After their early dinner their last night in Provincetown, they walked to the beach. Light reflected off the water, sprinkled the waves, and glimmered to the other side, past a boat, lighted also, moving slowly. There were mingled smells: grilled food, the sea, his daughter’s perfume.
The flash of Mandy’s phone reflected off her windbreaker. She’d barely spoken to Rob since he’d told her to stop taking empty water bottles out of the wastebasket. She would line them up on the dresser in the room, as if this was going to magically recycle them.
Besides her added height, she’d gotten moodier in the six months since he’d seen her last. She could switch on the sulk, a real drip-drench. He didn’t need to share a wet blanket threaded through with I-Don’t-Want-To-Be-Here.
“If you’ve got something else you want to do, go ahead,” he said.
A staircase led off the beach to the parking lot behind the inn where they were staying, next to the sushi/stir fry place where he’d just watched her pick at her food. From there she could go join the kids from the night before, or who knows, maybe meet a new group on Commercial Street.
After she started to jog away, Rob called, “Not too late!”
She kept running on long bare legs, dark shorts, darker jacket, into the twilight. Fourteen was young, although sometimes not so. Forty-four was too, although not really.
The first time Mandy said she wanted to go explore on her own, he’d come out to this same spot, watched white sailboats anchored in the bottle-clear shallows. Then he’d walked along the water, the bay ruffling to blue to the eastward. Ahead of him, a large dock, part of a complex of multiple buildings, stretched over the sand. It was a well-known cruising spot. The night before, after Mandy had fallen asleep, he’d considered it. Instead, he just remembered what it had been like under there.
There was no reason to go there during the day unless you were a seagull or something looking for scraps. He’d taken out his phone and called his office to check on their progress with installing the new patient-focused software.
When she was eight, Mandy told Rob she liked he was a dentist, because “people are scared of you.” At twelve, as Rob and her mother Andi were splitting up, Mandy said that she read how a lot of dentists committed suicide, and she made him to promise he wouldn’t do it after he moved out. Rob gave her some additional facts: her grandfather and great grandfather, also dentists, had not done so. She said okay, maybe Grandpa, but since she’d never met her great grandfather, how did she know he wasn’t lying? Like you lied to my mother, Rob thought she would say next.
Rob started walking the way his daughter had gone. He kept letting her go off on her own. They were supposed to be spending time together.
When he came to the top of the staircase and into the parking lot, he was surprised to see her there. They met at the trunk of his car, as if they’d planned it.
Mandy shrugged. She didn’t seem upset, just bored, or distracted.
They went back to their room. Mandy had the bed and Rob the fold-out couch. He wasn’t being cheap; he thought it would give them more time together. Luckily, there was a shared bathroom on their floor that was vacant most of the time when she was parked in their private one.
“Dad, did Mom tell you?”
“Remember when you said I’d learn about life and death when I had a pet?”
He’d told her a lot if things; he was a parent. How could he not be good at it? His patients were all kids with stained bibs. He asked them what flavor polish they wanted, bubble gum or mint? He played Santa with his gift bags of toothbrush, mini-toothpaste, and floss.
“Did you know Lila… we went to the vet and they put her to sleep?”
Andi had told him Mandy preferred now to be called Amanda, but whenever he forgot to, she didn’t react. He hadn’t heard about the dog.
“I think she got sad when you left.”
That was two years ago, he almost said.
“Dad, is there something you want to tell me?” she asked after another ten minutes or so, after he’d picked up the book he’d brought.
“Why did we come here?”
“To spend time toget—”
“Is there something you want to… show me?”
“Besides I love you very much?”
One thing that people came to Provincetown to do was surf-casting on Race Point. Rob thought it might be interesting to see, if not actually fish. But the weather had been cold for early-October, and then it had rained. And Mandy didn’t like they would have to drive on the beach to get there. Cars and trucks and SUVs on the sand were damaging, destructive. You might not meet the dolphins your plastic bottles were endangering but you would hear the sand crabs cracking under the all-wheel-drive.
Rob turned on the TV. It opened onto the guide for all the stations, and he worked through it.
“Mom said you and your friend Ben met here, and maybe you wanted to show me the places where you went.”
Andi would probably never forgive him. But would she ever stop trying to define for their daughter who he was?
“Ben’s gone,” Rob said.
“Does that mean you’re coming home?”
Speaking of suicide, he almost said.
He scrolled through channels. Amanda went back to her phone. Outside, the tide was easing in. By dawn, the water would come up under the large dock down the beach. Then, as the tugging of the new day drew it back, summoned by routine, birds would hop through the wet packed sand, beaks busy at the bubbles of buried things.
Jon Fain’s recent publications include short stories in Unlikely Stories and Malarkey Books’ King Ludd’s Rag; flash fictions in The Daily Drunk and Reservoir Road Literary Review; and micro fictions in Blink-Ink and CLOVES Literary. In 2021, his work was nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions and Best Microfiction. He lives in Massachusetts, USA.