The peach tree lives for how many years and one day it keels over with the wind. Last year there were peaches. This year it can’t hold its weight. So we have to tear it apart so we can burn it. When did it start to diminish and crack? Does every breeze knock a little of us out? The sun creeps in through clouds and rain and sucks a patch of skin away. Or it is stark and full of bravado cutting through layers of us until we are merely the canvas for demise. It starts with those areas we ignore. Our knuckles are weathervanes bending and creaking endlessly without us even tending to them or acknowledging them until they become arthritic from overuse. We are ugly beasts with hair growing out of orifices, toes and fingers. Mosaics of skin cells pan out over the surface of us and refuse to shed. We now carry ancestors in spinning little spirals that skid over raised blue veins, all some horrible puzzle that strains up as though magnified. And can we hold our weight? We are circled by memories as they come back to find and meld us into dependence.
I take meds. The doctor says it will diminish the depression. Does he know how concave I have become? I never thought I would swallow a pill that was prescribed. I did drugs that wander through streets. The sky is white-gray with groping branches to fill in the blanks. There is no ground to be seen. Concrete moves into mounds of mangled juniper and grass.
I am sitting with a therapist. She says let images appear and go. One scene keeps pulling me. My dad is in the car with my older sister. He is always late. I can’t wait to tell Sister about camp. I throw myself into the back seat and look from Dad to the girl. She isn’t Sister. Her freckles and braids are offensive. “I’ve heard all about you,” she says. “I’m Lisa.” The girl is maybe eighteen. I’m fourteen. She is younger than the counselors at camp. I am trapped inside a thin bottle where no air or bubbles come. “I detest you,” I think, stare out the window. “And gross. Are you into my Dad?”
She vomits on about meeting Dad while hitchhiking and how she’s into Transcendental meditation just like Dad and they have so much in common and how majestic it is out here in Wisconsin near the Lake and they went swimming and hiking, blah, blah, blah. “You don’t have age in common,” I think. “This guy is a Dad and could be yours.” I want to break out and say, ‘Don’t you have friends?’ I want to yank those pigtails right out of her head.
Dad is all soft and pliable when they minx at each other. Mom is oblivious at home. I stare at a crooked line separating sides of Lisa’s hair. She is one of those hippy girls. They have grubby feet and sex with everyone.
“We’ll find a hotel,” Dad says. “How was camp, honey,” he tries to make friendly. I am an enemy. Mom is garbage. Lisa is a pig. I have to answer or Dad will smack. He hit me in a restaurant once when I rolled my eyes after he asked the waitress whether the fish was wild or domestic. Potatoes cooked in oil or butter? It is a long, drawn-out hell when he orders and Brother tells me they definitely spit in our food.
“How old are you?” I ask.
Dad sneers at me.
“Eighteen.” And she whispers back. “Well, almost. How old are you, honey?”
Goddamn honey? My neighbor’s seventeen and I tutor her in Math and English.
“Fourteen,” I say. “Oh, but almost fifteen.”
“A great age,” Lisa says. “Loved the teenage years.”
“She’s brilliant on the balance beam. I can hardly watch. Flips and twirls without her hands. Scares the hell out of me.”
Lisa puffs up and “ohhhhhh’s. I wish I could see you do your thing?”
I spend at least four hours a day on my thing.
“What grade are you in, Lisa?” I ask.
“Oh, honey,” she says. “I finished school ages ago. Traveling the country now. Need to see the sights.” She looks back and twirls one of her pigtails. “I’m going to Europe.”
She smiles at Dad and I see her hand move to his leg.
“There’s a Holiday Inn,” says Dad. “Looks good to me, and honey, they have a pool.”
“Great,” I say. I wonder about the dirty hitchhiker. Do I share a room with her?
Dad hands his credit card over. He gets two rooms adjacent to each other. Lisa is still part of the landscape. He hands me a key and says, “I’ll be right next door.”
I remember a magazine we found in the garage we couldn’t read because my brother told us it was in Swedish, but the pictures filled in all the blanks. A man in a hotel room picks up the phone. A maid is at the door. She comes in with a duster and a tutu like skirt. She leans over and has no underwear on. The man says things and gets up off the bed. She says things back, but they are groans like “ohhh” and “mmmm” which are translatable. Next thing he drops his pants and shows his dick. She says ‘ohhh’ and “mmmm”. His sentences speak some language. Will Lisa wear the maid’s outfit? With smelly feet.
I look at the back of Dad’s head. He is signing his receipt.
“Get in the pool before it gets dark and I’ll call you for dinner.”
“Bye, honey,” Lisa says. “Have fun.”
Gross. I want to call Sister from my room. She hates everyone, especially Dad. I want to swim and it’s getting late, though. Okay, swim first, call after.
Dad yells from a balcony. “Honey, time for dinner.” Lisa’s behind him, nude‑o.
“Is the bass fresh or farmed?” Dad asks.
Lisa leans in, “I’m a vegetarian.”
The waiter and Dad have a lengthy discussion on where food grows up and how it’s cooked.
Lisa ogles Dad.
I order a burger and fries.
They exchange a wink. I give them the finger under the table.
Neither talks during dinner. Dad is rarely quiet, so this is revolting.
“You didn’t swim in the pool,” I say.
“No,” says Dad.
“Chlorine is toxic,” says Lisa.
Dad nods his head. “Lisa leaves tomorrow.”
“Moving in the opposite direction,” says Lisa. She clings to Dad’s arm.
“But what a gift to meet you and your dad. There are no mistakes.”
She is one big mistake. If Sister was here we’d maim her vegetarian ass and throw her out in the street.
When we get to the rooms Lisa grabs and hugs me. “You are special.”
Dad smiles, hugs. “Night, honey.”
I double lock my door.
I lie on the bed and imagine them together. He’s a sicko no matter how I paint him.
Dad is a creep.
Dad is a creep.
When we get home Mom says she received a letter she thought was from me, stamped Cable, Wisconsin. She looks with large, cable-stitched eyes. Yank and taken down by every woman on the street. She hates this husband.
To know some girl is in love with him is a fucking assault. He drags in the luggage. Mom gets dinner ready in the kitchen.
I say, “Mom?”
“Wash your hands, honey.”
Sister and brother throw themselves into chairs.
Mom yells, “First come, first serve, let’s get on it.”
Dinner is served.
Meg Tuite is author of four story collections and five chapbooks. She won the Twin Antlers Poetry award for her poetry collection, Bare Bulbs Swinging. She teaches writing retreats and online classes hosted by Bending Genres. She is also the fiction editor of Bending Genres and associate editor at Narrative Magazine. http://megtuite.com