It’s February 14 again. Have you been lying awake at night, watching the days tick over like I have? Or did you manage to block it from your thoughts, only to be assaulted today by an overpriced barrage of sickly sweet candy sentiments masquerading as love?
Maybe you’ll receive a card from a secret admirer who’s spent the past year mooning over the quiet ginger-haired boy in the corner, and you’ll smile and feel normal and loved. I hope so, if only to push down the pain for a few moments. But February 14 will always be the day your dad died and your mum was taken away, and there aren’t any greeting cards for that.
For years I’ve tried to compose what I would say to you if I saw you again, but no words ever seem right, and I wonder if you’d even want someone you probably don’t remember reminding you of the life you used to have.
We met at the park as the sun was rising on a Saturday morning. Your dad loved early mornings. I can’t say I held the same enthusiasm, but when he showed me pictures of his Mini-Me, I knew I had to see you in the flesh. It was Schoolies Week, so most of my fellow graduates had gone away to get drunk and make cameos on the evening news, and your dad was finally allowed to introduce me as a friend without being accused of playing favourites in class. We watched you sculpt a castle in the sandpit, the king of your own little world. Your dad’s eye never left you, even as he murmured: “He knows.”
“Knows what?” I asked.
“When his mum and I fight. We’re careful not to raise our voices in front of him but he always turns up the TV or starts banging on his toys to drown us out.”
As I tried to find the right words to say, you bounded over to us, green eyes sparkling, red hair flailing in the wind. “Dad, look what I found!” You held out your hand and opened your fingers to reveal a plastic piglet, slightly dusty from the sand. “Maybe it got lost running away from the big bad wolf.”
“I suppose it needs a new home then,” your dad replied. I loved the way he ruffled your hair and smiled when he looked at you. Some people just smile with their mouths but his reached all the way to his forehead, touching every centimetre of his face along the way.
You’re a bit old for that little pig now, I guess, but sometimes I wonder if you still have it somewhere. Did it find a safe home? Did you?
I’d met your dad two-and-a-half years earlier, having just transferred to his school midway through Year 10. He found me wandering the corridors in search of my History class and we discovered he was my teacher. But more than that, he became the one person who believed in me when everyone else had given up. I never told your dad he was my best friend.
I think about the mornings when I would notice him looking a little haggard, and he’d admit he’d slept in the garage “to keep the peace”. He said he shouldn’t really be talking to a student about it but he did anyway so I figured he must have wanted to. I’d ask him why he didn’t just divorce your mum and he’d tell me he’d made a vow not to break up his family.
“But if you’re fighting all the time, surely that’s no good for your son?”
“We both love him the same. And you might not understand it but we love each other too,” your dad replied. “Love is complicated. It challenges everything you think you know about yourself. Perhaps you’ll understand one day. Now, I hope you remembered your homework.”
Maybe he was right, or maybe that was the most condescending thing he ever said to me. I don’t know. I was never inside that house. After a while I stopped questioning his decision to stay with your mum. I wish I could ask you if that was the right thing to do, but even if I saw you again, I know it would be wildly inappropriate to ask.
“You know what the fascinating thing about History is?” your dad once asked me.
“Getting to laugh at me when I get all those dates mixed up again?”
He chuckled, then shook his head. “The patterns,” he said. “History really does repeat, when you open your eyes. Different people making the same mistakes.” I just nodded, knowing it wasn’t my place to point out how many times he’d slept in his car. There are so many things now I wish I could have told him, but they’ve long faded in the wind like all the dates I memorised for my exams, replaced with the only date stuck in my mind now.
I don’t know exactly what happened that February 14, only what the news reports said. I went to your street in the days and weeks that followed. I stared at the police tape. I talked to your neighbours. They said you’d been staying at a friend’s house that night, and I’m glad.
I’ve tried to find you in the years since, but the department won’t tell me anything. I’m studying to be a teacher now, as if somehow I’ll catch a glimpse of your dad in a red-haired boy and know you’re safe. But today, like last February 14, and the ones before that, I’m sitting here pondering love and history, and writing a Valentine’s Day letter I’ll never send.
Lee-Ann Khoh is a writer and cynical romantic in Perth, Western Australia. Her first flash fiction collection, They Don’t Talk About It, is available on Amazon, Smashwords and various eBook retailers.
This story is sponsored by
Clarion West Writers Workshop — Apply now through March 1 for 2014’s six-week workshop with Paul Park, Kij Johnson, Ian McDonald, Hiromi Goto, Charlie Jane Anders, and John Crowley, June 22 – August 1 in Seattle.