Linda’s father was undeniably dead.
There was nothing more to say, no more tears to dry. She and her mother would no longer think it necessary to sleep in shifts to make sure his breathing continued throughout the night. The dismal concept of the upcoming funeral arrangements left a cloud of gloom over the dim atmosphere. There would be no more doctors announced on the doorstep only to deliver the promise of false hope. Pesky neighbors with appetites for gossip would be the only visitors in the next few days, wearing sympathetic expressions and presenting them with empty condolences of the edible variety. Linda would be eating tasteless baked casseroles for weeks to come.
Linda Walker released her father’s cold hand as they placed a gentle white sheet over his face and carried his body away. Her mother, Karen, who was looking at the face of the grandfather clock in the corner of the house, meditated in silence with a Bible in her lap. Linda turned and left the grieving woman in peace.
She began her journey up the wooden staircase. Twenty-seven. Twenty-seven stairs separated the bedrooms from the living room and kitchen. On this day twenty-seven felt like two hundred. Phantom countenances haunted her as she passed each framed memory from her childhood. The icy fingers of first days of school, Christmas times, and birthday parties reached out and caressed her spine in an attempt to steal her attention and affection. She kept her head erect and continued her ascent for she could not bear to meet the happy gaze of the proud father contained within each photograph. As she reached number twenty-seven, she was drawn to the open door of her own room. She hadn’t slept in her own bed since her father had been taken ill. With courageous fear, she stepped inside. A nervous laugh escaped from her throat. There was really nothing to be afraid of. Her father taught her that.
She remembered how safe she felt with her father. She was quite fond of both of her parents, but valued her father’s teachings the most. Her mother always taught her to be polite, respectful, and practical. Little did Karen know that her husband had been simultaneously corrupting the child with ideas of curiosity and wonder. He would always teach her to look at the world from a different perspective than everyone else. He showed her that adventure awaited her every time she stepped outside. When she was very young, Linda believed that her father was a wizard, a thought that would have caused her mother to die of embarrassment. He would fix her broken toys in what seemed to be the blink of an eye. When he pushed her back and forth on the swing set, he would tell her that she could fly higher and faster than the blue birds that greeted them alongside the morning dew.
Her entire life, Linda had thought there was some special element that divided her parents. How could they be so different in raising their little girl? Was her mother truly torn apart by her husband’s passing? Or was it nothing more than a numb shock? She thought hard for a moment and felt disgusted with herself, remembering all of the times she had thought her parents did not love each other while she was growing up. Numerous scenarios ran through her head, but a knock at the front door disturbed her thoughts as she vowed that she would never solve the mysteries that kept her parents apart.
Knowing that her mother was in no mindset to answer to any visitors bearing false apologies, Linda answered the door herself. A man in a suit and fedora was standing on the welcome mat. He was a stranger that Linda had never seen before, not even on a crowded Sunday in church. The man’s forehead was glistening with a nervous sweat and he wore a proud smile. Linda noticed that the shade of his blue eyes undeniably matched hers exactly. His eyes made Linda uncomfortable, but she did not know why.
“How do you do?” the man stammered, with just a hint of confidence behind his shaky voice, “This is the home of Karen Walker, is it not?” His eyes grew wide and his smile grew with genuine happiness. “You must be her daughter, Linda!”
Linda hesitated. “Yes, that is correct. I’m sorry, but this is not a good time for either me or my mother. What do you want?”
The man removed his fedora in one swift motion.
“Linda…I’m your father.”