A Father's Dream


With a smile, I get down and pocket my spent pipe. I have work to do before the sunsets.

At their tongue-lolling smiles, I amend that.

We have work to do.

** ** ** ** ** ** ** (Chanel)

"I take it I need to get up?" I ask her.

She wags her tail again.

Sitting up, I fish my feet around till I find my shoes. They are a bit cold as they slip on. I stand up and, looking over at the mirror, I start to straighten my clothes.

Good, I hate how I look.

The thought comes to me and settles into its customary spot. I give the shirt a tug trying to make the roll of my stomach not be so visible. When I do that though I see all I did was make my butt look bigger.

I notice the fat girl in the mirror shrug. I have to agree with her.

"What the fuck difference does it make? No one's here but my dad."

My dad? What a strange pair of words to say. I always wanted to be able to say them. Once, or twice, I had thought that I might get to say them when one of Mom's boyfriends. When one would become more and more a steady feature.

But then she would dump him and move on to the next 'conquest' as she called it.

Probably would have been silly to be calling some of them dad anyway. More than a few were hardly even ten years older than I was.

As I follow the brown and black dog out the door, I smell food.

"Oh my, God, that smells wonderful!" I think and then I hate myself for thinking that. Food and I are not really on speaking terms. Not since I hit fourteen and started my climb towards my current weight ... I flinch away from even thinking about that number.

I follow my nose to the kitchen. The smell of meat cooking is soon accompanied by the sound of it. That wonderful sizzle that makes the mouth water. I also notice the smell of bread? "Maybe he's heating up some dinner rolls or something." I think as I step into the kitchen.

My dad is standing by the stove. I see two large cast iron pans on the top of it. As I watch he opens the oven door and, with a red checkered rag, pulls out a pan with a large loaf of bread on it.

Is that homemade, I wonder? Nah.

I just watch him, my shoulder coming to lean against the side of the door frame.

He moves with the confidence of a person that knows what they are doing in the kitchen. He turns the loaf of bread and slides it off onto a wire rack. The bread pan he then sits back in the oven. Then he's back dealing with the sizzling meat. I feel my mouth water when I see him turn the steak. The grill lines must be coming from inside the pan. It hits the cast iron with an even louder sound of searing.

Then he, with the same rag in hand again, moves the skillet off the stove and over to a plate next to him. I see flames leap a foot out the top of the stove!

"Your stove is on fire!" I yell.

"Yaa!" he turns suddenly with a jump. Seeing me he brings his hand to his chest. "Girl! You just scared me out of two years of my life," he tells me panting.

"But your stove is on fire!" I say pointing to the flames.

He calmly looks over at the fire. He takes a round flat metal plate and covers the place on the stove and the flames disappear.

"That's because it's a wood burning stove." He turns back to the pan and slides out the steak onto the plate. "It's supposed to be on fire. Now how do you like your steak? They're at medium rare right now." He stops and looks at me then. "Please tell me you're not a vegetarian?"

I give my head a shake.

He gives a relieved sigh then gestures to the sizzling pan still on the stove.

"Medium rare, medium well? Well done if we wait too much longer?"

"Pink in the middle," I say softly.

He nods and turns back to the stove. His hand goes to a shelf above it and I see him turn a small hourglass.

"Give it about a minute more," He says with a look in the pan. "The glasses are in the cabinet to your right. There is tea or water." He gestures to a very ancient looking refrigerator. "Fix me a glass of tea, please while I get your steak done."

Nodding, I find the right cabinet and get down two glasses. The door to the refrigerator opens with a pull-up type handle I'm sure hasn't been used since the early 1970s Inside I notice that the top of it is a freezer box made of metal. The metal has a thick coating of frost around it.

"Where are we eating?" I ask. When he points the big metal fork towards the table in the corner I realize the fact that he doesn't have a TV means this may be the first meal I've had when I didn't watch something in a long while. At least one where I wasn't eating dinner out anyway. Hell, not even all of those.

I move when he comes over carrying the plates. Then I just watch him. I pull out one of the chairs, sit and watch him. He slices the bread and butters every piece. I'm sure now it is homemade! Then he puts a large pat of butter onto a bowl of mash potatoes.

By the time he brings everything to the table I'm ready to gnaw my own arm off.

