The tea tray sat on a mahogany side table in a living room with dark green curtains drawn against a late afternoon sun. My father made polite conversation about my journey, the weather and the usual fluff people talk about when they would rather sit alone. His new wife poured tea.
Light from an ornate brass lamp highlighted my father’s sword collection—a red velvet scabbard with a sword from India, an Italian sword in a worn leather scabbard and one naked rusty sword.
“Where did that one come from?” I asked pointing to the one with the rusty slice of murderous steel.
“Ripped it off a German soldier, Second World War,” my father said. “Can’t believe that was sixty years ago.” I imagined someone’s son curled up on a battlefield, crying for his mother, guts spewing.
“Could have been you instead of him,” I said.
“But it wasn’t,” he grinned, blue eyes sparkling.
“A Nazi sword. That’s a collector’s item,” I said. “Bad mojo though.”
“Mojo? What’s that?”
“Well, our luck’s been pretty good,” he said reaching for his new wife’s hand. I swallowed back the bile.
“Dad, I don’t have any mementos from this house. I live three thousand miles away and you’re in your eighties. Can I take back one of the swords?”
The new wife coughed and left the room.
“Why would a woman need swords?” my father asked.
“Sentimental reasons. What’s going to happen to them?”
“They go to the company manager. He’s like a son to me.”
“But he’s not your son, Dad. I’m your blood. I’m the one who trained fifteen years with swords.”
“Wooden swords,” he said.
“Chinese swords.” I pointed to the two inch scar above my left eyebrow. “Night training with a sword. Twelve stitches. I almost went blind.”
He winked. “Yeah, sure.”
I sighed, avoided an eye roll and unclenched my fists. He narrowed his eyes and took a drink of vermouth. I scanned the backdrop of shelves overflowing with novels— The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, War Strategies, The Legend of ANZAC, Pride and Prejudice, T.S.Eliott, A.B. Patterson…a young girl’s high school novels mixed up with war. My father’s stare burned into me. He crossed his legs, uncrossed his legs, crossed them again, one leg shaking in rhythm to his words, his hand trembling as it clutched the third glass of vermouth. He lit a cigar and blew out a few rings of smoke, grinned and raised his eyebrows—a kid doing something naughty.
“How’s your mother?” he asked.
“O.K. She’s living in a one bedroom apartment in Shanghai.”
His new wife came in, dusted around a little, sighed and left. I wondered about that blue sapphire on her hand. My mother wore an identical ring, an identical sapphire…
“What’s she doing in Shanghai?”
“But that’s her second language,” he said. His face clouded over.
“She speaks five languages. How many do you speak, Dad?”
He looked to the books as if for an answer. “English, Australian and a smattering of American.”
I laughed and he smiled.
“She won’t let me give you anything,” he whispered nodding his head towards the kitchen.
I sucked in a breath. “You’re kidding.”
He shook his head. “Not a book, not a sword, not a dime.” I followed his gaze and blinked back tears.
“I’m driving back tomorrow, Dad. I’ll miss you.”
The new wife walked into the room again, sapphire ring glinting in the low lights. “Your father needs to go to bed now. It’s getting late.” She took my father’s hand and he stood up.
I kissed my father and walked upstairs to my room, stopping to run my fingers over Renoir’s painting of Two Young Girls at the Piano. I wondered where our Baldwin upright had gone. I could almost hear my sister play Fur Elise interspersed with rapping rhythms from a ruler over young fingers.
The next morning, I rose early and packed my bag. I dragged it to the front door and loaded up the Subaru. My father crept down the stairs in his brown striped dressing gown and offered me War and Peace to add to my library.
“Thanks Dad, but I don’t have room for more books.” He nodded and I hugged him goodbye, sensing he was not well. His voice trembled. “I’m sorry,” he said and waved as I pulled out of the driveway.
That night, after eight hours of driving, I pulled into a motel and unpacked my toothbrush and pajamas. I opened my handbag and found a note inside. Look for a gift in your backpack. Don’t tell her I gave it to you. I miss you too. Love Dad. My fingers searched deep within my backpack and I pulled out a six inch long, ivory dagger with a ruby and emerald inlaid scabbard. I hugged it to my chest as I fingered the carved ivory. I read his words over and over again.
Maybe I hadn’t lost him after all.
Kaye Linden has an MFA in fiction from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts on Whidbey Island. Kaye is the short fiction editor of the Bacopa Literary Review, an annual print journal and teaches short fiction at Santa Fe College in Gainesville. Kaye has signed with Shelfstealers.com to publish a collection of tales from Australia: “Fifty Tales from Ma’s Watering Hole.”