Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Girl, The Last Part

Here's the story's conclusion, or as much as has been written. Enjoy.

Tentatively Eileen helmeted the headset and, exhaling, pushed the blinking green button on her phone. Again, the familiar greeting filled the air. “Eileen Carter. How may I help you?” Eileen’s face looked straight ahead allowing no one to see the flood of emotions coursing through her body. “Yes, Mr. Hawks, I did. Thank you for returning my call.”
Jenny's mind again wondered. Mr. Hawks, Mr. Peter Hawks. Fifteen years of non-committed emotion came back to Jenny in an instant and in place of a lack of an opinion towards Mr. Peter Hawks. She now hated him, hated him with a passion that surprised even her.
“Like I just said, we have not made any decisions yet, but this is something you need to know. You are part of this situation whether you like it or not.” Jenny gathered strength from Eileen’s example. Her worker was calm and cool while speaking to a man who left a young woman and an infant so many years ago. Eileen continued talking.
“Look, with all due respect, sir. You should have thought about that fifteen years ago. I’m here to tell you what is happening right now and believe me—you’d rather hear this from me than from a judge in a court of law. Yes, that’s correct. Thank you for understanding.”
Jenny watched Eileen and thought of her mom. Jill was a lot like this woman in many ways, especially when something came between her and her daughters. Jill fought like a lion whenever danger from strangers, teachers, even friends arose. Those who treated her children in a manner less than Jill believed they should be treated had Jenny’s mom to contend with. When she was younger, this attention from her mother embarrassed Jenny. Now the memories made her miss her mom even more.
“Yes, she’s right here.” A long pause followed. “Sir, I’ll ask her.” Eileen clicked the ‘Hold’ button on her phone and turned to Jenny. Without asking the question they both knew was coming, Jenny slowly shook her head, acknowledging she did not want to speak to her father.
“Mr. Hawks?...Yes, okay, Peter? Can you hold a moment?” The numbing drone of sounds found in almost every office in the world, typing, conversations both work-related and non-work-related between people inside the space, surrounded Eileen and Jenny, but all outside noise disappeared as Eileen gently touched the red ‘Hold’ button on the black office phone and the almost in imperceptible click echoed in Jenny’s ears.
“Honey, you don’t need to talk to him right now,” Eileen said, the tenderness in her voice exposing a sense of anxious apprehension. “But,” Eileen paused, “you will need to come to grips with the fact that this man is your father, and you will need to—at some point and soon—deal with him, and that means, talking to him.”
Jenny said nothing. The look she gave Eileen telegraphed the feelings in her heart, feelings words cannot adequately express. Eileen extended her arm, her index finger reaching for the ‘Hold’ button when Jenny said, “Wait…”
“Just tell him I’ll talk to him when he shows up,” Jenny said, a confidence returning to Jenny’s voice, a confidence confirmed in her steel-blue eyes. “I want to talk to Sara first. She may not understand what’s going on.”
Eileen nodded. “Peter?” Eileen said after releasing her customer from the inconvenience of the state’s terrible on-hold music. “Your daughter is here and will meet with you when you arrive. How soon can you be here? We have a lot to discuss.”
Eileen waited. Jenny watched for any visual clues from Eileen, but none showed. At last Eileen spoke. “Yes, that will be fine. When you first arrive, you need to first check in at the front desk. Yes, they will notify me when you’re here and I’ll meet you up front. Jenny and her sister will be waiting.”
Eileen looked at this young woman sitting at her desk. A sad smile crossed her face. She continued. “You do know where our office is located? That will be fine. We’ll talk then.” Eileen was about to end the call when she said, “Oh, and Peter, I appreciate your cooperation in this matter. You’ve got one hell of a daughter here.”
Eileen terminated the call and removed the headset, a sting of black hair gently catching on the plastic earpiece, releasing once the earpiece reached a point where the hair could no longer remain attached. The winter sun outside glistened off the singular hair as it floated down and resumed its rightful place among the rest. Jenny watched as if transfigured by the scene before her.
