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A Long Road to Adrianna
Words by Joseph Kasler
Image by Claudio Parentela
At 5:16pm, Phil stared vacantly at his computer screen, desperately searching for a carefully worded response to an email that was forwarded to him from his boss twenty minutes prior. The email alluded to an error Phil had made and then tried to cover up. His fingers perched upon the keyboard, ready to strike the keys, but he couldn’t find the words that would absolve him from his mistake. His heart raced as frustration won him over. He missed the chance to avoid his current deadlock by only four minutes, as his usual quitting time was five o’clock. The ominous truth was that Phil had indeed acted out of compliance and made no attempts to rectify the error in hopes that it would go unnoticed. The error was not very costly to the organization, but the fact that he had been caught trying to hide it was the issue that plagued his response. Frustration turned to anger as Phil was approaching the bottom of the hour with a single word still pending. He cursed the clock, as it seemed to mock him by continuing to push forward, as he sat making no progress at all. He could take the time to research every misstep leading up to this moment and try to construct a believable lie that would leave him in a position to further defend his actions, or he could admit the truth and hope that his superior would be forgiving. The first option would require time, which currently was not on his side as he was already running late. The second option would require a very apologetic response that would undoubtedly put him in the wrong. Both options were not ideal and potentially risked the same undesired outcome. Phil chose a third option, which was to leave without responding at all and deal with his plight on Monday morning.
A steady rain was falling by the time Phil darted out the door of his office building. He rushed across the parking lot and slid into the driver seat of his neglected, older model Hyundai Sonata. His hair dripped as he glanced at his phone to check the time; it was 5:52pm. He sat for a moment to watch and listen to the rain as it bounced off his windshield. He thought about the previous hour and what was to come on Monday morning. He cracked the window and lit up a cigarette. The sound of the rain pounding on his car had become deafening. His ears rang from stress. But, he didn’t have time to think about anything other than Adrianna at this moment. He was already late.
Phil started the car and sat for a moment to stare at the rain while he waited for his ears to stop ringing. Over the last few weeks his ears began to ring when he became overly excited or stressed. The condition would usually relinquish once he was able to calm himself down. He took note that he needed to get gas, at which point he could get more cigarettes as well. He also needed to stop at the liquor store for a fifth of brandy. His ears had not stopped ringing but he needed to get moving if he was going to make it to Adrianna for his weekly talk. He had never missed one over the last year that the talks have been occurring, and up to this point he had never been even one minute past six o’clock. He took a long pull from his smoke and flicked it out the window. Just as he was about to turn right out of the parking lot to head towards Adrianna, his fuel light lit up. He now had to go get gas before his visit, which would make him even later than he already was. He realized that he should also go get the brandy before his visit so that he would make it to the liquor store before it closed. He turned left and headed for the gas station that was closest to the liquor store.
Phil usually loved the rain. It seemed to calm him, but today it just seemed to be another annoying obstacle. Traffic crawled and he shivered from the chill of his wet clothes. He came to a stop at a red light. He glared at it like it had wronged him in some way. He thought about his situation at work. It made him both angry and worried. Worried because his job was the last piece of his life that seemed to demonstrate that he had any worth and now he was in danger of losing it. Angry because he hated every aspect of his job and longed to quit. He continued to glare at the red light that seemed to sting his nerves and make his ears ring even more. The idea that his job currently consumed his thoughts and emotions tortured him. And tonight, it was also making him late for Adrianna. Finally the beads of rain reflected a green light just before the wiper blades cleared them from his view. He drove to the next corner and pulled into a pump at the BP.
He shut off the car and watched a very light steam rise from his hood as the water met the heat from his engine. He stepped out, swiped his card, made his selections, and rigged the nozzle for automatic dispensing. It was dry under the BP carport, but the air was very cool and the rain outside had begun to pick up. Phil leaned on his car watching the gallons and fares increase on the pump. The ringing in his ears was still there, but the outside noise helped to drown it out. The pump clicked off and, as he released the automatic mechanism to hang up the nozzle, he noticed a man waving to him a few pumps over. Phil squinted to see if he could make out the face. He recognized this person from high school but hadn’t seen him in years and could not remember his name. His initial plan was to get back in his car and just drive off. He could justify this rude course of action due to his current late status and the fact that he would probably not see this person again for a few more years. He was in no mood to catch up with this person, learn about what has been going on since high school with this person, or discuss his life at this moment with this person, especially on a rainy night under a BP carport. However, he remembered that he needed cigarettes. In order to get to the store he would have to walk right by this person. He cursed under his breath as he approached the still waving man.
