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Toxic #10: When Smurfs Attack

Mar 19, 2014

My grandmother floated back over as my father went inside. “What’s up with you and the flowers? You almost blinked out,” I whispered.

She shook her head and gestured for me to be quiet.

“You look like a Smurf.”

She glanced down at herself, her hair floating in a fizzy blue puff. “What on earth?”

I went into the house before my father realized I wasn’t behind him. All I needed was for him to hear me talking to myself. “Told you. Smurf.”

She clucked her tongue, which was also blue, and floated behind me into the living room. Books were stacked everywhere, from the carpet to the chairs to the top of a baby grand piano. The only thing free from clutter was the hearth of the fireplace.

My father was settled in a chair circled in paperbacks. I picked the couch, moving some leather-bound tomes to make room. My grandmother perched on top of a pile of spiral-ring papers, and I swallowed a laugh. Postmenopausal Smurfette.

“Are you adjusting to your new school?”

I turned away from Grandma, shrugging. “It’s high school.”

“Have you had a chance to explore the town?”

I raised an eyebrow. The restaurant I’d stumbled into had pretty much taught me not to go poking around. “A little. It’s okay.”

He nodded and stared a hole in the pile of papers Grandma was sitting on. It was a weird coincidence, but given he wasn’t screaming over the ghost in his house, that was all it was.

I sighed and tried to think of something to say. My father was not a conversationalist. “This place is…nice. The one Mom bought is an ugly box.”

He straightened the sleeves on his sweater, frowning at a loose string. “I’m not a fan of modern architecture.”

We’d had a nice pre-War walk-up in New York, and after all the detail there, the way the floors had sloped going into the kitchen and the crown molding that had been some ornate frenzy of cherubs and flowers, I had to agree. The new place was as sterile as the E.R. Mom worked in. “It’d be okay if she’d paint the walls. The white makes me crazy.”

He shifted his frown to the fireplace. Out of polite things to say, I opened one of the books next to me. It was in a foreign language, the pages so yellow it was probably older than the house. I closed it slowly and placed it back on the pile.

My grandmother got off the books and snuck up behind my dad. She sprang out, a giant blue blob inches from his face. He crossed his legs and kept studying the fire.

I tried to ignore her. My father had the conversational skills of a slug, and she wasn’t helping me focus. I needed to get this visit over with so I could meet the werewolf and his pack, or whatever monsters he called friends. Sadly, the way things were going I was almost looking forward to it. Almost.

“So how is this supposed to work? Do I come over alternating nights and every other weekend or something?” No one had brought up visitation schedules, but wasn’t that how it usually went?

He took off his glasses, squinting at the dust coating the lenses. “Your mother and I agree you’re old enough to make your own decisions. There’s a bedroom set up in case you want to stay over, but when you visit will be up to you.”

My fingers tapped out a staccato beat on the armrest of the couch. He was giving me my own room. He actually wanted to spend time with me? Up to now I’d seen him once every three months. He had come to the city and we’d done dinner. Like the night I’d run into the vampires. That had been his last visit. “Why did you want us to move here? Was it because of me getting mugged?”

He stopped cleaning his glasses. “You are direct, aren’t you?”

The fact that he’d never picked up on that fact during one of his visits said everything there was to say about his attention skills. “It wasn’t your fault I got mugged, that’s all. You don’t have to pretend you care.”

He slid his glasses back into place with a sigh. “Tizzy. As people get older they realize some of their choices were not the right ones to make. Sometimes you can make amends for the bad choices and sometimes you can’t. Either way, you try. Do you understand?”

“Not really.” I was too shocked by him calling me Tizzy, honestly. There was no way it’d been an accident. What did it mean?

“I haven’t been a good father. You being hurt made me face that. So I’ll try to be better. I may not be able to, but I’ll try.” He rose to his feet, his eyes wandering to look at everything but me. “Are you staying for dinner?”

“I’m supposed to meet some friends.”

“Well, then. If you’ll excuse me, I have some soup to take off the stove.”

I sank into the couch as he disappeared through an archway. My gut was twisting, and it felt surprisingly like guilt. I’d hurt his feelings. But how was I supposed to know he’d actually want me to stay?

I hadn’t expected that. I hadn’t expected my own room, either.

My grandma floated by my field of vision, listing like a drunk. “What is up with you tonight?” I asked, a little crosser than I meant.

She settled next to me, on top of the old books. “Have you noticed how your father seems overly interested in me for someone who can’t see ghosts?”

So she’d noticed him staring at the pile of papers, too. Still. Coincidence. “What I noticed was that he didn’t blink when you did your bogeyman routine on him.”

“He reacted. He was just expecting it. And he was looking right at me at one point.” She nodded her head, her mouth set in a line. “He saw me. You know it. Which means I think there are some things your father is hiding, and not just from you. From everyone.”

© A.M. Schilling  2014. All Rights Reserved.

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