My wife doesn’t understand me. That’s what she tells me, at least every other day.
It’s Saturday, and we’re driving our kids Devon and Anna, four and almost six, to the amusement park off Route 53. Emily says, “I don’t understand why you think anybody on the internet is interested in what you ate for breakfast.” She adds, “Do you wanna know what I think, Don?”
I shake my head but she tells me anyway. “I think you want your father to know what you ate for breakfast.”
“That’s not it. I post a photo of what I ate. Then my friends post a photo of what they ate. You can see into a person’s soul through what they eat.”
“You know I only have black coffee for breakfast, right?”
I reach over, squeeze her leg above her knee. “I’ll pray for you.”
She burrows her hand under mine, weaves our fingers together.
I drive us past endless perfect rows of corn and soybeans, some forests, the entrance to the old uranium processing plant, (some argue it still spews radioactivity like lava), even a few llama farms. I tell jokes to our goofy kids in the backseat. They giggle madly at each one. They don’t love me for my punch lines. They love me, wholeheartedly, just because I’m their dad. They reward me with their laughter.
Then, 50 miles out from the city, the highest hill of the wooden rollercoaster rises from the corn stalks like a mirage.
Some kids would whine about coming here, complain that they want to go to the real park, the one that cost an arm and a leg (actually, all the family’s extremities), the one where the rollercoaster’s first hill is thirty stories high instead of eight, the one that has over 200 rides and games instead of 12 and none respectively. But my kids love it here. Because they love their old man’s enthusiasm for it. Admission is free! You buy tickets for the rides. And, sure, the rollercoaster adrenaline rush isn’t from a 20-story free fall; it’s from the jostle. I have proof — a chipped front tooth from riding it when I was a drunk recently-abandoned-by-dad 16-year-old. My kids don’t know to compare it to Six Flags. Not yet. I figure I have another year. Then there will be rebellion with a capital R.
When I was a little kid I came here with my mom, her sister and my cousins. No rebellion, not even with a lower-case R. I don’t remember my father ever coming along, but maybe I’ve blocked him out. What I remember is Mom winning the rolling-pin-throwing contest three years in a row. It’s a shame they don’t do that anymore. I bet my wife could chuck a pin with the best of ‘em.
I pose my Anna and Devon in front of everything and everybody — the totem pole with the Welcome to Jollification Junction sign, the scrambler, the flying scooters, the guy grilling dollar-fifty hotdogs. I make sure they don’t get bored, that there are always huge smiles on their gorgeous faces. The hotdog man is a good sport, happy to grin while his dogs cook a little past crispy perfection.
I can’t wait to get home so I can post my best photos on social media. But first we make a day of it. We ride the train, which tracks through Jollification Junction’s storage units. We get tickets for the rides Anna and Devon are tall enough for. We play putt-putt on the buckled artificial turf. And, of course, we eat extra-well-done hotdogs with extra mustard.
Today, Sunday, we’re planning to head over to mom’s. The kids love their Gram (the once-rolling-pin champ) and Pops. And they love the apartment complex overlooking the river where Gram and Pops live, especially all the buttons in the elevator. If we’re alone, I let them push all seven.
Now I’m in our kitchen watching Anna and Devon play with their LEGOs on the floor. I snap a photo of my Froot Loops.
Sometimes I wonder if mom ever thinks about her other husband (my father). At first, she would mention him sometimes, like at Christmas, “Wonder what Butthead is doing today?” Or, out of the blue, “Wonder where Birdbrain lives now.” But after a few years she married John, and her witticisms ceased.
When my father left Mom and me twenty-five years ago, she kept telling me he still loved me. But I knew it wasn’t true, because the other divorced dads came around sometimes. Maybe if I’d displayed my little league trophies on shelves instead of pitching them in a box. Maybe if I’d gotten A’s instead of C’s. Maybe if I’d never talked back.
Over the years I’ve searched for my father on the internet. All these years there’s never been anything.
Until today. Until Emily comes in the kitchen, pulls a chair close to mine, sits down, and sets a printout on the table.
It’s my father’s obituary.
Lawrence Cornelius, 71, of Mason, passed away on Tuesday, March 18. He was born on March 25, 1948, to the late August and Vivian Cornelius. Larry loved riding his bicycle, magnet fishing, and spending time with family and friends. He was the beloved husband of Tammy Cornelius, stepfather of Joshua (Jennifer) Wessel, and grandfather of Benjamin and Mary Wessel. All arrangements…
Emily whispers, “I’m sorry, Donnie. At least now you know for sure he’s not going to show up here unannounced.”
I’ve thought (too often) about how I’d react if my father rang our doorbell, but I’ve never mentioned this to Emily. She says she doesn’t understand me, but she does.
I kiss her, stand up. “We should get the kids ready to go.”
“I’ll do it.” Emily picks up Devon off the floor. “I know you want to post your Froot Loops.” Not a hint of sarcasm.
I hoist Anna. “No, it can wait. I’ll do it later.”
Jan Allen’s short stories have appeared in Every Day Fiction, The MacGuffin and fellow-writer-voted Sixfold.