The Phoenix riddle hath more wit
By us, we being one, are it.
So to one neutral thing both sexes fit,
We die and rise the same, and prove
Mysterious by this love.
- John Donne, The Canonization (1633)
He began another loop through the dining room and then the kitchen again. So far, so good, there was not a relative or septuagenarian in sight. Bill was gone and so was KZ. Dan moved on through the hallway and back to the living room. It still looked clear. He checked the back rooms and out back. He ran into Jeff and asked him to do an independent verification. He came back with the same conclusion. It was time. Jeff, John, Brian and Adam took their positions.
Dan pulled his iPod out of his pocket and walked to his grandmother’s old console stereo. RCA jacks were plugged into the auxiliary with a headphone jack on the other and he pushed it into the top of the iPod. He spun the wheel to turn up the volume. Then he pushed the menu button and spun the wheel again to find the song he was searching for, pressing the center button to start the music. Fishbone’s “Party at Ground Zero” leapt out of the speakers and filled the house with its loud, driving beat. People came to the living room to investigate with his friends pushing the uncurious into the living room to join everybody. KZ winked at Dan as she filed past him to stand alongside him. Dan thought. “Well that was certainly odd. I wonder why she did that?”
When everyone was crowded in the living room, Dan stood up on an ottoman and pressed pause on his iPod. “Is everybody in here?” he called loudly, so people in the rest of the house could here.
Jeff called back. “Almost. One more person’s still in the bathroom.” A flushing sound was heard and a minute later a woman Dan didn’t know came tentatively into the living room full of people. She appeared confused, like she’d missed something.
“Come on in.” Dan called to her, and she blushed.
“Hey, don’t pick on her.” KZ smacked him from behind, laughing.
“Hey everybody. I just wanted to say a few words.” Dan began. “The wake is officially ending and the real party is about to start. All of the extreme ages have left. The youngsters are gone and the oldsters, too. They’re not a blue hair in sight, so we can bring out the keg, let our hair down, and kick up the jams. I wanted to thank you all for coming, especially those of you who haven’t seen me in twenty years. Oh, wait, that’s almost everybody, isn’t it.” Dan didn’t have Bill’s consummate skill as a comedian. Luckily, the crowd was very forgiving because most had been drinking for a while already. So he got a few laughs, at least.
He continued. To those of you I haven’t met before tonight, you’re obviously a friend of a friend and most welcome in my home. There have been many parties in this house over the years, though not for a long time, of course. Ask someone here about those days. If Todd Morgan was here, he could tell you about the time my grandmother came home early and found him in flagrante delicto. Anybody remember who it was he was with? Dan called.
“I know.” Someone raised a hand and started moving forward. As he neared the front Dan saw who it was.
“Oh, shit.” Dan cried. “Todd!” He jumped down and hugged his old friend. “What the hell are you doing here? I thought you were in Texas or some other shithole like that.”
“I just got in this afternoon. I’ll tell you about it later.” Then he turned to the crown and shouted. “It was Gail Gallagher, by the way.” More laughter.
Dan jumped back on his perch. “Anyway, I leave tomorrow for California again. I’m not planning on sleeping tonight. So this party will be going as long as you can take it. Only one rule: let’s restrict anything nefarious to the back bedroom. I invited Trexler and I don’t want to put him in awkward position.”
Someone called out. “Don’t worry, he’ll join you.” More knowing laughter followed.
“Okay, okay. Settle down. Let’s get the keg up from the basement. If I haven’t had a chance to talk you or meet you, please don’t be shy. Find me. I’d like to meet everybody here tonight. I don’t know when I’ll be back. It may be never. I don’t know. Of course, nothing’s stopping you from visiting me in San Francisco. In California, we’ve got awesome beer. So without further ado, let’s get this party started.” And with that spun the wheel one more time and started the party mix playlist on his iPod. The room filled once more with music, this time it was the B-52’s “Love Shack” and the room roared their approval.
The room, which had been pretty packed a minute before, dispersed back into the other three rooms, distributing people more evenly so there was room to walk around. Weaver was standing in the hallway beyond the large opening that acted as the border of the living room. He unrolled the Ziploc baggie of mushrooms with a snap, holding his hands outstretched, palms up to ask Dan if he was ready for another trip? KZ was still hanging around a little too closely, and Dan thought he should find out why.
“I’ll be right there.” He called to John, who started for the back bedroom. Then Dan turned his attention to KZ. “Kathy. You want to do some mushrooms with John and me?”
“Sure. I guess so.” KZ replied.
“C’mon then, I have to ask you something.” And they started for the hallway. They passed Bill in the hallway. He had a big, shit-eating grin on his face. He was pointing to KZ again and giving Dan the thumbs up sign. After they passed him, Dan looked back and waved at Bill to join them.