** ** ** ** ** ** **


"I don't stand on Grace so dig in," I tell her as I pull out my chair. As I sit down I close my eyes for a second and thank the calf I raised for his life. When I open my eyes and start to eat she looking at me with her fork halfway to her mouth.

"I thought you said you didn't say Grace?" she asks putting it back down, the bite of food uneaten.

"I wasn't thanking God," I tell her as I pick up my knife. The blade parts the streak easily, the meat incredibly tender. I confirm it with the first bite.

"Who ... I mean what were you doing then?" she asks confused.

Chewing, I pick up my glass and take a sip. "I was thanking the cow."

"The cow?" she asks. She suddenly looks down at the piece of meat on her fork. "You raised this ... meat?"

I smile. "No... I raise a white faced Angus cow. I was thanking him for his life that his meat will sustain me."

She pauses for a second then slowly brings the piece of steak to her mouth. She holds it just from her lips. "That's a strange thing to thank him for."

I grin and pick up a piece of the bread. "I don't really think so."

"You had him killed for his meat?" she says more than asks.

I nod.

"Yes, I did. I helped his mother deliver him. I cleaned him with a blanket, guided him to his first meal, feed him for a year on the finest grass this farm can grow and, when it was time, I took him to the processing plant and ... Well ... yes, I had him killed for his meat." I cut a second piece. "He dressed out at enough meat to feed one person for eight months. I sold some of it to a local steak house. I sold his hide to a leather maker for the cost of the processing. Everything else I sold to cover the vet bills and feed cost. So, I have a total investment of a year of my life looking out for him in exchange for a half year of food for myself. I was thanking him for his life."

She moves the fork back away from her mouth.

"That makes him sound almost like a pet." She looks at the steak with a bit of distaste. "Okay, that story may make me a vegetarian."

I shake my head.

"He wasn't a pet. Smokey, Pepper, and Blackie are pets. The cows, chickens, pigs, rabbits and ducks are either food or make the food that sustains me. I give my life to see to it that they have the best life they can. I give them the best quality feed, be it the grass I feed the cows on, the garden scraps the pigs eat, or the endless supplies of bugs that the bird takes care of for me. They live well and eat well. I live well and eat well." I point to her steak. "It's an insult to the memory of his life to let him go to waste."

Slowly hesitantly she takes a bite. I smile when I see her roll her eyes up and moan.

"Oh god, that's delicious." I hear her say around the piece of meat.

I nod and dig in.

** ** ** ** ** ** ** **


I walk with him out to the fields carrying a flashlight. He has a big bucket with the potato peelings and I'm guessing scraps from other things. I know there is none of my steak in it. I devoured the whole thing! Along with a pile of mash potatoes and three slices of the bread.

I feel like one of the pigs that come over towards him squealing.

"You let them just roam lose out here?" I ask him as I notice that they are surrounding us. "Isn't that dangerous?" I shiver a bit in the cold January air. When a pig brushes my leg and I'm not as sure that's what caused it.

He takes a deep breath that makes his chest expand. I notice that the bucket he's carrying is full but he totes it easily.

"Pig are meant to run free like this. Not be cooped up in a pen. This field was my garden about a month ago. I had it full of cabbages, broccoli, or about a dozen other things. Some of it I canned, some of it I traded for things I don't grow or make. The rest I sold to a Farmers Co-op. I use the money to buy scraps from a few of the local supermarkets, and from a dozen or so farmers around here. I moved the pigs in here when the garden played out. They till it all up for me with their digging for roots, I give them all the scraps I produce and the others I buy from the money the garden provides. They eat very well."

He looks down at the fat things and smiles.

When something runs across my foot I jump!

"What the hell was that?" I move over closer to him quickly. "Something ran across my foot."

He chuckles. "Blackie! Birds out!"

A shadow detaches itself from the darkness and I see the coal black German shepherd sprint off after something. I grin when I hear a chicken squawking and I watch the dog chase the bird back over to a little boxy looking house near the middle of the field.

Dad pours out his bucket of scraps into a metal trough. I notice that only the top half was scraps, though, the rest looks like ...

"What did you just feed them?" I ask. I can't see into the trough as it's suddenly covered with a dozen pig heads.

