Painful memories haunt Graham when he comes out of prison.
|Scratching his craggy beard, Graham gazed at the bubbles jostling in his drink. He could feel the wetness in his eyes as a tear rolled down into the mug, its identity lost inside the chilled liquid. Like a pebble in the mountains. Or a sand particle on the beach. Its existence a meaningless speck on the canvass of nature. Just like his life.
A large hand thumped his back. “Is that you, Graham? Geek, man! When did you get out of jail?”
Graham didn’t even bother to check whom the voice belonged to. Neither civil niceties nor social barbs mattered to him anymore. He gulped the beer in a single swig and fished inside his pocket for the payment. Ignoring the sneers and jabs, he waited while the suspicious bar woman counted the coins he had tendered. When she nodded, he gathered his coat from the backrest of the chair, draped it on his back and sauntered out into the cold evening air. He didn’t even insert his hands into the arms of the jacket which flailed wildly in the wind. Walking at a brisk pace, he stopped at a gift shop and went inside.
“Yes?” asked an unfriendly voice from behind the counter.
Graham pulled the jacket closer and peered from over his glasses. “I am looking for a gift for a ten year old girl.”
Unfriendly Voice shuffled down from her tool, eyed his unkempt appearance with undisguised annoyance and placed her hands on her hips. “We’ve nothing less than ten bucks.”
Graham opened his palms to reveal a crumpled 100 dollar bill. “I can pay. Could you suggest a good book for a girl that age?”
“You could try The Secret Garden.”
Squeezing the gift wrapped book under his arms, Graham stepped out of the shop and kept walking until his eyes spotted the neon sign of ‘Bob’s Catering.’ He really needed that waiter's job they were offering.
Graham desperately hoped that the waiter’s uniform would conceal his identity. Carrying the tray laden with drinks, he flitted between the guests, while his eyes scanned the stairs all the time for the appearance of his little princess.
Just one glance, and I shall leave, he promised.
The scenes of gaiety filled his heart with happiness. He could see some famous faces around him. His ex-wife Susan had married a wealthy businessman. Good for her and for my little Ann. I could never have given them all this, he thought, looking wistfully at the Disney aura that had been created.
Gasps and claps announced the arrival of the birthday girl. Graham turned to face the stairs and was spellbound at the sight of his daughter, Ann. Bedecked like a Princess, a beatific smile adorned her face as she walked down holding a younger girl's hand who Graham guessed would be her half-sister. Behind them came Susan, looking resplendent in a strapless evening gown and her husband, Jonathan Mallory.
Graham’s heart sank at the sight. Blurred memories from a long time ago danced in vibrant patterns before his eyes. His dating Susan, their fairytale romance and marriage, Ann’s birth, the advent of his alcoholism, his foray into crime, his violence and his repeated brushes with the law. Tears welled up in his eyes when he remembered the day when Susan told him that she could take it no longer and was leaving him for good. The court awarded her the custody of Ann. They did the right thing. I never deserved angels like them, he thought.
Turning in the direction of the voice, Graham sighted Jonathan signaling to him.
“Hi!”Jonathan greeted him and picked up a glass of champagne from the tray.
“You have a lovely family, Mr. Mallory,” a woman standing next to him was saying.
“God has indeed been very kind for giving me Susan,” responded a visibly pleased Jonathan.
I hope she hasn’t shown him any of my pics, prayed Graham. He looked around at the pretty faces until his gaze again caught sight of Ann. I should leave. All I wanted was to see her, he told himself, but the more he saw her, the more he felt a strong need to hold her and hug her.
Avoiding Susan’s eyes, he intently followed his daughter’s every move. God, just give me a minute with her alone so I can give her the gift I bought her, he entreated. He saw her leave by the front door with some of her girlfriends. Stealthily, he followed them. They were chatting and laughing. The animated expression on her face as she talked left him speechless. He mustered all his courage and approached her. "Happy Birthday, Miss. Mallory."
She rewarded him with a lovely smile showing all her pearly teeth.Her voice sounded like melodious music. "Thank you, Sir."
When Ann excused herself and returned to her friends, Graham retraced his steps with drooping shoulders. He had nothing more to say. It was time for him to leave. He had spent five long years in prison dreaming about meeting his daughter one day. Today, he realized that his affections would never hold any significance for her. This magnificent world was her life now, and he had no right to intrude and cast an ominous shadow over her happiness. With a heavy heart, he walked out of the party.
Graham would never meet Ann Mallory again. Police found his dead body in a motel room. Clutched to his chest was a gift wrapped copy of 'The Secret Garden,' the gift that he had bought, but could never give. Postmortem reports established the cause of death as an overdose of sleeping pills.
Word Count: 947