Mimi thought our dad was pretty good. He wasn’t home much, but Mom said that was because he was an important man, and people everywhere wanted to know what he thought about things. “He misses you when he’s away,” she told us. “That’s why he always brings you presents.” One time, he brought us bright green T-shirts with drawings of dancing toucans on the front. “They’re from Caracas,” he said.
One Saturday, Mimi skipped into my bedroom. “Daddy’s here today,” she said smiling.
“Daddy loves me better than you because he calls me ‘Sweetie.’”
“I’m a boy. You’re not supposed to call boys ‘Sweetie.’”
“Mamma calls you Sweetie.”
“That’s because she’s a girl.”
“You’re stupid,” she said, and ran out. I followed.
She ran to the living room door and stopped. He sat in the rocking chair, watching sports in his pajamas.
She took my hand, turned around, and pulled me down the hall. Mom was still asleep, her stomach rising and falling in gentle waves.
“Mamma,” she whispered.
Mamma didn’t move.
Mimi reached forward and, using her thumb, lifted an eyelid. The eye quivered for an instant, then stopped and fixed its gaze on her. “What is it? What’s the matter?” she mumbled.
“I want to be with Daddy today,” Mimi said softly.
Mom rolled to the side, the smell of sleep billowing about her. “What do you mean?”
“What’s Daddy doing today?”
“I don’t think that he’s doing anything exciting, Honey,” she said. “He’s tired.”
“Will he take me to the park?”
“I don’t know. Why don’t you ask him?”
“I don’t want to. I’m scared.”
Mom collapsed onto her back and let out a long sigh. Then she propped herself up. “Ok,” she said, reaching for her robe. “I’ll go and see.”
When she came back, she sat beside us and stroked Mimi’s hair. “Your father doesn’t really want to do too much today, Honey, but he does have to go and pay the cable bill. You can go with him if you want.”
I went back to my room while Mom helped Mimi into the purple dress with the white flowers. When she was ready, Mimi pulled me back to the living room. He was still in his pajamas. “I’m ready Daddy,” she said.
He turned away from the screen and looked at her as though he had been startled. “Mamma said that we can go with you to pay the bill.”
“Oh. Okay.” A loud cheer burst from the television. “Let’s just watch a little of the game first.”
We went to the love seat and sat down in a sunbeam. I tried to watch the T.V., but soon got bored. Mimi sat next to me with her eyes closed and I knew that she was occupying herself with the game we played when we had to behave, which was to watch the blaze of red and yellow streaks across the orange background of our eyelids. I closed my eyes too. When Dad came back from getting dressed, he tapped me on the shoulder. “You guys ready?” he asked.
The sun glared off the BMW. I got in the front, while he lifted Mimi into the car seat behind me. He strapped her in and shut the door, leaving us alone, squashed by the heat. The leather seared the backs of my legs.
He started the engine, rolled down his window, and turned on the radio. Through the static, a man was talking loudly about Potamkin Chevrolet.
As we turned onto the side road that ran next to the park, Mimi gasped. The green field on our side of the car undulated with the unsteady gaits of turkey vultures. Huge, black, birds with pink, leathery heads, their wings outstretched like dark, feathery phantoms.
“Daddy!” she squealed. “Look! Look at the birds!”
“Yes,” he said. “Very nice.”
“Stop Daddy! Stop! I want to see them!”
“I have to mail this, Sweetie,” he proclaimed over the blare of the radio. “We’ll see it on the way back.”
She twisted in the seat, craning her neck to get a better view. The macabre flock disappeared around a corner.
When we got to the place, he leaned out and dropped an envelope into a mailbox.
“Well, hey there!”
It was Mr. Fisher.
Dad thrust his palm out the open window and Mr. Fisher grabbed it, his gold bracelet gleaming furiously in the sun. Dad reached over and silenced the radio.
“How ya been?”
“Great. Busy, but I’ve been meaning to have you over. I’ve just bought a compact disc player. Amazing sound.”
“I’ve heard that,” said Mr. Fisher with interest. “Works with lasers doesn’t it? Amazing. I’d love to give it a listen some time.”
“Absolutely. Some weekend when I’m in town you should come over. We’ll have some beers and watch a game.”
Behind me, Mimi was getting fidgety. It was hot. The sweat on the backs of my legs was causing them to stick to the seat uncomfortably. The sharp edges of the seat, where the leather had cracked, felt like daggers.
“Sounds good. I’ll bring the beer. How about that first half? Sutton should have had that catch in the end zone. Kosar puts it just where it needs to be, but his receivers don’t seal the deal. Why the hell can’t Johnson recruit any receivers? It’s like they all have fish in their arms.”
I leaned my head against the window and closed my eyes. I watched the red and yellow sparkles.
“I’m not worried. Nobody looks as good as the ‘Canes this year, and it’s only going to get better. They say this kid Testaverde’s got some kind of arm.”
“Well, he’d better. Johnson’s not gonna screw around. He knows we’ll boot his ass if he doesn’t produce.”
I opened my eyes when the car started to move. Dad turned the radio back on. The folks at Braman Honda must be crazy to offer these kinds of deals.
We turned down the park road but, when we got to the field, the birds were gone. Where before there had been an entire herd of vultures parading about, now there was just an empty space peppered with dandelions.
Mimi started to cry. Dad looked at her in the rear view mirror. “What’s the matter? What’s wrong?”
“They’re gone,” she sobbed. “The birds. Those big birds are all gone!”
“What birds, Sweetie?” he asked.