Universally enthusiastic chaos-artist & storyteller

Chapter nine: A father’s request

I open the door to Jaxogeras’ picture gallery and look around for a moment.
Every time I come here the pictures are different.
It’s both impressive and a little sad.
As if they’re not proud of any one of them to leave them hanging on the walls for long.
I wonder where Jaxogeras even is right now? They must be in because the door is open but I don’t see them in the gallery itself.
I might have been a burglar, picking the painting off the wall and walking away with them.
Not that I’d do such a thing but they could at least lock the door when they’re not in.
Maybe they’re in the back?
“Jaxogeras?” I ask opening a door.
It’s dark beyond the door and yet Jaxogeras’ voice comes shouting from within “Close that door right away!”
“All right!” I slam it shut, not quite sure what happened “Jaxogeras?” I ask.
“I’ll be with you in five minutes.”
I walk back to the gallery part of the place.
Five minutes takes a very long when you’re waiting.
But Jaxogeras makes it from the back eventually, holding a small stack of papers.
“Sorry about opening that door.” I start.
“It’s all right. These photo’s weren’t ‘it’ anyway.” They tear up the pieces of paper before I have the chance to look at them and tosses them in the waste paper basket. “How have you been sister?”
“I’m good I think.”
“Still enjoying the job?”
“Yes, very much so. Are you still enjoying photography?”
At this, Jaxogeras groans “Yes? Yes but no? I like the fiddliness of it, the balancing of chemicals and the tweaking of parameters. But then it takes so long to take the actual picture. And then make the plate and print the picture and it just feels like by the time I’m at the end of the process I’m already somewhere else with my head and I can’t quite enjoy the fruits of my labour.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“It’s fine I just…I thought I had it. And now I don’t anymore. Can I say something a bit awful?”
“I’m not sure if I feel like starting over again just yet, looking for a new calling, a new direction all over again. Maybe it’s just easier to remain the ‘photography doll’ even if it’s not what I want to be doing exactly.”
“Well, I can’t decide that for you.”
“I know I just. Kregaya is doing her whole stage thing, you found a nice place to work, Zjeliah has found his calling so hard he barely leaves his parlour and I’m just sort of bobbing around, jumping from hobby to hobby looking for something that sticks.”
“Is that really how you feel?”
“Because I feel exactly the same way but backwards.”
“Yeah, to me it seems like you always know what you want and somehow manage to get there too. And you’re so skilled. No matter what you set your mind to you manage to make it happen one way or another.”
“That’s very sweet.”
“I mean it, and I’m certain that if photography isn’t it, then you’ll think up something new again in no time because I know my sibling and I know you can do anything and everything.”
“Not everything.”
“Nearly everything then.”
At this my sibling wraps their arms around me and hugs me tightly “Thank you Delaylah, I think that was just what I needed to hear today.”
“You’re welcome.” I look around to the pictures and all of a sudden they feel different. Instead of feeling like the well-curated exhibition of a professional, they feel like the wanderings of a doll who was looking for something they couldn’t find.
And that’s all right.
In a way, they look prettier to me now.
We talk for a bit after that. Silly stuff, the lighthearted things that you forget the moment you exit the door.
By the time I arrive at the hotel, the sun has risen already.
It’s time to get to work.

I tie my apron around my back and pull out the cleaning supplies. When a voice behind me pulls me from my routine.
“Delaylah, will you come to my office first it’s convenient for you?” I look back to find Mister Viola standing by the door.
“Yes of course.”
He nods sternly, then disappears up the steps.
I wonder what I did?
Did he find out about The time I went to Utopia with Melody?
Would he mind?
I don’t think I did anything wrong technically, I have no curfew or other restrictions after my work is done. But then on the other hand maybe I was expected to say no. Or tell Melody she’s not allowed to go out and bring her back?
I’m not her dad and she’s nineteen so an adult by human standards.
I’m afraid that the defence will not fly very far with her actual father.
I don’t like this suspense. I look at the dishes, decide they all need a good soaking and toss them in the pail.
Then wipe my hands clean and rush up the steps after him.

