By Melody Murray
Melody Murray is currently a Financial Analyst for the Navy but would prefer to think of herself as a writer of short stories and personal essays. She received a B.A. in biology and creative writing from the University of Pennsylvania, and then immediately joined the Peace Corps. After two years in southern Africa and two years in D.C., she is looking forward to staying put in San Diego. Her first act after moving across the country was to join a local writing group. They’re glad she did. “Images” is the first in a 3-part serialization of a fictionalized version of real events.
When rummaging through my belongings, preparing for yet another move, this time just home from college for the summer, I paused at a photo of my father and me. A slice of a dwarf in a muted purple hat and green onesie framed one edge of the shot, so I knew this was from the trip to Disney World. I didn’t remember this adventure, but I’d seen enough pictures to believe that it happened.
My father is smiling his copasetic smile—the way he does when everything is all right—right at the camera. With one small brown arm slung around my father’s neck, I frown out at the density of families beyond the photographer. The slant of the light plays up my furrowed brow, but my stomach pokes out the way it did when I was four or five, diffusing any hint of a threat. I am leaning against my father as he sits, but he may as well be a sign post or a tree or anything else so constant that its presence is not worth noting.
Despite the tell-tale moony eyes and puff-ball hair-do, I almost didn’t recognize myself. I stared at the photo, marveling at this girl’s unconcern. I pressed the image between my fingers as if the surety of the girl for her father could imprint itself on me. It didn’t, but I keep it just in case it ever starts to rub off.
My father owned the gas station when we went to Disney World. The gas station had an old black and white TV that was always on some soap or another. Whoever was working the window in the convenience store swatted me if I got close to the knobs on the TV, so I stopped trying to change the channel. There were more important things to do, or eat. The shelves were full of cupcakes, Twinkies, honey buns, M&Ms, Doritos, and UTZ potato chips to cram into my mouth, and refrigerators overflowing with sodas and juices to wash it all down. I could have whatever I wanted as long as I asked first. I’d wander around the storefront or through the bay where the mechanics worked until I found Daddy. Then I’d reach for a handful of his gray uniform shirt and tug.
“Daddy, can I have some candy?”
“I don’t know,” he’d reply, smiling down at me. “Can you?”
I’d roll my eyes at the correction, “May I have some candy?”
“Anything you want.”
I ate Skittles mostly. I’d sort the colors into separate piles and make triangles. Sometimes I’d put them in my soda to make it fizz, or I’d stuff one of each flavor into my mouth and mold them into different shapes. The colors would bleed onto my tongue and leave the gelatin lightly stained, like watercolors.
I cried when I got my first cavity. I cried a lot back then. Second grade was a bad year. Almost every day, at some point, something would set me off and I’d wail.
Daddy always made it better. He’d hand me another pack of Skittles, or if I’d had enough sugar for one day, he’d spin me around on his shoulder or toss me up in the air until I laughed more than I cried.
Join us tomorrow for Part 2.