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This seems to make Howard uncomfortable. He wipes a meaty hand across his face, then slams it down on the steering wheel. His gesture reminds me of why I’m here.

“She wanted you,” he says. “I tried to get her to have an abortion, and she wouldn’t do it.”

“She told me my father left…”

“That’s what I wanted her to say,” he says quickly. “We knew each other for a long time. I gave her the job at the firm when she graduated high school. It was different in those days. You could get a job based on competency rather than a degree. She was a very competent woman. Saved my ass a bunch of times when clients went haywire. I used to send her in to talk to them, calm them down.”

“I didn’t come here to reminisce about my mother,” I say.

“So why are you here?”

“I want to know about your regrets.”

He pulls into the parking lot of a diner—Peppered Pete’s—just off the highway. There are a couple of semis parked in the lot, a trucker’s diner. Before turning off the car, he says, “Let’s get something to eat.” I nod reluctantly. This will be my first official dinner with my father. I follow him out of the car and through the parking lot. He’s making things way too easy for me. He doesn’t wait to see if I’m tagging along.

When we get to the door, he holds it open for me. A real gentleman. The air in Peppered Pete’s is loaded with grease. But I can’t even remember the last time I was in a restaurant, so I feel charmed. We sit in the back by the bathrooms where every few minutes I hear a toilet flush. I don’t comment on Howard’s choice of table, or the fact that he positioned himself with his back to the door. I leave to go to the bathroom before the waitress can come over. “Whatever you have,” I tell him.

When I get back, there are two steaming mugs of coffee on the table. I hold my cup, but don’t drink anything.

“I loved her,” he says. “I wanted to marry her. My wife got sick…”

I think about my mother. Had she loved him? Had she been using him?

“But you didn’t want your children with her?”

He picks up his knife, sets it back down. “I have children.”

“If you loved her, you should have wanted her children.”

“You think it’s that simple, but it’s not,” he says. “You’re just a kid. You don’t know how hard things can get. Complicated.”

I smile wryly.

“Excuse me,” he says. He disappears into the restroom. The timing is perfect. It’s like the universe mapped it all out for me. I see our waitress turn the corner with two plates in her hand. I get up and go to the restroom again, making sure to leave my purse on the seat so she knows we didn’t run out on her. She can’t see my face. I come out a few seconds later. Blueberry pancakes, eggs, and bacon. I dip my hand into my purse and pull out the Ziploc baggie I brought.

Then he’s back, sliding into the booth, his hands still damp from washing.

“Margo.” It’s the first time he’s ever said my name. It makes me feel empty. Sad. My eyes dart around, looking for the waitress. She will be back in a minute to check on us … bring more coffee.

He takes the first bite of his pancakes. Then the second. I watch, mesmerized as he eats what I put on his pancakes.

“She wasn’t in the right frame of mind to have a baby. I don’t know what she was saying to you, but she was depressed. She spoke about death a lot.”

“She didn’t speak to me at all.” I still haven’t touched my food. He looks up at me, his fork still cutting through pancakes. It looks like he wants to say something, but then changes his mind.

“I loved her,” he says again. “I don’t regret that.”

“You killed her … and the baby.”

He wipes his mouth with a napkin, and it leaves a purple smear. “No. That was … she wanted…”

“You gave her the drugs that killed her, ex-Mayor Delafonte. What will people think about that?”

“What do you want?”

I smile. “Nothing. Nothing at all. I have everything I need now.”

And with that, I get up and leave, keeping my head ducked.

I don’t know what happens after that. I don’t check. But I fed my father nightshades and hoped to hell he died.

THERE IS NOTHING in the news about the former mayor, Howard Delafonte. I look and look, but I can’t find it. If the nightshades I gave him stopped up his black disgusting heart, no one was reporting it. Unlikely. I decide to take a bus out to Cress End, the town where he lives—larger than mine, but still smaller than most. I have an address for him that I found in a notebook in my mother’s bureau, scrawled in sharpie across the page. I wonder what she intended to do with it? If it ever crossed her mind to go to his home and confront him with his family watching. It was his old house I was going to see, the one where his children grew up. I walk the two miles from the bus stop and stand across the street under a sickly looking tree. The Delafonte house is a white colonial with plum shutters. The lawn is neat—evergreen bushes trimmed to ovals and smooth white stones lining the path to the door. I wonder if politicians always choose this style of home because it gives them a sense of the White House. I can imagine his children running across the lawn, and Christmas twinkling through the front window. I can imagine it all because it is the quintessential life.

I’ve been standing on the corner long enough to not be able to feel my toes, when the former Mrs. Delafonte walks out of her front door and heads down the path. It’s a quarter ‘til three in the afternoon. She opens her mailbox and bends her head low to look inside. I am shocked. She is the opposite of my pretty mother—round and sturdy with a helmet of iron-colored hair. She is wearing the ugliest sweater I’ve ever seen, which makes me smile. She likes ugly things; she might like me. She is about to turn to go back into the house when she spots me standing across the street. I stand very still as she crosses the two-laner, her head swinging left then right to check for traffic. She throws me a cautious smile that lights up her plain face.


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