The soft whir of the DVD player was the only sound in the room. Chris sat on the sofa opposite the television, the remote control in his hand, though he didn’t intend to use it. He would just let the machine continue fast-forwarding.
On the screen, the video record of his daughter Becky’s life spun by. The smile he believed to be her first. Her masterpiece, Still Life with Smeared Pureed Pears and Cheerios on Tray Table. Her toddler form calming temporarily for a brief nap on his chest. The two of them running through the sprinkler. The perfectly orchestrated wedding service for her teddy bear and toy dog where Chris served as both best man and maid of honor. Her kerchiefed head at her sixth birthday party. Modeling her new coif when her hair returned once the treatments were over. His ex-wife Polly looking gaunt and tired—or simply angry about something—as she walked out of the auditorium with Becky after the second grade play. Back dives into the swimming pool at the resort in the Berkshires. Becky rolling her eyes at the camera during the school picnic. The forced laughter at the family reunion. The footage she took of him sleeping in the Adirondack chair on what would turn out to be his last full weekend at the house. Becky and Lonnie walking toward Becky’s room in this apartment before they closed the door on him.
Hours and hours of motion sped by at a greatly accelerated pace. Like a time-lapse image of Chris’s growing irrelevance in Becky’s life.
Chris had watched the old tapes often over the past four years. He’d done so several times since he’d finally gotten around to digitally transferring them six months ago. It was something to do on Friday nights. The first time he heard Becky’s preschool voice on the videos, he wept instantly. He missed that voice desperately, more than he’d even realized. He missed the way she spoke to him, how the sound of her saying the word “Daddy” defined everything that was right with the world. How she gave him every reason to believe that all promises could be fulfilled, all odds overcome. Becky’s voice had been dismissive tonight when he called the house. She had plans with her friends and she was running late. He was no competition for her eyeliner, let alone the schoolmates who would soon be waiting.
To make things worse, Polly had answered the phone. Always a highlight. At least when her second husband, Al, answered there was the possibility he might say something funny. When Polly got on the line, she always mentioned some newly discovered financial obligation or suggested obliquely that their household purred just a little less smoothly when he called. A month ago, he hadn’t phoned Becky at night for the first time since the divorce. He had been through a simply terrible day at work and he just didn’t have the emotional energy. He missed calling twice more after that. If Becky had noticed, she didn’t say anything about it.
The final images on the disc were less than a year old. His parents’ visit from Florida. Polly let him have Becky the entire weekend, and they spent Saturday in Essex and Old Saybrook. He bought Becky a bracelet in a craft store and she dangled it on her wrist in front of the camera, laughing carelessly. Chris had hated seeing his parents go that Sunday. Maybe it was time to get them up here again.
The phone rang and Chris hit the pause button on the remote. On the television, Becky walked ten feet ahead of him down Main Street in Essex.
The phone call was from a telemarketer who wanted to give Chris the opportunity to buy vacation property on Victoria Island in British Colombia. Chris had been to Victoria and thought it was beautiful, but he wasn’t sure why anyone thought a person from Connecticut would want to own a vacation house on the other side of the continent. He politely declined the “opportunity.” Pointless phone calls seemed to be the only ones he got at home. He’d been meaning for years to put his number on the nationwide no-call list for phone solicitations, but he just hadn’t managed to do so.
The interruption left him feeling miffed and unsettled. He probably should have let the answering machine pick up the call, but he’d never been able to do that. Even if he had, the ringing still would have distracted him, taken the focus from his viewing experience.
He looked at the television screen showing the back of his daughter. For the first time, he noticed a woman coming toward the camera. He didn’t recall seeing her there before. Probably because he was always looking at Becky. The woman was in her early twenties, pretty. Her face seemed somewhat familiar, though Chris couldn’t place it at all. She looked a little like his niece Kiley; maybe that was it. Obviously, he had seen the woman every time he watched this video, but it had only registered on his subconscious. Chris picked up the remote, flicked the DVD player out of pause, and watched the image on the screen come to life at normal speed. The woman passed the range of the camera and disappeared.
A moment later, Becky turned and made a face at him that said “Don’t you think you’ve used that thing enough today?” A few seconds after that the picture faded and the screen went blue.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish