Land on the horizon
“Comb your hair nicely, Kačenka, dad will be here soon.” Alice was excited and checked her own hair several times. In the bathroom she’d put lipstick on her lips, smacked them together, and smiled. Kačenka continued to leaf through her comic book, changing the instruction to comb her hair into a simple run through her bangs.
The room looked cozy and pleasant. Alice gave the small space the look of a much larger room by adding a mirror and keeping it clean and well organized. Kačenka had her own shelf for her school supplies and underneath it a box with secret girl things and a few toys. Above the shelf hung a family photo taken during their last Christmas at home. All three of them are sitting together on the couch, and to the right of them stands a Christmas tree. The photo was largely covered by a little elephant statue and a vase with a paper flower.
“Kačenka, put it away now, in five minutes daddy will be here, then we can get going right away.”
“But we went on a trip last weekend. I would rather go to Lucille’s with the girls. Can I go to Lucille’s instead?” Alice stopped in her tracks and stared at her in surprise.
The doorbell rang. In the doorway stood David, his face tired and hair graying. Together with him entered the room the light odor of sweaty clothes and after-shave. David’s eyes lit up like the sun when he saw Alice and Kačenka next to her. He picked up Kačenka and hugged Alice with his other arm. He held them firmly, as though he would never let them go. Kačenka was laughing, but kept looking at a picture she was holding in her hand. It was the picture of some castle. David put Kačenka on the ground and wanted to say something, but instead he nodded, smiling widely with his lips tight and eyes sparkling; he didn’t say anything.
“Tell me, David, how are you doing?” Alice caressed his cheek full of wrinkles. He coughed a bit, blew his nose and said uncertainly:
“How! Quite well. It’s not so bad at the airport. Now it’s warm, it’s light out longer, so I get some naptime during the night. And the warehouse is fine too.”
“And the buses – are you happy there? Tell me the truth, David. It can’t last much longer.”
“And it won’t! But how are you? How are you managing it here, my two girls? Soon we’ll have a little house; we’re almost touching the door. The handle on our own door.”
“That’s probably a nice change for you with the bus, you like it, no?”
“Oh yeah, but we’re still talking about me. What about you two?”
“Or you don’t like it?” Alice added emphasis.
“What don’t I like?”
“David, the buses. You were looking forward to it. Is it what you’d imagined?”
“I probably forgot to tell you. I decided to end it there. I mean the school buses.”
“End? But why?” wondered Alice.
“Too many changes and too many employments…,” improvised David unconvincingly.
“Something happened to you there?”
“Actually, yes. So to speak. I got into a traffic jam – it was the day I was supposed to write the test in electrocardiography. When it was so icy, you remember. I was moving at a snail’s pace, so I simply decided to call there from my cell. To apologize and let them know I’d come later. And some woman squealed on me, because she saw me and called the dispatch to complain. The phone number is on every bus for women like her to call.”
“So…, they fired you?”
“You can’t say it like that…,” he looked at Kačenka.
“Mom, they fired daddy?”
“Oh Kačenka, it’s not like that, you can’t put it like that…,” David tried to repair the impression of his failure. Kačenka pulled on her mom’s dress and continued.
“Mommy, they fired daddy?”
“Dad’s explaining it to you. Some woman told on dad that…” Kačenka let go of the dress and went to sit on her little chair. David shrugged sheepishly.
“And did you at least pass the exam?”
“Alice, why are you asking me like this? I didn’t go to the exam. I couldn’t, they called me to the dispatch office. It was the same day. At the exact time when the test was supposed to be. I couldn’t go there.” She watched him for a moment and then said quietly.
“I probably don’t have any more strength for this. I can’t go on anymore.” She was whispering and it seemed she was about to cry.
“Alice, forget about it now. We’ll make it, we got through worse. I’m going to write the test next week. It’s not the end of the world….”
“…but you had to pay again, right?”
“Alice, you know it’s the only thing they care about. Next week I’ll pass and that’ll be it.” Alice watched him for a moment, and then said what David was hoping she would and what he needed to hear.
“I believe in you, David. You’ve got the brains for it and know everything a hundred times better than they can even ask you. You’ll get it. Next week? Let me know. You know I’m waiting for it as much as you are.”
“That’s why I’m going, Alice,” he declared with resolve. David turned to Kačenka, “and what about you, our little fairy-tale princess?”
