I never could understand why Mama left me there alone that night. Even when I got older and could put the day a little more in perspective, it didn’t make sense. .
Sure, it was a good bet that my father would show up before nightfall. His clothes were there, he had fresh stuff in the fridge. But, she didn’t really KNOW. He could have been gone for a month. She didn’t know because she hadn’t seen Bobby Carter for almost four years.
That was my Daddy’s name. Bobby Carter. He did show up , but not until well after dark. He found a very frightened but still defiant little girl shivering on his porch steps watching the fireflies dancing in the weedy front yard and listening to all the strange and frightening sounds critters and insects can make during a dark country night.
He didn’t ask me who I was, just opened the door, and invited me inside with a soft, “Come on, girl.” He read the note, stood there looking at it for a long time. Then he pulled a thumb tack out of a kitchen drawer and stuck it up on a cabinet. It stayed there, and I had to look at it for years every time I got out a coffee cup or plate.
I didn’t know Bobby Carter, had never seen him before that day, as far as I could remember. I challenged him about it that first night when he told me to go wash the ketchup off my face and hands.
“You can’t tell me what to do!”
“Yes. I can. I’m the daddy here. You’re my little girl.”
“How do I know you’re my daddy? Just cause Mama said so?”
He took my arm and pulled me into the bathroom, picked me up, stood me on the sink, flipped on the light. Staring at our faces side by side, I was fascinated despite myself. Same wavy dark red hair, same blue eyes with dark brows and lashes, same lean faces. We looked so much alike. And neither of us looked very much like anybody else I had ever met.
His eyes met mine in the mirror and I looked back at him in a way I hadn’t been able to face-to-face in the kitchen. “Do you see?” He asked quietly.
I dropped my eyes. Even though I could see and feel the truth, I wasn’t ready to admit it to this strange man. I pushed at his arm with both my hands. “Let me down. I’ll wash.”
He helped. His hands were clumsy but gentle. He found an old tee shirt of his for me to sleep in and fixed a bed for me on the couch. Then he went into his bedroom and closed the door. I huddled under Bobby Carter’s scratchy army blanket and stared into the darkness.
The next day we got into his old truck and drove 35 miles into Columbia. He chose clothes for me with the help of a clerk at J.C. Penney’s. At the supermarket he let me help fill up the cart and only put a few of my choices back on the shelf. He even stopped at a discount furniture place on the way home and picked out a twin size bed and a small white chest of drawers.
He took care of me.
But all the time I knew why he was doing it and the knowledge left a bitter taste in my mouth.
It was his turn.