It was December, but Bonnie’s Dad had disappeared.
It wasn’t one of those two-day things this time. Some of his stuff was missing, and there were no cigarettes and ashtrays around. There were no little brown beer bottles in the kitchen, and she thought she’d seen a suitcase in the hall one night.
There was no sign of him.
Ava seemed wrung out, yet a little relieved. Jeff was in and out all times of the day and night. Brock was around but cranky. Dawn wasn’t as busy with her friends as usual. She had dancing, which she was so good at there was talking of going to the National Academy. But she was often home, doing a lot of housecleaning.
For a few years, Dad or no Dad, the Randalls had little concerts in their family room. Leah often showed up from Vancouver with her guitar, and she and Bonnie sang their hearts out. Often the other kids joined in, especially at Christmas. There was a fireplace, and the family room was comfortable, familiar. No matter what had happened, the house usually looked the same as always, complete with kids, cats and a dog.
Looking back, it almost seems as though Dean disappeared shortly after the horse did. Hogan’s tenure in the boarding stable in the next community over was a kind of guilt-ridden relief for Bonnie. Meanwhile Dean’s leave-taking was a reprieve for Ava, who had been enduring increasing episodes of verbal abuse from the father of her children.
Bonnie confronted Ava one evening, when Ava’s feet were sore from work at the busy restaurant and she was so tired she couldn’t get up.
‘He is with a woman he works with,’ Ava said. ‘She’s a few years older than you are.’
‘Oh,’ breathed Bonnie. ‘Do the other kids know?’
‘I told Jeff yesterday,’ said her mother. ‘And I think the young ones figured it out.’
A vision of Dawn, sweeping, popped into Bonnie’s head.
‘What will happen?’ Bonnie asked, searching her mother’s lovely eyes.
‘I wish I knew,’ said Ava. ‘I’m trying to plan ways we can manage.’
Ava was a young mother. She had started her family at nineteen years old. Several boys who had called on Bonnie over the years had nearly fallen off the porch when Ava came to the door. She had milk-white skin, sparkling blue eyes, a full mouth and a shapely figure.
Even when utterly beat, she was very pretty. For this, her husband hated her. In his rabid periods, he tormented his attractive, earnest wife with accusations of infidelity, stupidity, and of all things, arrogance.
Previously, Bonnie and the other kids had worried about bringing friends to their house after school or on weekends because of their Dad’s morose, weird silent periods. Now, things had changed. Dramatically.
Since their father had taken lately to screaming and laughing at their Mum, the kids were witnessing the action, especially when the brown bottles were around. When the kids tried to intervene, Dad loved the added drama and just ramped up the craziness.
The two older kids took the selfish way out: Bonnie and Jeff hopped into the cars their father had encouraged them to buy – with financing – and took off in different directions.
Behind them they left two anxious children, one still in elementary school, to hang around at home while Ava was at work and wonder what would happen next. Often Brock watched football on television. Since no one else did, Dawn frequently cleaned.
Now Dad was staying somewhere else. During this strangest of Decembers, the kids and Ava went with the Toyota wagon to get the Christmas tree, and decorated it in peace. Leah came over one night with her guitar and the kids, temporarily reunited, sang carols together. Things felt almost normal.
Oddly, there were almost no Christmas cards through the mail slot this year to their family. Most years there were about a hundred, and Ava would festoon the louvers on the front hall closet doors with the warm messages. This year there were about five. On Christmas Eve, there was still no sign of Dad.
Then, it was Christmas morning. There was an atmosphere of quiet suspense. The doorbell rang, and Bonnie went to answer.
No one had ever come to their house on Christmas morning. Later in the day, rarely- perhaps a relative. Morning, never. That had always been Randall family private time.
When she opened the door, Bonnie gaped.
There on the front porch was her Dad, cleanshaven and handsome, dressed in a beautiful suit. For the first time ever, Dean was coming to visit.
His hands were empty. All he had brought with him was an inscrutable smile.