© 2019 by Robin Stratton
  • robinstratton23

8. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online

Updated: Jul 28, 2019


Jules didn’t see her father until the next day, when he came to take them out. As always, Allie suggested the zoo—she wanted to practice drawing animals―and since no one could come up with a better idea, that’s what they did.
Sitting in the front seat between her parents, Lisbeth didn’t care what the others thought, she was glad to see Dad. She didn’t have the inner strength that Mom and her sisters had, and he was the only one who had truly understood her constant need for reassurance. Of course the others were sweet to her. But sometimes they were impatient, too, even Jules, who was her favorite. They had no sympathy for her interminable worrying, and only Dad caught the anxious look in her eye, soothed her fears, and spent extra time with her when she couldn’t sleep. No one knew about all the nights she’d slip out of bed and creep into the kitchen to cry, only to hear Dad’s slippered feet coming down the hall: Couldn't sleep, he’d say casually. No point in lying there wide awake, right? Still vivid was the memory of one night when she told him about a boy in school who had teased her about being so shy. I was really shy too, Dad said; my mother hated my father and she was always saying that I was “just like him.” So growing up I always felt really bad about myself. Lisbeth had been horrified, but Dad went on to tell her that once he was a grownup he had figured out that kids who made other kids feel bad did it because they felt bad about themselves. So from now on, anytime someone makes fun of you, just remind yourself that they’re trying to make themselves feel better, because they have something about themselves that they don’t like. Together they would marvel at the self confidence displayed by Mom and the other girls. They didn’t get it from me, he’d say. I’m so sorry that you’re insecure like me. She’d take his hand and say, Don’t be sorry—I like being like you. The other thing about Dad was, he was a musician too; had played in a band when he was in his twenties.
“Can I put the radio on, Dad?”
“Sure, Lissie.”
She spun the dial. “What’s the music scene like in California?”
“It’s wild! Do you and your sisters watch MTV?”
“What’s that?”
“Music Television. It’s a station on cable. Only music videos.”
“Like HBO?”
“No. It’s just music. It’s like radio, except it’s videos of the bands playing.”
“Wow!” She found a station she liked, and sat back to look at him. “That must be the coolest.”
“Simon has cable,” Jules spoke up from the back seat. “I’ll ask him if he knows about it.”
“Okay.”
“Simon has this thing that you use to change channels,” Jules added, because talking about him made her feel more comfortable. “It’s not like a remote control like you see on TV. It’s more like a thing with switches. He can get a whole bunch of channels. It’s really great.”
“A lot of my friends have cable TV,” Allie said. “I wish we could afford it.”
Dad glanced at Mom, who was staring straight ahead. I need to send them more money. I’ll tell my lawyer to accept whatever terms are in the divorce papers. “Oh, good song,” he said, when CCR’s cover of “Heard it Through the Grapevine” came on. “Although I prefer Marvin Gaye’s version.”
“Me too. The Pips’ version, I can do without.” Lisbeth and Dad laughed; they had a private joke about the Pips, a freaky but friendly animal population Lisbeth had made up one night when she and Dad couldn’t sleep. “Hey,” she said to Jules, “Simon wants to start doing some soul.”
“Can he handle the vocals?”
“Not sure. He’s got such a funk rock vibe.”
“Yeah, he’s got a great rock voice. Like the guy in Foreigner.”
“Simon is the boy who lives next door?” Dad asked.
“Yeah.”
Now Dad’s glance at Mom got a glance back. Boyfriend? his eyes asked; Not yet, hers answered. “Well, I’d like to meet him.”
“Okay.”
They pulled into the zoo lot, and as Dad searched for a spot, Allie held up her sketch pad and pencil. “I’m taking requests.”
“A zebra,” said Lisbeth.
“One zebra, coming up.”
“A super exotic bird,” said Jules.
“If one will sit still long enough.”
“I’m glad you’re still drawing,” Dad said. “You know, I used to draw a little.”
He turned to Mom for confirmation, but she looked away. Another dream I destroyed when I got pregnant… his plans to study in Paris… and she sighed.
Allie’s smile was polite. “I know. You used to draw for me.”
They spent some time watching one of the zoo’s newest residents, a polar bear named Major, then passed dozing lions, agreed not to visit the primates, whose cages were inhumanely small, and followed Allie up the path to the aviary.
“It’s so gross and muggy in here,” Mandy said after only a few minutes. She patted her hair. “Mom, do you have a Scrunchie?”
From her purse, Mom pulled one out. Jules admired the ease with which Mandy arranged her hair into a bun; it reminded her of the scene in Spellbound where Ingrid Bergman is awakened by a sound, and, after slipping into a bathrobe, does up her hair in a simple but elegant twist as she makes her way down the hall to investigate.
“So pretty,” Dad said.
Mandy made a dismissive sound, then fanned her face. “I’m going to wait outside.”
“Me too,” Lisbeth said. “We’ll meet you by the zebras.”
“Anyone want something to drink?” Dad asked. “Coke? Lemonade?” He was joining the group headed out. Mom hesitated, and Jules saw sweat on her forehead. Why are you wearing jeans, Mom? Mandy asked that morning; it’s so hot! Wear shorts! But Mom had just shaken her head. I’m too fat for shorts now. Jules felt so sorry for her that she wanted to cry. She heard Lisbeth answer, “No, thanks, Dad,” and the sound of the aviary door as it slammed shut behind them.
“I might have lemonade,” Mom said, and followed them out.
“All I see is the ibis and the oyster catcher,” Allie said, looking at an identification poster. “I wish we could find the Victoria crown pigeon, they’re kind of pretty… so what do you want?”
