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adeline hauber

New Fiction


by Adeline Hauber

      My name isn’t my own. It has been tampered and rearranged with, and I never had a say in it. It bothered me that I was unsure what parts of myself came from my real father. Did I like to paint because he was a painter? Do I feel extra guilty for things because I’m Catholic? I looked like I could be Native American, but was born with the last name Barnes. “You have the same nose as him,” my mother tells me.
      In the fourth grade, my name changed from Barnes to match my newly acquired stepfather, Cunningham. But this guy isn’t my father, right? It’s hard to remember. Am I Scottish now? I was pacified with candy and a trip to the beach and told that it will be much easier to all have the same last name.
      “Don’t you want to have our last name? Think about if we go on vacation. It will be so much easier not to be questioned.” My mother tucked her auburn hair behind her small ears. She had used this as her reason for the first thirty times I asked why my name was changing.
      “We’re a family now anyways” she almost whispered as she put the leftover rice and chicken into the Sub- Zero refrigerator. Her frame was slender and she was bony; her collarbones protruded from her chest and protruded when she sneezed.
      “Should I call him Dad?” We had moved into their house about two months after my ninth birthday, and I was still getting used to having a dog never mind a step father. Their house was in Tolland, and even though it was only twelve miles from my old town, it felt further. My home was no longer the small cape on cul-de-sac next to the cranberry bog. Now, it was a stark white Victorian house with black shutters that looked like eyes. I spent a lot of time drawing and painting in “my” room, and found solace in the isolation.
      “If you’re comfortable with calling him Dad, then yes. Give it time, honey, I’m sure you’ll get used to it.” My mother closed the refrigerator and walked to the family room where my step father was reading. I glanced into the den and saw the dog reclining on the sofa.
      Where am I supposed to go? I wanted to ask.
      The grades blended together until I entered the sixth grade at a private school. My mother’s watery eyes confused me until she smiled and hugged me. At 11, I didn’t understand the concept of a private school. I was from, where there isn’t private anything. No private ways, no private parking, no private tables. The feelings of secrecy at my new school were unwelcoming and irritating, though not unfamiliar. The veiny translucent ivy slithered up the brick buildings and coiled around the windowsills, constricting Willington Academy’s secrets. I was the new outsider, with gangly limbs and wavy black hair. I was used to this. The teacher stuttered over my name on the first day of sixth grade.
      “Cunningham,…” This is where the trouble always started.
      “Is it pronounced Evelyn?” Mr. Knox studied his attendance sheet.
       My throat was scratchy and nervous. “Avalon” I said, knowing that I would have to repeat myself. I glanced around the room. There was a fireplace that doesn’t get used, a computer for the class, and a portrait of white blonde boys in striped shorts with maroon rugby shirts, holding the school flag. The mahogany desks were lined neatly and spaciously in the room. Catholicism and khakis were the norm. We weren’t sitting in alphabetical order, which made me feel better in my navy blue chinos. Mr. Knox stared at me, confused.
      “Avalon.” My voice wavered but was audible. Why wasn’t I named Katie? Nobody ever screws up Katie.
      When I got older, it became harder not to know things about my father. I was walking home from the library in October of my freshman year and it was warm enough to wear short sleeves. The sky was streaked with cobalt and cyan, stacked on top of each other like packed shirts in a suitcase. The houses didn’t look the same; some were yellow, blue, white or brown. Mostly Victorians with towers and turrets.
      My mother’s emerald Volvo pulled up, and I got in and cracked the window. She tapped the steering wheel, perhaps in tune with whatever the song on the radio was. The drive home was short.
      “How was school?” She asked.
      “It was ok. I have so much homework. I barely get to see daylight because I’m in school so much.” The sun was starting to set and you could see a few stars. She nodded and quasi-sympathetically patted my leg.
      “Mom…” I was always slow in my delivery. “Will you tell me about Kevin?” My hands tensed when I asked, and I felt beads of nervousness gather in their wide lines
      “What would you like to know, Ava?” She didn’t seem exasperated, though I knew she didn’t like to talk about him.
      “I don’t know, when is his birthday? I’m not weird for wanting to know about him.” I was always defending myself.
      “I barely know what he looks like.” I added.
      “Well honey, Kevin was just too scared to be a father, but that doesn’t mean he’s a bad person.” She was obviously trying to convince herself of this.
      “Where did you guys meet?” The last time I asked this question was a few years ago at a family Christmas party after my mom had a few beers. My aunt had overheard and slurred, “ For Christ’s sake, Lisa will you just tell her?” The secrets consumed my mother like I wanted them to consume me, but nobody ever told me anything. My mother didn’t answer me.

