(In case you missed it, Click Here to read Part 1)
Cherie dragged a hand across her cheek, dashing away the unwanted tears that fell for her father, a man she had never known nor had ever really wished to.
Well, at least, she had not wished to for a very long time. Any childish curiosity she felt for him had been squashed in its infancy by her mother, snuffed out before it could set fire to anything.
“Forget about him,” Mom had repeated on so many occasions it had become the mantra that accompanied each shy request for information.
Cherie had wondered how she could possibly be expected forget someone she couldn’t remember. Still, the spectre of her unknown father haunted the first twelve years of her life, an itch in her subconscious that begged to be located and addressed, scratched, satisfied.
“Where did you meet?”
“What did he look like?”
“He looked like you.”
“What was he like?”
“He was a scientist – an inventor.”
“Why did you leave?”
Ah, now that was the question that was never properly answered. Mom, alongside her doctorate in Psychiatry, held a Masters in Passive Aggression. For her curiosity, Cherie was generally punished by days of virtually unbroken silence, her mother having retreated behind the bland mask of watchful tolerance reserved for all her patients.
But Cherie was not fooled; there was pain behind her mother’s dark eyes.
Their one and only emotionally heated discussion about her father had ended badly. Very badly. It was on the eve of Cherie’s thirteenth birthday. She was growing up, entering her teens. Surely… surely now was a time she was adult enough to know about her father…
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Cherie, stop being so melodramatic.” Mom lit a cigarette and held it between shaking fingers. “He’s mentally ill, darling. Not just a little, but seriously, seriously ill. Trust me when I tell you he wouldn’t want you to know him.”
“But what was he like?”
“I told you. He was an inventor…”
“No, that’s what he was. What was he like?” Cherie, usually so calm, so cooperative, was in the throes of hormones and frustration. Her voice had risen to unacceptable levels. It may have been a top floor apartment, but they still had neighbours.
And just like that, the mask descended and Mom became Dr. Kessler, to Cherie’s eternal agitation. Her mother narrowed her eyes and leaned against the refrigerator. She tapped her ash into the sink and observed her daughter coolly. Dr. Kessler was silent for a long time. “He was… like you,” she said softly, matter of factly. Like it was no big deal that she was like her father, the schizophrenic.
Cherie, heart pounding and implosion imminent, cast one final volley her mother’s way. “If he was so awful, then why are you still married to him?”
Dr. Marie Kessler exhaled, stubbed out her cigarette on the granite countertop, turned and backhanded her daughter, a great, hard slash across her right cheek. The blow knocked Cherie to the floor. Her mother was breathing hard, but recovered with creditable speed. “You,” she said at last, slowly, calmly, “will never mention your father again.” She bent from her waist and lifted Cherie’s chin with her forefinger. “Do you understand?”
She met her mother’s eyes, calm, dark, clinical eyes that seemed not to notice the welt rising on Cherie’s cheek, and all thoughts of mutiny were effectively quelled. “Yes,” she said. “I understand.”
Of course, she did not understand. Nevertheless, the issue was settled: Cherie’s interest in her father died an abrupt death that night. It was the one and only time in her life that her mother had struck her.
Cherie stood teary eyed in the driveway of Dale Kessler’s house. Old Dale. Dead from heat stroke at 68. She found herself wondering at the tidy yard and the precisely trimmed hedges. Each blade of grass seemed to stand to attention, even now, at least a week since their last trim.
Leaving the top down on her MG, Cherie made her way up the front steps, turning the key over and over in her hand. She noted the yellowed newspapers littering the porch and wondered if Dale would have approved, making a mental note to ring the Daily News and have them discontinued. The black letterbox, on the other hand, was completely empty, though she had no idea who had been collecting his mail. She opened the screen door and slid the key into the deadlock.
In that moment, Cherie felt a pang for her mother as strong and as sure as the breath in her own lungs and the heartbeat pounding in her ears. The ghost of her mother crossed the threshold and down the steps behind her, a young woman with black hair flying, her infant daughter clutched to her chest. Cherie turned and faced the street down which her mother had fled all those years ago, her eyes mentally tracing the footsteps she would have taken.
Her mother. So strong. So capable. So…
But of what?
Angry, she could see. Disillusioned, unhappy, discontent; all of these made sense.
Still, as she envisioned her mother running down Sycamore street in the black of night, something told her with absolute certainty that Marie Kessler had been frightened. This was a new thought altogether.
She looked back to the door, where her key remained unturned in the lock. The wind picked up just then, catching the screen door and slamming it backward on its hinges and against the side of the house, startling Cherie out of her musings.
Her heart pounded as she reached for the key, turning it until she felt the lock release. All she had ever wanted to know was within her grasp, and yet now she had the strongest desire to run in the opposite direction.
The door swung back into the stale, hot darkness of her father’s house.
“Oh Mom,” she said softly and to no one, “Mom.”
The salty shock of adrenaline prickled the insides of her elbows and the backs of her wrists, but she pushed herself forward on watery knees, scarcely breathing. Cherie stepped over the threshold and onto the cool mosaic tiles of the foyer.
feature photo: speideladventures.blogspot.com
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