I returned to our apartment to be greeted by Cara singing a duet of Ring of Fire with Johnny Cash at the top of her lungs while she did the dishes. Sometimes I wondered if I should have encouraged her to listen to the same music her friends did, maybe buy her a Christina Aguilera cd or something.
Then I would come back to my senses and give thanks for having a daughter with an ear for real music.
“The taste… of love is sweeeeet,” she crooned as I slipped into the kitchen. “When hearts… like ours meeeaahhhhhhhhh!”
“Hi kiddo, what’s wrong?” I asked straight-faced.
“Don’t sneak up on me like that! I thought you were a robber or a murderer or…”
“Did you get into the coffee while I was gone?” I interrupted. She shot me an indignant stare before flicking soap suds in my direction. “Oh good, you’re cleaning the floor too – I had been thinking it needed a good scrubbing.”
“You’re such a pain,” she muttered. “Can’t a girl do the dishes in peace in this place?”
“I’ll leave you and Johnny to it,” I replied and escaped to the refuge of my recliner, grabbing my book of crossword puzzles from the coffee table as I went.
I was chewing on the end of my pencil and finding it difficult to concentrate on the grid in front of me when Cara crept into the room. I could feel her presence behind me, inching closer, but gave no indication that I was aware of her approach.
“Dishes all done?” I asked quietly without turning around. A frustrated sigh was my only reply. “That’s good – homework too?”
“I will get you. One day, I will get you so, so good,” she said darkly as she collapsed onto the sofa. “So how did the lesson go? Did poor Don pee his pants at the mere sight of you lumbering up his porch?”
“If you keep telling me I’m an ugly old ogre, one day I’m going to believe you,” I replied with a pained expression. “And no, as far as I’m aware, she did not pee her pants.”
“She?” Cara tried to ask the question casually but I caught the slight narrowing of her eyes, the microscopic reduction of her smile, the way her posture stiffened momentarily before she caught herself. I didn’t miss any of the signs because I was expecting them all.
“Yeah, funny story – apparently its spelled D-a-w-n. I guess I should have asked the receptionist when I booked the appointment but, you know, who asks how to spell Don?” I shrugged and waited for the inquisition to begin.
“I don’t see any animal hair on your jeans, so she must not have been some crazy old cat lady,” she observed and snatched up the latest edition of Sports Illustrated for Kids. She sat sideways on the couch, planted her feet on the middle cushion and rested the magazine on her knees. “And you’re in a good mood so she couldn’t have been a complete cow.”
“Right so far," I told her. I knew where things were going next and I had no desire to go there. Unfortunately I could think of no way to change course.
"So you had a good time then?"
“It went as well as a first lesson can go, I imagine. Dawn is very nice, I think you’d like her – she even has a pierced nose.”
“No way!” Cara perked up briefly before regaining her composure. “So she must be older than fourteen, since no reasonable parent would allow their daughter to be pierced before that.”
Inside my head I sighed deeply but I made sure my frustration didn't show on my face - I knew it would do no good if it did. The conversation was reminding me of the one we had two months before, after she had seen me exit the elevator with Theresa, the woman who lived in 405. I couldn't seem to spend five minutes alone with a woman, much less an hour, without Cara's hackles being raised.
“Exactly,” I nodded solemnly before reluctantly ending the mystery. “My best guess is that she’s a few years younger than me, maybe in her early thirties or late twenties. The point is, however, that she was very kind and patient with your thick-headed old man and I think I might be able to learn from her.”
“That’s good,” she mumbled into her magazine.
“The best part is that she knows nothing about boxing so I’ll actually get to talk to another adult about stuff that doesn’t involve training techniques or the best way to throw an uppercut. It will be a nice break.”
"I thought you were there to learn piano - what were you talking about boxing for?"
"What? We weren't talking about it." My train of thought had just gone careening off the tracks.
"Then how do you know she doesn't have a clue about -"
"Oh! She asked me what I do for a living and... that's really not the point here," I said, frustration edging into my voice. "I could use a few friends outside the ring and just maybe Dawn could become one."
“Mel’s dad doesn’t know anything about boxing either,” Cara pointed out. “You could talk to him all you want, not just once a week.”
“Melanie’s father thinks I’m a Neanderthal that had his brain punched out of his head ten years ago,” I said with a scowl that I could never hide whenever that subject came up. Which it did far too often for my liking. “He must think it’s a miracle I can walk without falling over.”
“He does not,” she shot back. “He just doesn’t know you because you hardly speak a word to him. You need to loosen up around the other parents – who knows, you might even make a few friends that way.”
I rolled my eyes and went back to my crossword. I heard Cara sigh and turn a page noisily. The two of us got along pretty well but once in a blue moon we’d have nights like that, nights in which seeing eye to eye seemed as likely as me being in the main event of a million dollar pay-per-view.
On those nights I could never figure out if I was glad that there was nobody around to witness our behavior, or sad that there was no one there to help us bridge the gap that yawned between us.