I knock on the door.
“You called for me sir?”
“Oh, yes come in.”
I open the door.
The man is sitting behind his desk looking through various shades of paperwork “You made quick work of those dishes I see?”
“They needed some soaking. I’ll finish them after our talk.”
“Right.” He pushes the papers into a pile and closes up his inkwell “Well, uhm, sit. Yes, sit down.”
I sit down feeling as though I’m not the only one feeling nervous here. I’m not sure yet if that’s assuring or extra scary.
The man takes a deep breath, I’d follow his example if I could. “It’s about Melody.”
“Okay?” He knows! He definitely knows, should I just fess up now? Would that make him less angry? Wait he opens his mouth again let’s see where this is going.
“It seems like you and my daughter have built up a bond, a bond I, to my shame, lack. They say it’s the age but I’m not sure of that, Harmony doesn’t seem nearly as distant.”
“Well, despite their appearance, the two are very different people.”
“Yes, I’m quite aware of that. But I fear that something may be…wrong with Melody.”
“What do you mean?”
“That came out wrong!” he explains, pulling out his handkerchief and dabbing his glistening forehead “What I mean is I worry about her. You see, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but, at night she leaves the house and goes off to do who knows what and I’d like nothing more than to confront her about it, find out where she’s going and what she does there but I doubt she’d be honest with me. And worse, it’d only deepen this already present rift.” He sighs “I love Melody, I truly do, but I feel absolutely powerless in figuring out her needs and wants. She has this barrier up that I cannot move past.” He sighs “She used to be such a sweet kid but now it feels like she doesn’t even want me around anymore.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Although I’m still lost as to why you came to me.”
“Well, I want you to follow her. I know how that sounds but trust me. I’m only asking you this because I want what’s best for my daughter. For all I know she’s in trouble but afraid to ask for help.”
“I see…I-”
“You don’t have to answer straight away. Please just think on it a bit.”
“All right.”
The man smiles then takes a deep breath and stuffs his handkerchief away again. “Well, then I guess that’s all I wanted to ask. You’re dismissed.”
I get up, bow and head back to the dishes.

That evening I wait outside the inn and witness Melody clambering out the kitchen window.
Melody jerks towards me then sighs “Delaylah, what are you doing here?”
“I need to talk to you, can we go somewhere?”
“Well I’m headed for utopia so if you wanna join I guess-”
“Actually I was wondering if we could go somewhere a bit more private?” I move my face near hers “Your father knows you’ve been sneaking out.”
Her eyes go big “Well obviously you should have led with that, this way.”

The bar is nothing too fancy, your standard watering hole.
Melody has an untouched beer, I have an empty glass in front of me.
“So uhm, you might wanna start at how you know dad knows I guess?” Melody breaks the heavy silence.
“He asked me to his office this morning, he uh…he wanted me to follow you and find out where you went every night.”
“Wow, that’s a dick move.” She crosses her arms.
“I don’t think he means it like that. I think he’s genuinely worried about you.”
“I mean he can talk to my face if he’s so worried.”
“Can he?”
“I mean…” Melody’s shoulders sag, just a bit “Okay fine but did you tell him about Utopia?”
“No, I mean I wanted to discuss the best course of action with you that’s why we’re here.”
“Just tell him something harmless like…I’m working in a soup kitchen or something.”
If I could pull up an eyebrow I would “Will he believe that?”
Melody rolls her eyes “Fine, how about-?”
“Why not tell him the truth?”
“You mean ‘going to clubs at night to make out with my girlfriend and homeless lost causes I call friends?”
“I mean your friends are…interesting but they’re not evil or anything.”
She shakes her head at this “That man has worked his entire life to give me and my sister status, class and the social clout that comes with that. Me squandering that to hang with low-class people would absolutely break his heart. And the gay thing? It may be accepted in your world but that’s just because your species can’t make babies. Out here two women together means two women who’ll never make grandchildren for their parents. A wasted investment, a useless child.”
“That’s horrible.”
“That’s the world we live in.” She pulls out a cigarette and lights it. “I know one day I’ll be married off to some loser and if I’m lucky I’ll get the better of him and my marital duties end after I kicked some kids onto the planet. But right now I’m young, beautiful and adamant about making enough love to last me the rest of my life. So no, I don’t want to tell him the truth.”
“I don’t think I like your world very much.”
She huffs, blowing smoke into the air “Tell me about it. But I hope you’ll permit me a bit more fun for now?”
I nod “But we’ll need a believable story. I don’t want to lose my job over this.”
“That’s fair. What about a book club?”
“A book club?”
“I love to read, well, used to. I haven’t done it much lately but I used to devour books when I was young. I can pick up the habit again to sell the story. Besides it might remind him of better times and convince him ‘the old Melody’ is still in there somewhere.”
I wish she wouldn’t say those words so cynically. “But why so late, and why in secret?”
“Well the secret part is just the curfew itself, if I was allowed out the door past ten I wouldn’t have to sneak around, and the time itself…maybe some of the members work in the factories and have to work late. But only some, I still need some ‘mid-class’ friends to ease his mind. Oh and make sure the books we read are the respectable kind so stuck up literary titles only, no penny dreadfuls or other cheap junk.”
“I think I can sell that, do you have some titles? I only read fairytales myself.”

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