“The ibis.”
“Okay.”
Jules stood and watched her sister draw—the feathers, the curve of the beak, the long straight legs with the knotted knees. “God, Allie, that is so good!”
“When we get home, I’ll color him.” She added a finishing touch—a shadow beneath the belly. “Okay, zebra time.”
She and Jules stepped out into the sunshine, and as soon as their eyes adjusted to the light, they saw that Mom was holding her chest looking panicked, and Mandy was rubbing her back.
“What’s the matter?” Jules asked, alarmed.
“Mom was drinking lemonade and she drank it too fast and it gave her one of those cold heart attacks.”
“She drank it too fast,” Dad said defensively. “She’ll be fine in a minute.”
Jules and Allie went over to Mom, concern on their faces. Dad stepped back. “She’ll be fine in a minute.” To Mom he said, “You just drank it too fast.”
Surrounded by her girls, Mom didn’t know if she would die of pain or embarrassment. She thought how ridiculous she must look—sweating in jeans, red faced and unable to breathe. After a few more seconds of agony, the ache subsided. “Wow,” she said. “I hate when that happens.”
“Don’t drink anymore,” Jules said, taking the cup from her, and throwing it in the trash.
“I won’t.”
“Remember that happened to me once, at the circus?” Mandy kept rubbing Mom’s back. “I thought my heart was going to explode.”
“Let’s get some lunch,” Dad said. “Inside where it’s not so hot.”
“I’m not really hungry yet,” Jules answered frankly.
“Yeah, I had a big breakfast at the motel,” Dad said. “So what about a movie?”
No one answered; no one wanted to take on the responsibility of making the decision. Wordlessly, they deferred to Mom.
She sighed. She was drained from the effort of being with him, pretending everything was just peachy, pretending to herself that it didn’t bother her that he was having sex with someone. He just gets to go off and do whatever he wants, and leave me here to take care of four kids all by myself. A movie? What nerve! But she knew Lisbeth would love to prolong the day with a movie. Allie, too. Probably Mandy. Jules might be a hold out; maybe not. It’s up to me. I can say No and he won’t put up a fight and neither will they. For once, I’m calling the shots! “I’ve heard Coalminer’s Daughter is good.”
“Okay,” Dad said happily.
“Sissy Spacek does all her own singing,” Lisbeth added.
“Can we have popcorn? With extra butter?” Allie asked.
“Anything you want.” Dad winked at Mom. “How about a little lemonade to wash it down?”
She pretended to laugh with the others. A year ago she would have punched him on the arm and said Very funny!
Dad sat in the bleachers with the rest of the family and watched Mandy graduate. After the ceremony he pulled her aside and handed her an envelope. Inside was a hundred dollar bill.
“I wish it could be more,” he said. “I wish… I wish things could be so different…”
“I know you do, Dad.” She thanked him with a kiss.
“I mean, but you guys are okay without me.”
She heard the self-pity in his voice and couldn’t stop herself from saying, “We still miss you.”
“Do you? Really? Because I was afraid that…” he stopped as Jules appeared.
“Mom wants to get your picture,” she said to Mandy.
Mandy said, “Thanks again, Dad,” and went over to where Mom was waiting with her camera. Jules cleared her throat, scuffed the ground with her sneaker.
Dad said, “So, this weekend didn’t… go that well…”
“What you did was crap. It was real crap.”
“I know.” He blew out a sigh. “I hurt all the people I love the most. I know that, Jules.”
“I don’t care about me,” she said. “I’m over it. But Mom―”
“Mom understands. She’s fine―”
“I don’t think so!” Jules forced herself to stay calm as happy families milled about, laughing, proud, not divorced. “How can she be fine?”
“She seems fine,” he said with a hopeful little shrug.
“Well you know what? She is! She’s absolutely fine! We all are.”
Maybe overlooking her contradiction and offering up another apology was the right thing to do, but it felt condescending to him. His relationship with his prickly daughter had not always been easy, but it had always been honest. “So she’s fine or she isn’t fine. Which is it?”
Jules glared and didn’t answer.
“I’ve known your mother a long time. Since we were Mandy’s age.” He paused; hadn’t realized it until that moment. Sadness pierced him… nostalgia for those days, when everything was so simple: she was pregnant, they loved each other. Not rocket science. “People change,” is what he came up with. “Your mom and I were… ”
Going in different directions. I know,” Jules snapped. “You told us that in a letter, like, ten times.”
“Well,” he said, “be mad if that’s what you want. And hopefully you will stay the same person forever and ever, with all the same likes and wants. Hopefully life will never open up new possibilities for you, and you will get to stay the exact same person forever.”
Jules thought that didn’t sound like such a bad thing; it was, in fact, exactly what she intended to do. At the same time she wondered what “new possibilities life had opened up” for him. He’d been young once, full of dreams, then had to get married. Way before any of his friends. He’d left his band to take a “real job.” One after another, and he’d hated them all. Jules pictured herself getting married in a couple of years and having to give up her writing, and couldn’t. Did Mom have dreams too, when she was a teenager? Jules didn’t know, and that made her feel ashamed all of a sudden. I should ask her.
Her gaze traveled past Dad, and she saw Mandy grinning and posing with her diploma, first by herself, then with Mom, who was positively beaming. She heard Simon’s instructions, “Say cheese! Ready? One… two… ” and looked back at Dad. “Maybe if you visited more often… ”
He nodded. “I will. I want to.”
“Jules! Dad!” Lisbeth motioned them over. “Simon wants to take a picture of the whole family.”
Dad looked at Jules. She nodded. “Okay,” she said. “Here we come.”
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