Twenty-four years passed before my daughter broached the origins of her given name.
I was confident, as most young parents are, the question would have come up much sooner. I thought- as she passed through the annals of adolescence, trying to hide joints in her school bag and dated boys (many of whom were of questionable character)- that she would pause a moment and look across the kitchen table, hazel burning holes in my morning paper and ask the inevitable.
“Dad?” I imagined she would say, somehow able to break the lone syllable in two and suggest the second half belonged to a higher octave.
“Why Skylar? Was there any point to it? Did Mom, like, find it in a baby name book or something?”
But the questions never came. When I looked over my paper, she would be avoiding my gaze, eyes swimming in the cereal bowl. Over the years, she seemed to eat a little faster and leave for school a little quicker. The playful conversations at dinner were replaced by deflections and defensive conversations.
By the time I could have a sincere conversation with Skye, one that didn’t include some form of omission, fib or white lie to make us feel like better parents, she was well into her twenties. Hair that used to reflect every other colour of a rainbow stabilized into a dark blonde. Makeup adopted moderation, and she wasn’t stapling piercings into every corner of her face. Skye dressed sharper, paid her own way through university working with my brother Luke on weekends, and fell in love.
In some ways, she came to embody the woman we named her after.
Just not at sixteen.
It wasn’t until after her mother’s funeral, on a lukewarm November evening in 2034, that she finally asked me.
The days leading up to the ceremony are some of the murkiest, mud-coloured of my life. I like to believe losing my partner of a quarter century was too traumatizing to remember.
I was fifty-five when she passed. The crinkle-free surface of my skin stepped aside for the creases of seniority. Gray streaks were rampant. She had been sick a long time, and I was happy just to have my hair. At my age, not every gentleman could make that claim. Looking around the church, as I presided over Claire’s casket for the hundred sets of staring eyes, standing beneath flowers that tried to take our loss and cover it in something beautiful, I tried to count how many I actually knew.
I tried to listen to their eulogies, their connections to my late wife that ranged from acquaintance to mother, co-worker to student. Several of her friends, and sister Renee, spoke.
I could only name a handful of them.
Skylar hung her head in contemplative silence. The dress she had chosen was the same one Claire had worn to her own mother’s funeral. Simple black and a flowered veil to match.
Jackie Kennedy, had she been a blonde and left the shades at home.
Skylar decided to stay in Ontario a few more days. Her fiance Eric, was able to stay for the service and then head back out West for work.
Eric is, by far, the most agreeable man my daughter ever dated. He works long hours, but treats her right and always brings cigars home with them.
I didn’t mind being left alone, even now. It would not have bothered me if my daughter was unable to stay. I have been a loner since my school days.
But Skylar, sensing I was more upset than I let on, was having none of that. We sat by two burning logs in the room we used to dwell as three, drinking French merlot; waiting in the dark to hear Claire’s footsteps, the hoarse voice she developed in her later years from smoking, or the furious movements of her pen as she graded quizzes for her tenth grade class.
“It’s so quiet,” Skylar said.
“I think the quiet’s here to stay.”
“So weird, isn’t it?”
“Pointing out how weird it is doesn’t make it any less weird.”
“Someone had to say it.”
“You know,” I said, “I remember we brought you home for the first time. Your Mom used to sit in that same armchair, and sing you to sleep. And what would she sing? Oh, everything. Knew the words to every song. I was lucky if I remembered two words of a line. But you name it, she knew it.”
“Mom had a good voice.”
“Yes, but she never sang for me. Only for you.”
“I tried to get her to sing for me on our second date. Took her out for karaoke. She refused to get up on stage. At first I thought, maybe this girl can’t sing. Maybe she’s embarrassed. Whatever. It didn’t matter.
“It was only a year or two later, on your Aunt Renee’s birthday, that I went out with her a second time to karaoke. Your Mom said she wouldn’t sing, but Renee got her to. They get up on stage, picked out some random song. Suddenly, it was like an angel was singing in front of me.”
“How do you know it wasn’t Aunt Renee?” Skylar asked.
“Because I know for a fact that she couldn’t hit a key to save her life. Still can’t. As for your Mom, I never figured out why she refused to honour my song requests. All I know is that once you were here, she had no problem at all.”
“I always noticed some animosity between you and Aunt Renee. Is there a story to that?”
“My girl,” I grinned, “there’s a story for everything.”
“So, the creepy bird above our mailbox?”
“Your mother found it at a flea market in Florida. I tried to talk her out of it. What else you got?”
“The swords in the basement.”
“Uncle Luke won them at a stag and doe when he was twenty and managed to stab himself in the foot with one of them at the same party. I confiscated them and have had them ever since.”
“The picture of you and some blonde girl in that chest kicking around the attic. There’s gotta be something there.”
“You know; the one with the black frame that looks like you bought it from Dollarama?”
“What’s wrong with Dollarama frames?”
Skye shook her head and giggled, reminiscent of when she was a little girl.
“You’re such a guy, Dad. But, um, seriously. Who is she?”
Did you look it up in a baby book or something?
It wasn’t the exact phrasing I had in mind for my rehearsed answer, but it was the closest my daughter ever came.
“She’s the woman you’re named after.”
“That’s right. Mind you, the picture itself is from college. But not a year before your mom got pregnant with you, I ran into her again.” I tried to recall what photograph she had found, and the face beside my own; shoulder-length blonde hair, eyes like an ocean just before the storm.
“‘Ran’ into her? You make it sound like you two hooked up in some seedy bar.”
I lit a cigarette. The heat instantly soured my palate and spoiled my breath. In the fifty-odd years I had been on this planet, society had progressed from alleviating the common cold to negotiating the end of cancer. Half a million people still died of smoking-related disease every year.
“Believe it or not,” I replied, “we did.”
“You cheated on Mom?” The question could have easily been asked by her expression alone. Mouth agape, wide-eyed. Kids still say the darndest things.
“God no, child. Keep your voice down.”
“Dad, that’s what hook up means. You know? To hook up.”
“You’ll have to forgive me. I’m old and out of touch with lingo the current slate of youth has taken to.”
“What did she want? This woman. Skylar.”
I mulled on her inquiry a moment, absently pulling more smoke into my lungs but forgetting to exhale. A maelstrom of chemical bliss flooded my brain before settling to the bottom of my lungs, leaving the same dull ache I experienced almost on a daily basis. I was beginning to feel the same way about smoking I learned from hangovers after the age of thirty; that consequences suck.
“What did Skylar want?”
I paused again, lost in a different place than my child, but not as long this time.
“She wanted to-she wanted to tell me she was dying.”
“And did she?” Skylar asked. “Die?”
(Beth will never be able to end my life.)
“Oh,” she said, “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. Been a long time. Funny side of it is, had that sort of thing happened now, it would be nothing. She would probably still be alive.”
(You’re the guy who does the right thing.)
“So what happened, exactly?”
“Come again?” I asked, after another prolonged pause.
“What happened with all that?”
(The right thing.)
“That’s a long story, kid, and it’s late.”
“I got time,” Skylar replied, holding up the bottle of wine. A yellow banner stretched around its equator, rubber-stamped with a black bird against the tinted glass. The booze inside could be heard sloshing against the sides, but impressively camouflaged itself in bottled-necked darkness. “And alcohol.”
I lit another cigarette between my lips.
“It’s your funeral, kid.”
Leonard the Liar by Nicholas Gagnier is scheduled for release on Tuesday, July 24th and will be available on Amazon.com