Take, Take, Take by Adam Giles
The dad picks the daughter up from school and the daughter pulls a donation form from her backpack. They’re collecting to restock the library after some grade eights broke in one weekend, set the sprinklers off, and flooded the place.
“Can I get you on the weekend?” says the dad, thinking this is actually a decent opportunity to connect with her, to show her he’s not the absentee career-obsessed parent from her younger years. “Payday’s Friday.”
The daughter sighs and pulls a peach from her lunch bag—soft and bruised—and whips it against the back window where it splatters like detonated flesh.
“Put me down for twenty,” says the dad. “I’m good for it.”
The dad and the son push a wobbly cart through the automatic sliding doors at the grocery store. Two junior air cadets in full dress uniform block the second set of automatic sliding doors. They tell of their struggles to afford the costly aircraft fuel to finish their requisite flight hours. This while employing various bodily contortions to subtly draw attention to the boxes with coin slots hanging from their respective necks.
“Come on, Dad,” says the son. “Don’t make them go infantry.”
The dad reaches into his pocket. He finds no coins, just a ten.
“Bills fit,” says the first junior air cadet.
“Yeah, see?” says the other, taking the ten, folding it neatly, and popping it decisively through the coin slot.
The junior air cadets part, granting the dad and the son entry to the produce section where it occurs to the dad that he left the grocery list on the vanity beside the toilet at home.
Sunday morning at church, the collection basket comes first to the daughter who passes it to the son who passes it to the dad.
“Jesus died on the cross so you could watch football for sixteen weeks,” the pastor says. “Plus playoffs.”
Men of the congregation close their eyes and nod like: Preach, Father, Preach. “Least you can do is contribute to the maintenance of The House of Jesus,” the pastor says.
The dad doesn’t even like football. Never understood the stop-and-go, stop-and-go. It’s testosterone, interrupted. It drains him. Plus, the marble and oak in this particular House of Jesus shine like new. What maintenance is there?
The dad goes to pass the basket to the elderly woman in the feathery hat next to him, but the son elbows the dad. “Mom said to make sure you pay for our sins.”
The dad looks at the son, gauging the extent to which he’s serious. The son is unflinching. From his Sunday pants, the dad comes up with a handful of change: the odd quarter, but mostly dimes and nickels. He opens his palm and the coins rain down into the basket.
“Hope you didn’t do anything expensive,” says the dad.
The son, avoiding the issue, turns back to the pastor who’s going on about how regular maintenance, being attentive, and, more specifically, honouring one’s vows are the keys to keeping something together. This while, oddly, eyeing the dad. Then he peps up and changes the topic to next week’s confession-a-thon fundraiser.
The dad has his face in his hands in his cubicle when the head of the office’s social committee comes around selling 50/50 tickets. This is always awkward.
“Do I have a fifty per cent chance of winning?” the dad jokes, which puts the head of the social committee in hysterics.
Her palm goes to her chest and she calms down. “Okay, seriously, three tickets for five bucks.”
“I’m a little light, Alicia.”
“Fuck you, Doug.”
The dad’s in his underwear on the couch, basking in the last half hour of quiet before the mom drops the son and the daughter off for his half of the week. The doorbell rings. The dad checks the clock—they’re early. He scrambles for pants and gets the door.
“Afternoon, sir,” says a lady with a clipboard and photo ID in a lanyard swaying from her neck.
Ah fuck. “No thanks,” says the dad and goes to close the door.
“Please sir, just a minute of your time.”
And like an idiot he leaves the door open a crack.
“Sir, are you aware of the atrocities being done to animals around the globe?”
The dad scratches his head, but it isn’t itchy. “Somewhat.”
“Sir, all around the globe—”
“Atrocities are being done to animals?”
“Sir, yes. And I’m with an organization that’s trying to curb this.” The lady turns the clipboard around and shows the dad a laminated photo of a potbelly pig with the dramatic enlarged eyes of youth.
“This one looks fine.”
“Look, I don’t have anything to give right now,” says the dad.
The mom’s Toyota pulls up and the son and the daughter get out. They come to the door.
“Aww, look at him,” says the daughter, re: the pig.
“Get your big fat head out of the way,” says the son, and shoves the daughter so he can see.
“You’re getting a pig, Dad?”
“Awesome!” says the daughter.
“For just fifteen dollars a month, you can sponsor an animal in need,” says the lady.
“Animals like Enrique here.”
“Sponsor Enrique, Dad,” says the daughter.
“Yeah, we can turn him into bacon,” says the son.
“No you can’t,” says the lady. “The atrocities, we’re curbing them.”
The daughter and the son stand on the porch looking at the dad with the dramatic enlarged eyes of youth. The mom snaps a salute out the driver’s side window at him as she drives off. And the lady in the lanyard readies a pre-authorized payment form on her clipboard, awaiting the dad’s MasterCard.
In the glow of a late-night weight loss pill infomercial, the dad tosses back another whiskey and calls the mom. He gets her voicemail. She no doubt has the firefighter over, the one who posed shirtless (and pantless—naked, in fact, except for the helmet over his crotch) for that charity calendar. He’s so selfless. And chiseled.
“Is this what we meant when we said attentiveness forever, Shauna?” The dad fixes on the infomercial’s stream of before-and-after pictures, everyone going from sweaty hunched slobs to tall-standing go-getters, and it occurs to him that his transformation has gone in the reverse direction. “You’ve moved on, I get that. I hope you’re enjoying his hose. Never mind, that’s not funny—I’m drinking. Anyway, you’re right: you were always give, give, give and I never gave you anything back. But don’t we owe it to the kids to give it one last shot?”
On screen, a doctor holds a clipboard and lists side effects: insomnia, dry mouth, irritability, rectal bleeding.
“Shauna, don’t make me do any more time. We can work at this, build it back up. I’ll do anything. Alicia was a mistake. She didn’t mean anything to me. You’re the one I want to do regular maintenance on.”
The dad sits on the bus, box of personal effects from the office on his lap. Brian had called the dad in for a meeting and said that the company “frowns upon” inter-office affairs.
“Also, Alica’s a mess,” Brian said. “She’s been fishing for compliments on Facebook for weeks.”
Mercifully, the dad has three days until he has the kids again—three days to figure out how he’s going to keep up appearances, how he’s going to sell the son and the daughter on the idea that he’s not your run-of-the-mill deadbeat, the kind of parent who might be described in the “early years” section of a successful person’s Wikipedia page. Because it won’t be long until the book fair order forms roll in. And if not the book fair, it’ll be class trips or the diabetes people or soccer or the homeless. And when the dad puts his foot down and says no, there is no more money, that’s when they’ll finally turn on him. That’s when it will be unanimous that the dad is the bad guy. The one they knew in their younger years.
Adam Giles’s short fiction has won the University of Toronto Magazine Short Story Contest and been named runner-up in Sarah Selecky’s Little Bird Writing Contest. His stories have also been longlisted for PRISM international’s Fiction Contest, the House of Anansi Broken Social Scene Story Contest, and the Penguin Random House of Canada Student Award for Fiction. His fiction has appeared in Riddle Fence: A Journal of Arts & Culture, The Summerset Review, and Kudzu House Quarterly. In the Twitterverse, he’s @gilesadam.