The sun hung between day and night, painting the wispy clouds sailing in the western sky, pink and gold, dappling little wavelets dancing down the river, wavelets splashing on the old log dock, curling over broken boards, splashing onto bare feet, soaking into frayed bottoms of patched jeans.
Tom Warden squinted against the rays of the sun burning into dark grey eyes, raised a nut brown right hand to shade them from its brightness; looked deep into the darkening blue, seeking for an answer, seeking for hope, but like always, the sun, the wind, the clouds and sky kept their counsel to themselves.
For the tenth time in ten minutes a troubled mind turned to Abigail, returned to this morning, returned to their fight, a fight about the same old thing, a thing that lay below the surface of their minds; a thing that had no resolution, a thing that seemed like it could never have a resolution, not for him anyway.
Her words rang through him, rang crystal clear, “But daddy I just have to go to the dance with Billy. I’ll die if you don’t let me.”
His answer had been the same answer, given in the same old way, in the same angry voice. “You’re too young to go to town and stay overnight and…..” His voice grew colder, “And you’re too young to be dating someone three years older than you are.”
“But,” the blubbering began, the water works that always worked started, tears formed in baby blue eyes, eyes the same colour as Anna’s. “But,” she began again, sounding more like a two-year-old than a girl of almost sixteen. “But, Mary’s parents let her go out with Rod Williams and he’s almost four years older than she is.”
He growled, “I’m not her father, I’m yours.”
The foot stomping began, “She’s lucky. I wish you trusted me like they trust her.”
His grin softened the lines around his mouth, softened the square angle of his jaw, “I trust you baby girl, it’s your hormones and a male three years older than you and Mary with her I don’t give a damn attitude and the party afterwards with the drugs and booze that I don’t trust.”
Her voice softened, a wan smile burst through the storm, “Can’t you come into town and stay at the apartment then? I’ll just go to the dance and come straight home afterwards. Please, please daddy, I promise I’ll come home right after the dance.”
“I can’t come into town.”
Abigail sniffed, stomped her foot, rattling the dishes on the counter and wailed, “You don’t love me,” through a torrent of tears.
Tom remained resolute, ignored the desire to give into his girl, ignored the tugging of his heart to rush over to her, to brush her tears away, to hug her and say, “Of course you can go to the dance, now hurry up and change and we’ll go into town and buy you a new dress, that blue one you’ve had your eyes on,” but he didn’t move, didn’t even blink.
“Mum would let me go,” the tears faded to be replaced by dark cloud filled, anger filled eyes.
He shouted, “Your mum’s not here,” and bit his tongue after his words filled the room with an absolute finality.
“And whose fault is that?” the words came out full of accusation, full of anger, full of an aching empty loss.
“I suppose you’re still blaming me for her death?”
She retorted in her mouthy insolent way, “If the shoe fits, then you should wear it.”
He screamed, “It wasn’t my fault,” clenched his hands until they turned white.
“Whose fault was it then? Who had one too many drinks, who knew that the baby, my baby brother was due any day and yet drank most of the day, celebrating the sale of a short story. Was it worth it, was it really worth it.”
He shouted, “Shut up bitch,” turned on his heels and stormed out of the house and now he was here alone, confused, angry, ashamed and afraid that the gulf between them could never be bridged.
The fault of his wife’s death, his unborn son’s death, a son he wanted, longed for, weighed heavy on him, too heavy for him to bear anymore. He looked down into the dark blue water of the river, looked down into its depths, looked down into its beckoning hands; looked deep into the peace it offered him.
He murmured, “She’d be better off and for darn sure I’d be better off, because there wouldn’t be any more pain or suffering,” in a voice reeking with self pity.
A poem danced through his mind, a poem of his early days, of when he and Anna owned the world, of when Abigail was a little girl and he was her idol. “I know where the river runs deep/where the waters lie cold and still. It’s where I so hunger to sleep and very soon I will.”
The memory of a long ago day, the memory of Anna came to him, reflected in the choppy waves, came out of the waves, her face a face of frowns, of a wrinkled up pert nose, of a grimace that stole away some of her perfect beauty. “That’s so sad,” her voice, an angel’s voice filled with sadness and tears dripped from baby blue eyes.
He hugged her, kissed the tears away one at a time, laughed, “It may be sad darling, but sad sells these days,” and the poem had sold, had brought him the reputation of an up and coming poet.
But that was another day and this was today, this was now, this was his moment of decision. It would be easy to tie the old boat anchor and rusty chain around his body, go out into the middle of the river, expel his breath and fall over the side.
His mind said, “Yes do it now. You know you want to find peace. You know that the river offers you peace, peace forever. Surrender, accept its gift and have rest.”
His heart thudding beneath the brown shirt, the shirt Anna gave to him on his thirty-eighth birthday said, “No,” said it loud and clear.
The tug of war, the war between life and death lasted through the untying of the boat, through the pulling of the starting cord, through the motor roaring into life and through the journey down the river into the lake and down to the lake mouth to his home, to his Abigail.
The old wicker basket full of fish, full of wriggling pike and pickerel landed with a thud on the kitchen floor, rod and reel were placed against the table. Tom put a smile on his dour face, called, “Abigail, Abigail, please come here.”
No answer, no angry words, no pleading and no sobs came to him. He called again, louder this time, still no answer, still no sign of life in the house.
Tom sighed, strode across the hardwood floor, strode into the living room, strode over to the stairs leading up to Abigail’s sacred loft and took the steps two at a time. A shaking hand paused in front of the oak door, paused in front of a sign that had, “Private, keep out and this means you,” printed in bold black letters across its face.
He girded up his loins, mustered the little courage he could and knocked timidly. There was no answer to his intrusion, but there were the faint sounds of a body stirring on a bed, Tom knocked again, bolder, louder this time.
A grumpy, “Go away,” came out through the keyhole, rolled out from underneath the door.
He knew a faint heart wouldn’t bring her to the door. Tom put determination and resolve into his knock.
A snarled, “What do you want?” only made his mind and desire to talk to her stronger.
He kept the anger out of his voice when he spoke, tried to fill it with the love he felt for her. “I want to talk to you, please open the door. I’m not going away until you do.”
A grumbled, angry, “Oh all right, just wait a minute,” brought a grin to his face and put a slight twinkle in his eyes.
The door opened without making a sound, her anger filled stare; her sour looking expression would under normal circumstances have set him off again, but not now, not today. He smiled his best I love you sweetie smile and spoke in a soft voice. “If you still want to go to the dance you better change your clothes so we can go into town and buy you a new dress. After all a dad can’t have his daughter going to the harvest ball looking like a girl that doesn’t have a home, now can he?”