Jane sat on the flower patterned, pillow covered, couch in Margaret’s living room, while Margaret sat opposite her on a small rattan chair.
“So, how have you been?” Margaret asked. She was forty-six, recently single, and Jane’s mother.
Jane hadn’t seen her father since her sister’s funeral a year before, and it was the first time she’d met her mother since they’d divorced.
“I’m doing okay-”
“I’m glad,” Margaret said.
Her mother was nothing but gracious, evidenced by the china tea set on the table between them and the array of pastries, originally intended for some book club, not for her daughter at least.
It was probably in her mother’s tone or the narrow squint of her eyes. Jane felt like she’d walked into a one-on-one intervention.
“Is… this about some band?” Margaret asked, pointing with her eyes at Jane’s outfit, bluejeans, dyed black like her hair, and a T-shirt, spray-painted, KOBK, in white paint on black.
“My boyfriend gave me the shirt.”
“You have a boyfriend?” her mother asked, brightening for a moment, but then seeming more grim than before.
“Yeah,” Jane said. It was the first time she’d been away from him in months.
He’d been reading the international section of the paper for the last week. At first she’d thought it was odd, but then she’d started worrying; he’d always stopped at the headlines.
She’d worried about it, but she’d assumed it was something she’d done. Specifically, a week before, she’d mentioned, attempting to be off-handed, how she preferred engagement rings to wedding rings. “An engagement ring means there’s something to look forward to,” she’d told him.
He’d nodded, dead faced, but that was his usual state. “I’ve never thought about it like that,” he’d said, but then the next morning he’d started reading the international section.
Then there was the letter that morning. “Love you. Business. Back soon,” written in blue ballpoint on the back of a receipt and left on her pillow.
He’d disappeared while she slept, leaving behind that letter. It was the first time he’d said he loved her, but he hadn’t really said it. She wasn’t even sure it was his hand writing, but the large hacking motions in blue ink reminded her of the way he used a knife.
It was the first time they’d been apart in months, and she felt like a weight had been lifted from her chest. Something warm and heavy had been holding her down, and now she felt like she was floating.
She thought of Underdog, and her father. He’d taken her to a parade when she was seven. Of course he’d meant it as a fun outing, and it had been fun while she was there, but something about Underdog, the size of a building and floating over them, had stuck in her head and filled her nightmares until she reached puberty.
For some reason, in her dreams, she would hold on to the balloon’s tether. Her father would hold her down by her feet, but his hands would slip and she would float up into the black sky, unable to let go of the rope.
She’d woken up a hundred times with her fists clenched, screaming, but she hadn’t thought about it in years.
“…What’s his name?” her mother asked, now looking more worried than judgmental as she added more tea to Jane’s cup.
“…Jack,” she said. That wasn’t his name, and he actually hated being called Jack, but it was the only name that came to mind.
“Do you know his last name?” she asked, quizzing.
“Dempsey. Like the boxer,” Jane said without hesitation, probably because she’d been thinking about her father. He’d always been a fan of the sweet science.
“…That’s nice,” Margaret said, making that noncommittal statement sound like a lie.
“Tammy-” Jane said. That wasn’t where she’d meant to start her sentence. “The guy who killed her…. He’s dead-”
“What are you saying…?”
“He’s dead. That’s all,” Jane said, standing up from the flowery couch.
“Janey,” her mother said, something else that had ended with puberty.
Jane stopped at the front door. “Have you gone to see Dad?”
He’d died a few months after her sister, something she’d known, but hadn’t been forced to think about.
“…He was cremated- It was what he wanted,” Margaret said, her eyes flashing to the mantle, probably his resting place, but Jane didn’t feel like seeing him in a jar.
“My boyfriend’s gonna get home. I wanna be there when he gets back,” Jane said, and walked out.