OUR FATHER • by Deborah Winter-Blood

We ran. We fled as if we were both insane, as if chased or possessed by demons. And maybe we were — possessed, that is.

Kathy unfolded the map too much. It spread across the dash and fluttered against the steering wheel. “I wish we had GPS,” she said.

I flung my cigarette butt out of the window. “Well, we don’t.”

“I only said I wish we did. I have no clue where we are.”

“We can’t be that far.”

“Fucking cornfields.”

I ignored her. We’d already argued our way east on the 40 to Albuquerque in that “I love you but you’re such an idiot” sister kind of way. I wanted to stay on the interstate until Oklahoma City before cutting north, but she was the oldest. When she told me to take the 85 north from Albuquerque, that’s what I did.

There was a sign ahead. “This is Malvern,” I announced. “We’re here.”

We couldn’t find the high school where our father had been a Big Man on Campus. We couldn’t find the two-story brick building that we’d memorized from the image in the center of our dad’s diploma. Instead we found the new high school on the edge of town and parked in front of it.

Kathy reached behind me and pulled a bottle of wine out of the seat pocket. She took a drink before handing it to me.

“This is so messed up,” she said.

We got out and walked to the back of the car. I opened the hatch.

My sister asked, “Do you have a cup or something?”

“Why would I carry around a cup? Let’s just take the whole damned thing and dump him.”

“I promised.”

“I didn’t promise jack shit.”

Kathy insisted. “Well, I did. Some here, some in Montana.”

I opened the urn and we each reached into it for a handful. I’m sure we spilled most of him on our way up to the football field. We stood on the fifty-yard line, each with a tiny remnant of our father clutched between our fingers.

“Do it,” I said.

“You do it,” she countered.

I suggested a compromise. “Let’s do it together.”

We both opened our fists and let go of the silky remains. It was anticlimactic, watching the fine gray dust catch the wind and scatter.

“Ew,” I cried. “He got on me.”

“This is so messed up,” Kathy repeated.

We took Highway 29 out of Malvern and stopped in Sioux Falls for the night. The wine was gone, so we found a liquor store and then a motel.

Sitting on one of the double beds, we drank vodka and Kathy cried. She wasn’t supposed to cry; she was the oldest.

As the sun started to rise, Kathy moaned in her sleep. She felt small with her back burrowed against me. I held her and whispered that I understood, that I knew why she always slept with a pillow pressed against her mouth. It was to prevent the wrongness, or maybe to prevent her own protests against the wrongness. I’m sure we both dreamed about Daddy that night.

She checked her voice mails somewhere around Belle Fouche the next day and turned to me, blanched of color. “Jim says he’s going to take the kids. He says he’ll take them if I don’t come home right now.”

I adjusted my window so the wind stopped grabbing my hair. “Dave said the same thing to me two days ago.”

We exchanged a glance and kept driving.

The ranch where our father spent his summers was gone, so we drove until the sun met the earth above an open field. There was no discussion. We took Daddy out of the back and walked out into the grass.

I opened the urn and held it almost perpendicular to the earth, and looked at Kathy.

She nodded. “Do it.”

He was gone so quickly, a spray of fine dust, some in the wind, some in the grass.

There were wet trails down my sister’s face. I was frozen, unable to react to the last bit of our father that stuck to her tears. Get off of her, I wanted to shout.

“He’s gone.” She sounded very, very small.

“Good,” I whispered. “Fucking bastard.”

We both turned and started back across the field to the car, but somehow along the way I ended up on my knees. I wept and Kathy held me.

When the sun finally set, when there was no light left to expose our misdeeds or the misdeeds of our father, she helped me to my feet.

I handed her the map once we were back in the car. “Where to now?”

Kathy tossed the map aside. “Just drive.”

Deborah Winter-Blood is a writer, dog mom and displaced California Valley Girl. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications over the past 30 years.

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