A Mystery by Beth Schmelzer

What is a mystery?  I checked my iPhone and found: 1) an inexplicable event or phenomenon, or 2) a person or thing that arouses suspense because of an unknown quality. My father is a mystery because I do not understand him, and I guess that’s what “inexplicable” means.

I am so angry! My counselor at school reminded me to “take a deep breath; count to 10.”  How can counting help to control tempers? I ache inside for acceptance.

When I ask Dad a question, his first answer is always, “No!”  Even if he does not use “no,” his words are negative: they mean “no” to me.  I want to see him smile. I want to see him interested and enthusiastic about what I am doing.

Yesterday was Dad’s birthday.  You would think that would cheer him.  I made his favorite cup of tea.  While I was rolling his daily hard-boiled egg on the counter to take off the shell, he entered the kitchen.

“I can do that myself!” he bellowed.  “Don’t peel the egg for me.  You know I don’t need any help.  You think I am too old?”

Backing off from this confrontation, I turned to prop up a card and a small package I had put on the bright yellow kitchen tablecloth in front of the sunny window.  I used the ceramic turtle I had painted for Dad in art class as a paper weight.  The plate, napkin and stainless silverware were already set up in anticipation of this meal.

“You don’t remember me saying I don’t want any presents anymore, Leigh?” he said as he pointed to the package.

I cringed as I got ready to answer softly.  ‘You cannot be unhappy if you are smiling’ is a saying I read in my counselor’s office in June.  “Ben sent that envelop to me from college.  He ordered something online a little late, so he sent it to me to put in a gift bag along with his card.” I continued to smile furtively.  “Open it to see what he got,” I suggested.

“You don’t have to tell me what to do,” Dad started to say as he ripped open the gift bag.  “It’s a decal like the crab magnet I wanted.  You two know I don’t put decals on the car, Leigh.” He raised his voice to me again.

Trying to change the subject, I asked Dad what kind of dessert he wanted for his birthday dinner.  You can probably guess the loud answer I received. “No dessert at all!  Doesn’t anyone listen to me?  I am not going to gain any more weight.  Stop pestering me, daughter!”   He stormed out back to his solitary bedroom.

I put down my card for Dad with the gift certificate to the fishing store next to Ben’s gifts and glanced at The Atlantic magazine on the kitchen table which no longer appeared sunny.  The mood coming from Dad seemed to project into the room causing everything to appear gray and gloomy.

“Why Are There So Many Sinkholes in Florida?” the headline on the cover jumped out at me.  I grabbed The Atlantic and my cellphone and left the kitchen through the patio door to the backyard.

I dialed Mom at work while I walked.  “Hi, Sweetie!” she answered cheerfully.  “Did Dad have a nice birthday breakfast?” At least one of my parents was optimistic in the morning.

“He crabbed about everything, as usual,” I whined.  “What can I do to make him happy, Mom?  I am so tired of trying.”

“I cannot figure him out myself, Leigh.  His moodiness and complaining are why I leave early for my own career.  Twelve-year-olds cannot be to blame; it is not your responsibility.  Make your own plans and enjoy your summer vacation, dear.”

Suddenly, I heard a startling noise which seemed to come from the house. The kitchen and patio were still intact but it appeared the rest of the house was moving like a trapped animal in quick sand.  In front of me, I saw the middle of the house swallowed by the earth.  Is this what a sinkhole looks like? My thoughts whirled in my brain and my body was paralyzed:  I could not move or figure out what to do.

My father was in that sinkhole! Should I try to save this man who had made my life miserable?  How can I rescue my father?

I heard the sirens coming down the street without even knowing who had alerted them to our emergency.  The rescue squad, fire engine and police cars squealed up to our lawn and the first responders jumped out fast to reach the man screaming for help.  When they lassoed my father’s arms flailing in  the air above him, they were able to secure the ropes around him and pull him to safety.

The ordeal was over for us both.  I was able to hug my limp father on the stretcher heading to the hospital, while I was hoping his recovery would make us both realize the love we shared but couldn’t verbalize until we almost were lost to one another.


2 thoughts on “A Mystery by Beth Schmelzer

  1. Hi Beth,

    Every interaction Leigh had with her dad I cringed with her. I could feel how awful it was to try so hard to get her dad’s acceptance only to be shot down again and again. What grace you offered as an author in this conclusion. Lovely work.


  2. Finally got to read this! What a touching story almost anyone could identify with, particularly from the child’s point of view. What a great reminder to think before we interact with another. Words have such power, too often used negatively. This story is well crafted. I find myself wondering what were the first words of the dad to his daughter at the hospital? Thanks for sharing a thoughtful story.


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