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Farther, Father


        She thought it was rain, but it was too dry of a heat for that. The drop fell into the waterfall of bleached hair crashing down her back. She spots a sweaty air conditioning unit several plains of being above her and, with a sidestep, lets it drip onto the sidewalk instead of her. She lets out a single brisk laugh. It comforts her to know that the city is cruel to even plastic and concrete in the apex of August. Bounding down 7th Avenue, she feels for the vibrating in her pocket. Her phone scans her and opens to a grey bubble of text from an unsaved number. Tension washes from her face.
    ANNIE, You Have A Pending Home Offer On 2140 Ballston Road Waiting#!ForYou HERE https://homesaleforyou.web
    The message disappears. Pulling at the shoe straps around her ankles, she becomes mindful of lengthening her stride. Being that it’d been four years since she’d seen her Dad—whom she still called Father after letting a joke run on too long—she felt it was stupid to feel guilty about being late. What’s twelve more minutes, she thought. In the back of her head she knew it would be more like twenty.

    “It smells like a Petco in here”

    “What?”

    “It smells like a Petco…Like ammonia and cat litter”

    Annie looks around the restaurant to the succulents, varnished wood, and ivory white counters as if proving her point, but she swivels too much; an affected physicality you’d find from a Best-Buy floor salesmen. She just doesn't want to stare at him. Her Father. Sitting across from her he looks like an apparition out of place. Or maybe in place, she thinks. At one point his six foot frame draped in ill-fitting Carhartt and Dickies made every inch of him reek of Stull, Kansas but now he seemed decidedly bohemian. Even, maybe, intellectual. Another side effect of skinny jeans and cotton v-necks losing their caché with Vampire Weekend and mirrored sunglasses in 2013. Thinking of her Father as being part of a zeitgeist nauseates her.

    “Do you not want a drink then?” He asks in a low timber.

    “No, no I do,” she spurts.

    “I just thought you’da liked it here”

    She finally looks to him. The green in his eyes glints with hope and Annie sinks into the knockoff Eames chair.

    “I’m sorry. I do. It doesn’t smell like Petco.”

    She lies. The deja vu of their last meal makes her. Normally she’d never let him—or anyone—pick the restaurant, but the thought of enduring another spectacle as embarrassing as Father rattling off an alphabet of vegetables from asparagus to zucchini that he won’t eat gives her a low-grade migraine. A waitress approaches. Her Father stiffens up in a polite sort of way. Annie notices, intrigued, but doesn’t follow suit.

    “Annie do you’—“

    “A Manhattan on the rocks please,” she says to the waitress.

    Her Father feigns a smile, like being cutoff is a cute in-joke between them.

    “I’ll uhhh…I’ll take a martini. Dry.”

    Annie cocks an eyebrow and loads her gaze with a back-handed question, but her Father anticipates the verbal shot across the bow.

    “I started drinking them after uhh—Well, it turns out that single women don’t want to drink beer all that much.”

    Annie is twisted by confusion into silence. It unnerves her Father.

    “That and uhh—Well, they’re good.”

    Her Father looks around, probably wishing that he’d picked a louder restaurant to drown out the silence, Annie thinks.
    Seven empty glasses (four coups and three rocks) later, the waitress slides a check across the table towards Father. Normally this would have made Annie blush or—during her years just after Barnard—question why the waitress had dared to assume Father was paying. Her blood was too laced with alcohol for either now. Instead, one of her brisk laughs.

    “God. Every time,” she says. 

    Even though they share the same dimpled chin and high cheekbones most would mistake them for lovers. Having had her when he was 19 her Father’s hair was still full, and he had yet to grow rings around his lips that could be read like a tree trunk.

    “We gunna split it?”

    Annie pretends not to hear him and pulls the curling tail of white paper out of the black book. Her Father takes her hand and slips a blue plastic credit card between her fingers. Looking at it, then him, Annie is again hit with the guilt of his green eyes. She sets the card down on the check, reaches into the plastic pouch on the back of her phone, and places a shining slab of thin metal next to it.

    “Have you seen American Psycho?”

    “No, why?” He asks.

    Annie looks at their credit cards side-by-side. Her smile lands closer to a grimace.

    “Nothing,” she says.

    A lie spoken so softly she might as well have coughed up a feather.



    “Are you sure it’s safe?”

