Fiction: Call me Daddy Again

old-man-reading-to-kids-350By Becky Holland

John Henry was not sure what time of day it was. There seemed to be a little light coming through the cracks of the blinds that were hanging crookedly in the window of his hospital room. He stretched out his legs underneath the thermal blanket the nurse’s aide had just brought in. The television was playing above his head, though there was no sound coming out of the speakers. John Henry bet that his wife had pushed the mute button when she left to go eat dinner with their sons and eldest daughter. You need to get some rest. Mary Lois was always saying that.

He couldn’t make out which button on the control remote would turn the volume up. His glasses were laying on the nightstand next to the bed. He would have to sit up to be able to reach them, and he was wired up so many different ways, he was afraid to try for fear of turning off something vital. John Henry squinted as he fumbled with the knobs. Yes, Mr. Freeney?

 

Uh, huh?  I am sorry. I was trying to figure out how to adjust the volume on the television. John Henry was embarrassed when the nurse’s voice came over the intercom.

 

It is okay, Mr. Freeness, we’ll be right there. John Henry tried to recall who the voice belonged to. The nurses on the night shift were pretty nice and easy going. The remote fell out of  his hand and clanged against the metal of the bed-frame.

John Henry sighed. You having troubles, John Henry?

The voice startled him. He had to squint again to make sure that his ears had not failed him. Standing in his doorway was his estranged youngest child and daughter, Macie. Yeah, these new fangled gadgets. John Henry didn’t know what else to say.

Macie Freeney had been called Lucky since the age of 3, not because she was easy or anything, but because her parents thought she was their blessing from above. Lucky’s birth had not been an easy one for Mary Lois just as her entrance into the world had not been smooth sailing for Lucky. Her little heart had stopped beating and the umbilical cord had wrapped around her neck. The doctors had not given Lucky a chance to live, but she did. Lucky was a fighter and had been ever since then, which was part of the reason that she and her father were estranged. Lucky had moved out of the house after a horrible fight with John Henry.

John Henry winced at the memory of the argument. It had been over her boyfriend at the time and her now ex-husband – Jonathan Rumph. John Henry was quite sure that Jonathan was not the man for his daughter. Jonathan was a Caucasian and Macie was an African American for one, and two, Jonathan was older and had a history that was a little bit shady. John Henry had forbid his daughter to go out with Jonathan, in fact, he had told her that if she went out with him, she would not be welcome in the house.  She had left that day, at the age of 17, and had not returned since. She had come to see her mom when she had her heart attack, attended the funeral of her grandmother, the weddings of her brothers, and the visited her sister’s home from time to time, but had not stepped back into the house.

 

You don’t need to watch television anyway, John Henry. Especially without your glasses. Lucky walked toward the bed. John Henry felt his heart flutter as his daughter moved in closer to him. She was now 27 years of age, and this was the closest he had been to her in about 10 years. Lucky’s hair was freshly bobbed, kind of reminded John Henry of that actress who was married to the Atlanta Braves player-Hall Berry.

She hadn’t grown much height wise. She probably stood about three and half  inches to four inches over five feet. Her eyes were a deep dark chocolate color. She had her mom’s pretty skin, but his burlywood coloring – not a light brown, but a little darker than mocha. 

 

How much do you weigh now? John Henry asked as Lucky stood next to his bed, hand on the remote, eyes on the television.

Lucky looked at her father questioningly, Enough.

 

I doubt that. You look skinny. He said.

 

And you must be on too much medication or something. You need your glasses. John Henry, I weigh probably a little over 140. She put her hands on the rail, and looked at him, with a slight smile.

 

So, you look good. John Henry scooted up a little in the bed.

 

You don’t. Lucky fidgeted. John Henry had to smile. Some habits never changed. Lucky had never been one who could be still for long. When she was a toddler she was described by the daycare workers as being a wiggle worm and got many unsatisfactory remarks under behavior for her inability to sit still in grade school.

