Casey felt a wad tighten in her throat, an apprehension she wasn't sure she could swallow. "You can do this," she said, clutching the package in her arms against her chest. Then she faced the home of her childhood -- the white frame that reminded her of Mom and the dark trim that represented her father's fierce moods. Mom could be counted on to appear in predictable patterns as needed, available at every corner. Unfortunately, she gave too much and too easily. Eventually her husband's dark spirit took over and her brightness faded. So did the house and everything in it.
Casey's mom had died the previous year.
The package that Casey clutched, a box of golf balls wrapped in plain blue paper, seemed heavier than it was as she walked up the steps and knocked on the door. Of course she didn't expect a thank you. She didn't even think dear-old-dad would bother to unwrap it. But she didn't really care; her visit had been planned. She had about twenty minutes to drop off the gift, offer a mandatory happy birthday, and get back to work.
Dad seemed surprised as he opened the door. "You won't believe what came by Express Mail today."
"Since I won't guess you may as well show me. By the way, happy birthday and many more. I'm on my lunch hour, but thought I would stop by." She couldn't tell whether or not he heard her, but she didn't bother to repeat herself. If he hadn't listened the first time he wouldn't open his ears the second time either.
She set her package on the table by the front door and followed him to the kitchen. His hands shook as he handed his daughter a card that had come with a pot of lilies, what he often called death flowers; they reminded him of funeral homes. Of course when his wife had lain with a pot at her head and another at her feet, he had scarcely reacted.
Casey read the card in as monotone a voice as she could manage:
Happy Birthday to my husband. Special wishes. Just for you. May you get everything you deserve. And more.
"But it can't be. It can't be." He yanked the card back and stared at the handwriting as he absently ran his hand over the top of his kitchen chair as if it were a foreign object. No piece of furniture in his house had changed position during the past three decades. He slumped into the chair and opened his mouth, but nothing came out except a dry gasp.
Casey watched as he rubbed his fingers over the lettering.
"What do you think it means?" he asked.
"Can't say. Do you want me to throw it out, Dad?" She answered with a controlled calm she would have given her mother years ago if she could. She watched her father's hands tremble, the same hands that often snapped a belt against her mother's shoulders for offenses such as leaving a basket of laundry unfolded. The hands that left bruises, always a few fresh blue patterns. She remembered her mother's cries for her to get out before he got her, too, because he had beaten Casey, too. And she didn't know which hurt more, the pain of the strikes or the pain of leaving her mother to take all his fury.
Casey had been a frightened kid until the age of eighteen when she could move out -- with a man who didn't respect her either. But she had learned self-care and started over, even if she couldn't convince her mother to do the same.
"I'll take the card, Dad. Run it through the shredder at the office."
"Will that make it go away?"
"Make what go away?"
"Mom's presence. Margaret. What did you think I was talking about?"
"Got to go, Dad. Work is really busy this time of year."
"Don't leave. I mean. Um. You don't believe in ghosts, do you, Casey?"
"Relax. Even if Mom has come back, nobody was kinder than she was."
"This isn't the first note. I got another one last week. In Mom's handwriting. It said to expect something special that would arrive soon. No return address."
"This nervousness is doing you no good at all. Open the gift I brought for you. Golf balls. Your favorite brand. On the front table. Maybe getting out in the open air would be good for you. Just remember, like I already said, Mom was kind, always kind."
Casey thought about patting her father's shoulder, but that felt artificial. Besides, he saw her as nothing but a woman. "Bye, Dad. I have a meeting this afternoon, but you can call later."
She considered blowing a kiss, but that seemed even phonier. He didn't look up as she walked out. She was certain he didn't know she had worked for months until she had perfected her mother's unique left-handed slant, the way she squeezed street numbers together as if they would lose themselves if they were separated, her uneven spacing between letters, and then finally -- Love, Margaret.
However, as Casey drove to work she felt a vague sense of dissatisfaction grow inside her. But why? She had won. Her father now understood fear. But the memories of his cleated foot against her thigh, the terror that appeared in dreams for years, came back as if she lived that life today.
She expected to feel triumph. Instead the past seemed locked inside her as tightly as it always had. Then a strong wind that came from nowhere hit the right side of the car as she parked in the office lot.
When she picked up her purse from the passenger's side she noticed a wrinkled paper stuck to the windshield. She almost ignored it until she saw familiar handwriting in large lettering.
Sweetheart, I have forgiven him. I am happy. Sometimes there is no better revenge. Love, Mom.
Casey gasped and looked around her. No one else was anywhere in sight. She decided to show the message to her best friend in the cubicle adjoining hers.
Her words came out in broken syllables. "This was on my windshield when I came back from visiting my Dad."
"Why would you bother to see him? Wasn't he abusive?"
"So why are you showing me a blank sheet of paper?" her coworker asked.
Casey looked at the paper, now blank and shook her head. "You see there was this strange wind that came up like a mini tornado, and ..." She couldn't think of any way to explain words that appeared and then disappeared.
"Maybe it's a symbol for starting over." Casey's friend said. "Want to go out for dinner tonight? We could ask some of the other girls, too. There's this new place uptown. We can talk. Share a little bit."
"Okay. But, I'm going to be starting from a really peculiar place."
Casey had told her father twice: Nobody was kinder than Mom. Nobody was kinder than Mom. But maybe, in time, she could work toward becoming a close second.