Tripping With Dad – Part One

Family story by Lee Anne Hill: a girl tries connecting with her emotionally estranged father by getting him to watch a movie with her.

Serial Fiction

In the bathroom of the hotel lobby I stared past the finger-smudges and backsplash at my frowning reflection. I’d done my hair three times already; once in the room and twice in the elevator on the way down, but I was determined to have one last go at making the perfect ponytail.

‘You still in there? What are you doing?’ Dad’s voice barely penetrated the wall.

‘Just a sec, Dad! What do you think I’m doing in here? I’m getting ready!’ I snorted sharply through my nose and slapped the cheap polyurethane counter. I was finding it hard to look at Dad after last night. It was our first trip away together since Mom died and things were not off to a good start.

Yesterday we had arrived in Kansas City for the Joe Trevaine dance competition. This was a big deal in the dance world. Dance companies from all over the country came to battle with their national rivals for trophies and glory. It was my first time competing with my company: Forest Planes Dance Academy, and I was feeling the pressure. Dancing was never something I was particularly passionate about as a little girl. I never wore an adorable tutu or dreamed of being a Sugar Plum Fairy. Really, I suppose I became involved in dance as a distraction from the maudlin atmosphere at home after Mom got sick, plus my best friend Joey belonged to the dance company and he thought I’d enjoy it. He wasn’t wrong. There was something quite magical about prancing around in fancy shoes to melancholy music.

Although I enjoyed it, I was never very good at it. I failed terribly at jazz dance. The movements were too precise for my clumsy limbs to follow. I tried ballet too, but that was worse. All the girls were thinner than me and had been making those shapes with their bodies since they could walk. I couldn’t even touch my toes. The only dance that I understood was lyrical. It was supposed to be a blend of modern dance and ballet; slow, graceful movements, with a modern edge. We danced to artists like Tori Amos and made our bodies do sad things to accompany sad songs. It was very cathartic.

‘Do you need any help?’

‘NO!’ I winced at my own bark, and then softened my voice. ‘No thanks, Dad. No help required. If you came in here you’d get arrested anyway. I’ll be out in a sec.’ I strained my ears for a response, and sighed into the silence. I buried my fingers in my scalp one last time and tugged. I couldn’t face him just yet.

 

Yesterday had been my first day of rehearsals. I’d been doing the same routine all day. I’d been wearing spandex all day. I thought the best way to spend the evening would be in the hotel room watching a movie and pigging out on room service with Dad. We never did much together before Mom died; now that she was gone I felt like he avoided me more than ever. I wasn’t sure where he spent his nights, but it wasn’t at home. It was an unnatural occurrence if I saw him more than twice in one week and if I did, he was usually running out the door. I hoped this would be the trip to change all that.

After rehearsals had ended and we were tucked up inside our room for the night I started trying to convince Dad to watch a movie with me. He never liked films; he wouldn’t even take me when I was a child. When I begged him to take me to see The Little Mermaid, his response was; ‘My butt will fall asleep. Go play with your dolls.’ After many failed attempts, my family had sworn a solemn oath to not make him watch more than one film in a year. We usually cashed this in on Christmas Day, after the Chinese food.

I rested my cheek on his shoulder and made my voice really high, like when I was little.

‘Daaaaad,’

‘What do you want?’ He patted my head as if I was a stray, stinky dog.

‘I just thought that since this is our first trip away together we could watch a movie.’ I held my breath and crossed my fingers. ‘What do you say?’ I squeaked.

The disgust on his face implied I’d made a more sinister request. ‘Is it Christmas?’

‘Obviously not, but can I cash in my Christmas movie now?’ I clasped my hands together, stuck out my bottom lip and made it quiver.

He exhaled slowly through the side of his mouth and grimaced before waving a dismissive hand in my direction. ‘Go ahead, but nothing with sex or violence. Pick a science fiction movie or something. ‘

‘Yes!’ This was a small victory, but it felt monumental to me. I pictured us watching the film together, eating room service and then afterwards talking for hours about the multi-faceted characters and the twisty plot. We might finally have something to say to each other. I thought it was going to be great.

 

Thank you for reading and stay tuned for part two!

 

more by LEE ANNE HILL

photograph by Matthew Wiebe

 

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