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If There Is No What

Ruth Blank

I’m in the airplane bathroom talking into this hunk of junk. I call it a hunk of junk because it must be ten years old, it’s dented and has a sticker on the back that says, “Keep Calm. Drink Tea.” You told me to take a recorder with me in case I wanted to say something that I would normally tell you on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. This is the only piece of crap I could find in my father’s desk and as far as I know, he’s never had a cup of tea and to say “keep calm” implies that he’s been calm at one time, and I doubt that.

According to you, three weeks is a long time for someone to be away from treatment at this stage and it’s really going to be almost six weeks because when I get back, we’ll have two sessions and then you’re going to be gone for the month of August. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll talk into this every day or if this bathroom chat is it. And even if I do record something, I might not give it to you, or I might edit it. I might say I lost this stupid thing, or I might erase whatever I say and tell you I never used it. Most likely, I’ll give it to you. But will you take the time to listen to it?

It’s only day one of this trip, not even that, night one, hour six.

Someone is banging on the bathroom door. It’s probably Mom. What does she think I’m doing in here? One thing she doesn’t think I’m doing in here is talking into an old cell-phone-like thing. She doesn’t know I have it and she’s not going to know. It’s really noisy in here, it sounds like the plane is going to explode, though supposedly that’s unlikely. Don’t expect this to be easy to listen to. If I give this to you, you’re going to have to do some work if you want to hear me.

We only left the house six hours ago and already Dad has gotten angry at me because I asked him to buy me a carton of cigarettes at the duty free shop. I like the Rothman’s. He knows I smoke, but he doesn’t want me to do it or talk about it in front of him.

It’s Meggie’s birthday today—she’s fifteen—and she’s angry that she’s spending it on an airplane with her family. She’d rather be with her friends. She wanted to go to Paris. London was the only destination where we could get four seats at the last minute. I can tell Meggie’s angry because Mom tried to put an arm around her waiting to board the plane and Meggie shrugged her off and turned her back.

Mom had a root canal in the morning and it put her in a bad mood. Dad was in the good phase of his pre-dinner drinking, the generous good-Dad phase and said, “would it make you feel better to go to Europe?” He can say that kind of thing since Grandpa died; he got a lot of money. He bought a baby grand piano and remodeled his bathroom with a sauna about a month after Grandpa’s funeral. Mom said, “yes,” but I don’t think she knew he meant “let’s go tonight.”

By the time we got a cab for the airport, Dad was in the angry phase of his dinner drinking, where everyone was doing everything wrong: the cab driver was cheating him, Mom packed too much, Meggie was going on and on about her birthday, and me—it doesn’t have to be anything, he just doesn’t like me. I’m sure that now that he knows me, he wished I wasn’t David, Jr. Junior isn’t supposed to almost flunk eleventh grade. If he had given me a name like Norman or Howard, he wouldn’t have to criticize every little thing I do. But with a junior attached to my name, I’m under constant scrutiny and there isn’t much I do right.

My seat is across the aisle from Dad’s. He’s sleeping with his head lolled back on the seat, and his jaw is open. I had to get up and come in here just so I wouldn’t have to look at him.

Knocking at the door is getting loud. I’m putting this thing away.

*  *  *
Nobody thought this through, that we’d be arriving in the morning with no reservation and even if we had one, we wouldn’t be able to get into our rooms until the afternoon. Dad was the only one who slept on the plane and we’re all screwed up. Dad called around while we waited for our bags and got a couple of rooms at the Shaftsbury, but we couldn't check in for four hours, so we took a taxi into London which took forever and I actually spent most of that time thinking about what I want to say into this thing and when I’m going to get a chance to, because they booked only one room for me and Meggie. So when we get to the hotel, the three of them went to the restaurant and I said I wanted to walk around. Mom and Dad looked at each other, but they were too tired to stop me. Now I’m walking and talking into this thing and no one looks twice at me because there are so many crazy people and because English people are too polite and if you don’t look closely at this hunk of junk, it probably just looks like I’m talking on the phone. Dad wouldn’t let me actually bring my phone because minutes are expensive abroad. Coming into a lot of money suddenly hasn’t made him less stingy.


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