      I turned and looked at the sky, the breeze seeping in from the cracked car window and warmed my face. I saw a small red dot floating in the sky. Please don’t go behind the trees yet. The silence rang in my ears and the dot grew larger. It was a hot air balloon. I stared at it and waited for my mother to answer. Please don’t go behind the trees yet. The red dot was suspended in the air, like my mother’s words. My eyes began to water. I just wanted to know about him. The balloon, as if pricked with a pin, had disappeared behind the trees.

      When I was a rising sophomore at Willington, I got invited to the Summer Arts Program at Savannah College of Art and Design. I was also invited to the Summer Arts Program at Tisch, but I chose to go to Georgia because that’s where my biological father lived, according to my mother. I begged to take a bus there, arguing that I wanted to feel “connected to the roads” that took me to Savannah. Bullshit. I just knew if I took a bus nobody would want to come with me.
      Sky punctured the velvet curtain on the bus windows, seeping in through the small holes in the fabric. I could smell the dust. There were a few young people, the rest middle aged. I guessed they were going home to their families. I slept off and on during the ride down, and woke up sporadically from the woman in the front row’s incessant throat clearing. I thought about my biological father. I remembered seeing a picture of my father once or twice as a child. It was one of those photo booth pictures with a green backdrop and I was in the picture with him. He had straight brown hair and large brass wired glasses. His eyes were so light blue they were almost white.

