Jessie’s Father – A Short Story

This is my most recent story that was submitted as a university project. It’s now been processed so I can upload it all for you to see.

Jessie’s Father

Dishes were always a chore for Monica. In her opinion family life never suited her and she had no idea why she got married in the first place. She resented the chores of looking after a person, especially at such an early time in her life. Monica knew she had no one to blame but herself, but she still tried to blame everything else around her for being thirty two, divorced and dragging her seven-year-old daughter in tow. In fact she had never even had to look at herself when thinking who was at fault.
That was until today. Jessica walked up to the counter beside the sink, vaulted on top and plonked herself down, legs crossed, beside her mother.
‘Come on Jessie, I’ve told you not to do that.’ Monica reacted, without even looking at her.
‘Mummy?’ She asked in one of those tones best suited for questions such as ‘Why do trees grow?’ or ‘How come elephants have big ears?’. Jessie looked at the floor. ‘Why don’t I have a Daddy?’

Monica dropped the plate she was scrubbing the ketchup from onto the side of the sink and it made a loud crack. She managed to exhale a quick ‘Shit’ in retort as the plate hit. She picked it back up, realised it had chipped and started feeling the chip with her fingers. ‘Well… Umm. You do have a Daddy, otherwise you wouldn’t be here.’
‘I know that, but where is he? All of the other children at school have a Daddy. They aren’t married but they still know them. Why don’t I know mine?’ Jessie questioned.
‘Look, you know I’ve had a husband, but he left and that’s all you need to know until you’re older.’ Monica replied impatiently, as if Jessie had scraped her nails down a blackboard inside her head.
‘But I am older mummy, I need to know so that I know what to say to people when they ask me.’ Jessie pressed on.
Monica put the plate back in the sink and immediately felt the stinging on her fingertips as her hands hit the water. She raised them back up to see tiny cuts on the tips. ‘All right, all right.’ She relented. ‘But this is a long story.’

~•~

I met Dave eleven years or so ago. He was a friend of a friend and had pitched up with us at Reading Festival. He was from the same town as us, although most of us had never met him. It was a strange thing when you think you know a place so well, is so familiar, and yet something so new and unknown comes out to surprise you. Dave was that guy. He’d been away at university, got a Masters degree in some theoretical shit about existence or something and had worked for the university briefly afterwards. Everyone immediately took a shine to him and enjoyed his company. He was kind, certainly a bit better off than us, we could tell. He actively sought out the charity workers to help donate his money, like giving back was in his nature. He would share the beer he brought. Not the warm, canned kind from the shops around the complex, mind you, the good stuff. The outrageously expensive cold draught beer that you only brought twice before resorting to sneaking in the warm cans of cheap cider instead.

Who wouldn’t want Dave? Mysterious, clever, kind, he was a hit with the men as a friend (and sometimes a little more) and a definite hit with the ladies. On the Saturday of the festival, we were all a little drunk and he just looked so right. His face wasn’t beautiful, maybe rugged, a bit worn, but certainly charming and alluring. He was covered in a bin bag and had somehow acquired five or six bead bracelets that rattled as he danced around the campfire. Like a mating ritual from some exotic ancient tribe. He sat next to me and looked at me and at that moment, nothing was more perfect than to kiss him. I moved forward before a hand stopped me on my shoulder and said ‘I’m sorry, but you’re not intelligent enough for me.’

We stayed in touch after the festival for many years. We had a mutual group of friends and often went out to the pub. I saw him with many women. Some of them were absolutely gorgeous and some of them, not so much. All of these wouldn’t last more than a week, maybe three at best. Sometimes we would see the girls again in the pub and they would give him such a scornful look of hatred and contempt. What could such a nice man have done to deserve such a cold shoulder?

About five years after the drunken approach at the festival, we went out to a pub. I later found him crying in the beer garden. When I asked him what was wrong he replied, ‘Why aren’t I happy?’
I sat, shocked a little at the words I’d heard but not entirely surprised. Dave wasn’t happy.
‘I am an intelligent man. I know I’m not the most handsome or have that trendy sensibility everyone gawps at. But every woman I’ve met, just…’ He paused, the tears began to well up in his eyes but his frown was stopping them from escaping onto the surface.
‘No one understands me, no one can communicate with me, no one is anywhere near my level.’ I gave him a look that suggested a mirror might be his answer. But he didn’t pick up the hint.
‘Is it too much to ask that I can find a woman that’s read something other than a point horror book? Someone who can talk about the state of the world without pausing to drool over Hugh Grant or whoever’s in fashion? Can’t I just find some who’s… who’s…’ Dave stumbled searching for the word to use.
‘Intelligent?’ I asked. He nodded quickly, as if he didn’t have the courage to say it in case it seemed offensive.

I breathed in a deep breath as he turned to receive my wisdom, like a gracious pauper who was being handed a loaf of bread. ‘Dave, what do you want? Do you want love? Sex? Relationships? Family? Or do you want companionship. Validation. Challenges. You’re so clever and you’re attractive and you’re the kindest person I’ve ever met. But you don’t know how to get a lady because you don’t know what you want! If you want love then you need to take your goddesses, smash their statues in your mind and find the real you. Not the books or the politics or the deep thinking stuff. It’s too selfish, too stuck up, but the real you. The kind, caring man who makes everyone laugh and can create a party by just being there. Then, who knows?’

I sat next to Dave looking at him and he moved forward to kiss me before I stopped him with a hand on his shoulder and said ‘I’m sorry, but I’m married.’

~•~
Jessie was sat bolt upright, completely captivated by the story but utterly confused as it hadn’t answered her question. Monica was now drying the dishes and beginning to put them away. ‘But…’ Jessie began ‘But what does Dave have to do with it?’
Monica looked at her reflection in the plate she had just cleaned and dried. The reflection of the fluorescent light tube shone off the surface, as did Monica’s face. For the first time in eight years, she wasn’t able to point fingers at anyone else, blame circumstance or throw the conversation in another direction for a distant time. It was just her words, her daughter and her reflection. She noticed the tear beginning to fall down her cheek. ‘Because Dave is your Dad, Jessie.’

‘But, Sam was your husband?’ Replied Jessie, now even more confused.
Monica couldn’t help but cry, she didn’t bellow out but she stammered as she breathed. ‘That night, I took Dave back into the club. We drank more and one thing led to another and we ended up at his with the birds and the bees.’ She paused to wipe the tears from her eyes. ‘I was 25, I was married young, I didn’t really know what I was doing. Sam was always working long hours and was away from home a lot. When Sam realised I was pregnant, he was always paranoid that you weren’t his as he was away for about a month during that time. He worked out the truth and left. Then Dave came and he stayed for a bit.’
Jessie began to smile. Now she knew who her Dad was. ‘So where is Daddy?’ She asked.
Monica looked at her daughter for the first time since she sat down by the sink and said ‘He did what he always did Jessie. He left.’
‘But why?’ Jessie asked.
‘Because,’ Monica replied, ‘I wasn’t intelligent enough for him.’

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