“We live in two different worlds, dear.
That’s why we’re so far apart.”
“Dear Lord, we thank you for this day, and for this meal before us. Thank you also, Lord, for granting me safe passage on my travels today, that I might come to be with my beloved daughter Laura in her time of need. Bless this food to our use, and us to your service. Through Christ our Lord we pray. Amen.”
Roger McCallum opened his eyes and looked across the table at his daughter. She smiled back at him, her pretty face catching the light of the candle flickering between them.
“That was very nice, Dad. Thank you.”
She took a sip of her wine as her father unrolled the silverware from his napkin. He was a thick, older man, with thinning silver hair and bifocals. The two of them were seated in the cozy depths of an Italian restaurant in Manhattan’s Theatre District.
The room around them hummed with the sounds of knives, forks, and the murmur of couples dressed for a night on Broadway. “This is very good,” he said, tucking in to his chicken scarpariello. “Expensive. But they at least seem to know what they’re doing back there.”
“Oh, I’m glad you like it. I wanted to treat you to something nice, your first night in town. Nothing too exotic, like you said, but they’ve got a great menu, and a good wine list. Stew and I used to come here, before —”
Her father scowled as he leaned in over his beer. Laura looked embarrassed, the corners of her mouth drawn tight.
“Well, I guess it’s time I told you the whole story, huh?”
Her father looked at her seriously, indicating that she continue. She took another sip of her wine.
“Well, we’re not… thinking about a divorce just yet. I know, I know… I said we were, but we’re going to try just a separation right now.”
“A separation? What do you mean, separation? I thought he’d already moved out.”
“Well, yes, he has. A separation is… a legal thing. We’ll still be married, of course, but a separation spells out some of the… financial details.” She frowned and took a bite of her food.
“I suppose this was Stewart’s idea.”
“You know him. He thinks of everything in legal terms. He’s so bright, he just wants everything to be… accurate. I don’t know, I—”
Her eyes were threatening to tear up. Roger took a large bite of his chicken and looked down at his plate. Neither of them said anything for a few seconds.
“Laura,” Roger said, breaking the silence, “It’ll be okay. I don’t know what he’s trying to prove with this legal nonsense, but you have your daddy here now while the two of you get all this sorted out.”
“I know, Dad.” She reached across the table and took his hand. “Thank you so much for coming.”
He squeezed her hand briefly, scraping her knuckles with the tips of his rough, beefy fingers. Then he let go, abruptly, and reached for his glass of Budweiser.
“Five-fifty for a beer,” he sighed, changing the subject. He took a healthy swallow, and looked at Laura, who was dabbing discreetly at her eyes with her napkin. He smiled in a grumpy sort of way.
She smiled back at her father. “That’s New York for you.”
After dinner, Laura drove her tired, airport-weary father straight home. She turned on to 7th Avenue, thinking she’d show off the city a little, but all her father could say, when confronted with the blinding, chaotic flashbulb of Times Square, was, “Madness. Just madness.”
He looked out the window listlessly for a while, not saying much. But as they drove down Centre Street, he craned his neck up at the ghostly scaffolding covering the Surrogate’s Courthouse.
“How’s that new World Trade Center building coming along?”
“Slowly. Seems like they’ve been building on it for a while now, but they haven’t made much progress. Last I saw, they’re still just working on the base.” She slowed the car a little. “But we’re not that far away, actually… do you wanna drive by? It’s just a few minutes from here.”
“Naw, that’s okay. I’m tired. Rather see it in the daylight anyway.”
They drove on in silence for a while, over the Brooklyn Bridge. Roger looked out across the water, his face illuminated by slow, dragging panels of city light. His face looked angrier with each flash.
“Those God damn terrorist bastards. I’ll never forget, as long as I live… not knowing if you were okay or not.”
Laura looked over and gave her father a sad, knowing smile. “Yeah… what a terrible day that was. Shit, a terrible year. No one knowing when or if the next attack was going to come. And Stewart, you know, losing his friend in the north tower like that…”
She gripped the steering wheel tighter. “Well, at least Bush had the guts to go after them. I’ll never forget, watching him in the rubble with that bullhorn of his, calling them cowards out. Shame he ain’t in office no more.”
Laura frowned, but not in a way that her father could see.
