Dad wasn't where he was supposed to meet us. Mom said, "Let's get hot chocolate instead." I nodded even though it had a lot of calories and I liked the sharpness of my bones. Once Dad took me to a house he was building. Only the framing was in place and he said, "That's how a house begins." I liked the smell of the new wood, how solid the structure was and the fact that from there on everything would fall into place. I feel the same way about my bones. They are where I begin.
We were just leaving when we saw him sitting on a doorstep next to a cardboard sign that said "Embezzler." His hands were streaked with grease and he was wearing an old black jacket with torn cuffs. He wasn't the way he used to be when he got home from work wearing a clean striped shirt with the sleeves rolled and sometimes a pencil behind his ear.
"Kitten, what happened to you?" he asked as though I was the one who'd changed.
"She's lost a lot of weight, but she's getting better." Mom gave me a critical glance and him a frown, as if we both disappointed her. "Where are you living?" she went on.
"Nowhere," he said.
"You could build yourself a house," I said.
"Not anymore." He reached into his pocket and took out a broken cigarette that he smoked right in front of us.
"What's with the sign?" Mom asked.
He shook his head. "I don't know."
"You have to stop punishing yourself," she said. He looked back at her helplessly. When he lost his job and almost went to jail, it took me a long time to learn what the word embezzle really meant. I thought it meant to shine something to a sharp edge, like polishing a jewel. Even when I learned the true meaning, for the longest time after I stopped eating, I would think, I'm embezzling myself. Sharp elbows, sharp knees, every rib, I was totally embezzled. I believed that when my edges were sufficiently sharp he would come home. It was hard to start eating again but I did.
Mom said, "She really misses you."
He reached out to me. I didn't move. His arms were still reaching out. I leaned into them, afraid of smelling something bad, but all I smelled was car exhaust. He had a nice smile, my Dad, and that smile shot out across his face now beneath his dark squinty eyes.
"Take care of yourself," he said. For a moment I thought I might float away like a balloon and all I wanted was for him not to let me go, but he did, and Mom and I left, heading for hot chocolate, whipped cream and all that other crap people feed you so you won't notice what's really going on.
M C R
This work is copyrighted by the author, Emily Ross. All rights reserved.