The Uninvited Guest

Davinia flicked the wheel of the lighter and brought it to her menthol slim, her 20th of the day. Looking at the empty pack she muttered “damn,” knowing this meant a trip to the store, before crushing the box and throwing it into the kitchen stepcan.

“That paper can be recycled, dad!” chided Chelsea from the living room as Davinia made her way out the screen door to smoke on the deck.

“The planet’s not going to make it just because we separate paper and plastic,” barked Davinia in response. “And stop calling me that!” Not normally so insistent on form, Davinia did nonetheless take a dislike to being called dad in a holler so that anyone might overhear.

“Doomed planet or not, you remain my father forever, dad.” Chelsea pushed the point for no reason.

It was true, of course. Davinia was Chelsea’s father and wouldn’t want to deny it ever but the title itself was something she preferred kept in her former life as much as possible, one of a great many things.

Worse than Chelsea’s insistence was Davinia’s ex’s refusal to budge from referring to her as David, except on those occasions when asshole was substituted. “I can still call you an asshole, even now that you’re playing a woman,” she would say when trying to be most hurtful. Davinia’s son, Graham, chose to be most hurtful by no longer speaking to his father at all and was in fact no longer speaking of his father either.

Davinia stared into the street and shivered in spite of the balmy June weather. Soon it would be too hot to stand on the deck at this time of day. Right now, the heat was concentrated on Davinia’s couch and was in mid-pout. The conversation was not going well at all but full marks to Chelsea for coming in person to talk it out, thought Davinia. It wasn’t an easy conversation no matter how or where it would take place but over the phone would have been devastating and a letter from Chelsea would have been too much to bear. This was the only avenue into Davinia’s family life of old and she wouldn’t take it for granted; if anything, she needed to keep increasing her foothold here. Having lost so much of the love she used to take for granted was taking its toll.

Taking another large gulp of wine, Davinia reaffirmed that she would remain poised, keep to the moral high ground, and not break down during the remainder of the negotiation. Some traits were meant to be stubborn and Davinia wasn’t about to let Chelsea see her father cry like some lousy movie’s stereotype drama queen with bad clothes and running mascara. She butted out the cigarette in the ashtray atop the cedar railing and went back inside to the trench warfare, where retreat was unthinkable and advance was impossible.

“Listen, dad, I’ve gotta get going and want that we have an understanding before I go. I’m serious when I say if I leave here without your word I will cancel everything. That’s not going to make you any happier, is it?”

This salvo was too much to let go graciously. “Is that the level we’re at already: threats and ultimatums? I thought you were coming here to talk with me, not dictate to me. How can we remain civil if this is on such an uneven footing?”

“It’s totally what your stubbornness demands. And don’t think I haven’t figured out that you’re pushing me to be most blunt so you can then play the wounded one for sympathy and leverage.” –wince– “I want you to see how serious I am about this. I would sooner throw away my wedding than to have you show up at it, crummy as that sounds.”

“You’re killing me. You’re killing your father as a present to your mother and Graham.” Davinia was almost affecting a swoon, out of character and surely of no help here, whether intended to be funny or not.

“Honestly, dad,” Chelsea rolled her eyes and threw out her hands to demonstrate that this was beyond what the script called for.

“And how does your fiancé’s family feel about you becoming a murderer—have they given this their blessing too?”

“Who’s being dramatic here? Be sensible. You just can’t see beyond yourself on this, dad. There are others to consider, y’know?”

“Why should anyone’s feelings trump mine? Why can’t they be the ones to consider others’ feelings? It’s you who are unable to see beyond your own squeamishness and let your parent come to your wedding.”

“Bullshit. I’m not squeamish and I’ve been showing that to you my whole life, including coming to you today. It’s not about who you are —my father, whom I love —but I can separate that from the certain knowledge that having you at my wedding will cause a lot of other people —who I also love —pain, will cause them to stay away, and will take over the focal point of the day. If it’s possible you’ve forgotten, it’s still my marriage and a promise of love between me and Kevin with the hope of a long and happy journey. I don’t want that born in misery and acrimony. I simply can’t have the kind of wedding that he and I want if you are there.”

Davinia pounced on this. “You’re giving in to other people’s discomfort, letting them emotionally blackmail you into getting their way!”

“It’s not blackmail if I agree with them.” wince

“How can you say you agree? It’s not that. I know. You sympathize with their feelings but you don’t genuinely share them.” Swelling with confidence in the hope that the argument was now about to take on a moral weight, Davinia went for the knock-out punch. “And what message does it send about your principles of love when you and Kevin would exclude someone who loves and supports you both from taking part in this monumentous step of this journey of yours?”