The three of them joined Weaver in the spare bedroom that faced the backyard. The window was opened and the Christmas tree farm was visible beyond the yard. John had laid out the mushrooms in small piles representing one dose. He set out larger does for himself and Dan, since they had tripped the night before.
Dan turned to KZ. “Why were you winking at me before?”
She looked around furtively, and bumped into him with her shoulder. “You know.”
“I do?” He questioned.
“Yeah, you know. Before. In the closet.” Kathy told him.
“What, tonight?” He asked, starting to figure it out.
“Of course, tonight. It wasn’t that long ago. How much have you had to drink?” She was starting to sound cross.
“Indulge me. Pretend I can’t remember. Tell me what we did in the closet.” Dan said, staring over at Bill, who was fiddling with his fingers over his pursed mouth.
KZ looked around the room, and at John, not sure what to say.
Dan saw her looking toward Weaver. “Don’t worry about John. We’re all adults here.”
“Yeah, I guess so.” She began tentatively. “I was walking back from the bathroom. When I passed the first closet, the one right outside of here.” She pointed to the bedroom door. There was a hall closet just outside the door, to the right of it. She continued. “And then you grabbed me and pulled me into the closet.”
“Then what did I do?” Dan urged her to keep going.
“Um. We kissed for a little while. Then things got more serious.” She admitted.
“What do you mean?” Dan asked.
John was starting to catch on. His face was trying to stifle a laugh.
KZ went on. “Well. You put your hand under my sweater. Then we took off our clothes and made love.”
“In the closet? Tonight?” Dan repeated.
“Yes. Tonight.” Kathy said, looking around the room and seeing the pained look on John’s face. “What’s going on here? Am I being made a fool?”
“No. No.” Dan tried to sound soothing.
“Was it Bill?” John asked at last.
“Bill?” KZ cried. “Who the fuck is Bill? I don’t know a Bill. Are you telling me it wasn’t you in the closet?”
“I’m afraid it wasn’t” Dan admitted. “I’m sorry. I’d tell you if it was. Really I would.”
“But then who’s Bill?” Kathy demanded.
“Well that’s a little complicated.” John offered.
“Complicated!” KZ shouted. “Somebody better tell me what’s going on. Who the hell did I just fuck in the closet?”
“I think you better sit down.” Dan suggested. “Just try to relax and I’ll tell you about Bill. Now would be a good time to take the mushrooms. Believe me.”
“Okay.” KZ sat in the stuffed chair by the bed. John handed her a pinch of the dried mushrooms. “Do I just eat them?”
“Yep.” John told her. Just chew them and swallow. They’re not the tastiest in the world, but they’ll do the trick. Here’s a glass of water.”
Kathy swallowed and drank the glass dry. “Okay, now can you tell me what’s going on?”
Dan told her all about Bill with John chiming in to confirm what he knew and his experience from the night before. Dan could hear Bill laughing from time to time from the bed, where he had laid down.
KZ looked at times incredulous, then horrified, then amazed, then back to horrified. When they were finished, she sat there not speaking for a few minutes. Eventually, she had a few questions. “So you’re saying I had sex with a dead guy?”
“Yeah.” Dan replied. “Although he seems alive to John and me. It’s just that I know who he was and that he died of pancreatic cancer around ten years ago. I’d even met him once when we was doing a show in San Francisco.”
“But that’s when he was alive, right?” Kathy clarified.
“Right.” Dan agreed. “Then, as I said, he was just there next to me on the plane here.”
“Well that is just fucked up.” Kathy was clearly out of sorts, not that Dan could blame her. “I really don’t know why you’re playing with me like this. I won’t tell anybody about it. I won’t tell Trixie, if you don’t want me to. But do you really have to go to such lengths to come up with such an obviously outrageous lie?”
“Wait.” John offered. “I really didn’t believe Dan either last night. But after the mushrooms kicked in last night I could see him, too. We talked all night. He’s real alright. He’s probably here in the room right now.”
“What!” KZ jumped up. “Where?”
“Thanks John.” Dan gave Weaver a look.
“Sorry.” He shrugged. “Just trying to help.”
“Actually, he’s on the bed.” Dan admitted.
“Really?” John said.
“Really?” KZ repeated, near to tears.
“Yes, really.” Dan said firmly. “Just wait. I don’t know how this whole thing works or why it’s happening but it worked last night for John so perhaps it will work for you too. How long has it been, John?”
“About fifteen minutes.” John guessed.
“Okay, last night it took around twenty minutes or so for the ‘shrooms to kick in.” Dan calculated. So in the next five minutes or so, you should be able to see Bill. At least I hope so.”
Kathy walked over next to the bed. “So he’s here on the bed?” She asked.
“Yeah. Lying down.” Dan told her.
Bill looked confused, unsure what he should do.
“In the middle of the bed?” She continued.