    Annie rolls her eyes and turns up a droll stare at her Father. She knows he can’t help it, his entire understanding of the city came from sections of anthology music documentaries about the punk-adjacent scene of the late 70s. But, still, she thought. Even if it was harder with the co-opting of workwear and trucker hats by the cities wealthy bohemia, couldn’t he see that no one was getting stabbed in a park so full of horn-rimmed glasses?

    “This is like…the nice part of the city now. Well, some people don’t consider it the city but I do. People here are like, all people working for Amazon or Spotify or—are you still using Pandora?”

    Her father sheepishly smiles and nods. A tooth stained the shade of honey flashes in the back of his jaw.

    “I don’t understand why I need to change all my stations over.”

    “It’s so you have control. You don’t just have to like, listen to whatever the algorithm chooses,” she says.

    “It’s ok by me,” he responds nonchalantly.

    For six blocks they walk in silence, the conversation having run its course and the summer air being too thick to waste breath. It’s a familiar rhythm to her; bodega, hair salon, dive bar, boutique coffee shop, bike shop, repeat. To her Father it looks like a carousel with different horses spinning into view each time around. Annie looks back at him and smiles. This is what she likes most about him. His simplicity. His ease. His calm. The men in her life usually vibrate with a kind of nervous energy that leads to frayed cuticles and steady cocaine habits. Her Father had surely only known cocaine as a sort of mystical powder employed by the likes of Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton to conjure the spirit of rock n’ roll. It depresses her to think that anyone—even she—should have ever been conceived to Wonderful Tonight.
    They stop into a bodega on the corner of Craft and Montana that on the inside reveals itself to be more of a full grocery. It always makes Annie think of the art school boys she ran with who now dressed like her Father; Connecticut dandies who could find a vein running through the map of bruises on their arm, but not Kansas on an actual one. Her Father hovers his finger above the price tags of a row of Lays. Annie finds her way to the beer. She picks up a case of Coors, reconsiders, and settles on Stella.
    Her Father asks, “is that for us?” Annie steers them towards the checkout counter.

    “I mean we could have one. I was probably gonna just take you back to my place and go see some friends though. I mean I figured you were tired?”

    “I’m still on central time.”

    His green eyes spark with a look she’s never seen before.

    “Well…What would you wanna do?”

    She can’t read it. Mischief? Despair?

    “I dunno. Shit. Can I come or—“

    “Dad,” Annie says softly.

    Her Father stops himself. She so rarely drops the long-running joke. Annie opens her mouth to whisper another white lie, but decides against it. “It’s one of those things where it’s pretty small and I don’t think it would be a good vibe,” she says with a steadiness only afforded to telling the truth.

    “Can’t your friends just come over to yours?” He asks.

    Her Father grips the bag of chips a little tighter, the plastic crinkle breaking the silence. She senses it’s despair in his eyes after all.

    “Ok. I can invite a few of them over.”

    “Well is it gunna be a party or—“

    “I mean, I guess it—“

    “Hold on.”

    He ditches the Lays in a rack of cookies and strides purposefully into an aisle of produce awash in man-made mist.

    “You have to have appetizers for a party.”


    With a strategic arch of her back Annie collapses open the emergency door to the roof of her apartment without dropping the glasses of brown liquor clutched between her fingers. She sets them down on a table next to a plate spilling over with crackers topped with cheap low-moisture mozzarella and wilting basil. A roar of laughter comes from Annie’s Father and the small collection of friends she found were free and possessed fewer tattoos than the others.

    “Well, hell, all that stuff you’re smoking now has to just be full of chemicals and other stuff. Same as the corn. Same as the chickens. Same as anything else that’s grown on an industrial level and—“

    “Fucking factory farming is gunna kill this country,” Annie’s friend Jess cuts in.

    She crosses her arms over the Reformation dress she wears out to any night of any importance. Annie’s Father shakes his head.

    “Point is that the pot you’re smoking, isn’t even really pot anymore. Not like we used to smoke back then.”

    A collective chuckle comes over the group.

    “No one calls it pot anymore,” Jess says.

    “Well what do they call it?”

    “Just like…weed.”

    From the table Annie can hear the wisps of conversation. Jess sees Annie laugh to herself.

    “I’m gunna get a drink”

    “Bring me another one too,” Father says.

