By Z.Z. Boone
Featured Image: “Breton Girls Dancing, Pont-Aven” (1888) by Paul Gauguin
I don’t know what happened, but last night I just lost it. Just fucking lost it.
It’s eleven o’clock at night, I’ve been doing inventory in my store all week, I’ve barely made a dime, and this is when my fourteen-year-old daughter decides it’s a good time for defiance.
“You have no idea what it’s like!” she screams.
I’m lying on my still-made bed, full dressed except for my shoes, and she’s standing with a hand on each side of the doorway as if to prevent my escape. I’m not going anywhere. I’m just trying to hear the TV, trying to get the news about how screwed up the rest of the world is, but I can’t make out a word.
“Go to bed, Tess,” I tell her.
“Girls in eighth grade are wearing strapless dresses!” she says. “Seventh grade!”
“I wouldn’t think they’d have any visible means of support.”
The joke infuriates her even more. “You’re not funny!” she shouts. “No means no.”
“Mom would let me!”
This is meant to be the backbreaker. The fact that my wife, who killed her- self two years ago, was far more sane than I am.
“I want to hear the weather,” I say.
“You care more about television than you do about me!”
I can feel myself unraveling like that rope you’ve seen in the movies. The one where each strand slowly separates and snaps until some poor bastard is hanging from something the width of a stretched-out paper clip.
“Just give me one good reason why I can’t—with my own money—buy the dress!”
I’m off the bed now, on my feet, unbuttoning my shirt that still smells like the hardware that surrounds me all day. “Because you’re too young. It sends a bad message.”
“Not one other father has your problem!” she informs me.
Not one other father has my daughter, I think of saying, but I hold back. It’s too close to the stuff I used to hear when I was a kid, too close to the reasoning that sends sons and daughters packing.
She’s come into the room, her indication that she’s not afraid of me, that there’s no safe ground between us.
“So that’s it,” she says, almost calmly. She points toward the TV, where a female meteorologist in a scoop-neck sweater points out a warm front coming up from the Gulf. “You’re just going to lie on your bed and stare at some slut with big tits?”
“Yeah,” I say. “I am. Which is also part of the reason you can’t buy the dress. I do not want guys staring at you like I stare at her.”
“That is so sick,” she says. “That is so perverted. Now I know the reason mom did what she did.”
Which is where I lose it.
“Fuck you!” I shout, inches from her face. “You don’t know shit! You need to respect me! Learn some dignity! I don’t walk around with my dick half hang- ing out, and you don’t wear a strapless dress!”
She starts to cry. The real thing. Doors slam. Her bedroom is down the hall, separated by a shared bath, but I can still hear the sobbing. The hell with her, I think to myself. Let her cry it out. Except that thirty seconds later I’m filling a glass with cold water, tapping on her bedroom door, walking in like some oaf with a peace offering.
“Leave it on the dresser,” she tells me.
She’s sitting on the edge of her bed. Her face is wet, she wipes her nose with her sleeve the way she did when she was a kid and I’d pull her around on her sled.
“I didn’t mean to go off like that,” I say. Silence.
“Just don’t ever do anything crazy, okay?” Silence.
“You want the dress, you can get the dress. Just buy a cover-up. A jacket or something. You can take it off after the bat mitzvah service.”
I’m on my way out of the room when she says, “Dad?” I turn to face her. “Thanks for coming in here.”
“It’s all right,” I say. “Just don’t ever—”
“I know,” she says. And she smiles the way her mother used to smile right after a victory and just before it all went to hell.
Z.Z. Boone’s fiction has appeared in New Ohio Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, Smokelong Quarterly, PANK, Pithead Chapel, and other terrific places. He is the author of Off Somewhere, a 2015 Indie Award nominee for Best Short Story Collection.
Originally appeared in NOR 11.