 

Who me? I am great. Thanks for coming. Where’s my grandson? Lucky and Jonathan had had a son four years ago, probably the only good thing that had come out of that union. When Jordan had been born, John Henry had stayed in the lobby area. He had only seen his newborn grandson through the window of the nursery after visiting hours. Lucky was not the only one with a stubborn streak. Jordan had visited the house only a few times with his uncles or his aunt or older cousins.

 

I saw Mom, Ti Ti and the boys in the elevator. Jordy worships his uncles. All Bobby had to say was, ‘Burger King,’ and Jordy was gone. Lucky bit her lip, a habit she had inherited from John Henry.

 

Your mom said you moved. The nurse entered into the room.

 

Mr. Freeney, I am sorry it took us so long. The nurse’s name was Cindy.

 

Oh, man, I forgot you guys were coming. My daughter came in and rescued her old man. I am sorry. John Henry stretched his legs underneath the hospital covers.

 

Your daughter. Oh, hi. You must be the one who works in sports publicity for the university? I have heard a lot about you from your mom and dad. I am Cindy. Cindy extended her left hand toward Lucky, as she tapped on the IV bag with her right.

 

Macie Rumph. Nice to meet you. So, has the old man given you too much trouble? Lucky moved to lean against the wall, watching Cindy as she checked machines, and then helped John Henry adjust himself  in the bed.


John Henry pushed himself up in the bed with Cindy’s help.
Me, giving them trouble? Never.

 

No, no. He is been great. Feeling puny, but we are working on getting him well. I know having you here will be good for him. Your dad told us all about your work with the university and with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Proud daddy here. John Henry peeked around Cindy’s shoulder to see Lucky’s reaction.

Lucky was biting her lip again, and their eyes met. Yeah, John Henry’s too kind.

 

Well, there you are, Mr. Freeney. All comfy. I saw the dinner tray coming. If you need help.
Cindy said.

 

I will be in here to help him.” Lucky spoke up.

 

Good. It was nice to meet you. Cindy crept out the door, shutting it behind her.

 

What are you smiling at, John Henry? Lucky walked over to the window, and peeked at the card on the fruit basket sitting in there.

 

Oh, I don’t know. He scratched his elbow.

 

The Mayor? Whoa. You must be big time if Mayor Smith sent these to you. John Henry felt his heart twinge as his daughter’s face lit up with a smile. He had always said that Lucky’s smile could melt even the Iceman’s heart.

Her brother, Donnie, had teased her about her smile, We don’t need any GE light bulbs, all we have to do is get you tickled and we would have enough light for the whole house.

 

I think his secretary did that. John Henry was the meter reader for the city, in fact, he had been the chief meter reader for nearly 20 years, but had to retire last year when his kidneys had failed him, and his health had declined. He had been going to dialysis for a while.

Six days ago, he had been at home when he had fallen in the bathroom and knocked himself out. Mary Lois had called the boys and they had rushed him to the hospital. The doctors had done some tests and discovered that John Henry had had a slight stroke, but also his heart was enlarged to triple the size what a normal heart for a man John Henry’s age should be. This had given him some problems with breathing, which was why he was on oxygen now. He wished he didn’t have his tubes in his nose so he could talk to Lucky a little better.

John Henry coughed. The sounds must have alarmed Lucky because she turned from the window very abruptly. You okay, need some water?

John Henry shook his head, and waved her concerns away with his hand. I am fine. Really. Let’s talk about you. It has been a while.

Lucky hoisted herself up on the windowsill, moving the fruit basket over some, looked at her daddy, and said, Daddy, you pissed me off you know.

 

Watch your mouth, young lady. I know I made you mad. You made me mad. I was just trying to save you from hurt, you know? I was sure that Jonathan was not a good man. Not the right man for you. John Henry said.

Lucky looked down at the floor, then back at her father, John Henry, what did you base your opinions on?

John Henry knew what was coming. I don’t want to argue with you, Lucky. Life is too short to argue. We should be laughing and talking and enjoying each other.

 

John Henry, I don’t want to argue with you, I just. Lucky stopped.

 

Go ahead and say it. John Henry said. You have my full attention.

