c2000, Eric W. Trant
"Michelle's answering service," the man's deep voice answered into phone later that night.
Harold cursed his luck. "Is Michelle around?" he asked the voice.
"Yeah, is Michelle there?"
"How the heck are you? Haven't talked to you in like two weeks. How's the course looking? Get that new green put in over at, what was it, the ninth hole or something?"
"Seventh. Yeah, it's a little par three, finished soddin' it last week, no big deal. How's the sprinkler business?"
"Fine, fine. Just landed the new mall up on the tollway, big job. That'll keep my Mexicans busy planting flowers once we get the irrigation in. Hey, you wanna talk to your daughter?"
"Yeah, put her on, would ya. Thanks."
The voice boomed “Michelle!” on the other end. After a few moments an out of breath girl clunked onto the other end.
"Hello," she huffed.
"Hey, sweetie, how's it going?"
"Hi, Dad. What's up?"
"Um… nothing. Just wondering what you were doing tonight. Hanging out or what?"
"Actually, Ron's taking us out to eat, I think. Hold on." She yelled the question across the room, was answered with a deep “Yep”, then returned to her father. "Yeah, we're going to eat Chinese, I think. Wanna come?"
"Naw, uh uh, just seeing what you were up to. I already ordered a pizza, should be here in a little while. Still wanna get together this weekend?"
"Yeah—“ The voice in the background cut her off. "Yes, sir," she said without enthusiasm. “Whenever you want to come get me, I'm ready."
Bastard's correcting my daughter, Harold thought. The little hairs on the back of his neck erected as he continued. "Tell Mom I'll pick you up after school Friday."
"Okay," she replied—and got the same correction in the background. "Yes, sir."
Now the hairs on his arms woke up, too. "Pack for the lake, we'll go fishin’ and swimmin’."
"Yes, sir.” An edge of sarcasm. The voice in the background mumbled a small praise.
They said goodbye and hung up.
Harold’s heart hammered into his chest like a boxer into the bag. Ron’s face on the bag. Ron’s face on his fist. Broken nose, chipped teeth. Or at least when Harold got through mangling that pretty face of his. Oh that fuckin’ bastard!
Harold’s stomach knotted from the virtual gut shots the man had just dealt him; it quivered and briefly threatened to erupt. Ron had been around for less than six months, but had Michelle calling him "Dad".
Harold missed hearing his daughter call him Dad every day.
Harold sighed, dropped the receiver into his lap and threw an arm to each side over the back of the couch. His feet were propped on the coffee table, and he resembled a fat, crucified Jesus—which was exactly the way he felt. So much for taking her out in the middle of the week. Guess Fridays and Saturdays are all I get!
After he rubbed the burning rejection from his eyes, Harold jumped up and walked into the kitchen for the number to the pizza place. He pinched his thick belly and said to himself, "Pepperoni mushroom sounds gooood.” He walked back to the couch with a coupon and rang up the delivery person.
Harold Glen Murphy slept in comfortable silence, without tapping, without seeing his father’s face, for the next four nights.