    Annie’s face glows blue as she inhales from a Juul. Jess sucks up some of her drink between pursed lips and winces.

    “Can I get a rip?” She asks.

    Annie obliges.

    “Wait…is this—“

    “The cucumber one. I got it from that smoke shop by the train on Wilson,” Annie says.

    “Nice.”

    “Yea.’

    Jess passes it back, Annie takes her turn. The brief tranquility is pierced by thunderous laughter again. Jess nods to the small audience Father commands

    “Annie your Dad is like…Cool.”

    Annie considers this like a thinly supported thesis. She looks to her Father, who catches her glance and smiles. She thinks he must have known she was looking or that maybe it’s one of those stupid subconscious things like twins have or whatever where they finish each other’s sentences. She smiles back.

    “Really? I don’t know something about him just seems…”

    Annie turns to Jess as if she’ll be able to finish her sentence. She realizes they’re not twins.

    “He just seems so different now is all.”

    “Different?”

    “Yea. Different.”

    It doesn’t take much for the fresh round of drinks to be killed off by four young women and one middle-aged man. The city glistens with illuminated windows amidst the darkness now. With each empty glass, one by one, the friends makes their way through the emergency exit and downstairs. Annie’s Father is left to stare across the skyline.

    “Y’don’t have any stars here but I guess this is alright,” he says with a sloshed sarcasm nursed by watered-down booze at the bottom of a glass.

    “We have stars Father,” Annie says.

     Her father turns to her.

    “Your friends are nice. Really nice. You uh…”

    He looks away from Annie’s eyes. Even in the night you can see the hints of hazel that fall from her Father’s side of the family.

    “I get it. I get why you never come home. This…This is—“

    “Dad,” she says with a quiet confidence. “I know you needed—It’s fine.”

    They say nothing. Her Father springs himself from the edge of the roof to the table and begins collecting glasses and plates.

    “Father.”

    Annie comes over and pushes his calloused hands back to the table.

    “It’s fine. I’ll get them in the morning.”

    Her Father parades into the party with the aplomb of someone who hasn’t had six drinks in a night in as many years. Annie, more sure-footed, trails him. Jess and the friends who have decided to linger have accumulated around a couch done up in sheets. They yell stories at each other over a song blasting from the TV mounted to the wall. Jess slips away to whisper something into Annie’s ear. She nods and whispers back.

    Annie’s Father shouts, “what is this? Is this Madonna?”

    “It’s Robyn!” Someone shouts back.

    “Hold. Hold on. How do I change it?”

    Annie’s Father hovers his hand over the coffee table like he has a pull that only a TV remote would be magnetized to.

    “Father, hey—“

    She tries to still the searching; an unstoppable force meets a very movable object. He gropes at an iPad screen.

    “Is this it? How do I—“

    “Father it’s just—Here.”

    Annie unlocks it. The room flashes white as the harsh symbol of the Pandora app pops up on the TV. The thunder of an opening drum roll follows the white flash. As if being struck by a bolt of digitized lightning, Annie’s Father starts convulsing in rhythmless dance moves. The party once again turns into an audience.

    “Two Princes Kneel Before…

    That’s What I Said Now…

    Princes, Princes Who Adore You…


    One of the friends leans over the spine of the couch.

    “Are we listening to Dave Matthews Band?”

    Father pauses his seizing to give a formal address.

    “No! It’s Dave Matthews radio, but this is the Spin Doctors! This will blow your shit out of the water.”

    Annie laughs, not sharply, but full throated and spirited. Jess holds her close and smiles a smile born only of secondhand embarrassment. The friends watch, enraptured. Annie thinks of being eleven. Of crying. Father had put a CD on in the Jeep, Creedence Clearwater Revival she remembers, and twisted the dial until it couldn’t be twisted any more. The jagged guitars and howling voice were so loud it made her weep and beg her Father to stop. He laughed, but obliged. For years she thought it was a cruel in-joke for him alone, but in this moment it seems to her she’d had it all wrong. She didn’t think it was too loud. She didn’t even hate the music (at least not on principle). She’d just never seen anyone experience something in as extreme a form as possible. It seemed something impossible for her to know, or want to know. She would never dance at a party like this.
    Out of free skips and nearly out of beer, she explained the inner-workings of the iPad to her Father. Splayed on the couch like a carcass before carving he was surely too drunk to navigate it, she thought.

