Do I Call You Dad?
She was not a good driver, my Ellie. I knew that much about her.
So we are stuck in the right lane and the lights are green and I can hear the people behind us getting restless. Just about ready to get on the horn. I reach over to help her (our indicators are not even on) and she slaps my hand.
Problem with Ellie is she doesn’t listen.
‘Where now?’ She asks as we pass the CBD and speed onto the causeway. We’re out of the heavy traffic, and I relax a little. I check my watch. I don’t want to be late; I want them all to know I respect things like time and order and punctuality. At least we have that in common. That’s exactly what I’ll say if they ever ask me anything.
‘Slow down,’ I say.
She is at the wheel of my old Subaru. I’ll have to get something bigger soon. And if she was to get a ticket today, I can see it now, I swear, she would ask me to make it good. That’s how she is.
If she could’ve she would’ve told me that this morning too. I can’t get it out my head. Her knees are on the bathroom floor, she’s got the hot water running. The water’s running, the steam’s rising and she’s crying and laughing. She’s got two points left, my Ellie, that’s how bad of a driver she is. I’m scared for her. Scared for all of us. I can’t encourage that sort of behaviour. I just can’t. I feel sick. I’m suffocating.
‘Keep going straight. Just straight on now,’ I say. ‘Not far from here. We’ll take a right after five or so lights.’
‘I’m good, thanks. So happy you know your way around maps. I’m terrible with ‘em. Get lost so easy,’ she says.
Before we leave in the morning, she hands me the address on a small piece of paper after her big conversation. They’ve just bought it, she says, passing the paper to me slowly. It’s really nice, apparently, she says. A new house with a lot more air and light.
‘You just listen to what I’m telling you. Then, everything will be good. Everything will be fine. Ellie?’ I wipe the sweat off my forehead with my sleeve.
‘I know,’ she says.
‘I wish things were different too. I didn’t imagine this would happen. You know?’
‘We’ll just have to cope. We’ll be alright.’
‘All I want is for things to be the same as they were before,’ I say, but I’ve already made myself clear. Jesus, I think, we’re going in circles here. It’s all too much on an empty stomach.
‘I’m sorry I’m a bad driver, and I’m sorry about before,’ she says. She puts her hand on my knee. ‘I’m so happy I have you,’ she smiles. She turns on the radio and sings along. For the life of me, I cannot remember what song it is.
‘Just focus on the road, Ellie.’
‘Don’t worry babe,’ she says. She sings along louder and rolls down her window. She smiles and sings and looks at me with her blonde hair and her green eyes and her sun-kissed skin. A truck cuts in front of us. It comes to me, just then, descends deep, deep in the stomach: it will happen. It’s going to happen. My hand jumps and turns off the radio.
Then: ‘Do you love me?’ We are not far when she does this.
‘Don’t be silly,’ I tell her. ‘You know it.’
‘Tell me anyway. You’ve been stressed all morning, babe. Can’t you be happy? You should be happy is what I’m trying to say. What a beautiful Sunday it is,’ she sings. We drive with the windows down and the AC up. Big breaths do nothing for me. It’s as if all oxygen’s been sucked out of the air and my lungs are empty.
‘Prove it. Give me a kiss.’
She turns her left cheek holding the wheel with both hands. I do it quickly.
‘Touch me,’ she says.
I laugh. I can barely catch my breath I am laughing so hard. ‘You are crazy.’ We almost miss the turn. ‘Here,’ I scream, ‘turn right here.’
Her parent’s new place is at the end of the crescent, nestled with the other houses though none are quite as big or expensive as theirs. Theirs is three stories. European design. A huge veranda. All gravy, really.
Mum and Dad come out soon, holding hands and smiling. I hold Ellie in my arm, grip her so tight. He is lean and well dressed with a grey beard and dark brown hair. She is a little lady, grey haired, older than him on first glance. After the kisses and the introductions her father looks on at my ride that’s parked on his grass. Or maybe he’s looking at my V8 seat covers. I’ve had tem since I was sixteen. You don’t grow out of some things, I guess. Is there a problem?
‘No problem at all. Come in. You’re welcome. Please come in,’ he says. He puts his big hairy arm around Ellie’s slim neck and tells her a few words to which Mum quickly replies something but I do not catch it. I just stand there, right there where my legs feel heavy like they do after a long day at a site. It is peaceful in that spot. I can see them inside through the fly screen. They’re talking but they’re not saying everything.
It’s strange. I think about leaving right then and there. I think about what it would be like to ditch it all. To rev the engine and nail the throttle. Get the heck out of there, while there’s still time. Pronto. This minute, second, yesterday.
‘Will you come in?’ Her father comes out and hands me a beer. I nod.
‘Cheers mate,’ I say. I take a big gulp and say, ‘Of course. Sure thing. And do I call you Dad?’
‘Ha!’ He takes me by my arm and takes me inside. ‘What a funny thing to ask.’
‘Isn’t it just?’ I say. We laugh together like that until my face feels like it’s becoming disfigured.
I can tell he is a proud man when he walks me to the table, chest out, straight as an ironing board. I remember his handshake from minutes before. Firm, too firm. He is just like my father, I figure, the only difference the collar, so maybe he’ll understand. He tells me I can call him Gregory. Or Sir. Whatever I want, he says, as long as it’s one of the two. And then he starts laughing again and then I sit down.
‘Your dad is a comedian,’ I tell Ellie who is so small at the big table. ‘A really funny guy.’ Her mother looks on and watches us. She watches me while I watch Ellie who is watching her father.
‘Well,’ I finally say, ‘it would be a shame to have all this food go to waste.’
‘I’ve been looking forward to this,’ I say.
‘What a drive me and Ellie had,’ I say, ‘I am starving.’
With those words I pick up the knife and fork. I put the first bite into my mouth. It is good. It is so good and I am almost happy. Any second now, I think. I am ready.