“Jenny, he’s at work, but he’ll be here in about 20 minutes.”
20 minutes, thought Jenny….20 minutes.
The young woman sat in one of the two chairs tucked under Eileen’s gray desk. In less than ½ an hour Jenny would face her father, the man whose D.N.A. coursed through every cell in her body. The thought ignited a thousand others all choosing this very moment to clash inside Jenny’s head, the result—the genesis of a headache which formed at her temples telling Jenny that if action wasn’t taken quickly to remedy the situation, things were going to get worse.
“Eileen,” Jenny said, her voice surprisingly calm. “Do you have any Advil, or Tylenol?”
“Of course, dear. Here.” Eileen opened a drawer and retrieved a huge bottle of pain reliever. Next she bent down, opened the door to a small fridge hidden behind a filing cabinet. She took out a can of Diet Coke and placed both items on the desk. “These,” Eileen said holding up the large bottle of legal, over-the-counter drugs, “are standard issue for this job.” And this,” Eileen said holding the can of pop, “helps the medicine go down. You do drink Diet Coke, don’t you?”
“Religiously,” said Jenny.
Eileen opened the bottle and shook out two tablets and slid the items across the desk to the waiting patient. “Don’t tell anyone about the fridge,” Eileen said in a sly voice. “We’re not supposed to have fridges or electric fans or personal space heaters. It’s against the rules.” Jenny took the can with one hand as she crossed her heart with the other. She then opened the drink and downed the pills like someone familiar with the process. “That hits the spot,” said Jenny and the two women shared a nod of communal experience.
The drink and the medicine momentarily took Jenny’s mind away from situation before her. But reality returned and Jenny’s mind turned to her sister.
“Where’s Sara?” The question reminded Eileen of Jenny’s resolve.
“Let me check,” Eileen responded and stood to see over the half walls separating the workers into cubicles, the human equivalent of a milking stall where vital fluids are drained to benefit others. Eileen spotted Sara playing with the cache of toys in her co-worker’s cubicle, toys purchased at the state worker’s expense from the local thrift store, toys rescued to provide some momentary enjoyment to children facing some of life’s greatest nightmares.
“She’s still with Katie. Do you want her to come over?” Eileen asked with tenderness in both her voice and demeanor.
“No, I want to meet him by myself first. I want to look at that man in his eyes and see inside his soul before he even sees her.” Jenny turned from Eileen and looked at the building’s front doors, from which Eileen’s cubicle had an unobstructed view. “It’s not like he’s related to Sara, is he?” Jenny looked back at Eileen.
“No, he’s not and that’s something else we will need to figure out,” Eileen said as Jenny turned back to the door. “But I guess we’ll cross that bridge when….”
Eileen stopped talking, not that Jenny was listening to what she was saying anyway. A few minutes before the unofficial 20-minute deadline ended a singular man walked passed the first set of double doors and opened a door on the second set. As the door swung back Jenny felt as if all the breathable air seemed to be sucked from the room, any oxygen remaining in her lungs vanished as the man entered the large space that currently housed Jenny, Sara, Eileen, the other state workers and unfortunate dregs of society who found themselves gathered together in this building.
Neither Eileen nor Jenny spoke as the man walked to the front desk, a look of worry and trepidation imbedded under deep wrinkles on a tired face covered in a two-day black beard, a beard flecked with grey whiskers. Jenny stared at the man who instantly became her closest living relative and the thoughts running through her mind surprised her. Until this very moment Jenny had never seen even a picture of her father and had no idea of what he looked like. He was taller than she thought he would be. He stood for only an instant waiting for the girl at the front counter to look up his name in the state’s computer system, but in that instant Jenny envisioned a lifetime and time stood still. Peter Hawks hunched a little as he waited. Even from a distance Jenny could see the large hands resting on the front counter, the skin covering the fingers matched that of his face, like a tough leather, weathered and course, those hands called upon day after day, year after year, hands that showed scares of life—scares that not only protected the rest of the body, but allowed the body to survive difficult times.
