The Seven Five Nothing

The Seven Five Nothing are a collection of hyper-short stories, each written in a single sitting with no editting.

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2. Caitlyn.

I felt bad. You always do. It wasn't until I flipped open my laptop to start writing that I saw the date. June 30th - a day right after June 29th. Shit. Caitlyn's birthday.

Being a father living somewhere else is never easy, but being a dad that misses birthdays? Man, you feel like a bottom feeder. Rachel, Caitlyn's mother, had left a pretty shitty message on my phone. 'Motherfucker. I hope you realise how much of a motherfucker you really are.' And that was it. She'd clicked off.

Of course, I could make a million excuses about why I forgot, or pretend that I had tried to call but my battery had died, and so and so on... But the truth is, I couldn't lie to my little girl like that - I had to be honest and hope for the best.

'Hey,' I started.
'Hey,' she came back. I knew this was going to be tough.
'Listen... I'm really, really sorry.'
'It's okay.' She was being firm, brave like a soldier. It made me feel worse.
'I wanted to call you to apologise.' A parent should never have to find themselves apologising to their kid - it's just the most crushing feeling in the world, admitting your failures. 'My battery died...' I was a dick.
'Dad, it's okay.'

We hung out. She didn't say much.

'Are you going to open it?'
She looked at the shiny bag on the table. 'Later.' She sipped her milkshake.
'You don't want to open it now?'
Caitlyn shook her head. Then, she looked out the window, staring at the cars.
'How's school?'
'It's alright.' She didn't look back at me. And that's how we spent the rest of the time in the diner - not talking.

I had a thought, as I drove her back, that her mother and I had had about a billion of these moments in the past. It was strange, but I knew the disappointment well, knew that I had let her down in just the same way as I had been guilty before. I wanted to slam my head against the window - angry at myself for fucking up again. Of course, I knew that was just me - I had a memory filled with holes, always too distracted to be where I was needed. When the marriage broke down, and I went through all that cleansing of the self bullshit, I promised myself I'd change, that I'd be better. And for a while, I was. Every game, I was there, cheering Caitlyn on. Weekends, we'd go skating. Christmas, we'd put our shit on freeze and hold it together long enough for it to almost be normal for her. But somewhere along the way, it slipped. Where, I can't really be too sure. But some place, I started to let other things, small things, take up my time.

I watched the middle distance all the way home whilst Caitlyn just played with her phone.

'I'll see you later Dad.'
'Wait,' I said. 'Can't I give you a birthday kiss?'
She took a beat. 'My birthday was yesterday.' And then she turned. And I realised I'd seen her mother in her all over again.
'You're right,' I shot back, 'it was. But I'm here now.'
She looked back over at me.
'Look,' I continued. 'I know I fucked up. But I'm here.'
She didn't say anything, but I could see she wanted to.
'When did you change, kiddo?'
'What?'
'I'm serious.' I could feel a weight shifting in my chest. 'When did you become so uninterested in me?'
'What are you talking about?'
'The skating... You remember that?'
'Dad...'
'When you were five or six... What happened to those days?'
'I'm fourteen now.'
'I know... But you. You're still you, right? You still like skating, and dolls... And dress up. You still like all that, right?'
'Of course not - don't be so ridiculous.'
'Then what? What do you like?'
'I don't know what you mean.'
'What I mean is...' I wasn't too sure what I meant. 'What I mean is... Who are you Caitlyn? You know? You grow up so fast, and I don't see you hardly at all, and shit...'
'I'm me, dad. I'm just me.'
'Right... And I don't know you. And it's not your fault - it's me. But...'
'But what?'
'But I got scared. And I don't mean that in a bad way, like, it's not your fault... But...'
'...But...?'
'But there's no rule book. No guide on how you do this. This... The growing up... It was easier when you were little. I understood you more, because I didn't know how to let you down. It was simple, and we shared... Stories, everything. We just...'
'We had fun.'
'Yes... So what changed?'
'I don't know.'
'Me either...' She looked at me, open, honest. 'I guess I grew up...'
'And I didn't.'
The air hung, both of us unsure. Then, she stepped towards me, kissing me on the cheek. 'Dad...?'
'Yeah?'
'Just don't forget again.'
'Okay.'
We hugged. She went to the door of the house, turned and said; 'See you for skating on Saturday.'
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