“Now, if you ask me, Obama could be doing a lot more than he is—”
“I know, I know.” He sighed, and looked out the window. “Listen,” he said, in a much softer tone, “all I’m trying to say is, if you… if things don’t work out…” Laura stared straight ahead, her eyes hard. “Well, you could always leave this place.
You could come back home.”
Laura glanced over at her father, a curious look on her face.
“For a while, you know. Or… for more, if you wanted. It would have made your momma happy to know that you were back home again.”
They pulled up to a red light. Laura didn’t say anything until the light had turned green.
“That’s… well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, I guess.” Her voice was quieter than usual. “But thanks, Dad.”
Laura lived in Boerum Hill, in a handsome brick townhouse on Dean Street. She parked the car on the street and helped her father carry his suitcases up the steps.
She unlocked the door and flipped on the light, revealing a modern, tastefully furnished parlor. She took off her coat and hung it by the door.
“So, what do you think? Nicer than the last place, isn’t it?”
Roger set his suitcase down and considered the space.
“Well, that wouldn’t take much doing,” he grumbled. “But this is nice. Comfortable. How much you paying?”
“New York prices. But Stew and I make good money. Together, we… well, it’s enough.”
“How about the neighborhood? Safe?”
“It’s nice. Way better than before. There are some housing projects a few blocks from here, but it’s never been a problem.”
“Hmmph.” Roger pulled the curtain aside and looked out at the street. “Well, at least now there aren’t bars on your windows. Never liked the idea of you living in a cage.”
Laura forced a smile. “Yeah, me neither. Would you like to sit down, maybe watch some TV? Or shall I show you up to your room?”
“Just the room for now. I’m pretty tired.”
She led her father upstairs and took him down a narrow hallway. “Bathroom’s through there, and that’s… my bedroom. We’re using this one as a study,” she said, indicating another bedroom, “and you’ll be sleeping here.”
The guest bedroom was small, but nicely done. The bed was covered in a posh gray comforter and several handwoven throws. On the far wall, a desk faced up against a large window, which looked down upon a tree-lined courtyard and the backs of other houses. The walls were decorated with framed maps of the city, one showing a satellite image, the other showing subway lines. Roger set his suitcase down and looked around the room.
Laura, standing just behind him, asked, “Is this okay Dad? You can have my room if this one is too—”
Roger turned around. “I don’t need much. This will be just fine.”
Relieved, Laura hugged her father and kissed him on the check. “Thanks for coming. Thank you so much. I’ll… I’ll let you settle in. Let me know if you need anything.”
“I’ll be okay. Thank you.” Roger yawned and turned toward the bed. “It’s probably time I bedded down. See you in the mornin’.”
“Okay. Sleep well, Dad.”
Laura left the room and gently closed the door behind her. She wouldn’t be sleepy for a few hours still; she had always had a hard time falling asleep, and it was even worse with her husband gone, staying in a hotel somewhere in Queens. She padded lightly down the stairs to the kitchen, made some sleepytime tea, and settled herself down with a book in the parlor. The house was quiet, save for the murmur of traffic outside.
After about half an hour, she got up to go to the bathroom. She took the stairs quietly, not wanting to wake her father, but when she reached the top, she was surprised to see a strip of light under his door. What is he still doing awake? she wondered.
She decided not to bother him; he’d let her know if he needed anything. She went to the bathroom and returned downstairs. By the time she came back up, several chapters later, the lights were off in her father’s room. She brushed her teeth as quietly as possible and went across the hall, into the dark bedroom she had, until a few weeks ago, shared with her husband. She drowsily changed into her nightgown and went over to the window, which looked down on Dean Street.
She stared out the glass for a long time. Laura took in the view, pausing on lit windows across the way, whose blinds and curtains hid other, no doubt, happier, situations. She watched cars drift up and down the street. A taxi stopped a few houses down, and a man and a woman emerged from the back seat. The man put his arm around the woman, who stumbled as they walked up the steps to their door.
Tears welling up in her eyes, Laura turned towards her bed, letting her head fall where her feet, and her husband’s feet, should have been. She’d been sleeping the wrong way ever since he left.
Over the next several days, Laura did everything she could think of to endear New York to her father. On Saturday, they visited the World Trade Center site and took a guided tour around the perimeter led by a man who was in the north tower when the first plane hit. Roger listened attentively his face set like stone. A sharp breeze blowing across the work site carried the grit of construction toward them, while the surviving towers of Lower Manhattan crowded out the sky above.
