“Pappy, I fixed the toilet!” Her beaming smile fell. “Pappy?” His eyes met hers so she started over. “Pappy, I fixed the toilet! I found the fix-it box with all the parts in it over the dryer and read all the instructions.”
He said nothing, so she sat close by on the sofa and waited for a commercial to come on the TV. She muted the sound and tugged on his arm. “Pappy, I used Mama’s tools but I put them all right back where they belonged. The old parts were hard to get off so I used the pointy vise grips and got them all off without busting anything. Now it don’t leak or nothing!”
He kept staring at the TV, so she put the sound back on. Her Mama could fix anything. Her Daddy could yell real loud. She wasn’t supposed to know, but her Daddy had shot Mama and then blowed his head off when she was little. She remembered sitting in the courtroom with a lady that kept calling her Poor Thing instead of Maria. She’d hopped away from that lady and run over to Pappy. He’d held his arms out and she’d snuggled on his lap. The judge had said Pappy could take her on home.
He’d been fine back then, a retired high school math teacher. It wasn’t until she got to second grade that he’d begun that staring, and then he’d call her Marlene more and more. She had to do the bills because he forgot them and they wrote scary letters like the water would get turned off and would be $100 to turn back on. She went to the little grocery and gave them checks that she’d forged his name on. He forgot her tenth birthday. He always used to make such a big deal about her birthday and always took her out for ice cream. Not anymore.
He needed help and she knew it in her heart. The idea of going back to the ‘Poor Thing’ lady curdled her stomach. She wished so hard that she could fix him. How? The show ended and she turned the TV off. He had to get professional help. “Pappy, it’s bedtime.”
He got up and headed for the bedroom.
“No, Pappy, go to the bathroom first.”
In the bedroom, she put a fresh folded towel down for accidents and put yesterday’s in the hamper; she’d need to do laundry tonight. He came in and put his own pajamas on.
As he dressed, she stirred up her courage and said, “Pappy, tomorrow I’m calling the doctor for you, so you can get your medicine straight and maybe your mind straight. You might need a different medicine than what we get in the mail.” Would the doctor call the county to take her away?
He snapped the last snap and sat on the edge of the bed. He looked directly at her and blinked a few times. “The toilet isn’t running all the time. I thought it ran all the time.”
He noticed; she almost started crying. “I fixed it. I got the box and the tools and took it apart and made it work right.”
“You have the genius for it, and I’m so proud of you.”
She knew he thought she was his daughter and waited for him to say ‘Marlene’.
He reached for her hand. “Just like your Mama, baby, she fixed all sorts of things, too. Maria, I’m so glad you take after her. I am so darned proud of you.”
Her breast pounded and she grinned like a jack-o-lantern. “Thank you Pappy!” She tucked him in and kissed his cheek. “Goodnight, and I’ll say a prayer for you.”
A genius, like Mama. As she loaded the washer, she wondered if she could get him to walk to the Doctor’s office with her, that would be best. If not, she’d take care of it some other way. A genius can do anything, even if it’s hard and her gut doesn’t her want to.