Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Learning to Speak -- a story (ii)

Karin's continuing sarcasm tests her father. 

~   *   ~   *   ~   *   ~

“So where is Mom speaking tonight anyway?” Karin said.

His hands hugged the cup. “Those clouds put the fear of the Lord in me, you know that, honey?” He knew she was still looking outside, like her mother would have.

“We got alarms at school. It’s tornado awareness week, you know?--you know that, don’t you?” She turned the plug on the drain stopper and shook the water from her hands into the sink. “You run the school. You’re supposed to know things like that.”

She liked being aggressive with him, and it was at least partially due to her age, he knew. He’d seen enough high school kids in twenty years of education to know the earmarks: a kind of eternal brooding that often hatched razor-sharp sarcastic outbursts--as it often did when she was alone with him--or defiant silence--as it usually did when her mother was around.

Part of Karin’s way was nothing more than the cancer of adolescence. That was part of it, all right. After all, he thought, it had been two long years already since Lisa was gone.

“We ought to have devotions,” he said, as lightly as he could. “I just plain forgot about it--”

“That’s because Mom’s gone again. We never do when she’s gone.”

He allowed her that one too, letting her speak. “When I was a kid we read the Bible three times a day--after every meal.” Once he had said it, the grandfatherly condescension in his voice embarrassed him, like the old lines about walking eight miles in ten foot snowdrifts just to get to school. “You pray later on by yourself, will you? It’ll help my conscience along.”

There weren’t many dishes because it hadn’t been that much of a supper, something of a bachelor’s delight--ham and cheese and a pickle. Karin ate a hot dog he had stuck in the microwave. There was a couple of potato chips apiece and some cole slaw that Angie had thrown together when she knew she would be out speaking again.

“You ever hear the story of the chicken that went up in a tornado and came down fully plucked?” he said.

“Sounds like a cartoon,” she said.

“True story.”

Karin looked at him and smiled as if he were spinning a tall one. “They ought to have that chicken in a museum--have him stuffed so everybody would know it really happened.”

“Doubting Thomas,” he said. Sometimes he felt that if he said things just right he could get through all the tough stuff and find real softness underneath somewhere.

When Karin was little she loved the piano; by the time she got into junior high, she hated it. Now, it wasn’t much more than habit that kept her practicing. He had taken lessons himself when he was a boy, because it was the aim of every mother in town to have a son who could play the church organ. Once he’d even done well at some recital in a college classroom, but just about then puberty set in and the piano lost. He and Angie never had a son, but he figured it was much easier to keep girls on the bench anyway. Karin had played the church organ for a year already. It made Angie very proud, because Lisa, their oldest daughter, was just as good a pianist before she was killed. Angie liked seeing Karin up there in front, her legs swaying over the pedals, like Lisa’s had.

“How come somebody pretty as you doesn’t have a date?” he asked her. She was paging through the hymnal, then playing whatever came up in front of her.

“I try to keep my weekends free to be with mom and dad,” she said. “Something I picked up in Marriage and Family class--just my way of keeping the family together.”

“How very thoughtful of you,” he said, with something of her own medicine.

Karin was a beautiful girl, but nothing at all like Lisa. Her hair was straight and blonde, like his own, and her eyes were pale, almost colorless. Lisa was dark and slightly chunky, not pretty really, but full of spunk that kept the boys around, as many as she wanted. Lisa was her mother’s girl, from her high instep and her stubby toes to her hard teeth. Always joyous and talkative, she was a cheerleader from the time she was in seventh grade.

Karin was his daughter, an excellent student who took very little pride in her work, even though what she accomplished was noteworthy. For her, doing schoolwork was a matter of accepting one’s personal responsibility; getting good grades was simply expected. Her deepest emotion showed only in her silence. She was like a farm girl that way, tight and stern, all the zeal of old Presbyterian.

Lisa was tops in school too, but she had a thousand interests other than homework. Now, two years after her death, he remembered her verve fondly; then, her behavior had often been a headache. He once told the school psychologist, jokingly, that it would be good for Karin to get rip-roaring drunk sometime. It would loosen her up, he said, even if it was something a father shouldn’t see--or even say, for that matter. Lisa had always needed someone to put on the brakes. In the last few months, he often wanted to kick Karin out of the house.

“Don’t play that one again,” he told her. “It reminds me of the Titanic--”

“Of what?” She stopped in the middle of a line.

“The Titanic. Years ago I saw a movie about the Titanic. When it was going down, all those still on board sang ’Nearer, My God to Thee.’” He raised his forearm like the prow of a ship and let it slip down slowly. “I hear that song and I remember the movie.”

“It ought to be an inspiration,” she said.

If he wasn’t sure she loved him, her sharpness would have angered him. Her mother hated it when Karin talked that way to him; Angie called it disrespect.
To be continued. 

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