It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a real father. – Pope John XXIII
The hot sun beats down on the top of my head as I watch the hill of the red dirt road that dead ends in front of my house. I am waiting for my father to come home from his job as a carpenter. I wait for him every afternoon, anxious to tell him about my day. I dig the dirt with my bare feet and draw designs in the fine dust with my toes. One of my father’s beagles is lying in the shade of an old oak tree, made drowsy from the heat and humidity. When I call his name he slowly opens his eyes and thumps his tail, but his eyelids droop and he drifts back into slumber. The old tree has a blackened scar where lightning ran its blue-white finger down its side one hot, sultry night and red and white chickens are clucking nearby, scratching in the gravel in hopes of finding a bug or two before they fly up to roost in the limbs of the tree above.
My ears perk up as I hear a humming coming from behind the hill. The road is over a mile long and we are the only people who live on it so I am sure it is my father coming home. I jump up and down excitedly and watch with unblinking eyes for the first sight of my father’s old black Ford pick-up nosing over the hill. First I see the wide chrome grill grinning at me, then my father’s solemn face framed behind the windshield. I am not allowed to run to meet the truck so I wait impatiently for it to chug to a stop. The door creaks open and my father slides tiredly off the cracked leather seat and the dog and I both rush to meet him, the dog with frenzied barks and wagging tail and me with little hops of joy.
“Daddy! Daddy! I’m so glad you are home!” I say as I run to him. He has squatted down to pet the dog’s head and I try to throw myself into his arms. “Daddy, I missed you! Did you miss me?” My father pushes me away with an arm he has raised between us to keep me from embracing him. He stands up and walks to the back of the truck to get his toolbox. He starts toward the house and I follow along, my joy evaporated. Most of the time my father acts like he doesn’t see me and sometimes I wonder if I am invisible. When he does focus on me it seems like he is mad at me and I wonder what I have done to disappoint him. I try to be good so I can be worthy of his love but it is hard when you don’t know what you are doing wrong. Tears spring to my eyes as I slowly trail behind him, bereft in the knowledge that once again I have let him down.
My father stops and turns around. He sees me! I can tell by his eyes. He reaches into the pocket of his old, faded overalls and pulls out a small white glass jar. He puts it in his palm and hands it to me. I look questioningly into his eyes but his face is impassive. My hand is trembling as I reach up and take the jar. It has a metal lid and I gently unscrew the top. A delicate fragrance wafts up from the pale pink cream inside the jar. I touch a fingertip to the cream and rub it between my thumb and forefinger. It is silky and feels like velvet and it is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I look back up at my father and whisper, “Thank you, Daddy.” He doesn’t say anything, just turns and continues walking to the house.
Overcome, I go and sit under the tree, the rough bark poking into my back. I lift the jar to my nose inhaling the fresh scent of the cream, but I don’t touch it anymore. My father gave me this treasured gift to reward me for being good and I am afraid if I use it all I will lose whatever magic the cream contains. I will hide it and only take it out occasionally to smell the delicate fragrance and relive the moment when I was worthy of my father’s love. I gently screw the top back on the white jar and stand up to make my way to the house, cradling it in my hands.
I don’t see the dog running exuberantly up to me so I am unprepared when he jumps up, sending the jar flying from my hand. I scream as I watch the jar fall and shatter on a rock sending small white slivers of glass across the ground. The clean, pink cream drips down the rock onto the red dirt below. With tears running down my face and sobs tearing painfully from my throat I start running, just running as fast as I can, trying to outrun the pain of losing my precious gift. My father gave me the jar because on this day I was good but I never had time to learn the secret of sustaining that goodness and I now know I never will.
opyright ©2015 Kathleen Gunderman