“Yep.” Dan said.
Without warning KZ balled her hand into a fist and thrust it down onto the center of the bed. But she never reached the quilt covering bed. Her fist instead found the soft, fleshy part of Bill’s stomach. She gasped and jumped back from the bed. “Oh my god.” She exclaimed.
“Oww.” Bill yelled, bolting upright in bed and holding his stomach in pain.
“Was that him?” She asked. “Did I hit him?”
“Oh, yeah.” Dan laughed. “You got him pretty good.”
“Hey!” Bill yelled, jumping off the bed.
“I actually felt it.” She admitted. “That was really weird. This is impossible.” And she slammed her fist on the bed again, this time hitting only the mattress.
“Missed me.” Bill called.
“He got up after you hit him.” Dan informed her.
Just then, the mushrooms must have kicked in because KZ was pointing at Bill, who was standing next to the bed, on the opposite side as Kathy. She was backing away, until she reached the wall and was pressed against it with her back. “Is that him?” She asked, shaking.
Bill walked over to her. “Pleased to meet you, ma’am. I’m Bill.”
She slapped him across the face. Dan and John laughed.
“Hey!” Bill cried out again. “Why do you keep hitting me?”
“Why do you think?” She replied sarcastically, and ran out of the room.
Bill followed her out of the room, stopping when he reached the door. He turned back to John and Dan. “Oh, I like her.” He told them, and was gone.
“Well that wasn’t too weird.” John offered, still laughing. A few more revelers wandered into the room and he gave them each a pinch.
“I better see what’s going on out there.” Dan told John, and wandered down the hall toward the living room. The music was shuffling through Dan’s party mix playlist and Nirvana’s “Rape Me” from the unplugged sessions was coming from the speakers. That must be how KZ’s feeling, he thought. He wasn’t sure how he felt about Bill’s deceit toward his friend. He guessed he’d wait to see how things played out tonight before deciding what to do about it.
Dan found Todd in the Living room talking with Brian and Jeff. “Hey, man, how are you doing?” He said, as he hugged Todd. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
“It was sheer coincidence.” Todd told him. “My sister’s getting married next week and I came in a week early to help my parents out. I ran into Adam at the Giant and he told me you were here and what was going on.”
“Maybe it was fate?” Dan suggested.
“I didn’t think you believed in fate.” Todd said. “Didn’t we talk about this one night? You said something about fate being counterintuitive with free will.”
“That sounds like me, alright.” Dan laughed. “My opinion on that may be evolving. I’d tell you all about it, but then you’d need mushrooms.”
“You’ve got mushrooms?” Todd’s face lit up.
“Not me.” Dan told him. “But Weaver does. He’s in the back bedroom.”
“Cool.” Todd said, and was down the hall in an instant.
Someone tapped Dan on the shoulder and he wheeled around. “Laura!” He yelled and threw his arms around Laura Bausher. After letting go of her, he asked. “Aren’t you in DC?”
“Home for the weekend.” Laura explained. “KZ told me she ran into you. So here I am. Where is KZ?”
“Oo. That’s complicated. She’s here somewhere.” Dan said tentatively.
“Complicated?” Laura looked confused.
“Never mind.” Dan told her. “You just get here?”
“Seconds ago.” She replied.
“Well beer’s in the kitchen. Help yourself.” He offered.
“Thanks, I believe I will.” Laura spun around and was gone.
Trixie was talking with someone in the dining room. From the little of her Dan could see, she was a younger blonde. It looked like she was arguing with Trixie.
Dan shrugged and joined Brian and Jeff who were sitting on the sofa by the fire. Adam was in the chair closest to the fireplace. He was stoking the fire, trying to get the flames higher. He flopped down in the stuffed chair opposite Adam with the coffee table in between. “Evening gents.” He said. “I haven’t seen you guys more than a few minutes at a time all day. That’s just wrong. You guys are my best friends. And I never see any of you. So it’s only been about twenty, you guys been up to anything?”
“The usual.” Brian began. “Wife. Kids. House. Job. I think that’s it.”
“No kids.” Adam interjected. “Dog. But the rest is right.”
“Same here.” Jeff admitted. “’Cept I’m Kids and Dog.
“Pathetic.” Dan chided them. “Just pathetic.”
“Look who’s talking?” Jeff shot back. My wife thinks you’re Peter Pan?”
“What?” Dan was surprised.
“Mine too.” Brian said. “Weaver’s wife, too. I heard them all talking about it years ago.”
“It was right after we got that Christmas card with you and the teenager.” Jeff remembered.
Adam turned from the fire. “I remember that picture.”
“She was nineteen. I mean she was an adult, for chrissakes.” Dan defended himself.
“Barely.” Adam laughed. “Don’t forget, John met her when he was out in San Francisco. He told us all about her. We heard all kinds of stories.”
