by Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz
The children waited for him out front.
The boys, Adam and Kyle Jr., occupied themselves with a game of catch on the lawn, although they had been warned about getting their clothes dirty. The daughter, Cleo, sat on the front step. Her thick dark hair, contained into two braids, lay over her shoulders, and she wore a freshly ironed dress, lace anklets and her black-and-white oxfords. She rocked the doll her father had given her on her last birthday in her arms.
Her father smiled as he pulled into the drive. She’d gotten that caring, adoring way from her mama, he thought.
The boys hollered excitedly as he parked and stepped out of the car. The three children ran to meet him, dancing around their father and chanting: Daddy Daddy Daddy.
Kyle hugged his children, planted kisses on their heads and gave each a shiny new nickel.
The children’s mother, Dolores, hearing the commotion, stood at the screen door, and immediately Kyle’s eyes were drawn to her.
He only had a chance to smile because the children demanded his attention. The boys wanted him to join in their game, shoving a baseball mitt into his hands. Cleo held the doll up so he could admire the dress her mother had sewn. It matched the dress Cleo wore.
Dolores smiled at him in return; her face told him to go on and do what he had to do. She’d wait. He knew that.
So he played ball with the boys awhile. Complimented his daughter on the kind of mama she’d become one day. He talked about to them about their schooling and what they might do when the summer came. The children wanted him to take them on vacation, but he shook his head sorrowfully and offered no promises.
When he stepped into the house, Kyle found Ellington playing on the phonograph he’d given Dolores one Christmas. The smell of frying pork chops drifted in the air. He could hear her moving about the kitchen, but he didn’t join her. He hollered that he was going to check the house and he went from room to room, checking the walls for rot, the pipes in the bathroom for leaks. And then those in the kitchen.
There was a small stack of statements sitting on the kitchen table. Kyle sat down, reached in his pocket for the checkbook and began writing.
“This is everything?” he asked.
“Uh-huh.” Dolores worked her way around the table, setting plates in their designated places. “Can you stay?” she asked quietly.
Kyle avoided her eyes as he shook his head. “I’ve got to go to some kind of recital tonight.”
Dolores nodded and took a plate back to the cabinet.
Kyle stood. “I’m gonna be gone for a week or so.” He pulled out his wallet, taking money from it, dropping the bills on the table. “Anything needs fixing in the house, you call Otis, y’hear?”
It was only Otis that the colored and the white folks could agree on in this town: That he could fix anything.
Kyle dropped some extra bills on the pile. “And you get yourself something . . a dress, a pretty one, for the next time I see you,” although he didn’t say when that might be.
He put his wallet away, turned and took her in his arms.
They moved slow to the music coming in from the other room. Kyle kissed her face; her skin, sweet chocolate.
“I love you,” he reminded her. “Don’t you ever go forgetting that.” He made her promise she wouldn’t, his blue eyes studying her hard.
The music ended, but he held her still, until that moment he had to go. Outside he fought to get in his car. He wanted to stay as much as the children begged him to, but they all knew he couldn’t. He told them he loved them, admonished that they mind their mama.
The children ran after his car as he pulled out of the drive, headed up the street. He watched them from the rearview mirror — standing in the middle of the street, waving and calling out to him —until Dolores came and led them back to the house.
Kyle pulled into the drive. He sat in the car momentarily, before he got out and went inside.
Kyle Jr. was sitting at the piano before the window, one arm bent, his head resting in its palm. With one finger from his other hand, he annoyingly pounded the same ivory key again and again.
Kyle glanced at the timer sitting on the piano. Sympathetically, he brushed his son’s blonde locks from his forehead and said, “Only ten minutes more.”
“Kyle, is that you?”
“Yes, Dear,” Kyle said, heading to the closet in the foyer to hang up his jacket.
“You’re late, ” his wife said, coming up behind him.
“Something I needed to take care of,” he replied.
Taking her in his arms, he assured her they’d make their daughter’s recital on time. “Supper ready?” he asked, nuzzling her neck. “Cause I’m bout to have dessert right now.”
His wife giggled. She swatted his shoulder and gestured toward their son in the front room. Still her blue eyes glistened.
Kyle released his wife. “I’m gonna change.” He headed up the stairs.
“What kept you?” his wife asked. “Anything to do with the family?”
Kyle turned and looked at her, but he didn’t know what to say.