Pia Z. Ehrhardt
His Hand Restless On My Leg
In high school I had a job as the hostess at The
Trawler, a seafood restaurant at Esplanade Mall. My battery went
dead and my father had to come to the mall parking lot to give
me a jump. He dug for the cables in his trunk, pissed that he’d
been called away from the new piece of music he was writing at
home. It was Father’s Day and what he’d asked for was for a
quiet house and lemon pie for dessert.
"You left the headlights on?" he said.
"The passenger light," I said, pointing at the
back seat. "Door wasn’t shut all the way."
"Who was in the back?" he said. "I thought you
were driving to work and home, only."
My daily comings and goings were charted in the
kitchen, reviewed when I got back in the evening. I had the use
of a Buick Century as long as I kept it filled with gas, washed
it once a week in our driveway with mild detergent, and didn’t
joy ride with my friends.
"Sorry for the inconvenience," I said
"Don’t be a smart-ass." He clipped the cables on
the battery. "Get in and rev the engine when I tell you."
The parking lot was dark. Some of my co-workers
stood outside under the street lamp, smoking. Bugs were flying
in from everywhere to swarm in the light.
My father raised his arm for me to step on the
Sherman’s sweatshirt lay on the back seat, where
he’d stripped it off. We’d had sex there before my shift, at the
far edge of the parking lot, then switched shirts for the day.
He wanted my Sacred Heart tee so he could show off the muscles
he was sculpting for me. That’s what he’d said. I wore his faded
Ninja Turtles tee, had it stuffed into my jeans. Washed a
thousand times, so smooth against my skin. I zipped my jacket to
my neck so my father wouldn’t see.
"This isn’t working," he said. "There’s no
I drove home with him in his old green Mercedes.
Sometimes he let me drive this car. Last week I’d taken Sherman
for an evening drive out in Richburg Hills to look at the
twinkling lights of the power plant. Oz. The front seat was a
bench and Sherman scooted next to me, his hand restless on my
My father whistled what he’d been working on
when I called for help. We caught every red light. I smelled
like cigarette smoke and sex with a busy top layer of peppermint
Tic Tac. Half a box in my mouth.
"You didn’t leave the house in that shirt," he
"Grease stain," I mumbled. "I borrowed
Bugs out of nowhere dove into the windshield.
"Is Mom feeling better?" I said. She’d been in bed when I’d left
that morning, said she had a cold, but I knew it was a hangover.
I’d rinsed out her mug and it smelled like scotch.
"She’s okay," he said. He pressed the washer
button but nothing came out.
"I showed you how to fill this." The wipers
squeaked across the dry windshield, smudging the spots into a
mess. "Goddammit, Liddie," he said. "I can’t see."
I knew what to do make him forget my screw-ups.
I simply placed him right there in the palm of my hand. "What
were you working on before I interrupted?"
He told me too much, like he’d been waiting all
day for someone to ask. "A choral piece—SATB—with woodwinds. I’m
setting a John Ashbery poem. The Grapevine." He
falsettoed the soprano part because it carried the melody.
"Lyrical," I said.
My father’s readiness made me sad. The guys I
liked used just a few words to explain what they meant, left the
rest mysterious, but my father answered anything I asked like he
had one chance left on earth.
He leaned forward, squinting through the
streaks, and asked me to be another set of eyes and help get us
"Why don’t we pull into a gas station, Dad? I’ll
get out and clean."
I called Sherman when I got home to tell him
about my dead battery, but he didn’t have time to talk. I heard
a giggle in the background and he said it was his sister, but I
For dinner we had my father’s favorite
meal—chicken cacciatore with a warm loaf of Italian bread for
dunking. My mother was quiet and excused herself during dessert
to go upstairs to watch TV. My father looked sad, dumped, and I
pushed the rest of my lemon pie at him. "I’m full," I said, and
wanted back the one who would always be true, so I asked if he’d
play for me what he’d written that day. We sat on the piano
bench. I followed the notes and turned the page when he nodded.
Pia Z. Ehrhardt lives in New Orleans with
her husband and son. Her stories can be found in
14 and 16, Crowd,
Night Train, on
narrativemagazine.com and at
piaze.com She's writing a novel
called Speeding In The Driveway.