"Grass seed" he gives the bucket a tap on the ground and starts towards another field. When we reach the fence he shines his light out onto the thick tall grass. "They eat the seed. Dig up the ground. Plant and manure it into place."

"Where do you get the money for the seed?" I ask, and then suddenly decide I'm being nosy.

"From selling pigs," He says with a grin. "Come on, enough for now."

I follow him back to the house. He takes a seat in a large rocking chair on the porch and pulls a pipe from his pocket. I take the chair next to him. The gentle rocking of the thing is far more comfortable than I would have guessed.

Expecting a cigarette smoke smell, I'm pleasantly surprised when he lights his pipe. A very sweet smelling smoke drifts over towards me.

"You put a lot of thought into this place," I say after a moment of silence. "You have everything pretty much taking care of itself."

He laughs. "God, I wish that was the case. No there is still a lot of work to running things here." He takes a pull on the pipe. "But yeah, that is what I try for. I had a lot of long talks with a lot of people to figure out how to set this up. It took a lot of time. A lot of effort to get everything in balance. You couldn't see most of it because it's dark but I have fruit trees all around the fields they drop their fruits at different times. I harvest right before I move the pigs in. So the pigs get all the rotten fruit to eat. That took five years to get timed right."

"Why did Mom leave this?" That I ask him that hits me like a finger thump between the eyes.

He shrugs then chuckles. He runs his hand across his head.

"Well, when your mom was here it didn't look like it does now. It was a mess in fact. She didn't see what I wanted to do here, just all the hard work. Then she got a chance to go do what she wanted to do. A chance at her dream. This was my dream. She didn't want my dream. She wanted just one thing from me then ... you."

"Why didn't you fight her?" I ask. I hear the sudden accusation I've put into my words.

He sighs. "It was a different time. Seventeen years ... hell, almost eighteen years ago. They were almost always giving the custody of children to the mother, exclusively. The father was doing well if he got monthly visitation rights back then. Had to pay through the nose for the right to have those."

"So you avoided having to pay child support by just letting her have me?" I ask with some heat. I feel an anger rising then.

He looks over at me sharply and pulls out the pipe from between his teeth. He cradles it in his hand. "Did she tell you that?" I shake my head after a moment. "Well, let me tell you, I paid my part. I send two hundred a month to a law firm. They put it away in a trust fund for you. I bargained for that. Figured I might not be there for you but maybe my hard work could give you a good education at least."

As what he says sinks in I realize that in all the years I've known about it I've never once asked where that trust fund I have was coming from. Smokey comes up onto the porch and sits down in front of me then. She lays her head on my lap. I scratch the big shepherd's ears and slowly a smile comes to my lips.

"I think she likes me," I tell him.

** ** ** ** ** ** **


As I watch Smokey follow my daughter off to bed I feel suddenly so very alone. It's a strange feeling. I've lived here by myself for sixteen years.

Why am I suddenly feeling alone? I realize it's because I've finally put away the long held onto hope that Crystal would one day come back to me. That she would ask me to forgive her the harsh words and the betrayal. That I would beg her to forgive me. Forgive me for being so greedy to have my dream I wasn't willing to give it up so she could have hers.

I could have gone with her. Gone to Los Angeles. Gotten a job out there ... doing something. I could have been there when she needed someone and only another man was there for her.

I could have kept our marriage together but would I have been happy? I glance towards the door. Would I have been a good enough father? Suddenly my happiness is something to be ashamed of. I should have done it. I should have given up this place and been there for my daughter. More of a presence in her life than a check she never saw.

I rub a chill out my arms and get to my feet. The two dogs get up and follow me inside.

As I walk past the fireplace Blackie settles into his favorite spot in front of it.

Pepper follows me to my bedroom door. He goes to the rug in front of the small fireplace in my room. The bed of coals I brought into here from the living room takes almost no effort to get going into a nice fire. Leaving Pepper to sleep, I walk down the hall to the bathroom. As I walk past the half open door to her room I hear her crying.

Smokey looks up at me with a look that says "Okay, your turn."

Her hip is soft under my hand.

"I'm sorry," she says quietly.

"For what?" I ask.

"For ... for all these tears," she answers with a sniffle.

