Despite pulling a double, Vanessa drove straight through the night from Philly. Turning onto the familiar dirt tract, the sun was barely rising, but it gave her enough light to dodge the deeper puddles left by the last high tide. It had yet to sink in that she was here, especially after the last visit. It had been almost 15 years since she’d been in Little Egypt, and only then to attend her grandmother’s funeral. After the train wreck that turned into, Vanessa couldn't imagine ever wanting to see the place again. But a phone call she was too busy to answer had set this trip in motion. After she’d gotten to all of her patients, there was time to sit and check her voice mail.
“Hey Nessie, this is Treena. I know you probably don’t give a damn, but they say the old bastard will be dead before Thanksgiving, that ‘zema is kickin’ his ass good. If they be anything you wanna say, you better come say it soon.”
He was awake earlier than he wanted, surrounded by his tubes and his tanks, listening to the numbing sounds of the air conditioner. Though it was late in October he still needed it to cut the humidity and ease his breathing, but the machine’s constant whir made it difficult to tell what was going on in the rest of the house. He couldn't remember if Treena had come home last night or not. She had given him his pills and then headed to the club. She may not have gotten her mother’s good looks, but she certainly got her taste for stepping out, as well as her taste for the bottle. She was his only child still living in Little Egypt, and despite her flaws, he was glad to have her around. The rest scattered as soon as they were able, ungrateful all of them. He didn't like to think about how much worse his boys would have turned out if he hadn't tried to show them what hard work was, and if he hadn't beaten at least some of the wild out of them. After his wife ended up in the creek, he did what he could to teach the girls what women were for, but they didn't make it easy. His children couldn't care less with what he had to put up with all those many years just so he could keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. He was a man, and those rich white bitches spoke to him like a child. All the while he stood there feigning a smile, hat in hand, saying nothing but yes ma’am so they would crack open those purses and begrudgingly throw a few hard earned dollars his way. They, their bridge clubs, prized azaleas and yapping little dogs, could all go to hell.
Knowing it had never been locked, Vanessa came in through the kitchen door. She was greeted by the smell of stale cigarettes, and the sound of the faucet dripping on yesterday’s dirty dishes. Moving through the cluttered living room, she wasn't sure if that was the same worn out furniture she remembered, now covered by leopard and zebra throws. The floor creaked and gave a little as she walked down the hall. Pausing in front of her father’s door, where a no smoking, oxygen in use sign had been tacked up, she briefly closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and then grabbed the doorknob.
His sour train of thought was broken by Treena coming through the door, and none too soon. He needed her help getting to the bathroom before he wet himself. But this wasn't Treena, it looked like his wife, but how could that be? She’s been dead for years, was she here to take him with her? Not that they needed an excuse, but the shock caused his lungs to let loose with a powerful round of coughing and spasms, and his bladder emptied anyway. It wasn't until she opened her mouth did he recognize his daughter Nessie.
On the long drive south, Vanessa had plenty of time to rehearse everything she wanted to say. How he left so many scars, internal as well as external, on her, her sisters and her brothers. How his idea of parenting left a trail of stunted human beings, drug addicts, alcoholics and yet another generation of abused children. How what he referred to as father’s privilege, was known as child rape and incest everywhere else. How if he wanted to know why only one of his children still spoke to him, and why none of his grandchildren knew him, he need look no further than his own black heart. As if having him as a father was not scary enough, he wove terrifying tales of child-eating monsters in the woods and marsh surrounding their house. But she wanted him to know that he was the only monster to have ever to set foot in Little Egypt.
Vanessa entered the room knowing clinically what to expect from the final stages of emphysema, but she was stunned by her father’s appearance, and thoughts of any confrontation gave way. Here lay the man who has loomed so large in her head, whose decades ago actions still color every facet of her life, now small and weak like some unfortunate hatchling. Under the white sheets he was all barrel chest and stick legs, waving a thin brown arm erratically through the air in her direction. After her father fell into a horrible bout of coughing, she turned on the table lamp, and rooted through the contents of the nightstand until she found an inhaler.
“Good morning daddy, it’s Nessie. Let me try to get some of this in you, then I’ll go get something to wipe that mess off your face and get these sheets and your clothes changed. Maybe when you’re feeling better I’ll get you some tea and see what might be in this house for breakfast.”