Kačenka’s hair was different than last time, a shirt he didn’t recognize, everything was happing beyond him. He wanted to be present. David felt upset that Kačenka was growing up without him immediately next to her. Kačenka shrugged and smiled, but David caught a hint of something polite and foreign in that smile.
“Mom, when are we going?”
“We’re going, put your shoes on and we’ll head out.”
“Can I wear my ‘Africas’?”
“Sure, but last time they were dirty. First let’s see how they look.” They were speaking in code David didn’t understand. ‘Africas’? What ‘Africas’?
“I’ll be glad to see these ‘Africas’.” David tried to fit into the puzzling environment, “can you show them to me?”
“They’re normal.” Kačenka didn’t explain, didn’t want to brag, he was a guest. Dad David understood that he was turning into a guest. Some sort of an occasional, somewhat unkept visitor. They’re getting by without him. Alice used to ask a lot of things, they used to ponder which tablecloth to buy together, what picture would go where. David saw the room was changing and he had no influence. He’s a passenger on a train that passes the transforming landscape. He wished so much for Kačenka to ask him something, care about his opinion about something. But instead of being there for her, helping to raise her together with Alice, he was fist-fighting with some bums in an ambulance parking lot. And isn’t he himself a bum? Is he even going down the right path? Didn’t he take a wrong turn somewhere from which he can’t come back?
Alice ran off and brought back a yogurt. It was probably a yogurt, some sort of a kid’s food, he didn’t know. Kačenka cheered: “And will we mail the corner again?”
“Of course we will. But now let’s go, so that we get going on time.”
Corner, ‘Africas’. David’s throat tightened. He doesn’t know and doesn’t recognize what Kačenka likes and what her world is like. She opened the small cup, stuck her finger inside and licked it.
“Kačenka,” dad leaned in and corrected her, as nicely as he could, “you shouldn’t do that. A pretty girl like you doesn’t lick her fingers.”
“Mom, I’m allowed to lick my fingers, right?”
“You shouldn’t, but it’s not the end of the world if it’s one time. But fingers shouldn’t be licked.”
“See, I can lick my finger,” and slowly and carefully she repeated her act. Alice wasn’t looking; Kačenka perhaps waited for that moment, and maybe it was a coincidence. David was disarmed, helpless and empty. Kačenka put aside the yogurt and pulled on an orange pair of shoes with black spots. ‘Yes’, thought David to himself, ‘Africas’. The gorgeous July afternoon of the year two thousand and one didn’t find him in the mood he’d been looking for. It was a Sunday they chose for their trip. Alice got behind the steering wheel and David didn’t want to claim his driver’s seat like a child. He didn’t want any disagreement; he wished they’d always look forward to seeing him. If only they could feel what he needed, what would so powerfully motivate him and give him strength. But can he tell them?
“Can I sit in the front?” yelled out Kačenka.
“No, you’re too small, it would be dangerous,” advised David. But she continued to stand still at the passenger’s side door, until Alice said:
“You can’t, sit nicely in the back.” Without further arguments, Kačenka moved over to the rear door, opened it and slipped inside. At least he still gets to sit in the front next to Alice. If only Alice supported his authority in Kačenka’s eyes, but how is that possible?
Their Crown Victoria’s bumper was caved in, but that was the least of David’s worries. Still, he didn’t want Alice and Kačenka to be riding around in a rustbucket. He knew had to and wanted to bring in something meaningful.
“Alice and Kačenka, at the beginning of July we’ll go to the bank,” maybe it’s too early. But maybe they will see his financial responsibility and the fact that they both have a job? Maybe what they’ve got will be enough.
“Really, David? You think it may work out?”
“Why not? I’ll carry you over the threshold in my arms. We’ll throw out all our old crap, on a big pile, everything we don’t need….”
“…and you, daddy, they also didn’t need you?” David froze. What? How did she say it? Why? Surely she isn’t that clueless? She said it on purpose. Kačenka accompanied her statement with a smile that revealed her.
“Kačenka!” said Alice sharply, “they did need our dad and still do! Adults go to work and it works differently than with kids. And if they didn’t need him, then we do. Kačenka, we need him. You need him, and so do I. That’s our dad. Do you understand?” David was sitting and couldn’t say anything. He was staring in front of him and surely wanted to say something. But he wasn’t capable of speaking. They need him. Yes, Kačenka and Alice are relying on him. It’s a good thing that the Boeing turbine didn’t suck him in. Good that he beat up those two at the ambulances that night. Kačenka and Alice need him.