    “So you’ll be fine on the couch right? I could give you my room or’—“

    “No. No, I’ll be fine. Go have fun with your friends”

    Annie kisses him on the head and joins Jess at the fringes of the living room. The confused yells about an Uber echo down the hall. Her Father cranes his neck. 

    “Hold on. Hold on.”

    He stumbles up off the couch.

    “I uhhh…Well not really any of my friends from back when I was your guys’s age are my friends anymore. People leave and…stuff happens. And—I mean my wife didn’t even love me really—“

    “Oh god,” Annie cuts in. “You’re wasted, Father.”

    “Hold on, just listen,” he replies.

    Annie looks to Jess with a shameful smile, but she’s had enough liquor to hide the rush of blood to her cheeks.

    “Just, y’all seem so good to each other and like you really care for each other and… And just—Jess make sure you keep looking out for Annie and everyone do the same.”

    His words hang in the air. Annie can’t bear it.

    “Father—“

    She’s silenced by Jess giving her Father a kiss—not a peck, a proper kiss—on the cheek.

    “We will. It was so nice meeting you,” she says.


    The Uber ride, like all Uber rides where you cram five people into four seats, bursts with the anticipation of a proper party. Fit into the back like a puzzle piece into the wrong nook, Annie says only one thing.

    “I can’t believe you kissed my Father”

    Jess’s laugh wafts above the murmur of the city and the buzz of the radio.

    “Oh my god it’s fine, he’s just a lonely old Dad. No different than all of us.”

    Annie knows the joke is funny, but puts on a fake laugh. It ends abruptly when she asks herself why.

*

    And here we are, Annie thinks, dressed in black with everyone else dressed in black but not like the goth kids in high school or the authors in undergrad but like people in their late 20’s who have tired of trying to find what matches and find their skin just tanned enough to wear a single color so that it never matters again and then her train of thought is interrupted by a boy in all black—Carhartt shirt and Converse High Tops and Dickies—who says something asinine about his asinine dark comedy pilot he’s writing about an alternate reality where the men give birth and the women are the unforgiving asinine overlords who regulate the pregnant male bodies and it’s going to star Margaret Qualley and the handsome one from Gossipp Girl who now plays a serial killer or something on some other show about misogyny but his show is more critical and doesn't play the misogyny for thrills because that “like, would be wrong” and he offers to make her a drink and pours an overzealous splash of Tito’s into a blue—not red—solo cup because “my party isn’t a cliché” he says while he lifts a bottle of Trader Joe’s Jalapeño Margarita Mix into the air like a fine Beaujolais and carefully stirs in an unfortunately underzealous pour of the unfortunately piss-yellow mixer and Annie drinks it all and feels sick but not sick-sick, not alcohol sick, but sick like there’s an emptiness that fills the entirety of her stomach and she thinks that to be a funny kind of oxymoron—like jumbo shrimp—and then she thinks that’s a funny cliché to use and is something her father would say.


    And now she’s thinking about her Father.


    Then there’s twelve lines to three boys to three girls and even though the math makes sense for Annie it doesn’t solve that stomach problem and her eyes buzz like fruit flies around the party for someone just rotten enough to land on but it turns out that no-one here is rotten it’s just that the party has gone stale or rather the parties themselves have and she pushes past elbows and shoulders to find Jess in the kitchen but something stops her in the living room.


    Creedence Clearwater Revival.


    Annie listens in a daze as the boy in black (the one with the pilot) yells at another boy in black—this one in Levi’s—about how this song is in a scene in some movie called Aprés Mai “where they throw a couch through the window of this old fuckin’ mansion into a bonfire to this record” and that he wants his parties to be like that and not like this and about how the movie was directed by this guy who also made a movie about Carlos the Jackal who was “like, the sexiest terrorist of all time” which Annie thinks is a hard category to qualify and then she thinks about the article she just read about the son of the Bin Laden family selling his mansion in LA that looked like the Beverly Hilton hotel where they host the Golden Globes and then she thinks about Ricky Gervais and then she dances a little bit but in a kind of funny way that’s jagged and stilted and she becomes self conscious that she’s dancing like her Father.


    And now she’s thinking about her Father.