Not only was her dad tall, but also thin, Jenny thought. Her father’s hair matched the two-toned coloring in his beard, the wavy contours of hair on his head showing a distinct difference where a hat matted the hair atop his head. His hair flowed uncontrolled where the hat—a dirty and tattered baseball cap her dad clutched in his left as it sat crumpled on the counter—could claim no control. He wore work clothes, old blue jeans partially covered in a white powder. Her dad's red and black flannel shirt shared the random pattern of white powder and covered his slight frame and high shoulders. Jenny could not see what shoes the man wore, but imagined boots, work boots completing the mission for which they were designed and manufactured, boots used to carry this man who required his body to perform physical labor for its very existence.
As the moment lingered, Jenny looked at Peter’s face and the blood ran completely from all extremities in her body. Suddenly Jenny’s hands felt cold, the tips of her fingers losing all feeling as she looked at her father’s eyes. This man stood across a grey room—a room filled with overworked state employees, exhausted single parents with screaming children, Florissant lights, computers, and ringing telephones—and the man’s eyes stopped it all. Jenny knew those eyes as well as she knew anything in this icy, cold world, for they were the eyes that had greeted her everyday of her tired and sometimes happy life. Those were the eyes that stared back at her in the mirror long before she could remember a conscience thought, the same eyes that produced tears in this very office. Those were her eyes and nothing this man (the man nervously waiting to confront the consequences of decisions he made years earlier) had ever done could change the fact that he was her father. Jenny's very existence was due to him.
“Jenny…?” Jenny heard Eileen speak, but the word held no meaning. “Jenny, honey?” Jenny turned from the man standing at the counter to the woman speaking to her now. “Jenny. Wait here. I’ll be right back.” Eileen stood but kept her gaze on her young client. All Jenny could do was nod her head and watch as this woman, a woman whose job it is to provide all the help and comfort Jenny needed, walk toward the man who should have assumed this responsibility years earlier, this obligation not dictated by a paycheck, but by a God-given pact he made the moment creation began.
Eileen walked toward Peter with an authority only possible from a woman protecting a child. Jenny watched as Eileen reached the noticeably taller man. Jenny saw Eileen introduce herself and saw Peter offer Eileen his large callused hand. After shaking hands, Peter held his dusty baseball cap in both hands and stood before Eileen, head bowed, shoulders fallen and listened to what the state employee had to say.
Though Jenny couldn’t hear the two, she imagined the words passing from Eileen’s mouth and entering Peter’s soul. The conversation was one-sided. Peter listened and occasionally nodded his head.
Eileen stopped talking and pointed to Jenny. Peter raised his head and followed her arm to where Jenny sat watching them talk about her future and the future of her little sister. Father and daughter looked at each other for the first time in 15 years and Jenny saw something she had never seen in her life, a tear that fell from an eye, an eye that looked just like hers.
Eileen didn’t need to tell Jenny to get up and join the conversation. Jenny stood and began crossing the void that separated a father and his daughter. As Jenny reached the man who left both her and her mother Eileen stepped back. Though her job included protecting this young woman until all legalities were finalized, she was no longer included in the situation. Peter and Jenny were together, an act that validated nature, a circle completed. Jenny stopped a few feet from Peter. No one spoke. Someone unfamiliar with the situation may think an uncomfortable moment happened as silence surrounded the trio, but to these people in this office on this day, nothing could be further from the truth.
Finally, Peter extended his hand and Jenny’s earlier assumptions of her father’s hand proved true. Those hands had experienced life, battled and persevered against the forces bent of the destruction of all humans. Jenny looked at her father’s hand, then at his face. Now both sets of identical eyes watered unabashed. Jenny took her father’s hand in hers and said, “Hello. I’m Jenny.”

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