I caress her side from mid back to hip. "Don't be. Your mom's worthy of more than a few. Believe me, I cried for several hours when I got the phone call."

Chanel turns over in the bed to face me. I lift my hand but feel several parts of her brush under my fingers as she moves. As she settles I let my hand come back to rest on her hip.

"How could you still love her? She left you, cheated on you ... took me away?" She brushes tears from her face.

I look down at this near image to my memories. "When I met your Mom she was about your age. I didn't fall for her ... I jumped off the cliff for her! And without a bungee cord. My god, she was so beautiful."

"But ... I've seen a picture of mom when she was my age. She was ... fat." I can hear the unspoken "like me." Smiling down at my daughter, I caress her side, feeling the soft skin under her t-shirt. "Your mom was a bit on the plump side yes," I say with a chuckle. "But she was also very sexy. She had a beautiful face, a wonderful laugh. Her eyes twinkled when she smiled. Man, she could fill out a pair of tight jeans!"


I chuckle at her scandalized tone. "Yes, your Mom was hot!" I say with a laugh. The smile slips a bit. I sigh. "And I loved her from the moment I saw her."

"She lost the weight, though?" Chanel asks more than says.

"Oh, yes. Right after you were born. She put on the customary weight of a woman with child and hated the way she looked in the mirror so much she went on a diet. A very harsh diet. She put her fool ass in the hospital more than once by not eating."

"She looked much better when she got slimmer though right?" she asks sure of the answer.

I shrug. "She thought so. Apparently so did a few others. Yeah, I know about the long string of boyfriends after she left me. I have a few people that have kept an eye out on her, and you for that matter, over the years."

"You've had people spying on me?"

I laugh at the expression her face. "Yes, I have a whole secret organization, which works out of a building in London, keeping track of you. There this old guy ... goes by a single initial ... he does some truly scary things with technology. Hell, I've had hummingbirds with cameras following you for years."

I love the way her eyes light up when she laughs.

"Your Mom's parents kept track of you while they were alive. I would talk to them every few months or so. Then your uncle did. Least ways till he moved over to ... where was it, New Zealand?"

"Tasmania," she says with a huff of laughter. "I told him to mind the devils."

"That's right. I told him the same thing. I always wanted to meet his wife. I always wondered if she looked like Bugs Bunny in drag."

Chanel laughs again. I feel her quiver under my hand. "She doesn't."

I give a shrug. As the silence grows, I fish for questions to ask but none seems important now.

"So you don't have a TV? Really?" she asks me after a few moments.

"Really, really. I got rid of it about ten years back."


I can hear it in her voice that to her it's like I said I cut off my own arm for some obscure reason.

"There was nothing on it that meant anything to me. The old shows I grew up with might be worth a look at again; I might sometimes like to see the odd football game, but really? There was nothing on there to keep my attention."

"What about the weather?" she asks. "You grow crops, doesn't knowing what's about to happen seem important?"

"I can go outside and look at the sky and learn the same thing."

"World news?"

"I get the newspaper delivered," I say in counter. "The rabbits love the Hollywood gossip pages."

"What about entertainment?" she asks propping her head on her hand. "Why not get a computer? Then you could get a Facebook account and be able to talk to people you know in other places.

"The telephone lets me do that." I stop my hand on her hip. "For entertainment, I read, play my guitar...I have more than a few friends that come over. We catch up on local news and laugh about all the rest we hear."

"What are you Amish?"

I chuckle. "No...but I do know some people who are. They live about twenty miles north of here. Good people. They know how to live well. I wouldn't necessarily mind living in one of their places but the preaching gets on my nerves after a bit."

"Not a man of God?" she asks.

I slowly shrug. "I believe in God ... I just don't like his fan clubs." She gives a huffing laugh. "No, I figure that God gave us everything we needed when he made the world. To be constantly asking him to do everything for us is wrong. To watch after this person, bless that person. Make my lottery ticket the winning number. Seems rude."

She laughs.

Smokey comes back in from checking out the house and hops up on the foot of the bed. I can read her look.

"Okay, girl I'll get to bed," I tell my nanny.

The old mother dog lies down and just looks at me. With an 'I'm waiting' look.

When I look back to Chanel she's just watching my face. "She mothers me to death. I swear she thinks I'm one of her pups that grew up weird."

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