*

    The walk from the subway station to the apartment is just long enough for Annie to think about what to say to him. She plays it over in her head, not like a movie, but like a memory. Like she’s seeing how it went down. How she’d have had a cigarette after and her Father would’ve begrudgingly joined her; a white flag of surrender that signals a new shared pact between them. A pact to open the borders they’ve closed for so long. She counts the Marlboro Reds in her bag before approaching the front door.

    #4678

    The gate growls mechanically at her. She re-enters the code.

    #4679

    It coos genially.

    Waiting for the elevator, Annie looks through the wall of glass at the end of the hall and spies on the Russian from floor two working out in the makeshift gym. It’s not really a gym, she thinks. The management put a weight-rack and treadmill in a spare room just to charge higher rent. She pays, but never uses it.
    The Russian swings a black kettle bell from his hips to his chest, cresting and falling with its weight. She checks her watch. Even for her she’s back alarmingly close to daylight.
    The smashing of tender, brittle, bones echoes through the apartment. Annie slips her shoes off and tosses them in her room. She follows the sounds of brutality closer and closer to a pool of light oscillating between dry yellows and cold blues in the living room. On the couch, her Father is curled up in his clothes. His left sock has a small hole on the heel.
    Annie sits on the arm of his makeshift bed and watches the Turner Classic Movie on the TV. It’s a scene of a handsome middle-aged man with a scar on his chin pounding away at a punching bag in a high school gym. Another scene of downing beers in a dim bar room. And another of picking almonds, a tractor shaking them from trees beneath a visible heat. Annie rubs her eyes. She tactfully lifts her Father’s hand from the iPad to turn off the movie. He stirs, but doesn’t wake. The glow of the unlocked screen illuminates a knot of confusion twisting between her brows. She flicks through the open tabs in front of her.

    Fit Girl Fucks Step-Dad After Morning Yoga

    Step-Daughter With Big Tits Blows Hard

    MILF CHEATS ON HUSBAND WITH HUNG BULL

    College Cheerleader Bangs the Basketball Coach

    She doesn’t know what else to do other than turn the iPad off and set it atop her Father’s chest. It rises and falls with his every breath. Annie stands stiff, the curve in her back threatening to snap. The glow of a boxing scene dances across her face as she stares slack-jawed at her slumbering Father.
    The coke has worn off, but her thoughts speed like it hasn’t. Father? Watching Porn? The obvious question fades quickly to a more pressing one. Father? Watching Porn?…Incest porn? She knows she’s not his stepdaughter but it’s her, right? Is it her? It has to be, she thinks. Annie’s head jumps to his paying for half of their Scandinavian small-plates dinner, of his insistence that she invite her friends over, of his need to impress with cheese and basil, of his dancing, of John Fogarty’s distorted howl in the Jeep. A shiver crawls down her spine at memories of him bathing her as a child. It felt so innocent. Could it not have been? She remembers crying when he told her she was old enough to need to shower. He wouldn’t get her the yellow shower curtain with flowers. She feels guilty she never made it easy. She thinks of what Jess said, of the loneliness. She thinks of the kiss. Maybe it was that? Maybe it was Jess? It’s a fetish. Who am I to kink-shame, she thinks. And then she thinks of the other Barnard undergrad ideologies she now finds performative. There’s so many thoughts it feels like there’s no room to remember to breath.
    She finds her way to the emergency exit to the roof and for once it doesn’t feel like she’s abusing that door. Beneath her the city glows just enough to be gazed at, but the clouds are so dark that to see her from the street would be impossible. She smokes a Marlboro Red, and knows she’ll smoke all four that are left in the pack. She was supposed to share these with her Father, she thinks. She was supposed to tell him things as they smoked. Maybe, even, sorry. But now? Now she doesn't know what to tell him at all. She paces. It takes more determination than usual to hold back exasperated tears. Her pacing is halted by a drop splashing the back of her neck. Annie looks up for another exhausted AC unit, but finds nothing above her but ashen clouds reflecting back the light of the city. Another drop kisses her cheek. She laughs a sharp laugh. It’s summer rain.






Max is a filmmaker and writer who received his B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and is currently an MFA Candidate at Columbia University. His work has been selected for festivals including the Palm Springs International ShortFest, Nashville Film Festival, and Frameline International Film Festival and has screened on PBS. When he was seven he tried to cut off his hair during class with pink child scissors.











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