She knew as soon as she found the yellow legal pad etched with his erratic hand that it wasn’t something she should share. But, lacking the abiding sense of self-preservation that develops only around the age of 13 or so, she settled in the garage, sifting through the boxes her father was filling—boxes he would carry off in his silver Camry to a place unknown, a place she didn’t really want to know, either.

She was still puzzling over the words, a code, perhaps, that if she studied long enough would help her understand the sprawling, bewildering man she called her father.

His gruff voice called, and she heard his weight begin to bear down the two flights. “Aren’t you bringing your dad his juice?”

She didn’t understand when he talked in third person, as if the things he wanted to say or do were so unconscionable that he pushed them out of himself.

“Soon, daddy, soon … I’m … I’m looking.” Distracted. She looped a section of hair around her fingers, hesitantly wetting the tips of her tresses. She only did this any more when she was alone; whenever her mother saw the stolen ritual, she’d hem disapprovingly and say something benignly negative, like “Don’t do that, my little bird, or you’ll cough up a hairball like our Gracie cat.”

Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box.

A restless wind? A restless wind. An early November storm, the kind of storm that knocked the lights out. Then you’d sit in the dark, and someone would find a flashlight, rustle through crowded drawers for half-melted candles with wicks too short to light on the first try; once her father’d burnt his hand trying to ignite the flame for them. She sat in the angry glow of the light, then closed her eyes so she wouldn’t have to try to make sense of the blackness after the pure white burst seared her senses.

“Dad just wants his juice, dammit. Can’t you give your old man that one courtesy?”

“I … I …” She paused, met his dark, tired eyes, and asked what she wanted to ask.

“You … I mean … you wrote this?” She stood effortlessly from her cross-legged repose, young joints forgiving. She clutched the legal pad in her hands, not wanting to let go, then extended her arm cautiously toward him.

He took it, almost tenderly, a bit of life animating his face at her requet. Grunted. “Yup, that’s your old man. That’s him. Limitless undying love; on and on, across the universe. Him all right.”

The black scribble was so free; it was unconstrained. And the words were filled with joy, or at least mild contentment. When he spoke, his voice wore on her like sandpaper against a stubborn burl. It bumped and caught.

She didn’t know him at all, and how could she, a chubby eight-year-old ostracized in the third grade for wearing the babydoll dresses he helped her pick instead of the lacy spandex leggings favored by precocious classmates who sang along to tapes of Madonna alone in their rooms at night. She didn’t even have an alone room; she shared a bunk with her brother and avoided having people over.

“I … I really like it. It’s beautiful.”

He shrugged, then tossed it back on the mounting piles. She didn’t really know when he was going to leave, but it seemed like it would probably be soon. There weren’t many empty boxes left.

“Just, uh, just get dad his juice.”

Her bare feet slapped satisfyingly on the cold concrete as she made her way to the cupboard where he hid his booze. He and her mother had loud fights about the drinking, and she knew that her part in this was a betrayal. He told her it was grape juice, and she knew that even though adults were mysterious in their own ways, they wouldn’t keep their juice hidden, or greedily drink long slugs of it, eyes closed as in blissful prayer.

She thought about asking if she could keep his notebook with her, maybe add her own thoughts to the clean pages just before the thick cardboard backing. But she was secreting the bottle again, behind a box of pancake mix, and as she shut it away, the best she could do was ask if he had ever thought about writing a book.

“This fella? Oh, no, this old man doesn’t do that. Too permanent, that black and white; one day you’re one thing, the next day you’re something else entirely. Just ain’t no use confusing people with old editions of yourself — no use. No use at all.”

He was talking to himself now, but she didn’t mind. If she could have, she’d have turned on a tape recorder, captured his musings, so that later she’d have something more to turn to than faint, unreliable memories of those last nights.

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