In the cab I was totally lost thinking about that séance. My face must have unnerved my Dad because he yelled really loud which is most unusual for him.
“Zoe, get out of the cab.”
We had pulled up in front of his apartment building.
“Zoe, Zoe are you okay?” my dad asked as he put the key in the door. He looked drained. He walked slowly
“Yeah,” I lied. I never would be okay again.
“Listen, sit down,” my dad said. I’ll make you a cup of tea and we’ll order some food. You must be famished. Grab those menus in the kitchen cabinet.”
No, I couldn’t eat, Dad.”
“Go ahead Z. Get sushi or whatever you feel like. I have some calls I have to make.”
Obviously my dad was going to handle this in his usual manner - keep busy so as to avoid talking. I just sort of sat and stared at the spacious living room, sleek in varying shades of black and white with sparse furnishings. I felt worse. Even though my parents were divorced for a while now, this apartment never felt like home to me. My dad’s modern minimalistic style was a reaction to my mother’s place in Boston. Her Georgian style house was lavishly furnished with art from all time periods and places around the world.
When my parents divorced, my mom and I moved to Boston where she opened an interior design business that catered to older, conservative, wealthy clients. I began what I called the divorced kid shuffle, going back and forth from Boston to New York to spend the summers and vacations with my dad and grandmother.
I could hear the ice from the kitchen fridge cling in the glass and from the mirror’s reflection I watched my dad pour himself vodka. While I was waiting for him to leave the kitchen, I caught a reflection of myself sitting alone on the white couch, against the beige walls. At this moment I almost looked invisible with my faded blond hair in need of highlights and my hazel eyes that were neither green nor blue.
Today when I got to New York, I had just thrown on comfortable clothes, a loose tee shirt, old jeans and boots. Up until the attack, I was feeling particularly exuberant. I recently graduated from Concord High School in Boston. At the time of the murder, I was visiting my dad and grandmother for a mini vacation in New York City. In a week I was scheduled to start working as a merchandising assistant in Rhiana’s, a high end clothing boutique - a posh hell where my fashion conscious mother pulled strings to get me a summer job.
After dropping my bags off at my dad’s apartment, I went to meet my grandmother at the Forty- Second Street Library where she has been a librarian for thirty years. To celebrate my graduation, we had planned to have dinner at one of my favorite spots, the Bryant Park Grill
behind the library. This chic restaurant made me feel like I was dining in Paris with café tables and cane chairs. My favorite room, created with a glass dome, brought the green park in from the outside. Starched linens upon which, elegant dinnerware displayed beautifully presented food. I could taste their Sweet and Spicy Monkfish. It was suppose to be such a wonderful evening.
That morning on the bus ride down from Boston, I felt so free as if I were floating in outer space with a galaxy of worlds to choose from for my future. That optimism is not the usual brain feed I thrive on. I should have known something was terribly wrong. The sound of my father frantically moving in his bedroom snapped me back to reality.
“Zoe, did you call in the order yet?” dad yelled from inside his bedroom.
“Dad, I couldn’t eat.”
“Listen, you better eat something and it better be nutritious. You know how anal your mother is when you’re down here - like you’re two days old and just home from the hospital.”
I thought, it’s not so much the nutrition, but the calories that my mother was obsessed about. God forbid if I forgot the most important commandment for women - Thou shalt not get fat. Luckily I inherited my mother’s tall, lean body, but I was far from her dream child . How do you market a rather invisible, shy eighteen year old whose only career aspiration is to be a song writer?
“Where is my guitar, Dad?”
I put in your bedroom by your bag, Zoe. That was my Dad, the accountant, with everything in its place.
I ran inside. I grabbed my guitar, desperate for calm and comfort it often brings me. I cradled it. Then I started strumming but the melody was strident and the chords - hollow. Dad came out of the bedroom while I was playing.
As soon as I stopped, I could see the relief in my father’s face. My parents clearly didn’t support my music.
“Don’t be absurd, my mother would say. A song writer isn’t a career goal. You would be starving on the streets. You don’t even play guitar very well. Sometimes you do come up with somewhat catchy words for a song. I’ll give you that, but sweetheart, you have to make a living in this world. You got that songwriting aspiration from your idealistic grandmother who for all her intelligence hasn’t a clue about finance. Then again, she doesn’t need money wearing those timeless tweed and wool jackets she calls classic.”
“Zoe, you better call your mother before she hears this on the news or from some up and coming faux designer that she’s traveling with.”
My mom had just left for a month on a trip to China buying merchandise for her business.
“Okay, okay Dad. I’ll call her. Just give me a minute. I just got here this afternoon and dropped my stuff. Then I went over to the library to meet ...”
I couldn’t bring myself to say my grandmother’s name without bursting into tears.
“Oh, God, Zoe please,” my dad said.
We just stared at each other not knowing what to make of it. “Zoe, give me the phone. What am I thinking? I’ll tell your mother myself.”
