Alone in my room, I drink frozen margaritas while listening to the new Sublime on my brand-new Pioneer 6-disc CD changer, Nag Champa in my sinuses and big-girl tears in my baby-cheek creases, thinking about how Bradley, the lead singer, is dead and how I might as well be too because what sort of loser sits home on her birthday. No, really. What kind of freakin’ loser dork is home alone with her dad on a Sunday, on her goddamn 16th birthday. And sure, some of those dudes from school stopped by in the afternoon to say Hey Happy Birthday before they headed off with my brother to skate in the church parking lot and, sure, I’m still huffing the fumes of their boy sweat like it’s magic marker and, yeah, I’ll be telling Haley tomorrow that Chris was there, yes that Chris, and how sweet he was to remember it was my birthday and whatdyathinkitmeansbehonest but the truth is when Dad knocks on my door, all gentle and timid, standing there in his untucked golf shirt with his meek mouth as round as a choir boy’s, I feel the loneliest I’ve ever felt. I don’t know what he’s saying because I’m still wearing my headphones and Bradley’s still singing and I really feel what he’s saying about appreciating the moment and the people that love you, like really love you, and how that’s all that matters but I wonder what made him forget. Something made him forget. Or maybe the drugs were the only thing that helped him remember so he could forget everything else. Maybe he wanted to forget moments like this when the night comes on strong like a bad cologne and everything that feels warm and assuring about the daytime flees the scene and now Dad’s standing here and he has that look that’s both intrusive and distant and he probably bought this stereo on layaway or credit and I’m not a total brat so I hit pause and smile into his face because I know he already feels guilty enough for everything that’s happened with Mom and the nurse who offered him solace and how when he followed his heart and embraced the present moment, he couldn’t find a place for us kids but in the past. Until the past came knocking hard, not gentle or timid like him, and when he finally answered, death was at the door. His ex-wife. Our mother. And us kids on the doormat, sad and still alive. So when he says, Hey sweet pea, wanna ride with me to the video store, I mope and mumble like the put-out teen I wish I was but the truth is I don’t mind errands with Dad. He has a subwoofer in his minivan and he lets me play my music loud. He lets me look out the window and doesn’t ask anything of me. Or about me. No stilted small talk, just deep and fat quakes of bass. All my girlfriends fawn over my so-called “fineass” dad and it grosses me out because he bites his nails and picks his nose and the top notes of his mall-bought fragrance smell like stale farts and when his girlfriend’s at work he struggles to talk to me but, even so, I enjoy our rides together. For now, it’s enough. Plus, I don’t have much else. At the video store, we wander the rows in silence, each of us browsing the new releases, turning over their covers but registering nothing about their contents and when he asks me what I want, I shrug long and hard. I’m not going to watch a movie with my father on my fucking 16th birthday. I’m just not. And he knows this. He knows before he even asks. He settles on the new Jackie Chan, carries its letterbox to the checkout counter while I loiter in the Foreign section. And even though I’ll never protest, never say a word, I can’t stomach this affront. It means he’s given up on me. It means he agrees with me, that I am the pathetic loner choosing to shirk even her father’s company on her Sweet Sixteen. Since I reject his offering, then fine, no Miramax film or dark indie fare for me. I fume all the way home, cranking up The Crow: City of Angels soundtrack while Dad steers with one hand and picks at his front teeth with the other. And still, he gives it one last go when we walk through our door, asking if I want another margarita or two. I’m not gonna say no because this is the closest I’ll come to a rite of passage before the day is done. I barely nod and he’s already heading straight for the freezer for more cans of Bacardi Mixers, lots of ice and the good tequila. The blender whines and I think about how I could’ve been partying with friends tonight if I’d tried. Tried harder to be happy. Tried harder to insert myself into a world where nothing makes sense and most things are disappointing. It’s not Dad’s fault entirely but it’s not not his fault either. When the ice turns smooth, he dumps a generous pour into a proper glass, squeezes some lime, pats me on the back and says, Enjoy, my sweet pea. From my bedroom doorway, I sip my birthday booze and watch my father alone on the couch with his own empty glass, watching his crap VHS rental, and I almost feel sorry for him. While Jackie rumbles away, I think, Maybe this is the best we can hope for after what we’ve been through, maybe this is how it’s supposed to be and to hope for anything else is to avoid what’s real and what’s now. There’s nothing to say anyway. It’s always been too late. I shut my door and lie under my speakers, returning to Sublime, to Bradley’s voice singing love is what he’s got and life is short and you’re destined to get what you deserve. It’s not lost on me that he tells me all this while he still had the chance.
Jillian Luft is a Florida native currently residing in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Hobart, X-R-A-Y, Booth, The Forge Literary Magazine and other publications. You can find her on Twitter @JillianLuft or read more of her writing at jillianluft.com.
image: Andrea Damic lives in Sydney, Australia. She has been published in 50-Word Stories, Friday Flash Fiction, Microfiction Monday Magazine and Paragraph Planet with her photographs occasionally featuring in Rejection Letters. Recently one of her photographs got included in the Fusion Art’s 4th Annual Lines, Shapes and Objects Exhibition (July 2022). You can find her on Twitter @DamicAndrea or Facebook. One day she hopes to finish and publish her novel.