 

I am sorry for being such a rebellious teenager and for acting up. I am sorry for storming out of the house and for wasting 10 years of time with you and Mom and everyone just because I got my nose out of joint. I just felt like you were judging Jonathan because of his race, John Henry, and because of his past. I really felt like you were being hypocritical.

John Henry didn’t respond. His eyes urged his daughter to continue. She was trying to say something that he had felt for so many years.

 

What? John Henry asked, sniffing.

 

You always taught me and the others to keep an open mind and how we should not judge anyone, like how does the cliché go, judge a book by its cover. You always said don’t hold someone’s past against them. And you were telling me not to go out with Jonathan because he was white and because he had been in jail when he was younger. You were not giving him a chance. Lucky said.

 

I just had a feeling, Lucky. John Henry held his tongue. There was so much he wanted to say, but something was telling him to let her talk.

 

John Henry, you had a feeling. It was a right feeling in the end, true, but you based it on all the wrong reasons. You know how in Sunday School when you and Mom taught our class. You talked about God and how God loved us unconditionally. What does unconditional mean?It is the love I have for you and Mom and everyone and what you guys have for us–there are no limits on the love. Lucky said.

John Henry watched his daughter as she struggled with the right words to say.

 

You also stressed about how God forgives us for our past, and all. Jonathan may have not turned out to be the right man for me, but we had some good times. He wasn’t bad because of his past or because of our racial differences. It was because he made some wrong choices. Jonathan was not mature, John Henry. John Henry saw that his daughter had a tear rolling down her face.

 

I am sorry, Lucky. John Henry said, then added, I was wrong in the way that I handled things and in what I was saying. I should have accepted Jonathan because you loved him, but I couldn’t. Maybe that was just the dad in me.

 

You and Mom set a real positive foundation for us, you know. You were not like our friends’ parents. You didn’t just drop us off at church, you were there with us, you took leadership roles in church, you made us pray at meal time, and you had faith in God, but you should have had faith in us, in me. I knew what Jonathan was and the choices he was making, but I loved him. Lucky said.

 

Why couldn’t we talk about this 10 years earlier, Lucky? John Henry asked.

 

There were many times that I wanted to. Mom encouraged me. Jonathan even tried to make me call you a hundred times before I left him. I just couldn’t. I guess it was a selfish thing in me. Stubbornness, pride. What is it the Bible says about pride? Lucky asked, wiping her eyes with the back of her shirt sleeve.

Get a tissue out of the bathroom, Lucky. Don’t ruin your pretty shirt. John Henry tried to lighten the moment.

Lucky laughed, Okay, Mary Lois. Pride is not a good quality, and well, I guess the divorce, your getting sick was God’s way of getting my attention.

John Henry stared at his daughter, God utilizes everything we go through to teach us lessons.

 

Yeah. What is it–Whatever God brings us to, He will bring us through it? I don’t like clichés, but that one is pretty cool. Lucky got up to get a tissue out of the bathroom.

 

It is true, you know, Lucky doodle. Lucky.

 

Yeah? Lucky came out of the bathroom, stood next to the bed.

John Henry held his hand out. She took it. I don’t want a sob moment, John Henry.

 

Oh, honey, no sobs, I promise. I just wanted you to know, I am sorry. And what the nurse said to you that I was proud, I am, but I am even more proud of you because of  the realization that you have come to, because you came here. Not many people mature like that or can admit that–that they were wrong or selfish or proud. He squeezed her hand.

She smiled at him.

 

I couldn’t do it, but I am fixing to follow your lead. I was proud to, Lucky, and selfish. I could not see past my own feelings to understand what you were going through. I was wrong and I am sorry too.

Lucky’s tears were rolling down both sides of her face, Dang it, John Henry, I told you, no sob moment. She took her free hand and ran it against her cheeks.

 

Hey, you know. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Will you do me a favor, Lucky? John Henry asked, holding his arms out.

 

What, John Henry? Lucky asked as she leaned across the rail to give her father a hug.

 

Will you call me Daddy again? John Henry said, patting her back.

Lucky grinned, I love you, Daddy.

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