“I’m not suppose to tell,” I said.
“I promise I won’t come find you,” my dad replied.
I pulled on the phone cord. “The judge said not to.”
“I just need to know you’re okay.”
“I am okay,” I said. I’d not seen him in five months. Since June.
“But I’m your dad.”
“Mom will kill me.”
“She won’t know,” my dad said.
I was 12. “Well, promise you won’t come find me.”
“I’m on Avenue K. The Regency apartments,” I whispered.
“That’s near the mall, right? What number?”
“Dad. I don’t want to get into trouble.”
“You won’t get into trouble. Just tell me the number.”
I tell him.
“I’m coming over there. Right now.” He hung up the phone.
My mom couldn’t afford a place on her own, and we shared the apartment with an unmarried couple. One of them would stay with me after school until mom got home.
I hung up the phone and ran to Cheryl’s room. “My dad’s coming.”
“I’m really sorry. But he asked. And he said…he said…”
Cheryl did several turns in the hallway. “What’ll we do?”
“Call Mom.” I knew she’d kill all of us. And the judge had said, “You’re father is not to know where you are until this is settled. Is that clear? You do understand?”
Cheryl picked up the phone and put it back down. “Should we call the police?”
“He’s not violent. He just… Just call Mom.”
“She’ll kill us. I never should’ve let you talk to him.”
I ran to the front door and checked the lock.
“Maybe we should leave,” Cheryl said.
“We don’t have time,” I said. “Just call Mom!”
“Oh my god,” Cheryl picked up the phone again. “I can’t believe you told him.”
I ran to the windows and pulled down the blinds. I heard Cheryl jabbering into the phone. I was surprised I could’t hear my mom shouting.
Cheryl hung up the phone. “We’ll just have to wait. And no matter what we don’t answer the door. She’ll be home as soon as she can.”
We waited. Cheryl went back to her room. I sat on the floor in the hallway.
Dad didn’t knock.
In my 12 years I’d never heard my dad shout–really shout–or seen my dad do a violent thing. Well, he’d shoot snakes with his bow and arrow, but that’s not what I mean by violent.
I mean kick, shake, and beat a door as if you could kill such a thing. Cheryl shouted on one side and he shouted on the other. Finally, I leaned against the door and shouted too. “Dad. Mom is coming. She’ll be here any minute.”
“Mahda,” he said.
“Yes?” I said. If Mom finds him there, I’m sure she’ll have him arrested.
“Go to a window so I can see you. Okay?” Our apartment was on the second floor.
“We won’t open the window,” Cheryl said.
“I just want to see you. Then I’ll leave.”
So, I went to the window.
In fiction, when one character breaks a promise to another, out comes a story. Perhaps. If the promise is worth making and the stakes are high. I keep reading about the stakes being high. At first this seems to mean–the world will end or everyone will die or something really, you know, high. Dramatic. Horrible. Bloody.
I don’t think an evil mastermind blowing up the earth makes for the highest stakes. Seems to me stakes are only high when there is someone around to watch them fall. To pick up the pieces. To witness the hole left where the stakes used to be. If the world exploded, I doubt any of the planets or stars would take much note. Without a character to know what is lost, what stakes are they really?