As I listened to the phone conversation certain words, grandmother and murdered, bellowed inside my head. The cold ugly brutal truth shook me. Suddenly even though my mother and I didn’t often get along, I desperately wanted her now. I just felt so alone. Maybe she could help.
I heard dad start his usual litany of “No” to my mother’s questions.
“No, the police had no idea who did this.”
“No, he wasn’t aware of any problems his mother was having.”
“No, he didn’t need any help.”
“No, he didn’t want her to come to the funeral services.
I could see the strain in my dad’s face around his eyes and hear the anger in the slight increase in the volume of his speech, so I took back the phone.
Before I could tell my mom how much I missed her, she started.
“Zoe, sweetie, I’m so sorry. I just can’t believe this. I always said New York was a dangerous place. I’m so glad we left.”
“Mom, don’t say that. You know how Mere loved the city.”
“I want you to know Zoe I understand how much you loved your grandmother and I’m sorry. Dad made it clear. He doesn’t want me there, but I told him I’ll be on the first available flight. Even if he doesn’t need me, you need me.”
“It’s alright. You’re on that trip for work. I was going to spend the next week with Dad anyway before I start working in the boutique.”
“Right, I’ll call Rhiana and explain why you can’t start you summer job now. Listen everyone will hear about this. The murder will be all over the news. Maybe you can start later in the summer. Don’t worry about it now.”
Like I ever cared about working in that stupid boutique. All it meant to me was pocket money for the summer. I definitely had no interest in those overpriced designer clothes, even the ones that I as an employee could get at a discount. My mother refused to understand that.
“I know how hard it is to lose your grandparent at eighteen. I was just about your age when my Papa died from cancer. I’ll help you get through the funeral at least. Do you have a dress to wear? You can’t wear those jeans. They wear jeans to everything today, but not to your grandmother’s funeral.”
“Mom, do you hear yourself? Mere’s been murdered and you’re talking about what I should wear. That’s so typical. The next thing you’ll be telling me what you know I should wear – Ralph Lauren casual elegance. Is that what today’s teen wears to her grandmother’s funeral? What kind of summer sandals for the cemetery?”
“Zoe, stop it, stop it now! I will not have you talk to me that way.”
I was crying hysterically when my father took the phone and said in a calm voice, “Deidre, for God’s sake, give us a break and stay in China.”
With that, Dad shut the phone off.
“Dad, what are you doing? I have to talk to my friends at home.”
“My advice is, Zoe, let any calls go to voicemail. Maybe by morning, we will know what to say.”
“Don’t be lame. I need my phone.” I said fumbling to turn it back on.
He paused and then abruptly walked into his bedroom. Before he could shut the door I yelled, “I swear Dad, I hate you.”
I frantically started looking for my ear plugs so I could access any my music on my phone while tears streamed down my face. Then, I beat myself up for blurting out that I hated my Dad, especially today with his mother just murdered. The terrible truth is sometimes I do hate him. I don’t know exactly why. When I went back in the living room and sat on the couch, and looked through the texts - so many RIPS or OMGS. My tweets all sounded like they were cut from the same text speak cookie cutter. I kept scrolling down. Looking for what?
Over 100 messages, yet I felt worse. So my dad was right. I really didn’t have to use the phone. The saddest part was there was really no one I could call. The truth is the kids I hang around with at home weren’t even my friends. Just kids I went to school with. I knew I should give up constantly checking my phone until the murderer was caught. I was wasting so much time on people who didn’t matter.
Oh, there was a posse I hung out with - cool kids. It was all a joke. In elementary school I was bookish, quiet with just two girl friends, Sophie and Sheba who were a lot like me, invisible students who even bullies didn’t see. After moving to Boston, I left my grandmother’s bookish world for music, Instagram, Twitter and fashion.
My mother was thrilled. She could finally dress me in designer jeans and boots and vest that fit my body perfectly. She convinced me to add highlights to my fading blond hair, and showed me how mascara was magic in popping my eyes and lip liner filled out my lips. The fashion transformation worked miracles. Popular girls asked me where I got my boots. They saved me a space at the cafeteria. Yet at heart I was never comfortable with them. I was always trying to please them. What was I afraid that they would discover about me – that I really don’t care about clothes and am into writing songs? Why didn’t I just tell them that? I can hear it now, “Oh did you know Zoe is now a songwriter? I bet Taylor Swift is nervous.”
Yeah, me a song writer with my feeble attempts, common, simplistic melodies and inadequate words. Yet sometimes when I hear a really cool sound, an idea stirs in my brain and words just come out of my mouth pushing me to sing aloud. Once in a while when I’m fingering the chords or picking the strings my ideas about how life sucks or the guy who is waiting somewhere for me become a song.
I plugged in my ear phones. I tried hip hop, rock, country. My play list just didn’t do it. Silently I curled up in absolute quiet. As I lay awake staring at the ceiling I heard the hall closet door open and close, open and close. Suddenly the door slammed shut, then squeaked open.
“Dad?” No answer. He was asleep in his bedroom. “Mere,” I whispered.