This story is by Karen Crawford and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
My little sister and I stare out the window, our fingers playing taps on the sill. Dad is late, late, late. Which isn’t new. He’s been late every Sunday since he left last year.
What is new is who he shows up with.
Awful Pam. Fashionably crisp in a tight-assed, Saks Fifth Avenue kind of way. She pushes in front of Dad and extends a manicured hand flashing a diamond so blinding, I sneeze before our fingers touch. Her lips curl, showing perfect white teeth. She yanks her hand away.
Mom wraps an arm around me. Her flowy tousled hair drapes my shoulder like a blanket. “Bitch,” she whispers under her breath. I file that away with some of her other choice words, like homewrecker.
My sister and I climb into the back of Dad’s VW bug. She’s skipping like a record, “Are we going to the park? I wanna go to the park.”
Pam puckers her glossy thin lips and starts to sing, “You can’t always get what you want.”
I cover my ears at the hatchet job of Dad’s favorite Stones’ song and pretend-kick the back of Pam’s seat. My sister giggles into her hand. We share an eye-roll when Dad rolls down his window. I mean, come on, not even the honking and screeching on Second Avenue can drown out this American Idol wannabe voice that fills the car. Why is she even here?
Pam stops singing and teases her shimmery fingernails through his Johnny Depp hair. She keeps arranging and rearranging his part like she’s flipping through the pages of a GQ magazine.
“We’re having a small party today,” Dad says in a tone higher than usual.
“It’s our one-month anniversary.” Pam chimes in. She flashes the diamond again. This time, I notice the gold band along with it.
That’s when everything goes blurry. Mist in my eyes. Steam in my ears. Cotton in my mouth.
Thought bubbles pop questions like balloons above my head; They got married? Why didn’t he tell us? How could he go and marry her?
Dad rolls up his window and turns on the radio. I clutch my stomach, overwhelmed by the dangling tree air freshener that smells like the girl’s bathroom at school. My sister clutches my leg so tight her fingernails leave little half-moons in my skin. Pam’s lips are moving to the music in the side view mirror, but all I hear is Dad’s silence widening the distance between them and us in this claustrophobic car.
My sister and I stay mum when we get to Dad’s apartment. I float around ghostlike, lost in the unfamiliar- a red velvet sofa, black leather armchair, white chiffon curtains. It looks like a page straight outta Crate and Barrel. Gone are the old pullout couch, his guitar, and his conga. Gone are the hand-drawn Father’s Day cards on the coffee table. New are the glossy wedding photos on the mantel. I lean against the wall and press my fingers over my eyelids to stop the flow of moisture coating my lashes.
I always thought he’d come back.
My sister beckons me into the kitchen. Her sweet tooth barely reaches the counter, where a two-tiered anniversary cake sits on a silver platter. Pam races in and wags a finger, “uh, uh. Not for you,” she says and gives us another one of her thin-lipped curls. “Don’t touch, and for heaven’s sake, wash those hands.”
My sister examines her palms. Dad squeezes Pam’s shoulder. I cross my arms and glare.
Pam glares back. It’s on.
She leads Dad into the bedroom. Her voice carries when she speaks about our lack of manners and how we behave like little monsters that need to be tamed. “How about you tame me.” He teases. I’ve never heard him so flirty before. The door closes, and quiet follows. I rush to press my ear against it. When I hear the rustling of bed sheets, I kick the door and race back into the kitchen.
Sundays were supposed to be Dad days, not Pam days.
My sister sits at the table, still staring at her hands. “But they’re not dirty,” she exclaims and holds them up for me to see.
“No, but Pam is,” I say and glance at the counter where Pam’s precious anniversary cake looks tempting under swirls of sugary roses and layers of ruffled buttercream.
I feel like eating it.
I put a little frosting on the tip of my tongue. It tastes like birthdays, summer vacations, and Christmas past. I blink and blink and blink because moisture is coating my lashes again. My eyes only stop burning when my sister screams, “I Wanna Go Home!”
She digs her fingers through the ruffled frosting and smears cake across the wall.
Dad comes out, buttoning his shirt, and rumbles. “What’s going on here?” He looks at my sister and then at me, eyes clouding with impatience. She bursts into tears.
I take a deep breath before the words rush out. “How could you marry Pam and not tell us? She’s awful—and mean.” My hand sweeps the room, my voice lowers to a whisper, “Please, Dad, this isn’t you.” My heart beats fast because it knows… it knows what he’s about to say.
He taps his chest. “This is me now, and Pam is family.” He points to the wall, “Please clean that up.” Then he heads back into the bedroom to get ready for his guests.
I swallow my pride and wash the wall while my sister cries and cries. She only wipes her eyes when I open the silverware drawer and hand her a fork.
“Who celebrates a one-month anniversary anyway?” I fake a smile and shrug.
Our mouths are full of cake when Awful Pam appears in the kitchen and rips a scream straight outta the movies. Dad runs in, squeezes her shoulder, then hollers at us too.
“I wanna go home.” Dad is muttering.
The room is clean except for bits of cake stuck to the wall. Dad licks the frosting from his fingers and wipes what’s left on his shirt.
The caregiver pats his shoulder. “He’s having a rough day.”
Dad clutches her sleeve. “Today is my anniversary, and they’re trying to ruin it again. Where’s my wife, Pam? Can you call her, please?”
“Pam is gone.” My sister tells him. We can’t help but share an eye roll.
Lucky for him, he doesn’t remember that bitch left him decades ago for another man. Not so lucky for us, though. We have no memory of Dad the entire decade he was married to her. Mom says he’s lucky to have us.
Dad’s eyes are wide and unblinking, his eyebrows pinch together. “What day is today, and why are you both here!?”
My sister sighs. I take both of his hands in mine and remind him again; Sundays are Dad days.