When the alarm clock rings brutally slapping me into consciousness I growl in response. I crawl into a shower before making a coffee for my travel mug. I’m out the front door in record time despite my body’s growling protest earlier. The sun greets me like a warm blanket filling my car as I reach the top of the hill before my destination. When I let my car roll down into the car park I smile at the other people nearby.
I open the car door with its own protesting groan at being awake so early. I quickly down the last of my coffee as the bells chime. I toss the empty travel mug down on my seat before heading into the beautiful building along with all the others who bothered to drag themselves from their beds this foggy Sunday morning in San Francisco. Together with those other faithful people we all head into the early morning church service to take our seats.
I know it seems strange that a woman who knows her soul is destined for Hell would bother going to church, but each to their own. Faith is a double edged blade, you can’t believe in the bad and not the good. I still have sins that need confession to purge myself from as much guilt as possible. Knowing your soul can never be redeemed doesn’t make you inherently evil. I was born an innocent child of God like everyone else in this world.
The only thing separating me from them was one choice I made a long time ago. That one choice didn’t change the person I am or used to be. The girl who would go to visit her grandma after school to play cards and keep her company until the sun would set. The girl who wanted to be a dancer when she grew up. The girl who loved her father and was heartbroken when he fell sick.
I shut down my thoughts as I try to absorb the priest’s sermon. I’m hesitant about men of the cloth. As many as I know are true men of God, I also know that Daemon’s love to wear the robes and play at being righteous like some kind of sick dare to corrupt innocent people. There are probably more evil men wearing the robes of priests than all the other daemons in the world combined.
I listen as he talks about sin and the forgiveness God offers to all his children who truly repent. I try not to snort as his misinformation. Someone should really correct the religious texts of the world. I decide to let my head fall in silent prayer instead of listening to the words of a man selling hope to one who is hopeless. My prayer is always the same.
I pray for the safety and happiness of all those I love. I pray for the strength to forgive those I don’t. Then I apologize for not repenting for my one sin. As much as I regret the consequences of the action I will never repent for the life I took. To do so would be a lie and God would see through it. Then I ask for His guidance to continue to live a good life worthy of his gift of it.
I repeat my prayer in my head over and over hoping against all hope that my pleas will be heard. At the end of the service I make my way to thank the priest for his words of encouragement.
“I hope they’ve helped you my child.” He says kindly as his skin around his eyes crinkle.
“I’m beyond help father, but I appreciate the effort.” I tell him sweetly as I try to move past him. His hand reaches out to touch my arm halting my retreat.
“He only lets us feel lost so that we may know it when we’re found my child. No one is ever truly lost for good.” He tells me seriously. My eyes moisten as his passionate declaration.
“I’m not a lost child father.” I tell him assuredly and he smiles proudly at himself. “I’ve been stolen.” I add in a desperate whisper before removing myself from his presence and the building. I slap into my car hard as I finally stop to take a deep breath of the cool air. I rip open my car door desperate to escape my almost confession to a strange man of the cloth.
I sit in my car composing myself as I let my head fall against the steering wheel. I take a few deep breaths to calm myself before I sit back up. My eyes catch the quickest glimpse of a dark figure in my rearview mirror and I snap my head around to see it. There’s nothing there. I feel like I’m going mad. I refuse to let myself waste away into paranoia.
I’ve confessed everything to a priest once and I could hear a pin drop when I asked him what I should do. He finally suggested I seek professional help. They could never understand what I’ve seen. They believe because a book tells them too. I believe because my soul tells me it’s truth. How I’ve wished this was all some delusion I made up. Some kind of psychotic break suffered after what I did, but it’s real.
I pull out of the car park to drive to my next destination. I pull up outside Boudin’s bakery to get a couple of sandwiches and a bowl of the clam chowder to go. Back in the car I’m surrounded by the smell that always triggers a happy memory. It wraps itself around me and pulls me closer letting me be absorbed by it fully.
I can hear the seagulls squawking as they flew over our heads. The smell of the delicious chowder and fresh baked sourdough bread emanating from the bag my dad carried in his hand. The warmth of his other hand wrapped securely around mine as we strolled to our favorite place on Fisherman’s Warf. The smell of the ocean competing for attention with our lunch. The sun breaking through the constant fog cloud of San Francisco to bathe us it it’s protective shine.
I start my car, the sound breaking my reverie. I wipe away the stray tear from my cheek as I pull out into the traffic. When I reach the hospice I’m sad that it’s so late and that I won’t be able to visit for very long today.
“Hello McKenna.” The nurse —Margot—at the desk greets me. I smile back at her warmly as I hand over her sandwich. Margot smiles a bright smile at me.
“How is he today?” I ask the same question I’ve been asking for twenty years.
“About the same sweetheart. Thanks for lunch, it’s much better than what I packed today.” Margot says appreciatively.
“I have to take care of the one who takes care of the only man I’ve ever loved.” I tell her sweetly as I sign the registry. I hold up the bag for her to inspect. She eyes me sympathetically.
“You can try.” She offers sadly. I nod as turn to walk down the musty green colored hall way with off white doors that have small rectangle windows on them. When I reach the room I’m looking for I smile sadly in the doorway as I look into the room. There in a wheelchair facing out the window is the only man I’ve ever loved. Looking so handsome in the red robe I bought him for his birthday last year.