On Sunday, they attended a service at a Methodist church in Brooklyn; Laura hadn’t been to church in years. Roger, who was keenly aware of this fact, made a point of introducing Laura and himself to the minister after the service, complementing him on a wonderful sermon and mentioning that Laura lived nearby. Laura wilted under her father’s arm and politely shook the nice man’s hand.
Grateful though she was for her father’s presence, he wasn’t the easiest man to spend a day with. He refused to take public transportation, griped constantly about how expensive the city was, and was visibly uncomfortable when he and Laura ran into a gay couple that Laura was friends with from the neighborhood. Nor had they talked much about her troubled marriage, which Laura was anxious to do. Nevertheless, she cleared her work schedule for the coming week, determined to spend as much time with her father as possible.
They were walking back to her place on Tuesday, after a nice lunch at Building on Bond, a neighborhood cafe and bar. She had hoped for a heart-to-heart conversation over her portobello sandwich and his mac and cheese, but he had been in a touchy mood that morning, even for him, and she was hesitant to upset him further by bringing up Stewart. He’d enjoyed his lunch though, and he seemed in better spirits now that he had some food in his belly. Laura decided to go for it.
“Dad,” she said, as they walked down the sidewalk, “I wanted to tell you… I’m meeting with Stew this Friday.”
He looked back at her, cocking his eyebrow. “Oh? What’s that about?”
“More lawyer stuff, is it?”
“No, no, it’s not like that. We’re just going to talk. It’s been a while since we’ve done that, just him and me.”
Roger frowned and looked up the street, avoiding her eyes, apparently lost in thought.
“Laura, listen to me.” He was speaking more softly than he usually did, and his face was tense. “I know we haven’t really talked about the two of you these last few days. And I know that that’s part of why I’m here.” He took a deep breath, in and out. “Laura, I… I don’t really care much for Stewart. I never have.”
This wasn’t exactly news to her. Her atheist, lawyer husband, who had grown up in Queens, who read the New York Times every morning, and who supported the Yankees, for God’s sake, had never been her father’s first choice for a son-in-law. But it was odd, and uncomfortable, to hear him say it so plainly. She wanted to protest, to defend Stewart against her father, but her mind had suddenly gone cold and blank. She bit her lip, hard, and waited for him to continue.
“I’ll say this much about him, though, and that’s that he’s been an all right husband to you. Treated you right, far as I could tell. But here you are now, in the middle of this… city, which is so big, and dangerous, and… he’s talking like he wants to leave you? Well that bothers me! It just ain’t right!”
“Hold on now, let me finish! What I’m trying to say is… no marriage is easy. It’s work. And there are gonna be hard times. But damn it, he has a responsibility to you, as a husband!”
“Daddy, please, it’s okay. Don’t… don’t be angry. He’s not trying to… he’s not trying to… evade responsibility or anything.” They had reached the steps leading up to her front door, and she was fumbling distractedly in her purse for her keys. “He’s just at a time in his life, and his work, where… well, he’s just not very happy, you know? And he hasn’t been for… for such a long time, and…”
She started to cry.
“I t-tried and I tried, to make him happy… I just w-wanted everything to be okay, but nothing I did, he just k-kept… coming home with this… this d-dead look on his face!” She gave up on finding the keys and threw herself into her father’s arms. “I-it’s not his fault! He’s j-just so unhappy…”
Roger held his daughter, completely at a loss for words. Not wanting anyone on the street to see her crying, he fished the keys out of her purse and unlocked the door.
The next few days dragged by, neither of them mentioning Stewart again. Having exhausted the short list of day trips that might appeal to Roger, the two of them spent more and more of their time together watching TV. They sat on the couch in the parlor, eating pizza they had delivered. She didn’t think she’d ever seen so much Fox News. She didn’t complain though. Her upcoming meeting with her husband dominated her thoughts, and not even Glen Beck’s televised hysterics were enough to drag her back to the present moment.
Every night, after Roger had gone to bed, Laura wandered the house like a ghost. She’d pick up books and put them down minutes later. Twice she turned on water for tea, only to forget that it was boiling. She stared blankly at the late night infomercials for hours, her face overcast in blue flickering light. And on Thursday night, she saw light under her father’s door again, almost an hour after he’d gone upstairs for bed.
