Mr. Salter, The Dad by Jo Varnish

“Don’t forget it’s trash night, Gerry,” Tina said, standing in the living room doorway.

“I’ll do it in the commercial break,” he said.

“The bulb in the basement still needs replacing,” said Tina as she headed to the kitchen.

*

Gerry dragged his trash cans to the side of the street. At the curb, he stood the cans next to one another, ensuring the lids were firmly sealed. Looking down the street, he saw one of the Baxter boys biking towards him. 

“Hi Mr. Salter!”

Gerry nodded in his direction.

*

In the kitchen, Gerry rinsed his hands. “He yelled out ‘Hi Mr. Salter’, and that really got me, you know?”

“Don’t use the dish towel, Gerry, you’ve touched the trash.”

“I mean, that’s me at this point.”

Tina snapped her laptop shut. “What?”

“I’m Mr. Salter.” Gerry dropped the dish towel onto the counter, and turned to face his wife. “I’m the dad, putting the trash out on a Sunday night.”

“Give it to me now, it’ll need to go in the laundry.”

*

The girls walked out to the school bus beside Gerry. Amy, at eight, two years older than Clara, stopped to pluck a dandelion from the crack in the sidewalk. 

“My friend Sara calls these ghosts,” she said, “because they’re grey and fuzzy.”

“Girls, I was thinking,” said Gerry, bending down.  “At the weekend, I could take you to where I grew up in Montford.”

“Why?” Said Amy.

“Yeah, why?” Said Clara.

“To show you where I lived when I was your age.”

“Inside your house?”

“Well, no.” Gerry stood up. “The house was sold years ago.”

“What then?”

“I could show you the outside of the house.”

The girls didn’t speak. Amy blew the fuzzy head off the dandelion. 

“And my old school?”

“You could just Google them,” said Amy, throwing the stalk onto the lawn beside them.

“Yeah,” Clara clapped her hands. “On Mommy’s iPad.”

“It’s not the same as being there,” Gerry said.

“We can’t be there though, not inside,” said Amy.

The bus pulled up, maintaining a wide berth around the empty trash cans and their lids. 

“Did you have an ice cream store in your village?” Said Clara.

“No.”

*

Gerry gathered his paperwork from the kitchen, wiping Amy’s waffle remnants from his spreadsheet into the sink.

“So, my weekend of revisiting my childhood with the girls has turned into looking at what may as well be random pictures on the internet followed by ice cream in the village.”

“Sounds fun.”

“I hoped they’d be interested.”

“They’re kids, why would they want to drive three hours to see the outside of a house?”

“I wanted to show them.”

Tina squeezed Gerry’s arm. “They’re not old enough to be nostalgic about their own lives, let alone yours.”

“I wanted to see it too.”

“Did you bring the empty trash cans back in?”

*

Tina was sitting at the island with Clara, helping her cut leaf shapes from green card when Gerry came home that evening. 

“I’m making a family tree,” said Clara.

Gerry set his briefcase on a chair.

“Amy’s at Sara’s,” Tina said. 

“How was work?” He asked.

“Same old,” said Tina.

“Daddy, every person has a leaf.”

“I figured we’d order in tonight,” said Tina.

“Pizza, Mommy?”

“No, not pizza.”

“But I love pizza!”

“I didn’t go to work today,” said Gerry.

“That’s enough Clara. Not everyone loves pizza.”

“Amy loves pizza,” said Clara. “I love pizza.”

“Oh, Gerry, I see the trash cans are still out there.”

*

Gerry retrieved one of the lids from across the street, and the other from the lawn. He snapped them back on the cans. The evening sun was low, casting a soft light that fell through the branches of the old oak trees lining the street. Gerry pulled his phone out of his pocket.

“Well, hello there, Son,” his father said.

“I took a drive to old place today.”

“Montford?”

“I wanted to see the house,” Gerry said.

“I haven’t been there in years, not since soon after the funeral.”

“I could take you?”

“No, Son,” his father said. “I prefer to keep that house in my memories.”

“They changed the siding to blue, and the fir trees have gone.”

“I wouldn’t care to see it without your Ma.”

“They kept the stained-glass window; that crack I made with Tommy Clearwater is still there.”

“Tommy Clearwater. That kid could throw a ball. Whatever happened to him?”

“I don’t know, Dad.” Gerry picked a dandelion from the lawn. 

“Should’ve kept in touch. He was a good kid.”

*

Gerry washed his hands and, as he dried them, turned towards the island. 

“How’s the family tree?”

“I did all my leaves,” said Clara. “We’re gluing them at school.”

Tina picked up rogue green card slices from the floor. 

“Let’s have pizza tonight,” Gerry said.

“Really?” Said Tina, over Clara’s clapping.

“Tell Amy to bring Sara, and Clara, you can ask Olivia?”

“A pizza party,” sang Clara, “a pizza party!”

Tina walked over to Gerry. “I thought you didn’t do pizza?”

“I used to love it as a kid.”

She leaned into him, and he kissed her forehead, tossing the dish towel onto the counter. 

Biography
Originally from England, Jo now lives outside NYC. She is the CNF editor at X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine and her work has appeared in PANK, Hobart, Jellyfish Review, Pithead Chapel and others. Jo has been nominated for Pushcart Prizes and Best Small Fiction, and is working on her PhD. She’s on twitter @jovarnish1.

Image: unsplash.com

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