The bell on the front door of the practice chimed loudly, and Allison looked up anxiously as she deposited one of her patients’ folders on the receptionist’s desk for re-filing. A father, and his son who was wired to a portable CD player and bobbing his head silently, walked in. The father steered his young son to a chair in the waiting room and went to check-in at the front desk. Allison stood at the water cooler, one of the paper, cone-shaped cups in her hand, making sure she had a clear view of the parking lot. They should have been here by now.
“I’m here to check-in my son,” the man told Rebecca at the reception desk. “My wife made the appointment about an hour ago.”
Rebecca nodded her head without looking up from her computer screen and waved the boy’s folder impatiently at Allison, her bright red nails glinting horribly in the florescent-lit office. Allison tore her gaze away from the window. “Tyler?” She called into the waiting room. The boy took off his headphones and gave them to his father.
“Do you mind if I come back there with him?” Tyler’s father asked. Allison waved for them to both follow her. Tyler situated himself in the chair, fidgeting restlessly until his father came over and put a hand on his knee. “The wire’s been poking him in the cheek all afternoon. I’m so glad you had an opening.”
Allison nodded, resisting the urge to look over her shoulder towards the waiting room, the palm-tree shadowed parking lot. She put on her mask and moved the overhead light down to get a better look at Tyler’s metal-filled mouth.
Allison saw the wire right away. It was sharp, jabbing, digging right into the sensitive pink tissue of Tyler’s cheek. She could fix this. She could fix this herself; she didn’t need the orthodontist. She clipped and tugged the wire, guiding it back into place along the boy’s teeth.
“You’re alright, son.” His father said comfortingly as Tyler cringed.
“There,” said Allison. “All done.” She smiled and lowered the chair, glancing hurriedly at the clock on the wall. It was 6:26 and there was still no sign of her children.
“What do you say, Tyler?” asked his son.
“Thank you,” Tyler said, jumping down from the chair and following his father to the waiting room.
Allison heard the door chime as Tyler and his father left. That was the last appointment for the evening. She tidied her work area, keeping her hands busy, trying to ignore the growing knot of panic that threatened to devour her insides. She’d made it clear that he should drop the children off at 6:00pm at the office.
“I’m leaving,” Rebecca called back to Allison as she left for the night.
Allison leaned against the glass door, staring at nothing. Ever since she’d demanded a divorce, her ex-husband had done everything in his power to punish her and he’d known just how to do it.
Finally, he pulled into the parking lot. Brian, Jimmy, and Lucy piled out of the car, and Allison clenched her fists; quickly she tried to compose her face. He didn’t even bother getting out of the car. Brian struggled to carry all three scooters (no helmets), while helping Lucy, who was dripping with orange soda and clutching her drenched Laura Ingalls Wilder book to her chest, down from the car. Jimmy balanced all three McDonald’s Happy Meals, while simultaneously trying to keep his wizard hat from blowing away.
Taking a deep breath, Allison opened the door as her three children stumbled zombie-like, hopped-up on sugar, grease, and a lack of sleep, across the parking lot with their loot, the same delirious, Sunday-evening-smiles as always plastered to their faces. But Allison could see. She could see it in their tired eyes, especially Brian’s, the questions, the uncertainty. At the sound of the car’s wheels screeching on the pavement, the three children turned to wave good-bye to their father, but he was already turning into the traffic and didn’t look back.
Allison wanted to scream, to yell at him, but if she yelled at him, confronted him, wouldn’t that confirm the lie that he had planted in her children’s hearts- that she was the bad guy. She swung Lucy to her hip, ruffled Jimmy’s hair, and took one of the scooters from Brian’s hands. Walking across the parking lot on Sunday evenings, children in tow, she always asked herself the same question- is all of this worth it? Usually her answer was, yes. It was worth it because her children deserved a father, the likes of which she had never had growing up. But tonight her answer was different. Roger wasn’t being a father, not in any sense of the word. She shifted Lucy to her other hip, her children didn’t deserve this treatment. I can fix this, thought Allison.
“How was your weekend? Did you have fun?” She asked in a tentative voice, as she began the process of leading her children back home.