After the police told us there was no sign of my father, my mother wept during the drive home. I looked underneath the seats for him. We sped down the road in father’s Crown Victoria—which mother had recently drenched in lilac perfume—until the vehicle abruptly halted mid-driveway when we reached home. Mother avoided the garage. I was in the back seat, still too young for the passenger’s.
I wasn’t sure why Mother was crying so hard. I wondered if next time her tears would dampen her eyes and she’d forget to press the brakes, smashing us into the garage door, leaving us in a fine wet mess. It’d be a shame to see that old memory box of a garage ruined. It was the place where I helped Father fix the car, which we nicknamed Old Vic. We didn’t tell Mother that, otherwise she’d be upset. It was the garage’s gasoline-scented floor where I successfully did my first push-up. Father ran down the whole street in applause. He let the world know I was strong.
That garage was also a sanctuary for Father and the late-night gin he gulped down. It was the place Mother would go to every time she had to retrieve him for the night. She would tell me to stay in my room and remain there. When I laid in bed I listened to her screams, but the night refused to let me see what caused them.
So, Mother never ended up driving into that garage. It wasn’t worth the damages. She received many marks in her life, and was ready to realize that she didn’t deserve any more.
Mother silently slid out of Old Vic and went into the house, leaving me alone. The streetlight at the end of our street caught my eye as it clicked on. A shadow of a man appeared underneath it. He was a silhouette that stood in place watching me. His shadow was beautiful. And he never moved.
I watched him through my bedroom window that night. My fingers that pressed on the glass pulsed like my heartbeat. I was uncertain of what was coming, or what was wanted.
The man came into my bedroom that night. He stood at the head of my bed. There was a stench of copper and rotted meat that violated my room. Even in the darkness, I saw that the man was the same height as Father, the same square-shouldered and slim shape as Father.
His long hand extended towards me; something jangled from it. That’s when my limbs twitched under the blankets. Or were they his hands? My ears rung until ripe to burst; I was pressed into a dead stiffness. He was closer. I wanted to scream. My eyes could not close. The gin from his mouth: fresh.
“Go to the streetlight,” he whispered to me.
I huffed the tart aroma and blinked my tears away. He was gone. But now waiting.
My feet sizzled on the cold floor when I slipped out of bed. I rushed outside through the front door shaking, yet pleased to satisfy my beast of a conscious that demanded something I didn’t yet know was called clarification.
Cold winds gusted around me as I walked down the empty black road and under the streetlight. Father waited contentedly underneath. I kept my distance.
He wore tennis shoes and faded khakis with a belt that kept a crimson polo shirt tucked in. His sand-colored hair was combed immaculately to the left; the style he always wore best.
But the lower half of the face wasn’t correct.
His pink, raw lips were chapped and wrongly positioned, like uneven picture frames on walls. His concaved jaw seemed to have been recently acquainted with a stainless-steel rod.
As if by instinct, I stood in a stance, prepared to run, but Father barely glanced at me. To him, I was no different than a warning label on the back of his bottle of Gordon’s.
“Your face is ruined,” I stated.
“It was deserved,” he replied.
“Where did you go?”
“I never left. You know I wasn’t good, but I knew never to leave you,” he said.
“So come back. Come home to me and mom. Be better.”
I watched him deliberate. He sighed and looked away, lost in thought, the way fathers do while thinking of a way to simplify something complicated to their kids.
When Father finally faced me, he plunged his hand into his left pocket. I flinched from his quick motion. He retrieved his car keys and looked at me with bloodshot eyes.
“I already told you. I never left. See for yourself,” he ordered.
He tossed the keys without looking where I was. I picked them off the ground. There was suddenly a growl coming deep within him. I started to panic.
His teeth—or what was left of them—glistened red underneath the light as he smiled. From his right pocket, he retrieved a moon-white flask. He whimpered before downing its contents. Then there was a mighty howl, his remaining teeth tumbled from his lips, blood trailed down his chin, dribbling onto his shirt. He grinned at me. “Now do as I say, or you’ll make Daddy really angry.”
I turned and obeyed, my arms cutting through the air. The poor excuses of legs I had wobbled as the streets’ pebbles pierced the skin off my feet. I sprinted in the night, heart thrashing inside my chest until I reached my driveway. Father’s key rattled in my hand as I plunged its teeth into Old Vic. When I opened the driver’s door, an eruption of Mother’s lilac perfume overwhelmed me. The lights inside illuminated the cloth seats and an empty ashtray.
There was no sign of him.
A choking sob escaped me, and I slammed the door shut. I fumbled to the trunk, unlocked it with the key. The trunk lifted.
I was not overwhelmed with Mother’s perfume.
He was in fetal position next to the tire wrench, once silver, now stained. From his mouth I saw where a tooth rested halfway out of his lip. I didn’t see the house light on or the front door wide open ahead, but I heard Mother’s cries coming from the porch. I had discovered her secret. The houses around us came alive in response.
Father only left me once the police arrived on the scene.
Dominic Turnea is a recent graduate from Ohio Northern University, with double majors in marketing and creative writing. His work has appeared in Polaris vol. 68 and Anti-Heroin Chic. He currently lives in Garfield Heights, Ohio.