I am happy to be going somewhere, anywhere, alone with my dad. At the same time, it doesn’t feel right, seem right. He never takes us places by himself except a memorable few times to the bar when Mom is working. On those days, he bought us Shirley Temples and bags of potato chips. Hush money. We played in the women’s bathroom lounge all afternoon while he drank.
This time is different. It is just me in the car, my sister off playing at a friend’s house. The windows are down and my long hair whips around, hitting me in the face. I am wearing my favorite dress, a pink checked cotton that my mother made for me, and my legs stick to the seat.
I sit up straight and try to be good so Dad will not get mad at me. I don’t want him to think I am a pest and not take me anywhere again. Maybe he will like me better after this.
“We’re going to make a stop,” he says.
“Just stopping to visit a friend.”
“You don’t know her, but she has a little girl you can play with.”
Mom is the one who takes us to visit friends and play with other kids, never Dad. The burrowing, biting, needling thing that I feel in my stomach sometimes comes back again.
We pull up in front of a little white house on a street filled with other little white houses. It looks like all of the other neighborhoods on the airbase. I get out of the car, the needling, burrowing thing getting bigger.
A woman answers the door. She has a pretty face and light brown hair piled up on the top of her head. She looks just like the nurses my dad works with at the hospital. The woman smiles with bright white teeth and Dad smiles back. He puts his hand on my back and introduces me.
This dad is different from the one I see at home. At home, Dad naps on the couch and yells if I try to change the TV channel. He comes home after dark and his voice makes us scurry to get out of the way. Sometimes he breaks things.
It is a different dad here in the little white house. This dad is the one I see when relatives visit from far away, or we stop in at his work. This dad acts like my friends’ dads. He pats our heads and smiles. He listens when we talk.
The woman opens up a back bedroom door and ushers me in. A blond girl sits on the blue shag rug, surrounded by dolls and piles of clothes.
“This is Sandy,” she says.
Sandy looks up at me, “Want to play?”
I tell the burrowing, needling thing to go away, and I sit down on the carpet and get set to play. Maybe it will be OK. My dad shuts the door on his way out.
Sandy and I set up the dolls and put plates of invisible food in front of them. The dolls have lively conversations about school and the thunder they heard the night before. We feed them a sumptuous meal of fish sticks, tomato slices, and pickles.
After a while, our attention turns to dress up. I have a few dress-up clothes at home, but they are mostly old Halloween costumes and unwanted scarves from my mother. Sandy’s dress up collection is in another league. She has long shiny, billowing skirts. There are hats with flowers on them and high-heeled shoes. I clomp around in a pair of red ones for a while pretending to be a princess. But the best part is the jewelry. There is a little wooden chest with lots of different sized drawers in the corner of Sandy’s room to hold all of it. I finger the beads and long gold necklaces with medallions. Sandy has flower shaped clip-on earrings with sparkling glass and lots of dangling bracelets.
My favorite part is the drawer filled with brooches and pins. I don’t have anything like this in my room at home. I only have a charm bracelet and some old rosary beads. Sandy’s brooches came in all kinds of colors, jewels, and shapes. She has Christmas ones with candles and wreathes on them. There is a pin in the shape of a dog and its red eyes looked like rubies. I stroke a brooch shaped like a big beetle. Its arms and legs are gold, but the beetle’s body is an emerald green stone. The stone is smooth under my finger, and when I hold it up and turn it in the light, it shines. I pin it to the front of my dress. Only a rich and beautiful lady in a long white gown could have a brooch like this.
After a while, I start to get hungry. Sandy says we need to stay in her room and not bother the grownups. She gives me a piece of bubble gum. We play some more. When my stomach starts to growl again, I tiptoe to the door and peek out.
I see Dad sitting at the table with a bottle of beer in front of him. The pretty nurse has a bottle too. They are leaning in and laughing.
My mom never sits at the table drinking beer with my dad. She cooks dinner, sews dresses, reads us stories, and drinks iced tea. All of the beer at my house comes in cans with the word “lite” on them, not in bottles. Maybe Dad likes beer in bottles better. The biting, burrowing, needling thing comes rushing back. It is so big it takes up all the room in my stomach.
“I think we should go home, Dad,” I blurt out.
He jumps a little and then frowns hard at me. The woman looks at her watch and says how late it is. How she really should start on dinner.
I say good-bye to Sandy and go outside to wait by the car. I can see the grownups talking by the door. Dad touches the nurse’s shoulder and then her arm. He is smiling. He is the company dad, the work dad.
We climb in the car and start for home. Dad is not smiling anymore. I look out the window at some kids playing and a brown dog peeing on a tree. I look down at my hands in the lap of my pink dress. That is when I notice the green beetle brooch still pinned to my chest.
“Oh, no! I stole it.”
I open up my mouth to tell Dad we should go back; I have to return the brooch. Then I stop. I put my hand over the brooch for the rest of the car ride home.
When we get to the house, I stuff it in the very bottom of my jewelry box. There is a windup key in the back of the box, and when you turn it, a ballerina spins around. I am in too much of a hurry to stop and wind the key this time.
The brooch stays in my box for months and then years. The gold parts start to look not so gold anymore. Sometimes I take it out and stroke the green stone, but then the biting, burrowing thing comes back, so I stop. I try to forget about it.
Yesterday, I went looking for the beetle brooch in the basement of my house. I have a memorabilia box down there with my safety patrol pin, Girl Scout sash, and junior high honor society emblem. There are some high school yearbooks too and a box of baby clothes from when the children were small. I do not remember getting rid of the brooch, but it is not there anymore, so I must have. I surprise myself by how disappointed I am. After all, what was I going to do with that old brooch anyway? Then I realize. I just wanted to take it out, stroke the green stone, and show it to someone. Anyone.
Kelly Kotewa is a college instructor in Madison Wisconsin. She received her Bachelor’s degree from Boise State University and her Masters from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. In her free time, she enjoys reading, writing, and spending time on her bicycle in the beautiful Wisconsin countryside.