Dan could see this was getting him nowhere. “But that was ages ago. They can’t still think about me, can they?”
“As far as I know, they do.” Brian said. “I think they see you as threatening. You know what I mean?”
“Not really.” Dan scratched his head. “I’m not following that.”
“We’d talk to you and you’d be at the beach with some bimbo half you age. We’d mention it to the missus and the next thing I know I’d hear them discussing your being unable to grow up and face your responsibilities. I’d see them whispering about it at parties for years.” Jeff explained. “I think they thought we’d chuck them out and go live with you in California.”
“You know John almost did it?” Brian asked.
“Did what?” Dan was confused again.
“Left Amanda and moved to California. He was talking about it. I think he told her it would be a quote-unquote ‘trial separation.’” Brian told him.” Brian told him. “But then he didn’t go through with it in the end. Decided to stay with her and move to New York. That’s right. That’s when it was; right before they moved to upstate.”
“Oh my god.” Dan suddenly realized. “That was over ten years ago. No wonder Amanda hates me. Every time I call for John and get her on the phone, she sounds like she can’t stand me. Now I know why.”
“John never said anything to you about it?” Adam questioned.
“No, never said a word.” Dan said, shaking his head. “Why didn’t he ever tell me?” Out of the corner of his eye, Dan saw someone come in that he hadn’t seen before. “Excuse me, guys. I think I just saw Deb Mohn come in.”
Dan made his way to the kitchen. Sure enough, taking off her coat was Deb Mohn. “Dan!” She called. “How’ve you been? I hope you don’t mind. KZ told me about your little soiree. Sorry about your grandmother.”
“Oh, thanks.” Dan said sincerely. “Now, I’m glad to see you. It’s been a good quarter-century.”
“Too true, too true.” Deb repeated, as she opened the refrigerator and helped herself to a Yuengling Porter. “Have you seen KZ?”
“She’s around somewhere.” Dan told her, ducking into the dining room.
Trixie was still in the dining room. Dan grabbed a plate and put some food on it, coming over to where Trixie was standing. She looked clearly vexed about something. “Penny for your thoughts.”
“Oh, Dan.” Trixie jumped. You startled me.”
“What’s wrong?” He asked.
“Nothing. Just thinking, that’s all.” She lied.
“Oh.” Dan wasn’t convinced. “Who was that I saw you talking with a few minutes ago? You looked like you were yelling at her. But I didn’t recognize her at all. Friend of yours?”
“Yes, sort of.” Trixie half admitted.
“She still here?” Dan asked.
“She left. We had a fight.” She said vaguely.
“Ah. Okay.” Dan gave up. “You need another drink? I do.”
“Sure. Yeah, I could use another. “She replied. “Gin and tonic.”
“You got it” Dan said, and ducked back in the kitchen. As he was making her drink, Adam’s wife Donna came in the back door.
“Hey Donna.” He called to her.
“Hey Dan.” She replied. “Where’s Adam?”
“In the living room last time I saw him.” Dan said, pointing out the door and down the hall. “Through there and make a left. He’s by the fireplace. You want a beer?”
“Sure.” Donna said.
“In the ‘frig.” Dan nodded toward it with his head, as he picked up the mixed drink in one hand with his pint glass in the other. Donna opened the refrigerator and helped herself as Dan disappeared into the dining room. Dan gave Trixie her drink, and then went to look for Bill. He found him in his grandmother’s bedroom, the master bedroom talking with someone Dan didn’t know.
“Hey Dan.” Bill called as soon as he saw him. “I want you to meet somebody. This is Old Henry.”
Dan shook his hand. “You don’t look old.” He told him.
“I’m older than I look.” Old Henry replied.
“Wait.” Dan turned to Bill. “Didn’t you tell me Old Henry was the devil?”
“Pleased to meet you.” Old Henry bowed.
Dan looked at Bill again. “Seriously?”
“That’s what he says. He’s not on mushrooms.” Bill informed Dan.
“What happened with KZ?” Dan asked.
“We made up. I did her from behind in the other bedroom. She’s asleep in there now.” Bill told him.
“Unbelievable.” Dan shook his head. “So why is the devil here?”
“Beats me.” Bill admitted.
“I have a message for you.” Old Henry said.
“Oh, great. Just what I need.” Dan said facetiously.
“You will meet your flesh tonight.” Old Henry revealed. “Do not be fooled by the Trickster.”
Dan looked at Bill, then at his arm. “Hello flesh.” He said. “Is that it?”
Old Henry looked back at them as he headed for the doorway. “Yes, my task here is done. Farewell.” And with that he disappeared down the hallway.
Dan turned back to Bill. “The devil?”
Bill shrugged his shoulders. “He just showed up. I kept him in here so he wouldn’t — I don’t know — mess up the party. Start stealing souls? Who knows? Remember, I know as much about what’s going on as you do, which is nothing.”
