Dad at 9:15

In this fraught meeting between father and daughter, a woman rescues what she can from an estranged relationship.

two weeks ago, when i saw my father, i wrote, “dear diary, this morning when i met my father, we hadn’t seen each other in five years? six? i have no clue.”

seeing my father is always an event—it happens so rarely that i want to capture it (do i really?) in a photo or a note in a diary that i gave up keeping many years ago. so the other day i met him and wrote: “dear diary, this morning i met my father, we hadn’t seen each other in five years? six? i have no clue.” i couldn’t remember how old his daughters were—thirteen? seventeen?

the eldest is apparently more than seventeen—she studies in warsaw as an accountant (the first thought i had was, awww, it’s so like my dad—to send a girl abroad for an accountant diploma; later, i remembered that when i was eighteen, he told me he couldn’t afford to let me go to vilnius, and i’d swallowed that bullshit, though i knew for sure he had enough money to send me wherever he wanted—he just didn’t want to do anything for his ex-family; but when he told me about my stepsister, i could only think “good for you, girl, run, run”);

but i am procrastinating, it’s difficult to start this story, like entering ice-cold water with a severe hangover;


we hadn’t seen each other for many years, i cannot recall under what circumstances we’d met the last time. someone’s funeral? signing papers? at a café? (an impossible scenario, i’d rather meet a dinosaur there than my father, though he’s a dino in a certain way. i’m thinking of an old joke about a blonde being asked, what are the chances of meeting a dino in the red square, and she says: “i will either meet it or not, so it’s fifty-fifty.” so it’s fifty-fifty.) he used to bring me an envelope with cash for my birthdays until i turned twenty, now he just calls me, much to the delight of both sides.

this time he called me as well and we got into a warm conversation. we talked about covid and masks and vaccines and shit. for a moment i even decided he missed me and told him something like “maybe we could meet someday, i need your advice with work” (i always knew that he would react to a business matter faster than to any other), and he said, let’s try, maybe within the next two weeks. we finished the conversation, and i felt high. he was the first person who called me to say “happy birthday,” and it felt important and exciting (even the moment when he said with unpleasant surprise, how old are you? thirty-five? he didn’t remember, so i told him the truth—i knew it would scare him, and I did it to spite him, and i was right. aging is the power i have over him.)

aging is the power i have over him.

he called me a couple of days later saying that he finally had time to talk.

i wasn’t ready at all: i was pulling on pants running to the gym, so offered to call him back after my workout, but, as it turned out, i was late. cue household tasks, dinner, clients, you name it.

he talked to me in a cold voice and said i was too late, he was having dinner, and no, we couldn’t meet because of covid and shit, maybe later, in may, so what was your question?

i said, nothing urgent, i just miss you and want to see you, that’s it. the conversation ended, and i felt empty and stupid, as always, though, whenever we talk.

a week later i found out that my cousin was sick. it was the hardest covid case among the people closest to me: he got that cytokine shitstorm and had been spending weeks in the hospital getting oxygen and useless pills. i brought him a bag of pastries and a stephen fry book (he still hasn’t read it, i’m sure), and he sent me a grateful message. my aunt probably told her brother that i wasn’t a coldhearted bitch, so he decided not to wait till may and called me to say he could meet me on friday at nine.

i said, nine, wow, a bit early, maybe ten? he said, no, it’s not convenient for me, 9:30. then i remembered i had a meeting at ten and said, okay, nine is perfect, and he said, 9:15 then.

on friday morning i was drying my hair when he called me at nine and said he had arrived.

i went out. he was standing in the middle of the playground where i usually play with his granddaughter (that was actually the first time he and i were spending time at a playground together), wearing a warm hat and a mask, so i could see only his eyes. it was awkward and a bit weird to look into my own eyes, only faded. i thought he felt the same as we stared at each other eagerly and carefully. he looked tired, unhealthy, old. we clumsily stomped around like a couple of jerks on a prom dance floor, talking about covid, kids, work, money and shit. i was looking at him, trying to recall all those moments where i felt trapped, rejected, punished not for the things i had done but for being who i was, and felt bored as if trying to brew tea from a pale soupy teabag. i just couldn’t stay in the moment. i was thinking about different things instead: like his favorite king crimson tracks playing in the car; a winter morning when we were sledding down an icy mountain, and he broke the sled with his heel, trying to stop us from sliding onto a highway; how he almost literally tore an ear off of a shithead who’d been bullying me at school;

the evening when he picked me up from a birthday party. i was fifteen, pretty, and pretty drunk, but he said nothing, just brought me to his place, where i found a box of perfume and wanted to open it, and he said i shouldn’t as it was a gift. a gift to someone special? i asked, and he turned red, and i said, wanna know how i see her? and described her in detail, enjoying seeing his face grow longer, and i said, and you know what? her name is marianna, and he closed his face with his hands: i guessed right. i couldn’t have known this, but somehow i knew.

it’s hard to destroy someone who has already been destroyed with unlove.

those memories were coming easily and unwittingly. i was thinking that he’d made me strong, almost invincible (it’s hard to destroy someone who has already been destroyed with unlove), he taught me that there are things that I must not accept, as the price for them is higher than i can afford, and if i want something, i should make it happen myself. those things will matter more, even if they seem to be less than what i wished for.

i was looking at him and for the first time i wasn’t Forgiving him or Feeling Pity and Sympathy, i was just looking at a man who’d gotten old earlier than he should’ve, living the life he wasn’t enjoying, though he had chosen it, and he was fine with that, otherwise he’d have chosen something different—he was strong enough to live the way he wanted to. i saw that for him it was sort of an act of bravery, the way he came to me from his huge residence, where he had locked himself up long before corona—quarantined himself as a dino, hikikomori—ancient, gray, withdrawn, but not empty. and for the first time i realized that he loved me just the way he could. i’d wanted another love from him, the love i made up and thought he should give, so i took his actions for the absence of love.

he had locked himself up long before corona—quarantined himself as a dino, hikikomori—ancient, gray, withdrawn, but not empty.

and now i take it the other way—i just take it the way it is and don’t ask for more. i know it’s all he has for me, so it’s enough.

dear diary, i got very cold that morning, but it was fine.

Minsk, Belarus

Vera Filenko writes feature scripts, prose, and poetry in Russian and English. Her prose has been published in Belarusian and Russian independent media and literature almanacs (Snob, Makulatura, AST). She received a grant from the Union of Belarus Writers for publishing her shorty-story collection Transfer Me (2018).