In Katie Daubs' short fiction, a father writes a deathbed letter to his children, explaining the surprising way he really met their mother. From the Feathertale Review #8 (2011).
You just left my hospital bed. It’s October 14 and I don’t feel like I’ll see you again. Sorry I slept the whole time. I could hear you, but you know me. I’m not much for talking, even when my throat isn’t coated with cancer. I’m not much for goodbyes either. I’m only sorry I didn’t have the decency to fall down the stairs and get this over with. Anyway, there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you.
I did not meet your mother at the supermarket. She doesn’t know that.
See, it was 2011. I didn’t have a job, and your Uncle Gary was dating this girl who was an idiot. She bought a mirror at the dollar store and thought she ought to have some coke to snort off it like in the movies. Gary just wanted to get laid so he figured it wouldn’t hurt. Soon we were all snorting cheap cocaine that was probably more Pez and rat poison than anything else.
So Gary and me were sharing a one-bedroom apartment. His girlfriend was an unemployed leech and he got a bit of work bussing tables at a crappy Chinese restaurant that our landlord owned. I spent most of my days watching Bret Michaels’ reality TV show Rock of Love Bus.
We never had money. In the day, Gary’s girlfriend would sit in front of the liquor store and sing. I can still hear her terrible voice, especially with all this time I have to sit and think. She sang depressing Nirvana music. I told her people were more likely to give her money if she sang something uplifting. She didn’t listen to me.
Gary and I looked for work, but we didn’t try that hard. There was a recession on and it was easy to use that as an excuse. We had to start mugging people.
I know you’re thinking that’s a pretty crummy thing, but we rationalized. We only robbed drunk people. We never hurt kids, especially not the ones we bought our drugs from. We weren’t really that scary. I usually had to do the mugging bits and Gary did the shouting. We watched movies to figure out what to say. And we wore nylons on our faces. We made a few hundred a week.
So we see your mom alone on a street, walking home one night, and she’s listening to her iPod. We’re hiding in some bushes, near the corner in the shadows. Your mom sees us but it’s already too late. If she runs away, she knows we’ll run after her. She walks right at us. Gary starts screaming. He has a duck-hunt gun from an old Nintendo game and he’s waving it in the air. He painted the whole thing brown with some of his girlfriend’s nail polish. It had a bit of glitter in it, and Gary was pretty embarrassed about mugging victims seeing the sparkle.
So he screams, “Give me your fucking money!” at her. I grab her from behind. Gary screams, “What the fuck you waiting for? Gimme your money, you ho!”
Gary watched a lot of really terrible movies.
Your mom, she starts looking through her purse, and she’s crying. She says, “I only have a few bucks and a transit pass,” and she’s sobbing. I’m standing there thinking she smells pretty nice. Like one of those nice Calgon sprays you get at Walmart.
Gary didn’t like it taking that long, so he just grabs her wallet out of her hands. Your mom keeps crying. Gary tells her if she calls the cops, he’ll come back, find her and shoot her. Course, he’d have to plug the gun into the Nintendo to do that, and your mom would’ve had to be a skeet or a duck.
“Count to a hundred and don’t turn around,” I growled. It was the first thing I ever said to her.
We take off running. We get inside the apartment and Gary opens up her wallet. She had an IKEA gift card in there, a twenty-dollar bill and all her ID. Gary grabs the twenty and goes to buy some crack, and I start sifting through the leftovers. Her licence says Krista Rayne. Sounded like a stripper, but that was her name for real, as you know. I looked her up on Facebook. I know it’s her because her status said she just got robbed.
I started looking through your mom’s pics and I couldn’t stop. She was one of those girls who likes to take photos of herself looking all pouty and sexy, pair them with rap lyrics, and get comments about how hot she looks. A week went by and I kept checking her page. All her friends were writing stupid little messages as if she’d actually been shot. Your mom was milking it, from what I could see. Every other day she’d update her status with some stupid thing about how she’d never be the same again. She even took a picture hugging herself on her bed.
One day, about a month after we mugged her, I asked her out. I was at the neighbourhood supermarket and ran into her with my cart.
“Sorry about that,” I said. It was the second thing I ever said to her.
I asked her to hang out. When we were walking back from the movies she made me walk her home. Told me about how she hasn’t felt safe since she got mugged. She said the muggers had knives and guns and forced her to lie on the ground, which I think was a scene in Clueless. I asked her if she’d ever recognize the guys and she said she didn’t think so. But she was always looking for them.
I went on a few more dates with her and then figured I’d better tell Gary. He figured she’d recognize his voice for sure. He’d broken up with his girlfriend and we’d quit mugging by that point. I told Gary she wouldn’t recognize him but I wasn’t sure. See, I always changed my voice when I mugged people. Gary wasn’t so prescient.
First time she meets Gary, he just nodded and mumbled. From there, he faked several throat infections until he felt comfortable.
Anyway, me and your mom got married and Gary was the best man. Your mom never figured it out. Maybe she did. I guess that’s the reason I’m writing you this. When Gary died, we were cleaning out his place, and I heard her gasp from the kitchen. I walked into Gary’s room, where she was supposed to be cleaning out his drawers, and she was holding the sparkly brown duck-hunt gun. I raised my eyebrows. She stared at it, and looked at me, looked at my hands.
“Do you know what this is?” she asked.
“I didn’t know Gary was gay,” I answered. “I guess we all have our secrets.”
She looked at me and put down the gun.
“What?” I asked.
She shrugged and put the gun in her purse.
“Weird thing to keep,” I said.
We packed up Gary’s house and never talked about it again. I think the gun is somewhere in the house, and now I’m dead without knowing if she knew it was me. I thought I wanted it that way, but now, with the end so near, I felt I should come clean. It won’t do me any good now, but if you find out she knew, tell her I regret nothing.
Take care of yourselves,