to have a long damn talk about our feelings, just had to vent what was wrong and then it’d all be good. Not like her mother at all. Mads reached over to nudge my shoulder. When I looked at her, she opened the door and hopped on out of the truck.
“How’s money these days?” She said, off-handedly, as we walked to the entrance.
“Work’s been good,” I said, “Busy.” I debated telling the truth, asking to borrow some cash like the scumbag father I was. We both knew each time I borrowed it that she wasn’t going to be seeing it again, and that made her jaded over the years. But I didn’t say anything. My pride wouldn’t let that happen again just yet. I held the door open for her and she nodded her thanks.
“How’s life been?” I said. I ignored the urge to ask what made her show up on the front porch she had avoided for months. I ignored the urge to ask where she was living and if it was better and if she was happy.
“Life’s been amazing,” She said. Her smile was genuine and my heart sunk. When she was younger, I could make her smile like that, but that was a long time ago and things were too fucked now for our bond to ever re-form.
“That’s good,” I said.
We walked to the counter. The woman behind the register beamed at us and asked for our orders. I elbowed Maddy.
“Give her mine,” I said.
“No,” Maddy said, “You can do it yourself.”
“Come on,” I said. She rolled her eyes but she was smiling, and she looked to the cashier, reciting by heart. The worker was delighted. We probably looked like the happiest father and daughter. I wondered if Maddy was going to move back in. That hadn’t occurred to me. My daughter asked the woman what the weirdest flavor was and ordered a kid’s cone of that. My daughter was always a goofball like that.
The woman turned around and started scooping out the cups.
“So,” I said, “Are you comin’ home for good?” I couldn’t resist the question.
“Fuck no,” She said. Dead space left in the air. I stared. She went on:
“Look, I’m leaving for college in like two weeks. ‘Sides, if I didn’t move out ‘cause we stopped talking, it’d be because my mother is a goddam psychopath.”
“Mom’s not a psychopath.” But my voice didn’t even convince me.
“Hey dad - why did we first go on a Carvel run? What was every Carvel run like before this’n?”
“Your mother’s --- conflicted.”
“Conflicted’s one word for it. Another is insane.” She wasn’t wrong. A pause. More self-consciously:
“Do you think her crazy is hereditary?”
“She’s not crazy,” I said. Maddy sighed loudly and focused her attention back on the ice cream coming out.
“If you’re not coming home, why’d you show up today?” I said.
“Wanted to tie up loose ends, ya know? Didn’t wanna leave on bad terms,” She said.
“I really do love you, Maddy,” I said. Words fell short. Maddy took our ice cream from the cashier and paid her. I cleared my throat, repeated myself a bit louder.
“I said, I love you.”
“Here’s your ice cream.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, accepting the cup and cheap plastic spoon.
“I forgave you like a month ago,” She said.
“Because I’ve forgiven you but there’s so much to forgive and so much fucked that’s happened that sometimes I think it’d be best not to feel. But I’m getting better, dad. I really am. Just, I can’t get better if I’m around you and mom. You get that, right?”
I licked the ice cream. It tasted like dirt.