      The bus dropped me off on King Street in downtown Savannah and it was raining. The first week of June was over, and the rain collided with the warm street; a fog hovered over the tar. The Spanish moss mummified the hundred year old Oak tree branches in nearby parks. There were cobblestone streets lined with stores, homes and restaurants were busy with people. These houses here weren’t Victorian. Strong columns and deep porches with ceiling fans lined the streets, as if armed and ready. Would I recognize him if I saw him on the street? I scanned the crowds for men with dark hair and “my nose”, revealing that I didn’t know who I was searching for.
       I had arrived a day early. I wasn’t even sure I was going to go to the art camp, and decided that if I needed more time to look for him, I would. Check in at the hotel wasn’t until the next day. It didn’t matter. In my corduroy pocket was a crinkled card I got for my thirteenth birthday, still in the envelope with a legibly penned return address. 161 East Harris St, Savannah Georgia 31401. It was from Kevin, my biological father. When I called 411 and gave the name Barnes, the operator connected me. I hung up immediately.
      It was 2 in the afternoon and easy to find a cab. I gave the driver the address. When I got in the car I noticed my right knee was bouncing.
      “Do you like living here?” The window was smudged and I couldn’t see much outside because of the rain.
      “Yes ma’am, it’s pretty nice livin’ here. I ain’t from here though. I’m from Bamberg, South Carolina, so this is a purty big change for me. Still getting’ used to the city.” He wore a backward orange hat marked with a purple paw print and a frayed plaid shirt.
      “Is that a Clemson hat?” My step father leaves ESPN on a continuous loop in the kitchen and I recognized the colors.
       “Yes, ma’am, though we say Clempson, not Clem-sun.” He smiled in the rearview mirror at the same time I blushed.
       “So what are you doing in Georgia? Is it still cold up there where y’all live? I’ono how y’all do that.”
      “Not really. I’m here to go to the Summer Art Program at SCAD. I’m a painter, or I want to be.” The rain had stopped and the sky spit small droplets every couple of minutes.
      “Well, good fer you. Ain’t that somethin’. My mama used to paint. She could paint pictures that looked like the wuter and the sun melted together. Yes ma’am, my mama was a painter.”
       We were silent then, and he dropped me off about five minutes later. A brown and gold sign for St. John’ The Baptists Church was the first thing I noticed outside. I crossed the street and stood in front of the sign, trying to figure it out. It’s called St. John the Baptist, but it’s a Catholic church? I still don’t get it. I walked about thirty yards and saw the house. It looked old, and as I walked closer I saw it had one of those placards that tell you the year the house was built. The door was a chipped yellow, though it looked like it was bought that way.
      A girl startled me. She was walking down the same side of the street with a slouching unzipped backpack and poor posture, probably about ten or eleven years old. Her shoelaces were untied, but she didn’t notice. I pretended to look through my bag. I saw her. Her curly brown hair splayed around her round face and pierced ears. Her eyes were so light blue they were almost white. And we had the same nose.
       I didn’t say anything. She hurled her bag on the front steps of the house and kept walking, looking back and forth between her house and the park about one hundred yards in front of her. When she disappeared into the park gates, I looked back at the house too. I hadn’t noticed the antique brass “161” nailed on the side of the house until I was on the front porch. I can’t believe I made it here.
      The doorbell sounded long and quiet and I heard feet shuffling inside the house. A chunky blonde answered the door.
      “Hello! May I help you?” She leaned against the door frame and draped her arm above her head. She was beautiful.
      “Um, yeah actually.” I extended my hand. “My name is Ava Cunningham…” I waited to see if my name familiar to her. Nope. She stood there smiling, like she knew I was having trouble finding my words.
      “I’m sorry, this is kind of uncomfortable… but is my father, Kevin Barnes here?”
      Her face sunk a little, but she remained poised.
      “Kevin? He isn’t here right now.” She seemed nervous.
      “Do you wanna come inside?”
      I said thank you and stepped into the house. It felt like a dream. I remember snapping in and out of reality, forgetting where I was every few seconds as I walked down the hallway. I felt unsteady. There were framed photographs everywhere. Photographs of waning sunsets, grinning faces and oblivious animals. She shuttled me in to the kitchen before telling me her name- Sarah. Light thread into the room through the many windows and I heard the quiet hum of the dishwasher. The room was mostly white, except for the alpine green granite counter tops and round oak table. Papers and portraits cluttered the refrigerator, and I saw the little girl from outside. She did look like me.
      “So, um… are you his wife?” We sat down to two glasses of sweet tea. I wasn’t sure how long I could stay, and wanted answers as fast as possible.
      “Oh gosh, no. I was his fiancé. Kevin actually doesn’t live here anymore. He moved out a little over a year ago.” She glanced outside but jerked after a sun ray shone directly in her brown eyes, before continuing:
      “We met about, let’s see, ten years ago in Berkeley. I had just graduated, and Kevin’s older than me so he was working at the time. He missed California when we moved here. I’m sure that’s where he moved to.” Her long manicured fingers drummed on her thigh. Her eyes were bright.
      I nodded my head and looked at my own hands.
      “Were you guys together for a long time?” I managed to ask.
      “About four years. We had a daughter about a year before we stopped seeing each other. Her name’s Lucy, she’s almost nine. How old are you?”
      “I’m sixteen.”
      “Do you-” She began, but I accidentally interrupted her.
      “Did my father ever tell you about me or my mother?” I couldn’t believe I had asked.
      There was a short pause, but she didn’t break eye contact. We were both starting to put everything together. She closed her eyes and inhaled loudly.
      “Well, sweetheart. He was always so vague. He said he had family in New England, but he never offered much more. The times I asked, he told me his parents were gone but he did have some relatives.”
      “Oh.” I didn’t know what to say. It was confusing, listening to this stranger tell me about my father. I wanted to be angry, but she was so sweet. The kind of person who tells too much to someone they don’t know, but is really sweet while they tell you.
      “Were you close with him?” Her eyebrows questioned and I could see her becoming afraid of the answer.
      “No, I don’t really know him. So he just left?” I felt sick saying it.
      She looked like she pitied me, which made me even more sick. “Yeah” she said. “He just left.”
       My stomach was turning and I was having trouble focusing, so I decided to leave. I wasn’t expecting this. I thanked her for meeting me, and told her I was in town for about a week.
      “You can come back later this week when Lucy is out of school. It might be nice for you to meet her.”
      “Thanks, I really appreciate you talking to me. It was nice to meet you.”

      I walked down the front steps and zipped up my jacket. I noticed the street lined with Oaks and Cypresses. Maybe I could go back later in the week when I felt more composed, but I didn’t know. What was at 161 East Harris Street for me? I was surprised at how calm I felt, and though didn’t feel better, I knew I could tolerate the presence of ambiguity within myself. At least I knew it wasn’t me.

Adeline Hauber is a Boston native getting her BA in English and Creative Writing from the University of Massachusetts. She writes mostly fiction, and admires Richard Brautigan and Leslie Marmon Silko. This is her first publication.

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