'Parent’s Evening' by Corina K Skentzou
LISP 4th Quarter 2020 Short Story Winner, Corina K Skentzou by 'All the Ghosts in the Ocean'
The room is packed. I’m standing in the corner across from their reception desk. I feel warm. It was raining out and the humidity has stuck on my skin. I feel that these people breathe my air, they take my oxygen. There is not enough for me and I feel my heart racing. They speak fast and gesture a lot. I don’t have a clue. It’s Greek to me, literally. We moved to Athens five years ago.
My daughter is running around, black hair flying behind her, and the secretary just looks at me dismissively. Fuck her, who cares? Clara is wearing two different sneakers but the socks are a pair, light blue. I should have wetted my shirt under the armpits. I feel the sweat. I’m sure it seems disgusting but I cannot help it. Ι’m from a different climate; hot for two weeks in July, rainy the rest of the time.
I just saw myself in the mirror hanging next to the reception desk. I’m chubby, if not fat. My shirt is wrinkled, I have deep blue bags under my eyes that are covered by heavy brown-tint glasses. I look down. My shoes are a pair. I feel accomplished. Then I look at the ceiling because I’m hyperventilating. The chandelier is heavy, crystals hanging down. I like them, they look like little ice cubes. I’m so thirsty that I want to reach down one of those crystals and let it melt in my mouth.
“Excuse me Mr. Goodman, could you please keep Clara close?” the secretary demands. Her accent is heavy and her tone is ridiculously dissonant.
“Sure,” I say apologetically, and I hate myself for that.
She doesn’t bother to reply, taking her chunky thighs out of view as she goes to the other room.
A couple is staring at me. A young and fresh and successful couple. No blue bags under their eyes, pink lipstick and nice ironed shirt and skirt on the woman, Ray Ban Aviators on the man. Where are their little bastards? With Grandma? Perhaps Grandpa? Or the Filipino nanny? Guess what fuckers?! We don’t even have a mommy! Mommy suffers from postpartum depression—still—and has to be away for some time in a mental institution. This “some time” has become almost two years on and off. Please don't feel bad for her. Clean clothes, cooked meals, clean room. Real vacation, no shit.
And what about me? I think I’ve been suffering from postpartum since I was born, and I’m left all alone to chaos.
These thoughts are racing in my head and I’m pretty sure I’ve turned red like my hair. Well, my hair is ginger. Needless to say, I have Irish roots. But not pink. Just red, seriously. I feel so warm that I must look like an enormous cherry.
Clara just bumped into a small wooden table in the other corner. The vase that was on it fell down and broke into little pieces. I feel good about that, because the secretary has to move her fat ass and bring the janitor. I would’ve felt ecstatic if she had to sweep the floor and collect the pieces. But she won’t.
Clara, my baby, she’s a pain. Oh sure she is. I see it now that Margaret—my wife— searches for the lost pieces of herself away from us.
They told us as early as when Clara was ten months: she is different. Now she’s four and yes, she is different. She is exceptional. She knows how to count like a child in elementary school. She takes a jigsaw puzzle and completes it in less than ten minutes.
“I told you, Mr. Goodman. Look what a mess!” the secretary interrupts my thoughts without even looking at me.
“I don’t like your attitude,” I heard myself saying firmly.
With blushing cheeks, she looks down and apologizes, the coward. The director of the kindergarten has heard me and asks me to take Clara and come to her office.
She is tall. The director. Very tall, like a giant. I haven’t seen one, but I wonder for a second whether she suffers from this condition; gigantism. (Of course she doesn’t. I overreact these days). Short dyed dirty-blonde hair with gray and black roots. Heavy earrings with colorful stones. Black silky long-sleeved shirt; this is a nice shirt.
Her office is spacious, surrounded by big windows. Her enormous desk looks heavy; mahogany wood, leather armchair. Who is she? Trump? The decor seems excessive, I think to myself.
“Mr. Goodman, I’m very honored that I meet you.” she says, and her voice, pompous and fragmented, paradoxically conveys the depth of her superficiality. I wince at her terrible English.
“Why is that?” I heard myself saying–rudely, once again.
She coughs to clear her sticky throat. Her cheeks are on fire. I suspect that this woman across from me never gets confronted and she is full of shit.
“You are a well-known author, it’s an honor to have parents like you in our school,” she says in a more mellow but fragile voice.
“But you don’t have me in your school, Mrs. Pappa, Clara is the one that you have and she’s tough to deal with,” I tell her breathlessly, and I feel proud of myself.
This woman, Pappa, has never read any of my books, not that I have written many. I wrote one, seven years ago. One best seller: that was it. My agent still calls me. I still climb the mountain of my writer’s block. I have managed to write just two chapters of my second best seller, ha! Fuck the agent. Fuck Margaret. Fuck my loneliness, even. I am writing code now. It’s mechanical I know. But it fits me. It pays the bills. It pays for Margaret’s treatment. It’s for Clara. And I’m OK at it. But who wants to be a mediocre programmer? I still sell myself as an author. People find that more interesting.
Pappa interrupts my train of thought—not that I have a focused train of thought most of the time.
“We need to talk about Clara,” the director says in a low voice; she almost whispers.
“So, how’s Clara in class? She’s a pain … isn’t she?” I say, trying to establish the tone of the conversation.
“That’s why I wanted to talk to you about,” she has the nerve to confirm, but Clara interrupts us by mimicking Pappa with a flat voice; that’s why I wanted to talk to you about, that’s why I wanted to talk to you about, that’s why I wanted to talk to you about.
“Clara stop!” I say and Clara goes; stop, stop, stop, stop. She pauses momentarily and then disarms us by saying loudly: the cat is red. Pappa is looking at me, triumphant. I take my heavy glasses off my face; the naked metallic edge of my eyewear scratches my cheek. Fuck, I always forget to fix these bloody glasses. Thank Buddha, no blood.
Clara is lying on the floor now, mumbling; the cat is red, the cat is red. She’s getting into her well known ritualistic behavior and echolalia, repeating words again and again as they’ve told us children like her do. It doesn’t bother me; as I said, Clara is a genius. Clara knows all her times tables by heart. And she’s only four! Just because they’re not up to the job of teaching her properly, they blame the child. Fuckers!
“Mr. Goodman, Clara needs a special school.” Pappa finally says, her arms crossed.
I stand up. The director stands up too. I take a tissue from my back pocket and dry the sweat off my face. I put my broken glasses on again. I walk smoothly across the thick white carpet. Clara’s long black hair is spread on the carpet. What a beautiful contrast. What a beautiful girl I have.
The cat is red, I tell her. Clara stands up smiling; she doesn’t look at me. She never does. We leave.