I shake the moisture from my eyes as I let my face break out onto its natural smile as I walk to stand in front of him.
“Bonjour Papa.” I greet him gently. There’s no response. There hasn’t been for twenty years now. He had a severe stroke when I was seven and it left him basically catatonic. He’s been here ever since. My Russian mother had a summer romance with a French musician who was travelling through Russia. She got pregnant, they got married and moved to the States to make a better life for themselves and their baby.
It’s a similar story to every other immigrant family in the United States. No one forsakes the place they call home unless they have no other choice. After he was hospitalized my mother refused to see him anymore and I had to sneak out to visit him until I was older. I pull up a chair in front of him and look into his warm hazel eyes. He seems so sad and it breaks my heart. What I wouldn’t give to see his loving smile just one more time in my life.
I once talked to him about things that had happened to me and how I was now damned. He had a heart attack during the night and I never spoke about it again. Now I keep my conversations with him light and positive. I try to visit every Sunday and on birthdays and holidays. I smile encouragingly at him.
“On ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur papa.” I remind him softly of the quote he loves from the story he used to read to me as a child. It basically means that we see best with our hearts. He’s my father and I know he can see the heart broken daughter before him, where I’ve been waiting for him to come back to me and tell me that it’s all going to be okay.
I tuck the collar of his pajama top back underneath his robe and smile at him affectionately. “Très beau papa.” He really was a handsome man in his younger days. I have his smile and his hazel eyes that see the beauty of the world around us. I also have his heart and creative mind. My dark hair and moonlight pale skin along with my quick temper are all my mothers.
I bring the Boudin’s bakery bag up onto my lap as I move closer towards my father. He can eat on a good day and I really hope this is a good day. I pull out the container of chowder and half a loaf of sourdough bread. I open the container and let the smell fill the room. I look at his eyes hoping against all hope that is triggered the same happy memory for him that it did for me.
It’s warm enough now that it won’t burn him at all. I tuck a napkin into his collar and pick up the spoon. I take a small spoonful and carefully deliver it to his mouth. “Bon appetite.” I try to coax him gently. He doesn’t make a move or show any sign that he even realizes that someone is in the room with him.
I try to stay my tears as I try unsuccessfully to get him to take a mouthful of the chowder. After a few attempts I consider giving up, but he’s so frail. He’s been getting thinner lately because they have to feed him by tube to force him to eat. While his stroke shut down his cognitive functions and motor skills he can still drink by himself if someone holds the cup for him.
But he just has to be aware so he knows to swallow, or he could hurt himself choking. I bring the spoonful of chowder to my own lips and make and exaggerated noise of satisfaction.
“Très bien.” I breathe out as I lick my lips. I look at my father teasingly. I don’t care what the doctors tell me about his minimal brain activity. He’s my father and we communicate by heart, not brainwaves. I hold the spoon out to him again.
“Just try it, it’s really good.” I tell him encouragingly. I wait with the spoon perched on his bottom lip until I see the slight flicker of his tongue towards the spoon. I smile brightly as I tip the spoon up letting the soup drip into his mouth. I watch on proudly as he swallows the mouthful of chowder. I wipe away my tear quickly.
“I knew you wouldn’t let me eat it.” I tease him playfully. Very slowly but surely I manage to get him to swallow six mouthfuls of the chowder before he stops taking it. I smile as I wipe his mouth with the napkin. “You did so well. I’m so proud of you. Thank you for trying.” I plead quietly. I look down at my watch and curse, thankfully in French. I’m going to be late. I apologize to my father for cursing before kissing his cheek quickly.
“Au revoir papa.” I call from the doorway blowing him a kiss before I disappear from the room. Back at the desk I sign out quickly and tell Margot about him eating six mouthfuls of chowder. She smiles brightly at me.
“I’m glad for you honey. Have a good week and I’ll see you next Sunday.” Margot beams at me.
“See you then. Look after him for me.” I plead sadly.
“Always honey.” With that I leave the hospice and race for my car. I whip through the streets of San Francisco like I robbed a bank. My little VW beetle may look unassuming but the twin turbo engine underneath the hood gets me around this city like a rocket. I slam the car into park almost directly outside the club on the opposite side of the street. I hate parking my car this close but I’m late.
I keep my keys out and run across the street almost getting hit by a car coming around the corner. The angry driver honks his horn as I flip him the bird and keep running. I let myself into the club and try to slow my pace so it doesn’t look like I’m rushing. None of the lights are on and I kick a large heavy object on my way to the bar cracking my shin.
“Ow mother fu—.” I trail off as I turn on the lights to see a shadow standing in the corner of the club. I focus and the shadow disappears. I quickly whip my head around frantically. “Well that’s just fucking awesome, I’m going crazy on top of everything else in my life.” I curse out loud rubbing my shin to try to ease the pain. Throbbing through it.
“Vladik?” I call out loudly and I’m met with silence. I call out for anyone and nothing. I look around the club to see the boxes of decorations and I exhale in frustration as I put my hands on my hips. I purse my lips and pucker them as I try to formulate a plan of attack. I check my phone and find a message from Vladik telling me to go ahead without him as he got called away.
The last line of the message says ‘I trust your creativity.’ I almost laugh out loud at the message. To me that translates as I have no idea what to do so you deal with it. Alright standing around here isn’t going to get this place decorated. I decide to start from the top and work my way to the bottom, ceiling decorations first.