Art: Where are the 76 Candles_Light Them Quickly! by Kindra W.
Story by Laney Collins
“Laney, Laney, come look at this,” My dad ushered me over quietly. I tiptoed silently across the uneven tile toward him. He was eight feet away from the grimy sliding glass door, trying to stay hidden so they wouldn’t see him and get scared. I crouched down to peer through a clearer section of glass on the door. My dad’s wife was keeping watch at the kitchen window. Slowly, a grey fox creeped up the red stairs to the patio outside my dad’s house. He had left some bacon, leftover lunchmeat, potato chip crumbles and some pieces of a rotten apple for the fox’s dinner.
“That one’s Lefty,” my dad whispered. The fox’s left leg limped slightly. His nicknames were usually obvious. “Black tail” for the one with the black tail, “Shorty” for the smallest one. After eating its fill, the fox slinked back down the steps even though there was still about half of the haul left.
“It’ll come back,” my dad said, “They always nibble a little bit at a time and then they walk away and come back. You just have to be patient.”
I walked back over to the kitchen to peer out the window where my dad’s wife was. It gave us a better view of the whole back side of the property. I could see the fox walking slowly among the juniper trees. The fox blended in with the grey, rocky ground, only visible when it stood next to the various foliage my dad had bordered with chicken wire. His attempt to plant deciduous trees, annual flowers, and various vegetables in this arid climate made me think he must miss living in Colorado, where growing was significantly easier.
“This damn dirt is like clay,” he would say, “You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to dig up here, takes so much longer for things to grow. But it adds value to the property, you just gotta keep trying.”
Earlier we had taken a walk around the property, examining his 5000 feet of drip line he had so carefully routed. Budweiser in hand, he walked slowly on the rocky terrain. His bad knees slowed him down. I remembered him not being able to race me anymore at a certain point in my childhood and realizing he was getting older. Now there was no question if he could run anymore, even the stairs in his home posed a challenge. We stopped to look at one of the oak trees he had planted last year for me.
“I’ll probably be eight feet in the ground by the time this oak is taller than you,” he chuckled awkwardly, making light of his mortality. “But,” he said, changing tracks, “Trees are an investment for the future, you don’t get to see them when they reach their full glory.”
“Yeah, yeah I know,” I said, having heard this many times, “You’re financially driven. Trees add value to a property.” My dad owned a handful of homes and I was quite versed on the up and downs of real estate and landlordship. His goal of owning a home in every state was accumulating slower than he had hoped. So far, at 63, he had four states covered. He cracked his familiar bashful smile, one side of his mouth curving up more than the other. He always got bashful during his lectures.
“Well you gotta be, you can’t just give up. I got dreams, always have. You do too Collins, you have a business mind.”
We walked in silence for a moment as I speculated when his dreams would line up with living closer to me. I wondered if grandchildren would make a difference. At 26, the idea of motherhood wasn’t as alien as it had been when he moved away my freshman year of college. Instead of saying it out loud, I deferred to humour.
“Alright, Collins! I said, lightly punching his arm.
“Hey now! Parent abuse! Don’t hurt this fat, old, balding man,” he joked.
“Well you can cross fat off the list!” I said back at him. He had lost 30 pounds since I had seen him last year. “But you better add slow and dumb! Ha!” I shouted.
“You little punk!” He pretended to wind up a punch with his free hand.
We walked back inside, laughing. It was time to eat birthday cake, even though my birthday had been three months ago. We never saw each other on my birthday anymore. I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen my dad on my birthday, even before he moved to New Mexico.
My dad’s wife started to cut the cake and put it on plates. Whether my dad had messed something up or it was just cheap box bake, it was practically falling apart. Frosting it had been a nightmare. After we made our way over to the table my dad exclaimed, “Oh shit, what are we doing?” He started opening up drawers, “Where are the candles?”
My dad’s wife rolled her eyes, “They’re where they always are, honey.”
My dad placed candles on what remained of the cake. “We’ll just face this to the back for the picture,” he said, pointing at the missing portion and flashed his crooked grin.
My dad carried the cake over to the table and gave me matches. We were both laughing so hard at the absurdity of the cake, half sunken in with uneven chocolate frosting that it caused me to struggle lighting the candles, further delaying the main event and adding to the raucous laughter. Eventually, my dad started singing through the laughter while snapping pictures with his phone, the only light coming from the glow of the candles. His voice had never been anything great, always off key, never knowing how to match pitch, but I giggled and smiled. I was celebrating my birthday with my dad.