A father and daughter exchange words for the first time.

As I saw the silhouette moving across the dusty carpark, I started to change my mind. His face was obscured by darkness, his hands sunk into the pockets of his worn jeans, and he moved with an uneasy gait. I wrung my hands together, nervously wondering what the hell I was doing out in the middle of nowhere, meeting a virtual stranger. The bell above the door jingled as he entered, letting in a swirl of warm breeze behind him. He met my gaze, his face lined and brown with age and exposure. He made his way to my table and sat down across from me.

‘Charlotte.’ He didn’t say it as either a question or a statement, but more of a new and foreign word he had been practicing, rolling it around in his mouth and seeing how it felt.

‘Hi, Steve. Dad. Steve.’ My cheeks prickled with the heat of blush. I cleared my throat and took a deep breath. ‘Mum hasn’t got much time. It’s moved to her lungs now. She wanted me to meet you. I guess she wanted to see loose ends tied up before she… goes.’

‘Well I’m glad you tracked me down, and I’m sorry to hear about your mum. I’ve thought about you a lot over the years. Wondered what you were doing, what you looked like. From your letters, it seemed like you were doing great. I’m glad you’re at uni. Done better than your old man, that’s for sure. Jesus, Charlotte, what can I say? I’ve been a crap dad. I should’ve been there.’

I stared out into the night, through the greasy film of the diner’s windows, across the dimly lit carpark and onto the busy highway. Massive trucks groaned past in both directions, their metallic shells flashing in the streetlights like polished aliens. I wondered how many fathers drove those trucks, and whether they were rushing towards or away from their families.

‘It’s not that I never wanted you, love,’ he said, as if reading my thoughts. ‘Your mum and I were both young. We weren’t even together. I didn’t even know she was knocked up until my mate heard it from someone else. I was scared.’ He ran his hands over his face. I noticed how weary and worn he looked, his cheeks as lined and crumpled as a paper bag. His hair was dirty and unkempt, and a dark stubble was peppered across his chin. I wondered if I was looking at the same cognac eyes my mother had fallen for all those years ago.

‘I just don’t understand why you never tried to find out about me. You’ve had twenty years.’ A lump formed in my throat and my voice crackled into a falsetto. ‘I always wondered what it was like to have a dad. All my friends had them, even if their parents had split up. I’d make up these elaborate stories about you, telling my friends that you were an international spy who was on a mission in Dubrovnik. Or you were a movie star away on location. But it was never about you being mysterious, or successful, or famous. I could never bring myself to admit that you’d had every opportunity to know me if you had wanted to. That you were a truck driver who got a girl pregnant and ditched your responsibilities. That it was too fucking hard for you to pick up the phone or write me a fucking letter.’

Dad let out a long breath. ‘I don’t even know where Dubrovnik is.’

Words by Chloe Byrne

Image by Lauren Brauer

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