09/26/2021

Meg Tuite ~ Why the Peach Tree Before Dad?

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.

Pervertous vom­i­tous.

~

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