Fiction by Rebecca Cleveland-Stout
I’ve only seen my dad cry twice. The first time, I was six and Granddaddy had just died of liver failure. Granddaddy was my dad’s dad and my dad’s last living parent –his mother had died when he was nineteen. The second time I saw my dad cry was one night when I was fifteen.
He was sitting in the beat-up wooden chair in the study, the chair that my great grandmother had stitched the cushion for and given my family back before her stroke. His arms rested in his lap. He was just peacefully looking out the window over his desk with a blank face. My room was right across from the study and I’d gotten up to go to the bathroom when I’d seen my dad sitting at his desk, his face eerily lit by the LED computer screen in front of him. I stood in the doorway for a moment, confused, before speaking.
He snapped out of his trance and looked at me, surprised. “What are you doing up so late?”
I angled my head a little and saw the computer screen was filled with a picture of Nick and me when we were kids. We were snuggled together on the sofa and watching Dad raptly, who was sitting in an old flowered armchair by the sofa and reading Goodnight Moon.
“Just going to the bathroom, then going to bed. What are you doing?”
“Just sitting and thinking. Actually, I was just thinking of you and your brother.”
I nodded, sleepy and not in a mood for conversation. “Ok, well, ’night, daddy.”
I came out of the bathroom a minute later and almost sleepwalked back to my room. The computer screen had gone dark and I didn’t see my dad in the study – I guessed he’d gone to bed – but when I entered my room, there was my dad, sitting on my bed and holding a flashlight and a thick blue book. He was flipping through the pages when I entered the room. He looked up at me when he heard the creaks of the floorboards under my feet and a smile formed on his lips.
“Dad, what are you doing?” I whispered, shielding my eyes from the bright flashlight.
“I’m going to read you a story! We haven’t done that in such a long time. Don’t you remember how much you used to love listening to a bedtime story?”
“Dad, I’m tired … can’t I just go to bed?”
“Please, Anna? You used to love it when I read you bed time stories. You’d refuse to go to bed without one, even.”
“Yeah, Dad. Because I was four. Why would I want a bedtime story now? I’m in high school. And I’m sleepy.”
Dad’s face changed from one of eagerness to one of surprise and hurt, and I quickly backpedaled. “Ok, Dad, you know what, fine, read me a bedtime story.”
Dad got up slowly, the expression of hurt on his face morphing into the same blank look I’d seen earlier. I fell into bed and tried to act excited about being read a bedtime story as I snuggled into my blankets and waited for Dad to finish grabbing the chair from the study and drag it into my room. He lowered himself into the chair and began to read me a story in his rich, smooth voice from the thick blue book he’d picked out.
“Pooh always liked a little something at eleven o’clock in the morning, and he was very glad to see Rabbit getting out the plates and mugs…”
I closed my eyes and let my dad’s words rush over me, smiling. Winnie the Pooh stories had been some of my favorites when I was younger. I’d loved the different voices Dad would use for the characters and the hand gestures he’d used to act out the stories.
As he kept reading my dad’s voice became more animated. I snuggled deeper into my bed, still exhausted but wanting to listen until the end of the story.
The story Dad had chosen featured Pooh getting stuck in a doorway because he’d eaten too much. Christopher Robin had determined that the only way to get Pooh out was to make him thinner, which, Christopher Robin speculated, would take about a week.
“…‘A Week!’ said Pooh gloomily. ‘What about meals?’ ‘I’m afraid no meals,’ said Christopher Robin, ‘because of getting thin quicker,’” my dad read. He stopped. I kept my eyes closed.
“I think that’s enough for one night,” he said, resting the book and the flashlight on my bedside table. He kissed me on the head and I felt something wet on my cheek. I opened my eyes just soon enough to watch my dad leave the room. I lifted my hand up to my cheek and dimly realized that it was a tear that had fallen from my dad’s face onto mine. In the darkness I saw the book open to the page Dad had been reading from. I turned the flashlight on and glanced to where Dad had stopped reading.
‘A Week!’ said Pooh gloomily. ‘What about meals?’ ‘I’m afraid no meals,’ said Christopher Robin, ‘because of getting thin quicker.But we will read to you.’
I stopped and shut the book. I turned off the flashlight and lay back down in bed, but I didn’t fall asleep, wishing Dad had stayed to read those last few words out loud.