My daughter is running out of room. Where she’s not pierced, tattoos take birth on all exposed areas—eyelids, and even inside her lower gums. Her face is a rash of Roman numerals and glyphs that I can’t decipher and she will not divulge to me. She shaves her head so she can add more—some kind of dragon embryo entwined with thorny vines.
She’s reading or pretending to read, shoreside of the lake on a lounge chair, naked but for two hankies covering her breasts and pubis. Sun screams across her body, liking the bejeweled bits most, the orb more confused than anyone, shooting silver claw marks across the water surface.
This is our first time back and will be our last. Our flight leaves tonight.
Surrounded by taped boxes, I sit at a desk flipping through an old photo album. After my wife died, the therapist did his best to relieve me but certain stains won’t ever fade.
Now the word “if” is a cliff, a fantastic and obscene weight. If I’d left sooner I’d have missed the traffic and my wife might not have boarded. If I’d begged, sworn to forgive her. If her plane hadn’t caused one of the 4.03 fatalities per million of air miles flown. If “if” hadn’t become so important.
My daughter used to favor pink, everything bubblegum bright, her bedroom then a cotton candy carousel. I would read to her at night. She’d blather and giggle, saying, “Please, Papa, my gut is going to break open.” And I’d say, “I hope so. It’s full of jelly beans and I’m starving.” Then she fell in love with ladybugs and we put up ladybug wallpaper and she had ladybug sweaters and a ladybug backpack. When I asked why, she said she felt sorry for them, that they couldn’t fly right and would usually bump against the window, chubby and stranded.
My daughter used to be husky herself, but then things happened and she turned so thin, marking her dermis with those tats, poking and punching holes.
A year ago, I overheard a nephew call my daughter odd, adding some other labels, most of which I’m unfamiliar. I should have took the kid aside, knocked his teeth out, slammed him against a wall, but I guess I didn’t think I deserved anything so cathartic.
I walk down the narrow trail, letting my shoes crunch as loud as they want. An eagle soars overhead, watching me while I take the open chair. Sweat clings to my clothes and my clothes to every crease of skin.
There are a million paths and I’ve not planned anything. It just feels like time.
I take the metal leg of her chair and swing it around. I say, “It’s okay to hate me. I get it.” Glare from the cold sore sun makes her squint. “But if you’re going to hate me your whole life, you should do it for the right reasons.”
“I don’t want to talk to you. I never—”
My arm leaps out like a stump, palm shading her face. “I’m going to tell you everything, all of it, and then when I’m done we’ll leave and you can hate me more than before or less, but at least you’ll have the truth. At least you’ll know.”
When she doesn’t object, I take in lake air and shrug off the memories it makes. I concentrate on the story I’m about to tell—about the crash before the plane crash—and on how to help my daughter find the broken pieces as well as the beauty in between.
Len Kuntz is from Washington State. His work has appeared widely in print and online at such places as Camroc Press Review, Boston Literary Magazine, Pank, and Connotation Press.