This story is by Kelsey and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
To put it simply, he was always around but never there. I never knew my mother either. She died, alone, due to complications during my birth. I was born at 8:41am on a blustery February morning. Within an hour of my arrival and mother’s subsequent departure of this planet, Aunt Sophia showed up to Brookdale University Hospital raising enough cane to warrant a brief hospital-wide lockdown. I’ve heard the story often enough in my twenty-one years that it feels like a personal memory, though logically I know that this is an impossibility.
When I was sixteen, on a whim, I stopped by the OB floor at Brookdale one afternoon after class. I asked a bored-looking receptionist if there were any nurses on the ward that’d been around since the nineties. “Ya. Ms. Marla,” she told me, never looking up from the smartphone in her hand. I leaned so far through the window that when I spoke again, the girl about jumped out of her chair, “Well is Ms. Marla here today?”
She huffed before setting down the still-chirping device and began clicking away on the computer screen also in front of her. I tapped the toe of my Doc Marten boot as loudly as possible. “She comes in at eight tonight,” she said, picking up the cell phone without another glance in my direction.
I moved across the hall to sit in the waiting room amongst two sets of excited families. I pulled out Gone Girl and read to pass the time. I ignored the receptionist’s surreptitious glances and tapped my boot in time with the large round clock above my head.
At 7:43 a woman with a salt and pepper bob stepped off of the elevator. Her skin was pale but smooth and only the laugh lines around her deep emerald eyes gave any other indication of her age. She strolled through a door labeled “Employee Only” and the snarky receptionist slammed the admit window shut.
She stage whispered to Ms. Marla and though I couldn’t make out the words, her exaggerated gestures and furtive glances in my direction indicated that I was indeed the topic at hand. The two disappeared behind a partition within the glass cage that was the front desk/nurses station. I went back to my book and was uncharacteristically startled when I heard Ms. Marla clear her throat a few steps from me just moments later.
As it happened, she’d worked 340 night shifts a year for the past 25 years; and since she only used her vacation time to visit Nantucket each fall, she was there the night my mother came in with contractions.
Ms. Marla’s story coincided almost completely with the one Aunt Sophia reminded me of near-constantly, except for one major detail— my father had been the one to bring my laboring mother in. He stayed until the pushing started around 6:00am— “He just sort of disappeared and your mother didn’t seem the least bit concerned! For years I’ve wondered on this,” she told me shaking her head.
He did not answer the phone when Ms. Marla called personally to inform him of the events that’d occurred in his absence. She left a message, but no one heard from him until he sauntered back through the door of the stairwell around 8pm that evening. Ms. Marla was just returning to work after a day of fitful sleep and said that she’d likely have reamed him out had it not been for the vacancy of his stare. He knew; though no one was quite sure how he’d gotten the news.
She also said that Aunt Sophia was cussing him like a sailor for all the new mothers and babies to hear but he didn’t even acknowledge her. They led him to the nursery having to forcibly bar Aunt Sophia from following wept wracking, tearless sobs holding me tightly to his chest for over an hour.
I left the hospital that evening with a newfound respect and love for my nearly-absent father and about a hundred more questions.
My bizarre birth story was only one of so many aspects of my life that made little to no sense but that until recent I’d somehow convinced myself to write-off. My father the workaholic— of course he left when my mother needed him the most because duty called. She thought nothing of it because she, like me eventually, understood that the force came before all else. My father, Chief of Police to the good people of Brooklyn, has had one night off since my birth— at least as far as I know— just two weeks ago when he drove me, silently to catch the red-eye to Constantinople.
He kissed my forehead just before I climbed from the black sedan— the first and only display of outward affection he’s ever given me. His lips felt like ice and the burning sensation they left stayed with me, even at 30,000 feet until I finally fell into a fitful sleep.
I woke with a jolt, a cold sweat enveloping my shaking body. The stranger next to me snored on, oblivious to the nightmarish reality that my subconscious mind had just revealed.
I flagged down a stewardess and ordered a vodka tonic. She frowned disapprovingly but delivered. I sipped, the liquid warming me from within. I giggled softly at the absurdity of the thoughts racing through my mind. I ordered another drink— this time a double.
I pulled out my laptop and fiddled with the Wi-fi until I got it to work. It was 3am back home. He was either at the station or driving slowly through the Brooklyn streets— either way, he’d have his phone. I downed the fiery liquid then typed:
“Dad, are you a vampire? Lol”
I stared at those two words as the jagged pieces fell precisely into place.
“Okay. I love you.”
“Love you more.”