“You know a little bit more than I do.” Dan challenged.
“Maybe.” Bill admitted. “But not by much. I tell you what.”
Just then, they could hear a commotion out in the hallway. Dan heard Trixie’s voice yelling at someone to stop. The voice, whoever it belonged to yelled back. “How could you tell me he was dead?”
Dan looked over at Bill. “She talking about you?”
Bill shrugged again. “I don’t recognize the voice. It’s not KZ.”
The noise in the hall was growing louder. More voices had joined the heated conversation. They could hear sounds of a struggle. Weaver came in through the adjoining bathroom from the spare where’s been holed up.
“What’s going on?” He asked. “Sounds like a fight. Should we check it out?”
“We were just trying to decide.” Bill replied.
Just then the door swung open. Standing in the doorway, with Trixie trying vainly trying to hold her back, was a young woman who was, apart from the blonde hair, the spitting image of Trixie in her early twenties. Dan’s mind reeled. “Was it the woman Trixie was arguing with in the dining room? Was that the woman he saw briefly in the car as she was pulling out of the funeral hall parking lot?” Dan silently wondered.
He looked back at her again. This time he studied her face more closely. Then it hit him. “Hey.” He shouted. “You’re the girl in the photos on my grandmother’s mantle.”
The girl nodded. “Chulkie.”
“That’s what I always called her.” Dan told her.
“Me, too. She was my Chulkie, too.” She repeated.
Dan felt like a dog who’d been shown a card trick. He tilted his head in complete confusion. “I don’t understand what’s going on.”
Trixie let go of her hold over the girl and she bolted toward Dan. She covered the few feet almost instantaneously, as if she’d been uncorked from the doorway. When she reached Dan, she leapt onto him, throwing her arms around her. We was barely able to maintain his balance and put his arms around her just to steady himself.
“Daddy!” She shouted.
The room went silent. He released her grip on her and she sank to her feet, standing up in front of him. “Trixie!” Dan yelled, bust she was still standing in the doorway, just a few feet away.
She sighed deeply. “I have been dreading this moment, Dan. I honestly thought it might never happen, but this girl is as stubborn and willful as you are.”
“Who is she?” Dan demanded.
“Dan, this is Ronnie. Veronica. Veronica Zinn. My daughter.” She paused to let that sink in and then added. “Our daughter.
Dan’s face drained of color. He began shaking. His mind was racing with a million questions. When the color returned, it was a deep, beet red. He felt like steam was escaping through the top of his head, like an old Warner Brothers cartoon. “Our daughter. My daughter.” He thought, repeating it in his mind like a mantra. Trying to get it to sound right. He looked at her again. He could now see what he’d noticed in the photographs before, signs of his family’s resemblance.
His daughter was standing in front of him with many different looks on her face. She was waiting to see what Dan’s reaction would be. She was looking back to gauge her mother’s reaction. She seemed like she wanted to reach out to Dan again but was unsure if she should.
Luckily, John still had his wits about him. He addressed the assembled crowd. “C’mon people. Let’s give these three a little privacy.” Then he herded everyone out of the bedroom, closing the door behind him. Dan could hear loud murmurings out in the hallway, but they began to fade, presumably, as Weaver moved everyone to the living room and kitchen.
Once they were alone and it had finally become quiet, Dan looked at Trixie. Her eyes were fixed on the floor, trying not to make eye contact with anyone in the room. “Could somebody please tell me what’s going on?” He pleaded.
“Don’t you know?” Ronnie looked confused.
“He has no idea.” Trixie said at last.
Her daughter shot a look over at her that was both menacing and deeply hurt. “What!” She cried. “But …”
Trixie interrupted. “I know what I told you, but it’s not true.” She bowed her head. “I’m sorry. I wanted to protect you.”
“From what?” Ronnie demanded.
“From me?” Dan interjected.
Trixie looked up, as if she’d forgotten Dan was still in the room. “Let’s all sit down on the bed. I’ll tell you both about it.” She sighed heavily again, as if resigned to a fate she hadn’t counted on. The three of them sat on the edge of his grandmother Veronica’s bed, with the young Veronica in the middle between Dan and Trixie.
“Okay, Mom.” Veronica said tersely. “What’s going on? Is this my dead father?”
“Hey, I’m not dead.” Dan protested.
“Yes.” Trixie began. “This is your father and no, as you can see he’s very much alive.”
“But then why did you …” Ronnie tried to interrupt.
“Hold on.” Trixie stopped her interruption. “Let me say my peace then you can ask me whatever you want. Fair enough?”
“Sure, Mom.” Ronnie conceded. “Let’s hear it.”
“Yeah, let’s hear it.” Dan echoed sarcastically. “This should be good.”
