Is patricide really such a terrible thing? I couldn’t help thinking “not really,” as I glanced down at the ATM receipt in my hand. After all, what is a father anyway? Just some guy who knocks up your mother in a drunken rage, then tries to do the same to you repeatedly, even though you’re old enough to know it’s wrong, but since you’re small, and it hurts, there’s not much you can do about it.
Until, one day, you’re older still, and decide to use that little menace between your legs to your own advantage. Hell, why not? God knows it had caused me enough grief through the years. So, you just hold your breath, go screw the right guy, if “right” is indeed the appropriate word, in exchange for…a favor. And the next thing you know, Daddy is careening off Route 17, over a side rail, and into the NJ Meadowlands, or as the locals still call it, “The Swamps.” Say hello to Jimmy Hoffa, Dad.
Brake failure, the accident report said. It didn’t matter to me, actually. I didn’t care how it happened. I didn’t even want to know any details. I just wanted it to happen. And happen fast. And it did. And that was that.
Ironically enough, he turned out to be a much better father in death than he ever was in life. I guess he really did consider me his “Little Girl” in some twisted way because I didn’t know about the insurance policy until after everything was over. It seems he wanted to make sure I was taken care of in case anything ever happened to him. Even had a double indemnity clause included in case of an accident. Gotta hand it to the guy. He had his priorities straight, if nothing else.
So there I was, half a million dollars richer than I was yesterday. The only regret I had now was the knowledge that he never would know that it was me who was responsible for his little mishap. That I wouldn’t get to look in his face. The face that terrified me so much growing up. The face that told me countless times that he knew everything, everything I ever did or would even think of doing, so I’d better be damn careful and not get any ideas of running, or telling. I would never get to look into that face as he lay twisted and dying among the wreckage and say, “Gotcha.”
Oh well, water under the bridge. The money would go quite a long way in healing some of the frustration. I’d deal with the rest. Chin up and all that.Too bad they don’t send checks anymore, though. I had to give my savings account number so the money could be directly deposited. Saves on paperwork, I was told. Saves some tree. Oh, fine. Far be it for me to interfere with progress or ravage the wilderness. Still, it robbed me of the satisfaction of having my emancipation copied, framed and appropriately mounted. I wanted a trophy as a reminder that I had survived. And thrived. And to show that Daddy didn’t really didn’t know everything I was up to, after all.
Or did he?
It started about two months after I received the insurance money. A dark figure I could barely discern was standing at the end of the driveway when I went outside to change a burned-out bulb on the porch. When I turned to get a better look, it was just…gone.
The only thing I could be certain of was that it had the same body type as my father. Before he splattered all over the highway, that is. Large, hulking, intimidating even to a grown woman who no longer had the worry of being trapped beneath it in her bedroom in the dark. Shaking it off as just a trick of light, I went back inside the house. But the next morning, it was back. Awakening me from a sound sleep shortly after sunrise.
It had the same menacing gait as my father. Slow and deliberate, pacing outside on the porch this time. Looking at him/it through the drawn curtains, I thought about opening the door, but was overwhelmed with a feeling best described as “creepy.” So I thought better of it. And didn’t dare call out.
“Payback, Patticakes, payback.” Dad’s favorite phrase suddenly popped into my head. “God’s watching you all the time. Just like I am. He sent you to me. So I do what I want where you’re concerned. It’s in the Bible, after all.”
I never read the bible. Wasn’t sure if he ever did either, but he seemed so positive of this moral authority that I never thought to question it when he was practicing his “fatherly authority.” I shuddered involuntarily at the memory of it all.
“If you ever say anything to anybody about what we’re doing, it ain’t me but God that you’ll answer to. Jesus sends people like you to Hell for breaking up families. Understand, Patticakes? Now be good and stop crying. You have to get for school tomorrow.”
Actually, I was more afraid of his fist than his karma, but now, I wasn’t so sure…
It appeared at my door every day for the next month. April had come and gone, and along with it my birthday. Thirty-some odd years on this earth and little to show for it. No kids, no family, no real life. Just three decades of hard knocks. A milestone I would spend alone and afraid. I had high hopes that this birthday would be different. After all, Dad wasn’t around to help me celebrate. Not physically, anyway.
It never said anything. It was just intent on being there long enough to disconcert me, cause me to freak out or soul-search, then disappeared again as fast as it had come. It began appearing in public places; behind me in the supermarket, the drug store, waiting for me in the parking lot of the gynecologist. No one else ever saw it. Just me. Only me. I felt like I was in a bad production of “The Tell Tale Heart.”
My father’s body didn’t have a gravesite. I didn’t want to waste the money on what would be considered a proper burial, so I just had him burned up in a kiln. The cardboard box containing his ashes was still sitting on a shelf in the bathroom linen closet. Maybe that was the problem. Not exactly a place of proper respect, he would no doubt say, were he not now a pile of embers. So I went to take the ashes down, with the intent of doing something, I wasn’t sure what, with them. But then I was so jarred by the sudden appearance of my specter at the kitchen door, that I dropped them, scattering Daddy all over the carpet. Then, my visitor was once again nowhere to be seen. So, along with the crumbs from some barbecue potato chips I had the previous nigh, I figured that Daddy was interred more or less permanently in my living room. This was too much for me to bear. So, I cracked.
“What do you want from me!” I screamed to the empty room. If I weren’t so frightened, I would have been embarrassed.
“Yes, okay! I killed you! And you know what? I’m glad! I so damn glad you’re dead! Now leave me the hell alone, you goddamn perverted excuse for a father!”
“Interesting…choice of words, but I am not your father,” I heard uttered venomously from behind me and I veered around. From the front doorway, by the porch where it had first appeared, I could see the specter once again. It lurched toward me, it’s bony, ashen hand extended, reaching. I could feel the evil emanating from its very core, and its horrid stench filled the room.
“I am not your father,” it repeated. “But I do exist because…of him. And because of what you did. It is time to “settle the books,” so to speak. It is time for you to stop running.”
My father’s warnings were true, then. Karmic justice. I laughed bitterly, thinking how unfair all this was, and how I would most likely now be spending eternity with my tormentor. But of course, it was inevitable. I was born to this man, so cosmically, I was his, wasn’t I?? Damn. Life was so freakin’ unfair. Couldn’t death cut me a break?
Well, at least I would be able to take control from him in one small but vital respect. I looked around the kitchen frantically and made a dive for the silverware drawer. Throwing it open, and grabbing a steak knife, I quickly made two long lengthwise slices on each wrist. Lengthwise, not crosswise, I remembered from the last time. Otherwise, there’s time to revive you.
I felt a sense of strange satisfaction.
“Death, do send Daddy my regrets. Tell him that his little girl won’t be joining him after all, for I’ve sent myself to my own private Hell. And he isn’t welcome there.”
As I felt the life slipping away from me, the shadow came closer. I could still feel his evil, but up close, he looked more like a man than a demon. Though, just barely. And though his stench was now over-powering, I recognized it now. Correction fluid.
“Neither am I Death,” he hissed softly in my ear, and placed in my now motionless hand a bill for an overdue inheritance tax due on five-hundred thousand dollars.
“I am the Other One.”