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I hit the downhill fast, legsburning and my ponytail swinging out behind me. My face is red and hot. My feetslap the pavement violently; I don't try to stop myself, I just careen down thehill. If there were people around, they would look up and see me slamming downthe hill like a crazy person. The open field widens to the left, empty asanything, grassy and clean. I concentrate on breathing, and try not to look to myleft, but it is impossible. I feel my eyes tugging and my breath go out ofcontrol, sucking air. I am almost at the bottom of the hill, almost back tonormal. He is there at the bottom, again. My dead father stands in the field,close to me, and shadowy. He is handsome I think, with a face that matches thephotograph on my bedside table. In the photo he is smiling, with the sun behindhim and blackened-out eyes. He is slightly overweight in a tee shirt and shorts,with an arm around my mother who has never looked the same as in that photograph.She looked wild, and happy.
My father stands in the same place as always,watching me with dark eyes, except today is a little different. Today hewaves.
"Roll down the window, will you? I hate airconditioning," Lee said to Becky.
Becky rolled her eyes in the rear viewmirror and did what Lee asked. No one who knew Lee argued with her. I just smiledand looked out the window. We were bombing down Route 128 on our way to theshopping center. It was a warm spring day, one of the first. The trees on eitherside of the highway were shedding their buds for thick green leaves that wouldsoon block out the sun over our heads.
Lee flipped the radio on and musicpoured out the speakers, successfully halting anymore conversation. It was a newB-52's song and we all sang along, the music swirling around us, between us,flowing out the open windows. The wind hit me in the face in hollow punches, coolblasts making me blink.
The song ended and Lee turned the volume down sowe could talk. We were almost at the mall. Becky glanced behind her and changedlanes. "Don't let me forget, I have got to find something for my dad. Father'sDay is in a couple weeks." Lee turned to me from the front seat.
"Oh,Sharon, Father's Day! I wonder what it's like?" she swooned. I began to giggle.Lee is really a riot.
Becky suddenly remembered, looked flustered. "Youguys, I'm sorry, I forgot okay? Don't rag on me for having afather."
"Maybe we should buy something anyway, Sharon, just to see whatit feels like. What do you say? We could get them a tie, or cologne..."
"Hedge clippers?" I offered, laughing out loud now.
"Yeah,hedge clippers, great idea," Lee smirked. Becky looked mortified. I settled backin the seat. Lee always made me laugh.
Sometimes I wonder ifI really ever did have a father. But then I think of the picture in my room and Iknow that he must have lived. I have no memories of him, and that makes my motherfrown. When I was younger I would beg her to tell me stories about him, I wouldtry to search my brain for some recognition of a tale concerning him. I thoughtthat if I could remember something, anything - how big his hands were, the feelof his shirt against my cheek, the exact smell of him after a shave - that then Iwould be content and I would believe my mother when she told me how it poured ontheir wedding day, or how he used to call her a queer duck. Now I just pretendthat I accept the idea of a father who died in a car accident when I was two anda half. I don't let my mother know that I have doubts, that I'm not sure, that Iwonder: if I have no memories of my father, how could he have beenmine?
And now, with this ghost, this hologram of my father greeting me twoand three times a week on my run, I don't know what to do. At first I thought Icould just ignore him, and he would go away, but now, after a month, I know he ishere for a reason. And when he waves hello to me, what is he saying? What does hewant?
"I think we made Becky feel bad," Lee said in mykitchen a few days later.
"We? I just sat in the back seat while you madefun of her for having a dad. I laughed, but that's it." I took another spoonfulof cookie dough and sucked.
"Speaking of fathers, guess whocalled."
I looked up to check Lee's face, but she was looking down. "No!After two years, who would have thought he had the nerve to call yourmom."
"Yeah, well, they talked for like three hours and she cried twice.In between the crying she yelled four-letter words at him. It was good for her tofinally tell him what she thought about him walking out and everything." Leerolled cookies between her fingers as she talked. She didn't look up at me once.I think she felt bad that her father had come back from the dead, and now wewouldn't have that in common.
"Anyway, he's going to come around to seeme. Weird, huh?" She finally looked up to gauge my reaction. I looked herstraight in the face and said, "That's good."
"I mean, I still hate him,but I guess he's been through some stuff. I don't know, I just want to see if hebrings me any cool presents." Lee laughed at her own joke. I sucked on the doughand wondered what my father was going to bring me.
I hit thedownhill slow, almost afraid of what I will find at the bottom of the hill, justto my left in the vacant field. I am surprised to see my father in the same spot,but sitting on the ground, facing away from me. I slow down to a stop, breathingheavily despite my sluggish pace. My legs feel like rubber as I step off thepavement onto the grass.
The bare ground is amazingly soft beneath mysneakers. It carries me to the hunched figure of my father. I stop when I seethat he is holding something, cradling something in his two strong arms.
Iwalk around my dad so I can see what he is holding, and am not surprised at allto see a baby, a sleeping, not quite beautiful baby in my father's arms. He looksup at me slowly, smiling. Our eyes meet, two pairs of eyes that are exactly thesame shape and color. Even our eyelashes match. I am even less surprised when hekisses the baby's forehead for a long minute, then hands the child to me withoutstretched arms. I take the baby, feeling for all the world like her sister,and I stare at her forever. Something makes me look up, a twig snapping maybe,and I see my father, my handsome, soft father, walking away from me, toward thefar corner of the field. He stops, turns, and waves to me. I shift the sleepingbaby in my arms and raise a hand to him. Our palms cross the years.
Myfather turns away, and as he walks, his figure gets lighter and lighter, untilall he is is a patch of sun on the grass, nothing.
I look down and seethat the baby is gone, I am holding air, a feeling. I start to walk home throughthe late spring afternoon, and realize what my father has given to me. He gave mea memory. And then waved good-bye.