The punch missed. Davinia’s ambition outdistanced her reach and Chelsea easily sidestepped.

“Love and support us both? You’ve never even met Kevin!”

Davinia shrunk back onto the couch, deflated. “That’s not fair as it’s clearly not by my choice. I would have met him ages ago and would still do so happily if only you would let me.” This was perhaps another opening for sympathy. “Why isn’t Kevin here for me to express my love and high hopes for his marriage to my beloved daughter?”

“Listen: we’re not about to take this into any side-territory where it doesn’t need to go today. That’s exactly why I’m here alone. I want to keep this discussion about my wishes and your goodwill. Is there any more wine?”

“No. It’s empty. I can open another but don’t you have to go?”

Chelsea stood up and stamped on the floor. “I do. I do have to go! I’m already late and getting later! But how can I go when you’re not going to respect my wishes? I’m getting the wine.” She walked across to the ‘70s oversized bar cabinet that resembled a chrome-and-teak walk-in closet.

“Please don’t stomp on the floor like that. It will irritate Mrs. Suarez downstairs. I’ve had to work so hard at getting into her good books.”

“Argh!” Chelsea shouted and kept on shouting “Worked so hard at getting into Mrs. Suarez’s good books? When is it that you’re going to show an interest in working at getting into mine?”

Davinia raised her hands to say that calmly was the way in which to proceed. “My love, I don’t live above you and Mrs. Suarez isn’t preventing me from attending her wedding.”

“You can be a real asshole, dad.” Chelsea reached into the liquor cabinet and pulled out the scotch, not the wine. She poured herself two fingers and knocked it back in a shot, before shuddering. “Argh,” she repeated, now taking out the wine bottle.

“Now, now. Let’s not start in with the sort of things those less enlightened might say. Speaking of which, you haven’t brought your list of invitees by any chance, have you?” Davinia was trying to be clever, keep Chelsea off balance until an opening could be found to get her harsh exterior to crack.

“Hilarious, dad.” Chelsea dismissed Davinia’s multiple peripheral openings for argument and continued struggling with the cork.

“Kindly stop calling me that and give me the bottle. What did that corkscrew ever do to you?”

Giving up the bottle, Chelsea went to the kitchen and started opening drawers. “Have you got any more cigarettes?”

“No —when did you take up smoking?”

“Just now. And just as well that you’re out, I didn’t really want one of those menthols anyway.”

“You could whip ‘round the corner for some more. I’ll just get you some money.” Davinia put the open wine bottle on the coffee table and started for her purse.

“Don’t bother. I’m not leaving and then coming back.”

“You don’t mean ever, though?” Davinia laughed, uncertainly.

“Sit down. Pour me a glass. I’m going to have my final words on this and run.”

“I don’t like the idea of final words unless uttered on a death bed.” Davinia was trying to keep it light but her confidence was shaky. “Final words indicate that all discussion is now at an end. That’s no way to approach communication.”

“Fair enough. But I feel that keeping this conversation going is going nowhere. We haven’t moved an inch since we started and I guess that’s how it’s going to remain. Nonetheless, once more for the record…” Chelsea lifted the glass to her lips and raised her hand as to indicate that this pause was not to be filled with her father’s next argument. She put the glass down on the table and reached into her purse. Davinia braced herself for what might be coming out and was relieved to see that it was a tiny object before being horrified in realizing it was a joint and now Chelsea was lighting it with the lighter she had pocketed in the kitchen moments earlier.

“Drugs!” Davinia exclaimed. “You’re now on drugs and smoking them in the house!” She was approaching full bellow.

Chelsea held up her hand once more and took another drag. “That’s not necessary. Stow it for five minutes, can you?”

Davinia quieted down but remained in shock, beginning, “but Mrs. Suarez…”

“Fuck Mrs. Suarez.”

“Not even if I could.”

Chelsea laughed, coughing a cloud of smoke and offering the joint across the table. Davinia mutely accepted it and took a drag.

“Listen, dad. —And by the way, you surely sounded like a dad just then. Although not much like the dad you would have sounded like when I was in high school.”

“You weren’t smoking joints in high school, were you?”

