Recovery By Brandy Wilkinson

Fiction

At first I think he wants to shake my hand, but when I hold it out to meet his, he grabs my fingers and presses a coin into my palm. I’m a Friend of Bill now, baby, he says. Thirty days. I nod, run my finger over the words printed on the coin. I say nothing. Our breaths hang frozen, ghosts in the air between us. Despite the cold, we are meeting outside the university library; I don’t want him to know where I live now. Six months ago I called campus police when I found him unconscious, crumpled in a sorry heap outside my apartment building. You know this guy? the cop had asked, my neighbors leaning in. It’s my dad, I whispered.

*

I listen to the voicemail seven times. I comb it like a crime scene. The slightest slur, the slide of glass on glass, the crashing clack of billiards – but there is nothing. Only his voice. Fifty-six days, he says. I’m doing this for you. It is not an accusation but a promise. Not the first one he has made.

*

It’s the call on day one hundred that I finally answer. I agree to meet him for coffee and he is waiting there when I arrive. He stands as I approach the booth. He is wearing a long-sleeved blue work shirt with a patch that says Joseph in red script. I ask him who Joseph is, and he laughs tightly. Joe is the man who asks his daughter for money and crawls home every night, he says. He doesn’t look at me. I’m Joseph now.

*

I graduate in May. He calls, asks to take me to dinner. He wants to pick me up, and my mother’s voice echoes in my ear: Check Daddy’s eyes before you get in the car, Renee. Check Daddy’s eyes. I tell him I will meet him there.

*

Work and home and back again, Dad tells me. Only other place I ever go is my meetings. I ask him if it’s worth it. I’m doing this for you, he says. I ask: Just me? He flares his nostrils, breathes a big dragon breath. I guess it’s for us both, he says. I write my address on an old receipt I find in my purse. Now you have another place to go, I tell him.

*

When my phone rings on day two hundred and ninety-eight, my aunt’s voice is on the other end of it. I’m so sorry, Renee, she says, and for the next three hours I pick apart my little studio in search of that stupid coin. In the end, I imagine it in the bottom of the coin-counting machine at the Second Street Laundromat. I cry. I say his name for no other reason than to hear it: Dad. Daddy. Joseph, Joe.

*

The coat is an afterthought, the temperature teetering just on the edge of winter. I grab it from the back of the closet and slide my arms through. The cemetery isn’t far so I decide to save myself the bus fare. I have not been back since his burial five weeks ago. I run my fingers along the rounded shapes of his name, the numbers in the dates. The air grows colder and I check my pockets for last winter’s gloves. The nearly numb tips of my right hand hit something and I know. I just know. I draw the coin from my pocket and press it against the palm of my other hand. I found you, I say.

 

Biography
Brandy Wilkinson lives in Indiana with her family. Her work can be found in Halo Lit Mag, Dying Dahlia Review, and 2017’s Flash Flood Journal. She tweets @brandy_wilk

Image: Luiza Sayfullina