When I was five, I asked my mother why my father had left.
I watched her nose turn red and her lips tighten. That told me much more than her stammering attempt to explain.
I never asked about him again. Still, she spent her life trying to form an answer for me. And, I suspect, for herself.
I remember watching a Father’s Day-themed sitcom on television with her. She volunteered, “Your father was just not good at marriage.”
I saw tears in her eyes. I didn’t ask what she meant.
Another time, we were driving home from my first Little League game. Without warning, she banged her fists on the steering wheel and sobbed, “Your father was a selfish son-of-a-bitch.” I had never heard her curse before.
We stopped for ice cream at Dairy Queen.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“For not forgetting. For not letting you forget.”
When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, I took a semester off from college to be with her. One afternoon, she handed me a yellowed Polaroid snapshot of two laughing teenagers, younger than myself, their arms around one another like they would never let go. It took me a few moments to realize that the girl with the big smile was my mother and the boy my father.
“I found it going through old pictures,” she said. “You should have it. Good times should never be forgotten.”
My mother died three years later, withered and wrinkled far beyond her years, wisps of hair platted to her scalp. At least she got to meet Ella, the woman I planned to marry.
I handed the photograph to the undertaker and asked if he could make my mother look like that. He stared at the picture and at me, trying to word a tactful response.
“Then cremate her,” I said.
Ella and I arranged a small memorial. While searching through her papers, we found my father’s name and a telephone number. Ella urged me to call him.
“Why?” I asked.
“Maybe he’d like to attend the service?”
“What if he does?”
“Don’t you want to meet him?”
“No,” I said, throwing his number in the trash.
I kept the photograph.
Wayne Scheer has been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Web. His work has appeared in print and online in such venues as The Christian Science Monitor, Notre Dame Magazine, Pedestal Magazine, flashquake, Flash Me Magazine, Smokelong Quarterly, and Camroc Press Review. Revealing Moments, a collection of twenty-four flash stories can be downloaded at http://www.pearnoir.com/thumbscrews.htm.
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