Outside the Lines

He is a good father, anyone can see that.
Which doesn’t explain why he gets drunk
that Thanksgiving, so drunk he needs the uncle
to lead them to the hotel, both cars weaving
in and out of the lines, the father laughing,
the girl in the back seat holding her breath.

Or why, when the three of them
check into the room, he goes straight out
to the hotel bar. The daughter waits in the other bed
while the mother sleeps.
She watches cable movies, making deals:
He’ll be back in an hour.  When he isn’t:
OK, then, by the time the movie ends.

A fumbling outside. She opens the door
and her father staggers through,
eyes runny and narrow. Garbles
as if to explain, smiles a liquid smile.
She helps him with shirt buttons,
belt buckle, lets him do the rest.
He’s in his briefs and headed for bed
but she knows he’s forgotten his contact lenses.
He’s slept in them before,
spent the next day good as blind.

She leads him to the sink, closes the drain,
leans him over it.  With one hand she pulls
at the corner of his eye as if it were her own
and catches the hard brown disc
in the palm of the other.

Then he tries to get into the wrong bed,
not the one with the mother already in it,
her face in the pillow. The girl says
no, that’s not your bed,
steers him to the other.
He wants his own, more room, thinks the girl,
all she can let herself think.

When they wake, she can’t even look at him.
All the way home he is gray and chastened.
The three of them drive in electric silence
through the dim November morning.


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