Friday arrived. She and Stewart were meeting at a nice restaurant in Manhattan, and she spent the better part of two hours getting ready. When she finally came down the stairs, her father was waiting in the parlor.
“Well, Dad, how do I look?”
There was a note of panic in her voice. Roger looked her over, and, for what seemed like the first time in days, cracked a small smile.
“You look real nice, sweetheart. That boy won’t know what hit him.”
Laura screwed up her face, trying to keep her tears at bay and out of her mascara. She ran over to him and gave him a hug.
“I don’t know when I’ll be back, but if you need anything, just call me and—”
“Hey, I wouldn’t wanna interrupt. This is an important night for you. I’ll be fine. You do what you need to do now, okay?”
“Okay. Thanks, Dad.” She sniffed a little bit and slung her purse over her shoulder, pausing for a moment on the threshold to look back at her father, in shirt sleeves and jeans, looking every bit the old West Texas gentleman that he was.
“Wish me luck.”
She smiled and closed the door behind her. Roger moved over to the window and watched her as she walked steadily down the sidewalk to her car. A slight frown broke across his hard face, his eyes full of concern.
Laura didn’t come back until after two that night. She took the steps up to the second floor two at a time, hoping against the odds that her father’s light was still on. To her surprise, it was.
“Dad? You awake?” She knocked a few times, but he didn’t reply. She opened the door.
He was lying on the bed, facing the wrong way, still dressed and snoring his raspy, old man’s snore. Laura walked over to him and noticed a book, bound in leather, lying open by his head.
“Dad?” she whispered. The tone of her voice was light, even excited; her lipstick was smeared. She picked up the book and started to flip through its pages, wondering what her father had been reading. And then it hit her.
Molly my love… so many years have passed, and yet… I hope this letter finds you well… Dearest Molly, I miss you so much… the sky was blue and beautiful today, just like that time we drove down to… wherever in Heaven you may be… your loving husband, Roger.
Shocked, she looked down at her sleeping father. He was still holding the pen in his hand.
Adrenaline flooded her body; she was terrified that he would wake up and find her there, holding the book. She knew she shouldn’t trespass any further upon his privacy, but she found herself unable to put the book down. She scanned its pages again, trying not to absorb too much detail. Its entries went back for months, on both sides of the page, in small deliberate handwriting; the book was nearly full.
She looked back at her father, who showed no sign of waking any time soon. Her heart beat fast, and her conscience raged inside her, prickling, demanding restraint. But with a deep, guilty breath, she turned to the last entry, the one her father had been writing when he fell asleep
Molly, my love,
Tonight was the night. I watched Laura walk out to her car, off to her dinner with Stewart. You should have seen her darling, she looked so beautiful. If that boy doesn’t come to his senses soon he’s an idiot. I still don’t understand what’s wrong between them (if only you were here, I know you could explain it to me better), but there’s no doubt that she loves him. She looked so worried before she left. I wanted to wait up, to be waiting for her in the living room when she got back, but I’m having a lot of trouble staying awake now. It must be almost one in the morning here.
I don’t know what it means, her being gone so long. I can only hope things are going well. But I’ll let you know tomorrow how it went. She’s such a good girl, you know. She deserves
The letter ended there. Laura looked down at her father again, her eyes wet and blurry. She didn’t dare read any more. She set the book down exactly as she’d found it and padded softly out of the room, making sure to leave the light on as she closed the door behind her.
She slept deeply, for the first time in weeks. Waking up late on Saturday morning, her head aching slightly, she got up and put her robe on. She smelled bacon cooking downstairs.
Roger was in the kitchen, again dressed in shirt sleeves and jeans, setting the table. He’d just poured two glasses of orange juice, and the plates were piled high with scrambled eggs, bacon and toast. Coffee was brewing on the counter.
“Morning, Dad. That smells wonderful.”
“Thought that might wake you.” He looked at her sharply over the top of his bifocals, but there was kindness in his face. He gave no indication that he knew about Laura seeing his letters the night before. “Mornin’, sweetheart. How’d it go last night?”
She considered him for a moment: her rough, conservative father, standing in a New York City kitchen, making breakfast for her. She flew across the kitchen and gave him a giant hug.
“Oh, Daddy… it went great. Really great! I have so much to tell you.”
He seemed taken aback for a moment. But then, as relief settled into his body, he put his arms around her. He looked up, up past the ceiling, and smiled.