My dear girl, I told her, you can’t live on what he makes. That pitiful sum. There’s field hands bring home more than that. But Daddy, he loves me, she said, and you want to know what I said to her?
He smoked DuMaurier cigarettes, and sat in his dark red leather chair. Words flowed from his mouth like lava from Etna. Verbal meanderings, of an all-too-often frightening length.
I sat on a loveseat of sea-green velour. I didn’t answer; I didn’t look up. I kept my eyes on the book in my hand.
I say, you know what I told her?
Hello? I said, do you know what—
I heard you. I’m trying to read.
Oh well a thousand pardons then. Anyway, I said, rubbish. Horse piddle, I said. You can’t live on love—I’ve been on this earth a good many years, I said, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned—
I put down my book with a weary air.
Why do you do it.
You’re speaking in riddles tonight, my dear. Why do I do it? Do what precisely? I’d like to know what I’m being accused of here.
Why do you talk so much.
A great hoarfrost descended; the room grew cold as Scrooge’s bed chamber and twice as tight as old Ebenezer himself.
Well, he harrumphed, snuffing out a half-smoked DuMaurier. I’m ever, ever, ever so sorry. Boring you, am I. My stories aren’t scintillating enough to suit you, is that it. Talked your ear off, prattling on—
Two minutes? Two minutes what. What two minutes.
Make it easy then, one. One minute of silence. No talking. I’ll bet you anything you can’t.
Oh my, a whole minute—I could go a whole year if I had to.
I looked at my watch as he pursed his lips and sucked in his cheeks. Ready, set—go, I said, and he gripped the dark red arms of his chair like a man thinking twice of a carnival ride.
At seventeen seconds the hoarfrost gave way to a bone-chilling mist such as one is hard pressed to find outside of the Moors.
At twenty-nine seconds, a vase of yellow daisies withered.
At thirty-six seconds, salamanders popped out of the wainscoting.
He lifted his head at forty-two seconds. Slowly, as one might the lid of a Pandora’s box.
I can’t, he said.
No. No I didn’t think so.
Silence covered the room like a hundred-foot wave of pure grade molasses. A grand bit of irony. Ages had passed when he finally spoke.
That was very…cruel, of you.
It wasn’t meant to be, I said.
I sat on my loveseat of sea-green velour. He sat in his dark red leather chair. I picked up my book. The open page was an illustration; ramparts of a kingdom lay in water green as currency.
I don’t think I can forgive you, he said.
He lit a DuMaurier, and sighed.
What is it you’re reading, anyway?
Smoke from his cigarette curled in the air.
The Fall of Atlantis, I replied.