She got up from her computer and looked at the metal clock she got at forty percent off last Christmas Eve. Eleven ten am. She was late again for Sunday brunch at her father's.
No doubt she'd hear it from his wife Linda. Ronnie took all the lecturing like a champ, sitting still and nodding her head, because all the while Linda hissed at her Ronnie thought of the sale sites she'd hit up later. It was only when the woman's fat finger waved in her face that Ronnie couldn't fake listening. "Veronica, time is more valuable than money," she would say through gritted teeth. "And you consistently rob your father and me of our time."
It was then that Ronnie would look at her father sitting in his cracked Naugahyde chair staring at his 19" TV and wonder what he would do if she bit his wife's finger. "Not a damn thing," she thought.
As much as she hated the woman, Ronnie knew grabbing something from her gift stash would appease Linda because neither she nor her father ever spent a dime on anything "impractical." Ronnie opened the large, converted coat closet and paused. Hundreds of items, sparkly and soft and silky, huddled together in unopened, plastic bags. She grabbed a black-and-white deco scarf that she had bought the night her boyfriend broke up with her and headed out.
Driving, Ronnie kept an eye on the tank which was hovering near empty. She debated stopping for gas, but realized that she had left the one credit card that wasn't maxed out yet by her desk. She had been so relieved when the Armani purse order went through that she forget to put the card back in her wallet. The car made it to her dad's house, but she was certain that she wouldn't be able to start up it up again when it was time to leave.
Even though she was already late, Ronnie stood against the 10-year-old Buick her father had given her and stared at the ranch house in which she was raised. What used to look white to her as a child now just looked sad and gray.
Ronnie headed up the walkway. Sitting next to the front door on a worn-out mat was Bacchus, the dog Ronnie and her mom had rescued 13 years ago from the pound. His small fluffy frame seemed even thinner than the week before. "Hey sweet boy," Ronnie cooed, though she knew his deaf ears couldn't hear her. She adjusted his green rhinestone collar and kissed him on the head, thinking back to the day she and her mom snuck out of the house to get him. It was Ronnie's 8th birthday, and though neither of them knew it at the time lung cancer was already snaking insidiously through her mother's body. Within four months she'd be dead.
Ronnie rang the bell and held the scarf by her side. She was braced for Linda's verbal assault. Instead her father answered the door.
"You're late," her dad said softly. He was wearing the same brown cardigan he wore every Sunday since she knew him.
Ronnie took a step forward to head inside but her father didn't move.
"I know, Dad, I'm sorry. It's just that..."
"It doesn't matter, Veronica."
Ronnie blanched upon hearing her given name come out of her father's mouth. He had stopped calling her Veronica on the day her mother died. The night of the funeral, after clearing their two lonely dishes, she and her dad sat by the fireplace as she showed him the shiny objects she had collected at the cemetery. A young Bacchus watched their interaction intently from her mother's armchair. "You're like a Magpie," her dad said proudly, "my beautiful, little Maggie."
Ronnie pretended not to notice anything amiss and instead held up the scarf for him to take. "Here, this is for Linda."
"Linda's not home. She grew tired of waiting," he said, shaking his head in refusal.
Ronnie started to protest but her dad stopped her. "Your landlord called this morning. He said your two months behind again."
When Ronnie had signed her lease, she knew putting her father's name down was going to come back to bite her, but her credit was so bad that she had no choice. His score, on the other hand, was almost near perfect. "Dad, I know I was going to talk to you about that. I was hoping you could help me. Just this last time. If you'd just let me in."
Ronnie's dad looked at her, his eyes moist with tears. Ronnie started to panic. The only other time she had ever seen him cry was when her mother declared she couldn't go on any longer, that the pain was too much. "Maggie, I'm sorry. I just can't give you the help you need," he said, before picking up Bacchus and closing the door.
Ronnie stood for a moment staring at the chipped paint of the frame before heading back to the car. As expected when she turned the ignition, nothing happened. From somewhere buried deep in her, she started sobbing. Soon the sobbing turned to howling. She thought of returning to the house and banging on the door, but she knew there was no going back. Instead she ripped open the plastic, blew her nose in the scarf and got out of the Buick and walked away.