“Phil Bryant! How the hell are ya?” the man said as he extended his hand for a handshake. “I thought that was you. Man, it’s been a while. So what’s been going on with you?”
Phil shook the man’s hand, still trying to remember his name. “Nothing much, ya know…” Phil responded as he glanced through this man and into the store where he needed to be to buy cigarettes. Phil was angry to be in the position of feeling bad about not knowing the name of this person whom he did not care about at all and who was currently another annoying obstacle making him later than he already was.
“So are ya married? Any kids?…Do you live around here?” the man rattled off.
Phil began, “I was…but…well…you know I am very sorry, but I am running late to this thing and I would love to catch up but… good to see you.” Phil scurried past the slighted man and stormed into the store. He browsed up and down the aisle until he saw the man return the nozzle to the pump and drive off. Phil paid for the cigarettes and hurried back to his car. He lit up a smoke and looked at the time, it was 6:27pm. He sat there for a second trying to remember the name of the man that was so eager to catch up with him, but his face triggered no name. His ears rang loudly now in the silence of the car. He glanced across the street through the rain and saw the liquor store. One more stop and then he would be on his way to Adrianna.
Phil swiftly made his way through the wine section and into the hard liquors. He had no time to peruse the wines the way he usually did when he was in a liquor store. He usually never bought any wine but liked to look at interesting labels and read the food pairings on the backs of the bottles. But today he made his way straight to where the brandy was located. Phil had a certain taste for E & J Very Smooth Brandy. For a while he used to mix it with cream soda, and then he started mixing it with ginger ale. His favorite drink was a mixture of Brandy, ginger ale, a splash of orange juice, and a couple dashes of bitters over ice. But lately he drank it straight up, sometimes straight out of the bottle. He reached the spot where his nectar should have been but they were sold out. His ears started to ring. He searched for something similar to his brand, but what he really needed was the comfort of something familiar. He became overwhelmed with the choices in front of him so he grabbed a bottle of Christian Brothers and made his way to the counter. There were three people ahead of him in line as he stood impatiently holding the imposter brandy. The woman currently being waited on was holding up the line as she emptied the contents of her purse to find enough money to pay for a pint of Jaquins vodka. The clerk was getting very uneasy as the line behind her was getting very frustrated. She kept going on about how she knew she had a five-dollar bill somewhere. It became very apparent that she had already indulged in a few drinks before deciding she needed more. The clerk asked her to leave and she became very defensive, slurring names at him and cursing at the people in line behind her. A security guard came to escort her out, but she collected the items from her purse that were strewn about the counter and staggered out on her own. She cursed as she left and soon the line was moving again. Phil looked at the clock on the wall as he left; it was 6:54pm.
The drive to Adrianna would take about twenty minutes from where he currently was. The rain would certainly slow traffic. He lit another smoke to calm himself as he drove toward his destination. He switched the radio on and listened to a few measures of “My Number” by Foals then switched the radio off again. He needed silence to clear his head. He needed to try to erase all the demons that seemed to be clawing at his thoughts and pulling his attention in all different directions. He needed to think about what he was going to say to Adrianna. He thought about his job and how his performance had deteriorated over the last year. He thought about the man whom he wanted nothing to do with at the gas station and how he doesn’t really have any close friends or relationships. He thought about how he could relate to the lady who was willing to spend the last of her money for a few more sips of booze and how deflated she must have felt when she came up short. All of these troubling thoughts led him to think about Beth. Phil loved Beth. She left him a little over three months ago because, much like his job, he simply lost focus on his performance in their relationship. He started drinking more and eventually became someone that she wanted nothing to do with. He loved Beth but loved feeling sorry for himself even more. He rolled down the window to flick his cigarette out. The cool air felt good and the rain had slowed to a drizzle. He looked at the bottle of Christian Brothers and decided that this time the bottle would accompany him during his talk with Adrianna.
