Thursday, April 15, 2021

Last Chance by Sonia Mehta

 Callie stared at an empty street through a rickety screen door. It hung by one remaining hinge, on its last breath, just like the town of Gallia. In a week, Callie will finally turn eighteen and will never have to come to this godforsaken place again. Eighteen was a magical number for a child of a bitter divorce. At eighteen, she could decide who she wanted to have in her life and who to shut out. Forever.

Callie pushed her perfectly styled silky chestnut hair back and turned around. Her dad looked up from lacing his shoes.
“Are you going to change before we go out?”
“What’s wrong with what I’m wearing? Callie retorted.
“Your jeans are so ripped, I’m afraid they’ll fall off you at the parking lot. And your top. Does it have to be so cropped?”
“We’re not going to a church. And you can’t tell me what to wear. We’re in the middle of nowhere. Who cares?”
Every conversation turned into an argument.
They got into the car, and Daniel Morrison drove to Sonny’s Grill. Callie looked sideways at her dad, at his thinning brown hair, and at his old fashioned polo shirt stretched over his protruding abdomen. She did not hate him; it was just so difficult to talk to him lately.
Sonny’s Family Grill was the only sit-down restaurant in Gallia. Callie slid into one of its tattered laminate booths and stared at the unchanging menu under plexiglass. A waitress came over, but Callie was not ready to order. She had been a vegetarian for the last two years, and places like this rarely had anything she could eat. Daniel asked for more time.
“Callie, why do you want to go to Columbus Community State? You could go to any elite university.”
“Like you did, Dad? Where did that get you? Unemployed and on welfare?”
“I’m not on welfare. I earned my unemployment benefits.” Daniel’s face darkened.
“It’s supposed to be temporary. All the other hospital exec’s at Gallia Community lost their jobs as well when the hospital closed. But they all moved on. You’re still here. And unemployed. So much for your elite degree.”
“The others jumped the ship when it started sinking. They did not want to be tainted by failure. That’s not me.”
“No, you’d rather lose your career and family.”
“Callie, I’d never choose to lose my family. I didn’t want the divorce.”
“But you still think you’re qualified to give advice.”
“Callie, the way you’re going... I just don’t want to see you wind up a loser like…”
Callie shot up and rushed out of the restaurant. Daniel stared at his hands as if they had pushed her. He waited, hoping she would return. Daniel was proud of his daughter. She was only seventeen but was determined and smart. When Callie started anything: piano lessons, karate classes, her own cooking website, she always practiced till she got to the top. He wanted the best for his girl but could not find a way to tell her that he was on her side. Always was. Always will be. The waitress stopped by two more times. At last, it became too awkward to sit alone. Daniel stood up and left.
Callie sat in the car, brooding. Not a word was spoken on the drive. Daniel was fuming but decided to avoid another argument. They got home, and Callie stormed into her room.
The next morning she found a note on the kitchen counter next to her favorite fresh berry parfait. She regretted her meanness and wanted to apologize. But Daniel was not home. Callie stared at the note and read his plea: “Callie, I’m sorry about yesterday. Please meet me at our dock. I know you plan never to see me again, and in a week, you’ll never have to. Let’s not end things this way. Love, Dad.
 “Our dock.” Callie forgot about the dock in the ravine. Years ago, her dad had gotten busy with his job, and they had stopped coming to feed the ducklings. She pushed the broken screen door and looked across the street at a tree filled ravine. It had been their favorite place. Callie walked across the street toward it. She dreaded her meeting with the man at the bottom, but she knew she had to atone for her behavior.
 Her father sat at the end of the decaying dock. He aged since his lay-off and divorce. Despite what she had told him, Callie needed him to be in her life. They clashed because of their similarities, not differences. Both clang to beliefs and people long after they should. Like him, her eventual realization at her errors made her feel betrayed. She also realized how many times over the years, there had been no one in the world, whose opinion she valued more than his.
“What happened to all the trees?” Callie asked to get Daniel’s attention.
“Most of them had died from an Emerald ash borer infestation.”
“We had that in Columbus as well. Mom had to hire someone to cut down six ash trees from our backyard.”
“Gallia doesn’t have the funds to take out the dead trees. They’re left to rot.”
Daniel looked at the daughter who had grown up faster than he thought possible.
“Do you remember the rafts of ducklings we used to feed here? You wanted to keep them as pets.”
Daniel did not want to talk about ducks. He wanted to tell Callie that he was not ready for her to fly away. He never would. But the words he had rehearsed stuck in his throat. Callie too could not apologize.
They talked about the ducks and trees.
“I wanted to say...what time is your mother coming?”
“Dad… in an hour.”
“Oh, then we'd better head back and pack.”
Daniel slowly stood up. Taking the last glance at the creek, the father and daughter walked home in silence.

© Sonia Mehta

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