At the Sunoco in West Virginia
My father is dreamy, forgetful, aloof. But I’ve never actually been left
behind before. I walk behind an aisle of Frito-Lays and burst into tears.
I should’ve eaten the eggs he bought me at the Super 8. I should’ve saved
my allowance like he’d said. I should’ve made myself bigger, louder,
less forgettable. A female customer has her eyes locked on me as she speaks
into her boxy cell phone: Yes, maybe two minutes ago. Looks about ten,
barefoot, wearing pink pajamas. It takes about five minutes, but Dad
still beats the cops back to the station. His arms are too tan from years
on the water, moles dark as moons, and he takes me in them gingerly,
as if I am already dead, and because I’ve never heard him cry I whisper,
It’s okay, Daddy, I’m okay. He smells of unwashed denim and paint thinner.
He doesn’t notice the people staring, or the cop car rolling slow-motion
into the station, or the woman watching our reunion with her hands
over her mouth, relief that I am not actually abandoned,
although at some point, I will be, we will all be, as she knows,
as she too has been abandoned. I am eleven, and lucky. No one is yet dead.
It will be months before anyone dies. God forgive me, he whispers
into my child’s ear, and I realize in this scenario, I am the God
to whom he speaks. I could wield my power but won’t. Mom is across
the country. Dad wears a gold chain around his neck. I reach for it.
by Catherine Pond
from Narrative Magazine