On the Fridays I spent with my father in Maple Ridge, I typically caught the West Coast Express directly from work, and met my father at the station. I had never completely moved out of my childhood home, and maintained a functional wardrobe there. But APNE demanded that I work overtime on this matter. Fridays had been casual at the workplace before Roger had starting enforcing his ad hoc dress code, and had remained so over his objections. But I’d be expected to dress up on the following Monday, and I only had the one suit, which I wouldn’t be able to toss into the washing machine. I knew suits had to be dry-cleaned, but how often? Where was the nearest drycleaner, and were they open on weekends? Or would I need to buy another suit?
This sort of thing was occupying no small proportion of my thoughts lately, and it left me more mentally spent than any database I had ever had a hand in developing.
I tried to put these thoughts out of my mind during the train ride, and during the fifteen minute drive from Maple Meadows Station to my father’s house. The smell of brisket wafted from the kitchen as we entered, and I fell onto the sofa, enjoying the release from the demands of the week, enjoying the knowledge that my father only spoke when he had something to say, and expected no more and no less from me.
We ate quietly, the silence broken only for a few compliments about the dinner. My father was a good cook, a fact that continued to catch me off guard, even after some two and a half decades of eating his meals. In spite of his skill, he still appeared ill at ease in a kitchen, unable to work with any distractions; he handled pots and pans and knives and vegetables as though he had never quite gotten used to their shapes and their weights, as though he couldn’t quite trust that they would behave the same way they always had. Yet the results were always good, and as I’d gotten older I’d made a point of telling him.
My father shook me away as I stood to clear the table. Most weeks I made a halfhearted effort to argue, but this time I couldn’t be bothered. “What’s new at work?” he asked, setting two bowls of fruit salad on the table.
“Not much,” I said, truthfully.
“You’re almost done with the seed company, yes?”
“More or less. Mostly just training, assess how well the program meets the client’s needs, make the necessary changes. Same as usual.”
“And after that?”
I jammed a large forkful of fruit salad into my mouth, and spent the next few seconds chewing as I considered an answer. Even still, the best I could come up with was, “Things have been slow lately.”
My father nodded, giving this answer more thought than I wanted it given. I looked down, shamed. Every time I returned to this house I was a child again, crafting my behavior to avoid upsetting my only parent.
Did you help Mrs. Chandler put the toys away before I came to pick you up?
Look me in the eye, Katie. Are you telling me the truth?
And then, as I got older: Why don’t you invite your friends to sleep over here sometime? Give Michelle’s mother a break every now and again.
Never any admission on my part that I’d been lying; never any punishment from my father. But at five, I started stacking the wooden blocks in the crumbling cardboard box before my father was due to arrive. At fifteen, I stopped taking advantage of Michelle’s single mother’s irregular work schedule. At twenty-nine, though, I couldn’t conjure job satisfaction or job security from the ether, nor quell my father’s worry or disappointment.