This week, Chuck’s challenge was to write a story about a bad dad, and make him sympathetic. There’s no doubt that Harry, my protagonist, is bad, but I am actually not sure I managed to make him sympathetic. I would love to hear your thoughts, comments and criticisms.
My mind refuses to come up with even the slightest hint of a title, so it’ll just have to do without.
By Trine Toft Schmidt
Harry lifted his head, and wiped his forehead, sweat trickling down the sides of his face as if he was standing under the shower.
She came barreling out through the screen door, it chu-chunk’ed after her, the sound stretching and repeating itself again and again, shot back from the mountains around them.
“Yeah?” He struggled not to let his impatience shine through.
“What was that sound?” She was wearing sneakers and some piece of fabric that barely qualified as a bikini, but she claimed was a gown. Showed way too much cleavage, it did. Not that she would put something else on, even if he told her to go change.
“What sound?” He bent down over the heavy-duty black plastic bag he was hauling from the compost heap toward his truck.
“What sound? What do you mean what sound? Are you deaf or something? It sounded like a shot.”
Harry straightened again, looked her in the eye.
“I didn’t hear a shot, you probably have the music on too loud.” He shook his head and wiped at the sweat again.
“I am listening to Vivaldi, and no viola sounds like a god damn shot being fired.”
“Watch your mouth young lady.” His voice hitched with the effort of speaking and dragging the damn bag at the same time. She just rolled her eyes.
“Or what? You’ll ground me? Pffff.” She turned on her heel and stomped back toward the house. A sigh made its way through Harry. Teenagers. Sure, he had caused his parents a measure of heart ache, but this girl! Some nights he wasn’t sure if he shouldn’t have left her with her mother. The grief she’d already caused him!
“Can you zip me up?” He dropped his grip on the bag. She was standing right behind him, looking a lot sweeter than she had just a few seconds ago. It was like living on a roller coaster ride. You fucking never knew when she was up or when she was down.
“Sure honey.” He pulled off his gloves and she turned, the dress flapping down each side of her spine. She was almost as tall as him now, he realized with a start. Only a few more inches and she could look him straight in the eye.
“When did you get so big, sweet pea? I can’t believe you’re going to a prom already.” She turned her head and he saw the corner of her mouth curl up in a real smile.
“I guess you just forgot to look dad.” He nodded to himself. Yeah, he probably had forgotten to look. He gave her shoulder a kiss. She smiled again and was gone.
He pulled on the gloves and started dragging again.
He had just gotten the bag up into the back of the truck, when the screen door slammed again. He flipped the tailgate closed, pulled the tarp over the truck bed and turned. She had changed out of the sneakers and into high heels that made her a good three inches taller. His heart soared. She looked stunning, her dark hair swept up into a complicated do that curled and twisted in impossible ways. As far as he could tell, the only war paint on her beautiful face was a touch of mascara to her eyelashes.
“Wow, honey.” He never knew exactly what to say, how to pay the compliment just right, so he left it at that, afraid to ruin her mood. She shot him a quick worried smile.
“Is something wrong?”
“Have you seen Malcolm?”
“Who?” He turned and started to snap the elastic band in place around the tarp, to keep it in place.
“You know. My date? Malcolm Farling from Harriston? I told you last week. Twice.” He could hear her rolling eyes, and he fought to keep calm.
“No, honey, I haven’t seen him. It’s early yet isn’t it?”
“No, he should have been here ten minutes ago. I bet he’s stood me up or something. The bastard.” She tried to sound tough, but he could still hear her heart-break.
“I am sorry, honey. You want me to have a word with him?” He flashed her a quick grin and she wrinkled her nose as if she was considering. Then she shook her head.
“Thanks dad, but I’ll manage. Can you give me a ride into town?”
A quarter of a mile down the county road, they passed a car, standing in a layover, with its bonnet open and Anna gasped.
“Dad, stop the car. That’s Malcolm’s car.”
Harry pulled in, pushing down on the anxious twitch in his stomach. She was out of the car, before the truck came to a stop behind the green Honda. He watched as she circled the car twice and tried the locked door. He rolled the window down.
“Honey, I am sure he’s got some of his friends to come pick him up. He’s probably waiting for you down at Queenies, don’t you think?” She bit her lip, and nodded slowly.
“Maybe. But I don’t understand. He could have called. Hell he could’ve walked.” She dug her hand into her purse and pulled out her phone, and Harry’s heart stopped. Faster than lightening she flipped it open, tapped in a number and held the phone up to her ear. Harry was half way out of the car when something began ringing in the back of the truck. He stopped. Suspended between car and layover.
Why hadn’t he checked?
Anna’s eyes widened, and she pulled the phone away from her ear. Listened to the tune that played, muted and a little tinny, out of the back of his truck.
He closed his eyes.
“What… why… is that Malcolm’s phone? What is it doing in the back of your truck?”
“Honey, I can explain.” He had perfectly reasonable reasons. She probably wouldn’t understand them, gripped in her teenage hormone flip as she was.
“You can explain.” Her eyes were molten lava on a bright summer day, black, but the promise of fire lurking underneath. “Is Malcolm back there? Did you…” She stopped. Started again.“The gunshot. It was you.”
“I CAN explain honey. You don’t know the vile things he was thinking.”
“YOU KILLED MY FUCKING DATE?” Her pale skin was blotched with red, her eyes bulged, her hand clutched so hard around her phone it looked like it might break.
“I had to. I know what he’d planned. He was going to…” Harry closed his eyes and shuddered.
“He was going to do WHAT?”
“Touch you. Take you back to Mariot’s, he was going to…” He couldn’t say it. The thought alone was enough to constrict every muscle in his throat.
“I BLOODY WELL KNOW!” He could feel the physical heat from her fury, rolling toward him. She stomped her foot hard into the gravel and the heel snapped. She bent and pulled off the shoe, threw it at him. He let it hit him. She wouldn’t make him regret. Not this time. Not ever.
“How sick is this, dad? Something is wrong with you. Just because you saved me from that kid back in Lewistown, doesn’t mean you have to save me from every guy who wants to get into my pants.” Her voice sounded dead, flat. It was the build up, he knew, to the explosion. “Newsflash dad. I WANT THEM TO. I want them to touch me, I want them to fuck me. I’ll take it in the bloody ass, just to fuck with your brain.” She turned and stomped away, emitting a piercing screech.
He took a handkerchief out of his pocket, wiped down the handle of the Honda. She would be back. Like the other times.