Originally published on Thumpcity.com
The fairgrounds were the usual sensory whirl of fried air assaulting the nostrils, a commercial 'Buy this NOW' overload of booths hawking their wares and the occasional piercing whoop of a child who could simply not contain her glee at being on a giant moonwalk. Passing by a 'Food on a Stick' kiosk, John Selva wondered how he’d been lured here from the coziness of his living room complete with recliner and football game. Oh - the joys of fatherhood. His 5-yr. Old Alyssa was having the time of her life - being one of the aforementioned whoopers in question.
He had come to dread the phrase “Daddy, can I?” but since his wife’s death he tended to give in as often as possible to the pleading, whining phrase that most parents had learned to tune out. But he had lost all strength to resist. “You’ll spoil her,” his mother warned often enough. As if the child were fruit instead of a little girl who would never hear her mother’s laugh again. So…h e figured a little overindulgence wouldn’t hurt while they tried to muddle through hell together without burning their toes off. He wasn’t going to win Father of the Year award but she was warm, fed and basically a well-adjusted kid. The nighttime tears and half-sobs wrenched at him but he had his own nocturnal horrors to contend with.
dream came in epileptic fragments and flashes and always left the lingering
image of his dead wife’s perfect seashell ears. That’s all he could
recall of her after ten years of marriage. The 'grief counselor'
that his sister practically forced him to go see assured him the nightmares
were normal and would ease with time. That whole thing about its
healing power was bullshit as far as he was concerned. The way
he calculated it, he’d waited for 30 years for Jenny to show up, had
a piddling ten with her and now, at 40, he had racked up a near half
century of waiting for her and would probably spend the rest of his days
waiting for her to show up in thousands of tiny ways. A lot of
waiting behind him and even more ahead. He’d wait for his daughter
to grow up and become the woman he’d joined his life with to make her.
Aly had his hair - brown and basic. Jenny had a shade of coppery gold that glinted in the sun but he couldn’t recall the exact shade. And not for lack of trying. Every time he was at the drugstore he wandered down the hair dye aisle and picked up the boxes marveling at the names 'Copper Sunset,' 'Navajo Bronze,' 'Butterscotch,' 'Butter Rum' - these were hair colors? None of the cheerful women gazing back at him from the boxes captured the color perfectly. And he hated them for it.
Grief is a bitch on a Clairol box staring at you with a vapid look and toothpaste smile. After her “Daddy watch me!” pony ride on a pony that looked as if it’d rather be shot in a field than lug one more brat thank you, he decided that it was worth the inevitable whining to catch the tail end of the game and put back a cold one. He bargained with Aly that she could pick out a pair of earrings if they could leave NOW. So she acquiesced and picked some little dragonfly things and they were on their way. It hadn’t been his idea to let some fifteen-year-old with blue hair and a staple gun put holes in his daughter’s ears but his wife had done it when she first got sick. It had been one thing that she didn’t have to miss - a rite of passage that could be sped up. But weddings and graduations had to come in their own time.
As they were leaving they heard an announcement over the loudspeaker: “Will the owner of the Blume Amusements inflated alligator please come immediately to the alligator? It is collapsing and there are children inside.”
Once it was clear that there was no immediate danger, there were snickers here and there as arms and legs were tangled in the teeth of the inflated alligator jumpy thing as Aly had called it.
“Daddy, is the alligator eating those children?”
“No, honey - he’s just chewing them a little.”
“Dad-dy!” she said in that 'Don’t tease me - just cause I’m short doesn’t mean I’m stupid' voice.
“The alligator can’t hurt them hon… he’s not real.”
“But he has such very big teeth - and they look really sharp.”
“Look - see - those kids are laughing - they’re OK.”
She seemed unconvinced and pulled him by the sleeve for a closer look. The kids caught in the teeth had disengaged themselves and were now recounting their mini-adventure to their parents and cohorts. “Did you see that? That was COOL!”
“OK daddy, we can go. The alligator’s teeth aren’t sharp at all. You were right, Daddy.”
And as her shining, worshipful in the way that only kids and religious fanatics can get, eyes gazed up at him, something in him said that there would be other games, other times to recline.
And he sent his beautiful, unspoiled, motherless daughter trustingly into the teeth of an alligator.