And this led him to think about Adrianna. Phil loved Adrianna more than anything. She was so funny and sweet and stole Phil’s heart from the minute he met her. She completed their little family. He loved playing with her and making her laugh and she brought more joy to his life than he had ever known. At age three, she developed neuroblastoma. She died before she turned four. There was nothing that could have saved her, as the symptoms did not make themselves known until it was already too late. Towards the end, Adrianna would sleep most of the time. Phil would sit next to her bed and just talk to her as she slept. Phil was never able to recover emotionally after she passed.
He arrived at the cemetery to find the gates were locked. He looked at his clock and it was 7:38pm. The trip took longer than he expected. The gates were usually locked at 8pm but due to the rain they must have closed them early. Phil sat in the car staring helplessly through the drizzle at the closed gates. His ears were ringing harder than ever. He entertained the idea of leaving and coming back another time, but realized how badly he needed to talk to his little girl at this moment and decided he could not leave. He pulled his car off to the side of the cemetery entrance and switched off the headlights. It was dark without the lights. He grabbed the bottle of Christian Brothers from the passenger seat and stepped out into the cool wet night air. He climbed easily over the cast iron fence off to the right of the gate and started up the road. Adrianna’s grave was not too far, but the darkness and the rain made Phil focus all of his attention on where he was going. As he walked, he instinctively pulled the top off of the brandy in his hand and took a swig. The sharp taste stung his tongue and heated his throat as he swallowed. His thoughts now swayed to all the things that he wanted to talk about with Adrianna. He felt that he could lighten the load on his shoulders by just telling her about everything that was tearing at his heart. He took another swig of brandy as he stepped off the road onto the grass towards Adrianna.
He reached her grave and stared at it for a moment. The rain was still a constant drizzle, and he shivered from the brisk air as it blew across his bare arms. He stood next to her grave with his ears ringing so loud that he couldn’t hear anything else. He took a mouthful of brandy from the bottle and squinted his eyes shut as he swallowed. Phil was mad at the day that he had just had. He was mad that he was late for his talk and was mad that he had so many unpleasant things to talk about. Just as he was about to begin, he stared at her grave again in silence and remembered sitting next to her bed as she slept. He remembered how he fought back the tears every time but somehow managed to set aside his sadness so that he could just talk to his little girl. He didn’t want to let his feelings of impending loneliness ruin the limited time that they had left together. Phil took another long pull from the bottle, sat down on the ground next to her, and began.
“Hi sweetie. I missed you today. I hope you had a good day. Work is…going good. I got a great email from my boss today congratulating me on how well I have been doing lately. In fact, that is why I am a little late, Daddy was finishing up at work. I am so sorry I am late, but I’ll make it up to you next week by being early. I promise. Oh, and on the way here I ran into an old friend that I haven’t seen in years. We caught up and talked for a little bit, and it was really nice to see him. He would have talked my ear off if I let him, but I told him I had to get going to see my little sunshine.” Phil paused to take another swig and to wipe the rain and tears from his face.
“I miss you Addy. I miss you so much.” He stopped and regrouped. He was having a tough time fighting his need to breakdown.
“Your mom is doing good. I think we are going to go on a trip. Maybe somewhere warm so we can all go swimming. I love you and your mom so much.”
Phil stopped. His eyes pouring tears as he took another mouthful of brandy. He swallowed hard and rubbed his eyes. He couldn’t continue to lie to his little girl but was too ashamed to tell her the truth. He was heartbroken. He felt as though he might as well be lying in a grave next to her because, in so many ways, he was no longer living. Phil sat in silence on that cold drizzly night next to his little girl’s underground bed. He sat with his eyes closed trying to remember every moment they spent together. The ringing in his ears was deafening. The rain stayed constant but Phil barely noticed it anymore. He sat there clutching the bottle tightly. He sat there because there was no other place he wanted to be.