Although seventeen year-old Kate Parrish had departed on her date only an hour earlier, she now stands just inside the front door, staring at her own dark living room. Even with the lights off, Kate notices a few things: on the floor, two wine glasses stained with blood-dark dregs; on the coffee table, a throw pillow exiled from the couch; on the hi-fi turntable, a record spinning, its needle repeating in the groove at the end of the side.
Kate goes to the hi-fi as if she might turn it off. Light from the porch lamp puddles on the turntable. Sinatra. In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning. Kate leaves the platter spinning.
Abandoning one dark room for another, Kate walks to the kitchen. Outside, a car makes a turn at the intersection and for a brief moment light sweeps the wall. Kate’s father is revealed in silhouette, sitting at the kitchen table. A saucer has been pushed toward the center of the table. Whatever her father was eating has been reduced to crumbles and crumbs. From the threshold between the living room and the kitchen, the scene is still life. “This is weird,” she says. “Why are you sitting in the dark?”
“It wasn’t dark when I sat down. I didn’t realize…” Her father’s voice trails off as if another thought overtakes his ability to continue with the first thought.
“She had to run out.”
Kate thinks about this for a moment then heads to the refrigerator. If she can find something to take back to her room, she might assign some purpose to this awkwardness and escape it. She dumps her purse on the counter and moves to the fridge. “Why don’t you turn some lights on? It’s stupid in here.” Kate opens the refrigerator door. The room glows. Mercifully, a bowl holding three slices of a peach is perched right at the edge of the middle shelf. Kate takes the bowl, closes the door, and the kitchen recovers its darkness.
Kate means to head straight to her room, but she stops instead and looks at her father. Trousers. T-shirt. Socks. He rubs his palm over his stubble and stares across the table as if studying someone on the other side. Another moment, then, as if fatigued by a tedious conversation, Kate scoops up her purse and strides into the living room. There the hi-fi repeats its ffff-tick…ffff-tick…
“The record player is still on,” Kate says.
From the kitchen: “Yeah.”
Kate listens to a kitchen chair scrape on the linoleum. A few seconds later her father walks in and heads to the turntable.
“I should take that off,” he says. “Bad for the needle, probably.” He reaches down to pick up the tone arm, but knocks it sideways instead and the jagged sound of the scratch saws into the house.
Kate rolls the switch on a table lamp. “You’re going to destroy our records. Turn a light on.” And then, “I hate the house like this.”
Kate’s father sleeves the Sinatra and then works to slide the envelope into the jacket. “Why are you home so early?”
The question itself doesn’t throw Kate. Rather, it’s that her father asked it at all. Incoherence results. “I don’t know,” she says. “I don’t care.”
“You don’t know why you’re home so early?” He sounds sad, as if he fears for his daughter’s social status.
“No,” Kate says and thinks about the brief hour she had been out… A boy driving a man’s car, a short-sleeve shirt, the smell of Brylcreem. And God, all that wanting to know what she was thinking.
“His name’s Jim, right?”
“Yeah...” Kate watches her dad. With his attention fixed firmly on the hi-fi, her father has never before appeared so much like a trespasser in his own house. I guess this is it, Kate thinks then starts toward the hallway, toward her room.
“This is the one your mother likes,” her father says as an LP clacks to the platter. After the needle pops its way into the groove, “Lara’s Theme” from Doctor Zhivago strums from the console. “This is the one she likes, right…?”
Kate stops, her bowl of peach slices in her hand, her purse almost touching the floor because her other arm hangs limp at her side. “I don’t know. Yeah. That’s…” Her sentence runs out of momentum as she studies her father, who, to Kate, appears to be sinking into a preoccupation close to mania. He frets over the stereo, as if eventually Doctor Zhivago will clue him in on something personally important.
Kate’s father turns toward her and, just for an instant, he looks exactly like the boy, Jim. To Kate the vision is a dizziness that comes and goes in an instant, as if her brain malfunctioned for half a second and placed the wrong person in the living room before immediately recognizing its error and correcting itself. Kate shudders. Not from fear but because the weight of her evening abruptly settles upon her shoulders and around her neck. “Why did he want so much, daddy…?”
“Everything in life has to be paid for, sweetie.” He’s back in the kitchen by the time he says this.
Car headlights pan the room. Unlike the earlier car, this one is close. In the driveway.
It’s a bit of a race. Kate grabs the phone from the entry table and shakes loose its long cord. Taking the phone with her, balancing her bowl of peach slices in the same hand that holds the purse strap, Kate back-steps down the hall. She rounds a corner into her room and closes the door behind her, pinching the cord in the jamb just as the front door of the house opens.
Somewhere else, Kate thinks. Maybe where it doesn't cost anything...