Geoffrey pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose and looks at the sullen teenage frame of his daughter. She’s folded into an armchair, an elegant piece of furniture pushed into the corner of the living room the day it was delivered, the forgotten first step to make the decor more ‘stylish’. It wasn’t long after the purchase that Jayne's health began to deteriorate and the plans to redecorate went on hold. It was during this time too that little Olivia, who had been Geoffrey’s light and joy, began to morph into the odd sulking creature before him. Her wavy, sable coloured hair, which always hung to the small of her back, is now only a few inches long, messy, and currently dyed an unnatural purplish blue. She frames her eyes with thick, black eyeliner and today she has on maroon lipstick, garish against her pale, lightly freckled cheeks. Simple t-shirts and sensible jeans have been traded in for a thick leather jacket over loose-fitting black tank tops and, Geoffrey flushes, no bra. Her baggy jeans bear holes which Olivia insists are not a signal for Geoff to give her money for new ones.
He blames himself entirely for this change. If only he’d been a better father, perhaps his daughter would now be busy studying in her room, her hair tied up in a sensible ponytail, her clothes neat and clean and free of slogans written in permanent black marker. The jeans she’s wearing right now have the words ‘Fuck The Pigs’ emblazoned on the left leg, about halfway down. Geoffrey is entirely unsure how to approach her about this flagrant profanity, unsure how to approach her about anything. He pictures heinous crimes being committed, his innocent little girl in the middle of them. He wonders why, of all the aspects of parenthood, no one ever seemed to talk about the horror of one’s own imagination.
Olivia scrunches lower in the chair. She dislikes it immensely when her father does this. He comes in and just looks at her, like he’s dissecting and filing away every little flaw he can see. Like he has any right to judge her. She wishes he would just leave her alone. She came in here to watch TV, to be alone and let her mind go blank. She figures she’ll go for a walk now, maybe see if Blake is around—Blake being his surname, as his first name, Noland, is strictly on a need to know basis. Generally, no one needs to know, especially in high school.
Olivia glares at Geoffrey, her jaw clenching. She sighs a sigh that encompasses all the exasperation and angst of all teenagers before and all teenagers to come. The sort of sigh meant to indicate how irritating, inconvenient, and full of bad timing he is. Olivia doesn't want to hear poorly thought out phrases about spending time together, or whatever it is he’s thinking of delivering. It is a sigh that says she doesn’t want, and shouldn’t have to, participate in a conversation with someone so entirely out of touch as her dad.
Geoffrey misses the subtlety of the sigh, because he is completely out of touch. To his ears, Olivia’s sigh indicates a mournful loss, a feeling of absolute grief matching his own and yet far worse because a she’s only a child. He opens his arms to Olivia as she unfolds herself from the chair, opens them and awaits an embrace. In his mind, his little girl, odd hair and impractical clothing be damned, comes into his arms, finally, after two years of grief.
In reality, Olivia brushes past him, taking extra care to nudge him with her elbow. He follows her trajectory, arms out like a marionette. She shoves her feet into her boots—chunky army issue steel-toes which have seen better days but also, apparently, don’t need to be replaced. Olivia never bothers to tie her footwear anymore, and she casts a glare at Geoffery, a warning that he had better not say anything about it. Geoffrey lets his arms drop, his mind catching up with the reality of the situation, the delightful fantasy of a bonding moment dissolving as quickly as it had been conjured. It’s amazing how much she communicates these days, without ever saying a word.
She declares that she’s going ‘Out’, as if this is a definitive place and he could be assured of her location, beyond that of not being ‘In’. The door bangs shut, as all doors seem to do now with her departure.
As so often happened when he’s alone, Geoffrey is uncertain of what to do with himself. During the week, from nine to five, is easy—he goes to work, follows his inspection lists and hardly has to think at all. The tedium of turning paper records into computer records is welcome to him. Filing inspections, following up with restauranteurs, issuing ratings, these are procedures he carries out with great precision. The methodical tasks of his day are a comfort to him, a comfort lost on the evenings and weekends when he is left to his own devices.
He resolves to do what he always does when loneliness falls around him like a vacuum, when the stillness of the house becomes a constant reminder of Jayne's absence. Geoffrey picks up the book he’s been reading from where he left it on the kitchen table—an odd little science fiction book recommended to him by Susan—and settles into the very same chair Olivia just vacated. He opens the book to where a receipt holds his place, cracks the spine, and lets himself get lost in the terrible writing of a very good idea.