Trixie gave Dan a pained look, but continued. “Honey, remember how I told you a man shot me twenty years ago, when I was pregnant with you?”
“Yeah.” She nodded.
“Well that man was Dan here’s stepfather and in addition to me, he also shot his mother. And she did die. It was very hard on me and it was very hard on Dan. His stepfather, Rick, fled and threatened Dan’s life. Dan didn’t know what to do so he got as far away as he could, and that’s how he ended up in California. He asked me to go, but at the hospital when they were treating my gunshot wounds, they also discovered that I was pregnant. I freaked a little and I wouldn’t talk to Dan or anybody else, except your grandparents, my Mom and Dad. I didn’t know what to do but I knew I couldn’t leave here while I was carrying you. So Dan left without me. We talked on the phone a few times after that, but I was so closed off by that time, that we fought every time we spoke. I told him about you and he also freaked, not that I can blame him for that now. But at the time I couldn’t handle it so I told him to send me money for an abortion, which he did. And that was the last time I spoke to your father until last night.”
“You were going to abort me?” Ronnie looked hurt.
“No. Maybe. I don’t know.” Trixie hemmed and hawed. “I was confused. You’re nineteen now. What would you do if you found out you were pregnant?”
Ronnie thought about that for a minute. “I don’t know what I’d do.” She finally replied.
“See, that’s how I felt.” Trixie emphasized her point. “I didn’t know you then, don’t forget.”
Ronnie turned to Dan. “But how could you let her have an abortion.”
Dan held up his hands in surrender. “Hey, there was nothing I could do about it. Nobody told your mother what to do. If she was going to do something, she did it. It was a pretty complicated time. I couldn’t see myself having a kid any more than she probably could.”
“So then why did you tell me he died?” Ronnie asked.
“Yeah, I want to know that one, too.” Dan added.
Trixie sighed again. “I thought it would be easier if you weren’t always wondering when you could meet your father. I thought it would distract you. After a number of years went by, it was pretty obvious Dan wasn’t coming back to Pennsylvania, even after his stepfather was put behind bars for life. So I thought it was make things easier for you. I talked about it with your grandmother, Dan, and we agreed it was for the best.”
“My grandmother knew all about this? And agreed to it?” Dan said angrily.
“It was her idea, Dan.” Trixie told him softly.
Dan was shaking his head. “I can’t believe you even named her Veronica.”
“Dan, your grandmother was good to me.” Trixie sighed yet again. “Unlike my family, or most of my friends, she never judged me. She was supportive at a time when I really needed that. She was there for me. It seemed like the right thing to do. I knew you loved her so to name your daughter after her seemed like exactly the right thing to do. And Ronnie grew up playing here on the weekends, just like you did. Everybody was happy. I think your grandmother felt like a part of you was still here, because of her. Hell, she spoiled her rotten. So I think she thought not telling Ronnie about you was better for everybody concerned.”
“But you lied to me.” Ronnie accused, not letting that pass.
Trixie looked over at Dan. “You can help me out anytime here.”
“Not me, I’m dead at this point, don’t forget. I agree with her.” Dan chastised, pointing at Ronnie. “How could you and Chulkie tell her that? How could you both not tell me I had a daughter?”
“Honestly Dan, what would you have done?” Trixie charged.
“I guess we’ll never know, now will we.” He retaliated. “I never had a chance, did I?”
“But I knew how you’d take it. You always made it pretty clear you never wanted kids. And don’t forget your reaction when I told you on the phone.” Trixie reminded him.
“So you gave me one chance to react the right way, with everything else that was going on at the time?” Dan replied angrily. “It so happens I love kids.”
“Since when?” Trixie laughed sarcastically.
“Since my son was born.” He informed then.
“What!” Trixie’s mouth fell open, and turned toward him, raising her voice. “When did you have a child? Wait a minute, with who? One of your bimbos?”
Dan laughed. “You all assume that because I used to date a lot of younger women, that I still do. You assume I’m still exactly the same as you remember me. That I’ll never change. I’ve been here a week and not one person has asked me if I have kids or even if I ever married. Isn’t that curious? Are you still the same person you were twenty years ago?”
“Well, no.” Trixie admitted. “Not by a long shot.”
“So why do you assume I am?” Dan countered.
“So I have a brother?” Ronnie asked excitedly. “How old is he? What’s his name?”
“Brewer is four.” Dan informed his daughter. “You also have a little sister, she just turned one a few months ago. She’s 15 months now, I guess. Or she will be tomorrow.”
”Oh my god.” Ronnie and Trixie said in unison.
“What’s her name?” Ronnie was even more excited now.
“Now this is kind of funny.” He began. “Her name is Veronica.”
Trixie laughed. “No wonder you were so funny about her name.”
“That’s not funny.” Ronnie protested. “We can’t both be Veronica.”
“Don’t worry, honey.” Dan soothed. “We’ll get it all sorted out when I get back to California.”
