Dad used to pick us up from school on Fridays and drop us off at our mom’s early Monday morning. He’d pick me up from the elementary school and pick Chloe up from the high school, always taking the long way home. I’d get in the backseat and we’d both talk into the rearview mirror while he drove a few more blocks to the high school.
“How was your day at school, Shirley?” he’d ask.
I’d talk about how fun it was, what we learned, and what homework I had to do over the weekend. The conversations were always something like that. Nothing serious. But his conversations with Chloe were different.
Chloe used to make Dad park his beat-up station wagon around the corner of the high school, so her friends wouldn’t see us picking her up. It was a car with no heat and windows that fogged easily. Chloe didn’t want to be seen in it. How she got home every day was a mystery, as far as her friends knew. She was embarrassed that she didn’t have a car of her own, Dad was embarrassed that he didn’t have enough money to buy her one, and Mom considered buying her a car something “that fathers are supposed to do.”
From the moment Chloe got into the car, they’d start arguing. Chloe would want to go to some party, some club for school, or some football game. She’d want a ride somewhere and anywhere, as long as it wasn’t Dad’s house. Dad would ask her who let her out of our mother’s house wearing that skirt. Didn’t he tell her to throw that thing away? He’d want to know who did her makeup and why it was smeared around her lips. He never asked her any of the questions he asked me. How was your day? Did you have a good day at school? How are your classes going? With Chloe, he paid attention to all the wrong things. A terrible thing to do while driving.
I remember a tape of Bob Dylan playing faintly through the speakers. It was raining outside, and the windows were foggy.
“You’re not going,” Dad said, gripping the steering wheel. “I don’t like what those other kids are into.”
“It’s a school dance, Dad,” Chloe argued. “Parents are going to chaperone. You could even chaperone if you wanted.”
Dad looked over from the driver’s seat and stared down at Chloe, “I don’t like what their parents are into either.”
Chloe prepped herself by getting into her patented argument position: seatbelt unbuckled, arms crossed, and feet on the dashboard.
“You don’t know what they are into, Dad! You don’t even pay attention to who they are. Despite what you see on the news, the world isn’t as evil as you think it is. This isn’t some cruise where students go missing. It’s a school dance. Nothing you say makes sense.”
Dad stared through the windshield and spoke as if he were trying to convince himself of something, as if he’d prepared his response. Or maybe he’d simply heard it before. He turned his attention away from the road, staring directly at Chloe.
“Until you’re eighteen, what I say doesn’t need to make sense. You just listen and do. I pick you and your sister up from school every Friday so you don’t have to ride the bus, I do your laundry, and I pay the bills. I do everything for you. The least you can do is show me some respect. And that’s all there is too it.” Without looking at the road first, he turned up the volume on the radio.
And the ancient empty street’s too dead for dreaming…
I remember telling Dad to pay attention to the road, but he didn’t hear me. I was in the backseat. The music was too loud. The windows were too foggy. I heard a screech that I thought was either the cassette tape being eaten or another harmonica solo. The screech rose to a crescendo as it met with the sound of screaming, shattering glass, and crunching metal. Then it stopped.
Dad should have been paying attention, and Chloe shouldn’t have been sitting like that.
Extra Special thanks to Charles Edward Yallowitz for coming up with a title to this very short piece. He took the time to fulfill a request earlier today to help me name this story when I was completely out of ideas. People like him are the reason this small writing community is so great.