I knew my father had had sex the minute I walked into the kitchen. It wasn’t
as though he was smoking a cigarette and basking in the afterglow. It was more
subtle than that.
But I knew.
It was his hair. Dad is really particular about his hair. It’s strawberry
blonde, like mine. He spends more money on shampoo and conditioner and gel than
I ever would. I just wash mine and twist it up in the back. He goes to a stylist
at a salon where you have to make an appointment two weeks in advance. I go to
the walk-in barber and take whoever has a free chair.
Dad wears his hair sort of long for someone who’s forty. And the whole
left side was flattened against his head with a few pieces coming out at weird
angles, like he’d slept on it funny. Which meant he’d slept somewhere
else, because the first thing he would have done here when he got up, was shower
and fix his hair.
So I knew he’d had sex. Plus I could see the neck of his tee shirt in
the vee of his sweater. It was inside out.
I got my cereal out of the cupboard—two blobs of shredded wheat—boiled
water in the microwave, poured in on my cereal and drained it off. My breakfast
looked like a dish of soggy hay. It’s what I’ve eaten every morning
since I was four. My mother always made it. I ate it. When she wasn’t here
anymore, I made it.
A bowl of fibre to start the day was one of my mother’s rules. She had
a lot of rules, and if you asked her why about any of them she’d smile and
say, “Because I’m the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, that’s
And I almost thought she was, until two years ago when she died, and the universe
didn’t even slow down, not for a second. It just kept on going.
But I liked knowing my mother’s rules, even the weird ones that I didn’t
really get. So I started writing them down—all that I could remember—in
a little red notebook I kept on my dresser. I got up to fifty-three.
One of my mom’s rules—it’s number eleven on my list—is,
Don’t talk to Izzy in the morning. Now it’s not like I’m some
kind of foul, nasty person when I first get up. It’s just that I like to
think about things and chew and not talk for a while. Shredded wheat takes lots
of chewing, you know. And the more you chew, the bigger it gets.
So my dad didn’t say anything to me. He sat at the end of the table with
his smushed hair and his turned around tee shirt and a big, goony grin on his
After half a dozen spoonfuls I glanced over at him and his face flushed, as
though he knew that I knew what he’d been doing. The thing is, we talk about
everything. My friends either think it’s so cool or deeply weird, but realistically
who else am I going to talk to? My mother is dead. Unless I want to hand out three
ninety-nine a minute to the Psychic Seers Network we’re not going to be
doing a whole lot of talking. And my big brother Jason is not someone you talk
to. He’s usually someone you talk about.
So my dad and I have this deal. I can tell him anything, and he can tell me
anything, and neither of us tells anybody else.
Dad cleared his throat a couple of times. It sounded like Spencer, my cat,
trying to hack up a fur-ball.
“I spent the night with Anne and I think I’m in love with her,”
he said. (My dad, not the cat.) He said the words so fast it took me a few seconds
to sort them out into some kind of sense.
I looked at him again. Who was Anne?
“No. No, I don’t think I love her. I know I do.” He looked
surprised by what he’d just said. “Truth is, Izzy, I liked Anne from
the moment I met her. I always felt great around her. She’s kind, she’s
gentle, she’s smart. So we started spending all this time together, as friends.
And I thought that was all it was going to be.”
He got the dopey look again. I’d finally put a face to the name. Anne.
My dad is a consultant on a TV show where these two designers go around decorating
rooms for people. It sounds boring but the two guys are so funny and they bicker
like an old married couple, so lots of people tune in who would probably never
watch that kind of program. Anne had started working on the show at the first
of the year.
Say the guys are decorating a bathroom and they decide to put the toilet paper
in a basket. Anne was the one who went from store to store to find the best toilet
paper baskets and then dragged them back to the office. Another day she might
be looking for old lava lamps or handmade quilts. I’d met her once or maybe
twice. All I could remember was someone about my height with short, dark hair.
“I always felt happy when I knew I was going to see her,” Dad said.
“I felt…like a teenager again. And then one day I kissed her and I
He couldn’t seem to stop talking, either. I mean I know in the abstract
that my father has sex. He’s a guy. He’s good looking. He’s
not that old. But I don’t want to know he’s doing it. I don’t
want any details. Just because we talk about everything doesn’t mean he
has to tell me everything. I don’t want to start thinking about body parts
and sweaty sheets.
So I nodded. I couldn’t talk anyway. I had a mouthful of shredded wheat
that wasn’t getting any smaller no matter how much I chewed. And if you
can’t say something nice…(Rule # 6.)
“I’m going to ask Anne to marry me,” Dad said.
I did a cartoon spit-take. Milk and strings of cereal sprayed everywhere. “Marry
you?” I choked out.