“Does this mean I have a wicked stepmother, too?” She asked.
“Well, I don’t know about the wicked part, but yes, I guess you do have a stepmother.” Dan told her.
Trixie jumped in. “Yes, Dan. Tell us about her. What’s she like? Please tell me she’s older than Ronnie.”
“Mom!” Ronnie protested.
“Well.” He began. “Abby, um, Abigail, is my wife. We’ve been married almost ten years now. She’s in her mid-thirties, thank you very much. So she’s much older than Ronnie. She’s an architect for a pretty big firm in San Francisco.”
“How’d you meet?” Ronnie asked excitedly.
“At a party. A Halloween party. One of my best friends in California, Kevin, throws the most amazing Halloween parties.” Dan told her.
“Why isn’t she here?” Trixie asked.
“It all happened so fast.” Dan explained. “We got the news about Chulkie and I had to get her fast. With the kids and her work, it just made more sense for me to come alone. Plus she’d never met Chulkie and she didn’t know anybody here so we decided she should stay there.” Then Dan tried to change the subject. “Hey Trixie, how come you never married?”
“She did.” Ronnie answered for her. “Edward Wanninger, of the Philadelphia Wanningers.” She affected a snobbish accent.
“What happened?” Dan asked sincerely.
“It was a bad idea from the start. I guess I was looking for a father for Ronnie. But he was such a pompous ass that it didn’t last a year. I couldn’t take him any more.” She admitted.
“He was a total jerk.” Ronnie added.
“You know she had already had a father.” Dan reminded Trixie sarcastically. “Maybe if you had bothered to tell me. How could you not tell me this for almost twenty years!” Dan’s voice was becoming angrier.
“Calm down, Dan.” Trixie yelled. “I told you why I didn’t tell you before.”
“Before?” Dan bellowed. “You wouldn’t have told me anything now unless our daughter hadn’t forced you to. How could you do that to me?”
“To you?” Trixie screamed back. “This isn’t about you. It’s about what was best for Ronnie.”
“I’m her goddamn father.” He shouted. “I should have at least been part of the discussion, don’t you think? How could I not have been a part of what was best for my own daughter?”
“We didn’t think you could handle it.” Trixie said softly.
“What was that?” Dan asked forcibly. “I couldn’t hear you.”
“We didn’t think you could handle it.” Trixie repeated more loudly.
“You mean you, your parents, my grandmother, pretty much everybody? Is there anybody is this god-forsaken town that didn’t know about her? Did all my friends know, too?” Dan was becoming apoplectic.
“Come on, Dan.” Trixie retaliated. “Be honest with yourself. Think back to when you left. Could you have handled being saddled with a baby? You had just escaped all your burdens. What would a baby have meant to you at that time? Not freedom, I can tell you that.”
Dan tried to calm himself. “But you didn’t even give me a chance. You all assumed I wouldn’t have done the right thing. You assumed a lot, don’t you think? And forget about twenty years ago, what about every year since then. What about continuing to keep me in the dark about my own child. I’m watching my kids with Abby grow up right now day by day and the thought that I missed Veronica’s — not my veronica, I mean Ronnie’s — entire childhood is just killing me. Can you even imagine it if you hadn’t watched her grow up?”
Trixie’s face was frozen in thought, turning pale. She lowered her voice. “No, I have to admit that sounds like pretty much the worst thing I can think of.”
“Well then maybe you can imagine how I feel.” He said sternly.
“But …” Trixie sputtered.
“But what?” Dan interrupted.
“But I didn’t mean to hurt you, I thought I was trying to help you.” She explained.
“Help me?” Dan was perplexed. “How were you helping me?”
“I thought by keeping Ronnie from you, then you might actually get the chance to escape this place. I figured you deserved at least that after all you’d gone through. Even if you somehow didn’t see her as a burden or responsibility you would have at least felt terribly guilty. Maybe you really would have come back here and tried to do the right thing, so to speak. But would you have been even remotely happy? And I know you’ll say we’ll never know now but come on, you know yourself, how do you honestly think you would have felt?” Trixie flopped backwards on the bed, exhausted.
Dan was shaking his head, not sure what to say. “I don’t know what to say.” He admitted. “This is all so surreal. The fact that I’m tripping probably isn’t helping, either.”
“You’re tripping?” Ronnie and Trixie said in unison.
“On what?” Trixie asked.
“Mushrooms.” Dan replied.
“Oh, can I try some.” Ronnie asked. “I’ve always wanted to.”
“No.” Dan and Trixie both said sternly in stereo. They all laughed, releasing some of the tension that had been building up in the room.
“Look, I don’t want to keep fighting about this.” Dan said. “I’m really angry about what you’ve done …”
“Dan …” Trixie tried to interrupt.