“Listen, dad: I love you but you can’t come. This is not about being accepting or supporting. I do accept that your life is yours and you make the decisions that directly affect it. I support your need to be yourself and I don’t judge what’s right or wrong for you —or anyone else. By asking you to stay away from the wedding I’m not saying that people are right in not accepting your decisions. I don’t want to please those who would mistreat you but I do have to consider mom and Graham. Graham is protective of mom because she always coddled him. Let’s be honest: she would nurse him now if she could and refuses to kick his ass when he continually fucks up. You and he weren’t close when you left and he’s never going to be close again as long as his mother’s hurting.”

“But that’s not…” Davinia began before Chelsea cut her short.

“Not the point, dad. Let me continue. I want to paint you the complete picture. Are you still smoking?”

Davinia passed the joint back to Chelsea. She took another hit and rested the joint on her side plate next to the untouched brie and cracker.

“Mom’s a mess and it’s only partly your fault. She’s unable to cope with the idea that her life partner is gone and her marriage bed is empty. She can’t get over that and move on. Had you died in an accident, she would mourn but she would cope. That you chose to leave kills her. She spends each day wondering how her life failed when she had it all and had done everything right. You may have always been an asshole somewhere in her estimation but you were her asshole and she accepted your faults in loving you. That you left is a humiliation even greater than you living as a woman. That’s a side-show, if you will permit me.”

“But I wasn’t free to be myself with your…”

Again, Chelsea stepped in. “You’re interrupting. That’s a story for another time and I don’t dispute your feelings. Right now I’m just giving you the background for why I need what I’m asking. If you had stayed with mom, she might have supported your need to be a woman—who knows —as long as she wasn’t abandoned. That you’d throw her love away for the pursuit of an alternate path to happiness has crushed her. Until or unless she finds someone else to give her that sense of worth again or, god willing, she finds it within herself, she will remain a basket-case. And she’s not likely to meet anyone as long as she’s a basket-case, so she’s trapped in this misery and anger. Just because that wasn’t your intention doesn’t mean you didn’t share in creating the life you left and therefore share the aftermath too. Doesn’t matter if your leaving wasn’t an expression of malice. So what?”

Chelsea got up from her seat and went to the couch to sit beside her dad, putting her father’s hand in her own.

“Dad, these people are hurting and they’re going to hurt more if you come. They will leave and they will have difficulty moving past it. Ever. You are strong. You’ve shown great courage in making your decisions, even if some of it may seem the opposite to an outsider. You have grasped some of the happiness you seek and you have a future too, one which your daughter can be a proud part of. But, if you come to my wedding, you will lose me and then you won’t have anything of your family left. Will you accept my love, without being at my wedding?”

“But who will give you away? I already bought my dress!” Davinia’s lip was trembling in spite of the joke she made.

“We’re skipping that part and this isn’t your debutante ball so don’t act as though I’m robbing you of the triumph of your re-entry into some circle.”

“What if we came and stood in the back and left before anyone knew we were there?”

“No. No way. Please don’t suggest you even believe that could work. And who’s we?”

“Well this isn’t a monastery I’m renting here above Mrs. Suarez! Who do you think nursed me through the change? None of you lifted a finger to help…”

“Um, well… okay. Right. There’s a whole lot I want to ask and you surely want to tell me now. But let’s not open that door today too. Let’s leave something for my next visit as I really have to go. I’m late and a little drunk and slightly stoned, which probably isn’t going to help me any, either. We’re clear, aren’t we? You’re not going to come, you’re not going to make a scene and guarantee that I never speak to you again?” Without waiting for an answer, she added “Good” and patted Davinia on the knee. Chelsea rose from the couch and went to the mat by the door to put on her shoes.

“What about me? I haven’t got the chance to finish telling you why I absolutely need to be there!”

“There’s nothing else for today. I’m sorry you’re missing your daughter’s wedding but that’s just how it’s got to be. I’ll have pictures and we can share those later over another bottle of wine. Just us girls.” She kissed Davinia on the cheek before picking up her windbreaker and turning to open the door.

Davinia smiled and offered a cheerful “and Kevin too! I’d like to meet my son-in-law.”

“That sounds nice. I’m sure he’d like that.”

Chelsea went down the stairs from the second floor apartment and out the front door to the street. Davinia went to find a tissue; her mascara was running.

The Uninvited Guest

HandofTamm

Toronto, Canada

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Artist's Description

W A R N I N G
Contains a light sprinkling of salty language and mature themes.
One reader said this story puts the transgendered back thirty years, which is neither my intention nor my opinion.

Artwork Comments

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