Vanished in the Night(14)

By: Eileen Carr

It was something of a routine anyway. She showed up once or twice a week, usually with a sausage egg McMuffin and a black coffee. She figured the booze would kill him long before the fat and cholesterol did. He already had the facial veins and the swollen nose of the habitual drinker, not to mention the distended stomach. She hated to think of what an ultrasound of his liver would look like, so she just didn’t. She had long since perfected the mental equivalent of plugging her ears and chanting “la la la.”

She knocked on the door, even though she didn’t expect an answer. It was a courtesy and a reminder to herself that she didn’t live here anymore. She could walk out the door anytime she wanted and she never had to come back. She was here by choice. Sort of.

She’d left at eighteen, despite her mother’s begging and her father’s threatening. She’d only gone to San Jose to attend nursing school, but you would have thought she’d been leaving for Borneo, never to return, the way her mother had wept. And after all her father’s bluster and threats to cut off support—as if she’d ever expected any—he’d gone silent. As she’d walked out the door that August, he’d growled, “You’ll be back.”

He’d been right about that, although not in the way he’d meant it. Her mother had been diagnosed with pancreatitis only a few months after Veronica graduated from nursing school. She’d moved back to Sac to look after her.

It hadn’t done any good. Her mother had kept on drinking and ended up killing off most of her pancreas, developing an infection and dying as Veronica sat next to her bed. She should have moved back to the Bay Area then—it would have been the moment to make a clean break. But somehow she hadn’t. She’d gotten a job here at St. Elizabeth’s, made friends, and bought a condo.

Veronica knew what compelled her to stay here; she’d gone through Al-Anon and a few stints of therapy. He was still her father. Despite everything, she wanted to love him, even if he made it damn near impossible. She could only do what she could do. So she stopped by with McDonald’s every so often, called a couple of times a week, but generally kept a safety zone between them. Kind of an emotional DMZ. It was what she had to do to be able to live with herself. It probably wasn’t good for her. Hell, it probably wasn’t good for her dad. But without her, he’d have either hit bottom by now or gotten himself killed. Or both.

She juggled the bag and the coffee and pulled her keys out and opened the door. “Dad,” she called. “It’s me. Ronnie.”

No one else called her that anymore. Just him.

“You bring coffee?” she heard him call from upstairs.

When had she walked into this house without coffee in the past ten years? “Yeah, Dad, I got coffee. And breakfast.”

“I’ll be right out.”

She pulled the food out of the bag and set the wrapped sandwiches on place mats on the kitchen table. Then she started her rounds.

First she emptied the garbage from the kitchen and the hall bathroom. She could hear the toilet flush in the master bathroom. Then she gathered the piled-up newspapers and magazines and catalogs from the living room and dumped them into the recycling bin. She’d run the vacuum cleaner around the place after they’d eaten. She could hear the water running now; he’d be out in a minute or two.

She started gathering up the bottles. It was almost like a perverse kind of Easter-egg hunt. Where had Daddy hidden her treats this time? Oh, look, it was an empty bottle of Early Times under the sofa. And what was that peeking out from behind the dusty silk plant in the corner of the living room? Oh! It was an empty Bushmills bottle. She found only four bottles. It could have been worse, she supposed. Hell, it had been worse at other times.

“What brings you around?” her father growled as he stomped into the room.

He didn’t look good. His eyes were red and his face looked puffy; his hands trembled at his sides. Still, he was standing and he looked sober.

She countered with her own question. “Have the police been here?”

He nodded and headed into the kitchen, sitting down and unwrapping a sandwich without waiting for Veronica to join him.