“Hang on.” He held up his index finger to stop her talking. “Let me finish.”
Trixie fell silent.
Dan repeated. “I am very pissed off about this, but there doesn’t seem to really be anything I can do about it. We can’t go back in time, can we? So what’s done is done. All we can do is try to figure out what to do now. I want to get to know my daughter. My nineteen-year old daughter. How fucking weird is that. Beatrix, I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to forgive you for this. It’s just so big. I feel like you’ve taken just about the most important thing away from me. I know you thought you were doing what was best. I believe you when you say you didn’t mean to hurt me. But. Well… You did. And I think in the end you may have robbed Ronnie of something very important, too. I didn’t know my real father growing up, because mine really did die. So I know what that was like. It kills me to think she had the same experience when in fact she didn’t have to.”
“So when can I meet my little brother and sister?” Ronnie asked, trying to change the subject.
“I think that’s an excellent idea, Ronnie.” Dan told her. “What are you doing tomorrow?”
“What do you mean?” Ronnie looked confused.
“I mean, do you have any plans for tomorrow that can’t be changed and for the foreseeable future?”
“Why?” Trixie asked tentatively.
“Because I think Ronnie should come and stay with me for a little while. Maybe she should go to school in California. What would you think about Berkeley, Ronnie?”
“Wow, mom, could I?” Veronica looked over at her mother for approval.
“I don’t know …” Trixie began.
“It’s not up to her, Ronnie.” Dan interrupted again, anticipating Trixie’s response. “You’re over eighteen. You’re an adult. What do you want to do? Would you like to get to know your father, your little brother and sister, and even your stepmother, who, I can assure you, is not wicked? She may be a little surprised, of course, but we can hardly blame her for that. Your mom has had you for nineteen years. I think now it’s my turn. What do you say?”
She hesitated, thinking it over in her mind. “Yes.” She said at last, throwing her arms around her father and hugging him again. This time, Dan returned her hug, burying his head in her shoulder to muffle his cries of joy.
A Bang on the door broke the moment and a voice rang out. It was Weaver. “Everything okay in there?”
“Come on in, John.” Dan called, and the door swung open. A dozen pair of eyes peered in.
“What happened?’ John asked.
“I have a daughter.” Dan declared. “Ronnie, this is John, one of my best friends.
“Oh my god.” Weaver declared as he reached out to shake her hand. “She looks just like Trixie when I first met her. And I see bits of you in her as well.”
“Crazy, isn’t it?” Dan suggested. “Can you believe Trixie kept her a secret from me for all these years? It’s like some god damn soap opera.”
“Come on, Ronnie. There are some people I’d like you to meet.” Dan left the room with his daughter in tow, leaving John and Trixie alone in the bedroom.
“Well this is some pretty big news.” John offered.
“I’d rather it had not been news at all.” Trixie sighed.
“Yeah, I’ll bet Dan didn’t take it all that well.” John offered. “Is that why we hardly ever saw you around after Dan left?”
“In a way.” Trixie admitted. “But that was only part of it. Like, Dan, I wanted to have a new life, too. But I couldn’t bear to leave this place, or my family for that matter. And I wanted Ronnie to know at least some of her family so that meant living not too far away.”
“It must have been a tough decision.” John tried to be sympathetic.
“It was, John.” Trixie told him. “And those people out there are going to crucify me. I’ll never be welcome here again when Dan gets through with me.”
“Don’t be too sure about that. He may be mad as hell at you right now, but I’ve seen him in his new life in California. I know the mature, middle-aged Dan. He’ll forgive you. He’s probably just thrilled at the prospect of having another daughter. Is her name really Veronica?”
“Yeah, why?” Trixie asked.
John laughed. “You know that’s his baby girl’s name? The one he had last year. I met her over the summer. She’s really cute. Dan’s wife, Abby, is really great. You’d really like her. Everybody does.”
“Yeah, he told us.” She replied wearily.
“He has two daughters with the same name.” Weaver repeated, and started laughing again. “Now that’s funny.”
Bill was still sitting in a corner of the room, and he started laughing along with Weaver. He gave John the thumb’s up sign when he looked over at him.
Back in the main part of the house, Dan was proudly introducing his daughter to everyone he knew and even those he didn’t. Despite his lingering anger toward Trixie and the circumstances, he was absolutely delighted that he had a daughter he just met. There was so much he wanted to show her and tell her. It was as if one of the ghosts of his past had suddenly come to life. Something good had finally come out of his past. The apparition made visible. As a result, he no longer feared the dead ones as much. And unlike with Bill, he was sure he wasn’t hallucinating.
Dan felt better than he had in a long time. And tomorrow he was going home. Not his former home here, but his real home in California. Where his heart lived. Where his life was. And Dan felt for the first time like he could once and for all, leave the ghosts here in Dutch Wonderland, where they belonged.