• robinstratton23

8. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online

Updated: Jan 10


JULES DIDN'T SEE DAD 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 him. 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 was 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 said so many times. “and I’m sorry that you’re insecure like me.” And every time she would 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, and was, like her, still grieving about the recent breakup of the Doobie Brothers.


“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.”


“A lot of my friends have cable TV,” Allie said. “I wish we could afford it.”


Dad turned up the radio when CCR’s cover of “Heard it Through the Grapevine” came on. “Good song. Although I prefer Marvin Gaye’s version.”


“Me too,” said Lisbet.h “The Pips’ version, I can do without.” she 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.”


“Simon is the boy who lives next door?” Dad asked.


“Yeah.”


“Is he…someone’s boyfriend?”


When no one answered, Jules said, “No. Just a friend.”


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.”


Allie’s smile was polite. “I know. You used to draw for me.”


“That’s right, I did.” He turned to Mom for confirmation. “I was going to go study for a year in Paris before we got married. Remember?”


She nodded, a single sad bob of her head. “I remember.”


They spent some time watching one of the zoo’s newer residents, a polar bear named Major, then passed dozing lions, agreed not to visit the primates, whose cement-floor 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. Mandy arranged her hair into a bun, 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?” she’d asked that morning; “it’s so hot! Wear shorts!” But Mom shook her head. “I’m too fat for shorts now.” Jules heard Lisbeth answer, “No, thanks, Dad,” then Mom said, “Lemonade sounds good,” and followed them out. The aviary door as it slammed shut behind them.


“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. “Geeze, 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 shot a glare at Dad. Mom looked as if she was going to die, whether from pain or embarrassment of them all crowding around her, scared and staring, Jules didn’t know. “Don’t drink anymore,” she said, taking the cup out of Mom’s hand and throwing it in the trash like it was poison.


“I’m so sorry,” Dad said, reaching out as if to take her hand; then he just stepped back, head lowered. It seemed to Jules that all he did lately was say he was sorry.


“It’s okay,” Mom said. She let out a deep breath and stood. “It’s okay, I’m okay.”


“Are you?” He looked up, his eyes locked on hers.


When Mom nodded, Jules thought, She forgives him for everything, This is what love looks like.

“Let’s walk around some more,” Allie said with a note of impatience. “Let’s find the zebras.”


“Or we could have lunch,” Dad said. “Inside where it’s not so hot.”


“I’m not hungry,” Jules said.


“Okay. What about a movie?”


No one answered, no one wanted to take on the responsibility of making the decision. Wordlessly, they deferred to Mom. Jules saw her shoulders slump. She knows he’s got someone new, Jules thought, relieved; then was ashamed of her relief. She wanted to say Go home, Dad, you’re not part of this family anymore! but what she said was, “I’ve heard Coalminer’s Daughter is good.”


Dad’s face lit like the sun breaking through clouds. “I heard that too.”


“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?”


They all forced a laugh. A year ago Jules would have punched him on the arm and said, Very funny! A year ago. A lifetime ago.



DAD SAT in the bleachers with the rest of the family and watched Mandy graduate. After the ceremony he pulled Jules aside.


Jules cleared her throat, scuffed the ground with her sneaker, then said “What.


“Simon seems like a nice kid.”


“He is.”


"Um, Jules, I know I hurt you guys. I am so sorry.”


“And I’m sick of hearing you say you’re sorry. That word doesn’t mean anything to me. You’ve rendered it completely meaningless. I don’t care about me, I’m over it. But Mom―”


“Mom understands. She’s fine.”


“After what you did?” Jules tried to stay calm as happy families milled about; laughing, proud, not broken. “How can she be fine?”


“She seems fine.”


“Well you know what? She is! She’s absolutely fine!”


He crossed his arms over his chest and wore the trace of a smile. “So she’s fine or she isn’t fine. Which is it? She can’t be both.”


Grudgingly, Jules acknowledged his refusal to overlook her inconsistency; it felt honest and respectful.


“I’ve known your mother since we were Mandy’s age,” he went on when she didn’t reply. “But people change. Your mom and I were…”


Going in different directions. I know,” Jules interrupted. “You told us that in a letter, like, ten times.”


“But it’s true. When people have known each other a long time, as they grow up and become adults…”


“Not everyone changes. Some people can stay the same.”


It seemed like he looked at her for a long time, as if appraising her qualifications for making such an announcement, and then said, “Well, stay mad if that’s what you want. Hopefully you’ll never feel depressed. Hopefully you’ll meet someone and stay with him forever and ever, and you’ll have all the same likes and dislikes, and hopefully life will never open up new possibilities for you, and you’ll get to stay the exact same person forever.”


Jules thought that it didn’t sound like 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. This new girlfriend? 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 tried to picture 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.


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 was startled; then nodded. “I will.”


“Jules! Dad!” Lisbeth motioned them over. “Simon wants to take a picture of the whole family.”


Dad looked at Jules.


“Okay,” she said. “Here we come.”

178 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
© 2019 by Robin Stratton