Fake Lives Matter
Molly McQuaid sat in the auditorium study hall with her face buried in a paperback novel. It was her first day back at school after being out for two weeks following the death of her father. She wanted to be left alone and most kids respected her wishes, mostly because they didn't know what to say to her anyway.
"Tell me about your father."
Molly looked up to see Mags Martin sitting sideways in the row of seats in front of her staring at her. She knew him mostly because of their closeness in alphabetized names. Since the start of middle school, they had often been seated close to one another and their lockers were only separated by Julie Matthews. But they really didn't know each other very well - she was a bruly band geek and he was one of the show off jocks popular because he wore various school sports uniforms.
"He died," Molly informed him blankly.
"Yeah, but what was he like?" Mags wanted to know.
"What do you care?" Molly frowned, her voice resentful and angry.
Mags left his seat, walked out of his row of chairs and into hers, sitting in the empty seat next to her.
"My Mom died two years ago," he said. "Nobody said a word. Everybody was afraid to talk to me. They didn't know what to say so they didn't say anything. As far as they were concerned, she really hadn't died. It was the loneliest time of my life."
Molly stared at him with disbelief, amazed at his honest revelation but feeling frightfully vulnerable to even consider talking to him.
"You don't have to be nice to me," she muttered.
"I'd really like to hear about your Dad," Mags said sincerely.
Molly stared at him. He wasn't the best looking guy in the class (not that she really paid attention to that stupid vain stuff) but he was nice enough from her observations (for a jock). She couldn't imagine why he who was popular with the girls was bothering to chat it up with her. She wasn't fat but she was husky, taller than the other girls in her class. She kept her curly black hair relatively short and she had more freckles than acne - although she wasn't sure which was worse.
"Tell me about your Dad," he said softly.
"I don't suppose I really knew him," Molly said. "I mean, I knew him as a Dad but not necessarily as a man or a person."
"What do you remember about him?" Mags asked.
"I remember him carrying me up to bed even after I was too big for that sort of thing when I'd fall asleep on the couch watching TV."
"I remember him standing at the kitchen sink in the shadows after dinner washing the dishes even though he was the bread winner and my mother was a stay at home Mom. He wanted to do his part domestically."
"That was nice of him," Mags said.
"Sometimes I'd come downstairs for a drink after I was supposed to be in bed and he'd be sitting at the kitchen table in the dark alone with a cigarette and a beer."
Mags nodded his head while Maggie continued talking.
"I remember waking up to a huge fight between my parents downstairs. I heard the front door slam and I went to the bedroom window to see my father walking off in a snow storm. I was afraid I'd never see him again." She shuddered at the memory. "I remember him bringing ice cream home for me when I was sick. I remember him teaching me how to swing dance in the living room. I used to love to watch my parents dance."
"That's a nice memory," Mags smiled.
"I remember the Police coming to the house to tell my mother my father had been in a car accident," Molly sighed. "That was the last time he drove."
"Oh," Mags said.
"I bet you didn't know my dad was an all-state football player in high school," Molly said.
"I didn't," Mags admitted.
"Sadly, years of smoking and drinking and overeating caught up to him," she sighed. "But he'd still chase the dog around the back yard!"
Mags laughed with approval.
"I remember his white spaghetti strap tee shirts and black pants," she said. "I remember the ballgames on the kitchen radio late at night. He served in Vietnam but never talked about it. I think he fell out of a helicopter once. I remember that he was a good cook, usually on the weekends to give my mother a break. I remember his strong work ethic. He never missed a day at the factory even when he was sick. I remember his sense of humor - how he'd laugh at the silliest of things and how he'd try to get me to laugh when I was mad or upset. I didn't always understand him but I always loved him."
"And he loved you," Mags said with sincerity. "Never forget that."
He stood and started to walk away.
"Mags?" Molly called after him.
"Yeah?" He said, glancing back at her.
"Thanks," she said.
He nodded. "Anytime," he said with sincerity.
The next day Molly was walking up the front walk of the school when she saw Mags sitting on the brick school wall sign going over some notes for an upcoming class.
"Tell me about your mother," she said when she reached the sign.
Mags glanced up and smiled when he saw it was her. "Thanks for asking," he said. "She was the best nurse there ever was. All the kids in the neighborhood came to her with their scrapes and cuts. I remember I was at the grocery store with her one time and the butcher sliced his hand open pretty good. My mom applied a tourniquet and waited with him for the EMTs to arrive. She was a great mom who baked the best apple pies in the world. She came into my room every night to kiss me goodnight. I miss her every day."
Molly nodded, smiled bravely and walked into the school feeling better that she had asked.