Alec lays his sweaty brow against the windowpane, staring at the inky water. He tries to figure out where the water ends and the night sky begins, but fails.
He used to think that things worked in a linear way, that life moved from a point A to a point B, and the sum of those movements made one’s existence. Never a sheer optimist, he knew that there were muddy roads and that sooner or later everyone has to find its way out of them, but there was the belief that a way out could always be found. Follow the path, trust in your compass, wear comfy boots and sooner or later you’ll get back home. But what if you can’t even tell where the water ends and the sky begins?
Compasses break, he had told Ellie. Is that what happened to himself? Is that how Joe Miller had felt while seeking comfort in a boy of eleven? This same fear, this same loneliness? Hadn’t he himself sought a similar type of comfort when he had asked Becca Fisher to spend the night with him?
A wave of dizziness washes over him, and he can feel sweat cooling on his back, making him shiver. He craves a beer so bad, but alcohol is prohibited to the joke of man he has become. Together with caffeine, cigarettes and sex. He fills the electric kettle for a herbal tea, but instead of plugging it in he throws it to the floor. The noise it makes is strangely pleasant. A mug follows it, splinters scatterings everywhere. At least he can still break a ceramic cup.
He spent almost two years protecting a person who was probably plotting with the man he was trying to protect her from. He tried to be a friend for Ellie, but had just brought more shit in her life. He had failed the Sandbrook girls’ families. He had failed his own family. All he wants now is some time to get things straight, or at least to go hoping for forgiveness. He knows he hasn’t much time left, an implicit knowledge always present on the back of his mind as cold fingers skimming over the back of his neck. He also knows that self-pity isn’t of any help, but the night is too thick and he’s getting lost. Rummaging among a pile of papers stacked on the bookshelf, Alec takes a yellow envelope and sits on the floor.
He puts his hand on a splinter and has to wipe his palm on his t-shirt to avoid smearing the precious content of the envelope with blood. For a brief moment the possibility that it could be a bad omen paralyzes him, but he chases the unthinkable idea away. Inside the envelope is a handmade card written in a childish hand. “Get well soon Dad.” He loves how he has always been ‘dad’ for her. Not daddy, or papa, or any other cheesy title: from day one he has been just her dad. The thought that, no matter what, he can’t stop being Daisy’s father is the pale light to which he clings.
The card was written the first time he was diagnosed with heart arrhythmia, almost ten years earlier. After a scary ride to the ER and an overnight stay, the diagnosis hadn’t been too dire. He just needed to undergo yearly checks, limit stress and lead a healthy life. He and Tess had joked about their getting old and derelict, and then made love in their sun-flooded bedroom. He had stayed in bed as he was supposed to do, and when Daisy came back from school she had climbed near him with her get-well card.
“That’s a very nice card, Dee.”
“You are not satisfied with it?”
She had simply shrugged, but his Dad Warning Light had started to blink. Allowing the little girl time to voice her thoughts, he bestowed extra attention to the drawing of him, Tess and Daisy scribbled inside the card.
“I was mean with Oliver Jeffers today.”
“He told me that his grandpa had died because his heart stopped and I told him … I told him that he was so ugly he shouldn’t play hide and seek, because no one would look for him.”
Alec had tried his best to stifle a smile. “Well, that was quite mean.”
“I know! And he’s not really that ugly, Oliver.”
He had put an arm around her shoulders and tickled her neck. “Oi, no boyfriend allowed here before you turn twenty-one!”
She had squeaked, kicking to get free. “Dad!”
“Sorry, sorry. The thing is Dee, Oliver’s grandpa was probably very old.”
“Much older than you?”
“Immensely older than me.”
She had smiled without looking at him, and he had marvelled once again at how another little person could have exactly his same eyes.
“But one day you are going to grow old and die.”
“That will happen to everyone, darling. But you don’t have to worry about this, because you aren’t going to get ridden of me anytime soon.”
He had tickled her again, and every thought of death and sickness had drowned in Daisy’s giggles.
Closing his eyes, he feels something wet running down his cheeks. The discovery that he can still cry is oddly comforting, and tears and memories seem to have washed the dizziness away. Too tired to clean the mess on the kitchen floor, he takes his pills and just curls on the couch. He hasn’t seen Daisy in thirteen months and she keeps on ignoring his pathetic voicemail pleas. He has no idea if she has a boyfriend, whether she started smoking, or if she still likes science fiction. He’s no longer the person she goes to when she’s sad or scared, but he’s still her dad. They can’t take that away from him. Maybe she no longer even loves him, but the little girl who drew that card did. And he will use that small amount of strength and dignity he has left to make that girl proud of him once again.