“Goddammit! Where did I leave my damn keys? Duke?! What am I like huh, boy? Every day I lose something!”
The old lab’s brown eyes followed her around the apartment as he lay on the rug, happily exhausted from their morning run in the park. As usual, Elsa was rushing to get ready for work and was relieved the summer break was about to begin in a couple of weeks. She loved her job, but teaching was a full-on performance art some days. She was all too aware that were several students taking her class simply to make up credits and not because they shared her love of literature.
She was ready for a break from working so hard to inspire them and ignite a passion for the written word. She was looking forward to a summer of playing with Duke and having some real time to return to her “Great American Novel”. She always put mental parentheses around it, a hangover from the derision with which her father viewed her ambitions. She hated that his lack of support, hell, his down right scorn for her chosen profession and her aspiration, still weighed down on her like a yoke on one of her father’s oxen.
She missed her Mom every day. Momma had been the one to arouse and encourage Elsa’s love of books, and later, when at 10 years old, Elsa shyly offered Rosie Compton her first complete short story, she sat and read it and then hugged her daughter tight, telling her how proud she was of her. Elsa had hated leaving her to go to college and later, to teach in a city in a different State, but Momma had scolded her, telling her to enjoy her life. Do all the things she wanted to do. All the things Rosie had never had the chance to do. She had never truly forgiven herself for not being there when Momma had gotten sick. Father had made the executive decision to keep her cancer quiet and it was only by a phone call that Elsa learned of her mother’s passing. She had never forgiven him either.
The ringtone of her cell broke Elsa’s trip down memory lane and refocused her. Checking the caller ID her heart sank to see the name Jody on the screen.
“Really? What the fuck does he want now?” she muttered, giving herself a fist bump in the air as she finally spotted her keys in the fruit bowl.
Grabbing them and bending to give Duke a final hug and his treat stick she thought, “Screw him, he probably just wants money,” dropped the unanswered phone into her bag and locked up the apartment.
The years since she had fled the farm, which is exactly how she had always thought of it, had been the most challenging but the best years of her life. Escaping her tyrannous father and bullish brother, not to mention the various local low-lifes in the nearest hick town was what she needed to blossom and grow into the independent confident woman she was now.
This is what she told herself on the good days. On the days when he didn’t cancel to be with his wife or kids. On the days when he showed up and swept her off her feet. On the days when he took her breath away with his passion for her, leaving her spent and exhausted as he showered, dressed and returned to his family home. But then, alone in her damp, sex scented sheets, she wondered why she was settling for second place. Her therapist had her predictable views about Elsa’s “Daddy issues”, especially bearing in mind the twenty-two year age difference between her and Tom.
Tom. Her lover.
Tom, who fitted her in around his work and domestic schedule, but treated her like a princess when they were alone.
Tom, who she adored but, she knew deep in her heart, would never choose her over his family.
Over his career.
But still, she had her life, her career, friends, Duke and most of all, freedom from the damn farm.
That’s what she told herself.
Work was hectic. End of term approaching meant lots of finishing up and marking to be done. After a crazy morning, Elsa finally sat on a bench in the sunny green campus and opened a pre-packed sandwich, idly checking her phone for missed calls. She was torn between annoyance and alarm to see a dozen missed calls from Jody and almost dropped the cell when it started ringing again in her hand… Jody.
“Hey, what’s wr….”
“Goddamn Els! Don’t you ever answer your fuckin’ phone?!” Jody sounded furious.
“Whoa! Cool it! I’ve been working! What’s the matter?”
Jody’s voice trembled as he said, “It’s Daddy. He’s sick Els. You gotta come home.”
Her blood froze in her veins. She knew this call would come sooner or later. Joe Compton had been an older man when he became a father, making him 74 now, and years of hard farm-work and hard liquor were bound to have taken their toil.
“What is it? How sick?” she asked, trying to slow her breathing. She wasn’t sure if it was the news of her father’s illness or the summons home that was causing the building nausea she felt in her stomach.
“Come home Els! It’s his liver. Cancer. He needs you,” she was amazed to hear her huge, brawny, aggressive, stupid brother break down in sobs.
“Jody? I’ll work this out ok? I’ll be there as soon as I can. For fuck’s sake hold it together ‘til then and listen to me… Stay off the JD ok?” she instructed, adopting Big Sis mode automatically.
Throwing her untouched sandwich in the trash she stood and headed back to the main admin building to organize an early summer break.
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