Old Habits

Louise Bohmer

 

        Adelle awoke in an alley. Cold and disoriented, she shoved her hands in the pockets of her hooded jacket and squinted through the gloom.

 

Yelling came from above and to her left. She recognized the cigar-scarred voice of Mr. Hatten, screaming at his wife for coming home late again. Behind her apartment, that’s where Adelle was.

 

The strike of a match made her look to the right. A brief, blue spark, and then a small, yellow flame drifted to the tip of a stranger’s unlit cigarette. The matchstick fell from a shadowed hand, into a puddle on the litter-strewn concrete, hissing as it died.

 

How did she get here? Who was with her?  Rapist? Murderer? Both? She scratched at the scabs on her arm through her jacket.

 

The orange ember above her glowed brightly, as someone inhaled deeply on the cigarette. “How’s tricks, kiddo?”

 

Sliding up the cold wall, Adelle stood. “Hey, Dad. Forgot it was that time again.” Her sigh of relief floated on the autumn air in a small cloud. “I’m doing okay. How ’bout you?”

 

He stepped forward, into the slice of light falling from the streetlamp. Dad was looking more transparent this visit, and that worried her some. After fifteen years gone, fifteen years of holding on, his ether was bound to wear thin.

 

“Can’t complain. Not much to do in limbo, but I keep myself occupied. How’s the,” he paused, dropped his head, and rubbed his temples, “tattooing is it? How’s that going?”

 

“Good, Pa. Real good.” Adelle fished a pack of Player’s from the front pocket of her faded jeans. “I’m doing the piercings, though. Nathan’s doing all the tattooing.” Her fingers shook as she lit her smoke.

 

Her father’s wispy face brightened. “You got rid of that asshole Paul then, eh?”

 

Adelle chuffed sad laughter and smoke out the side of her mouth. “Ya, Pa, I got rid of him. Two years ago, remember? When I quit the drinking.” Even on the other side, her dad had a terrible memory.

 

“That’s right.” He nodded, lighting another phantom cigarette.

 

Gray streaks crept into the dark sky, and she wondered how much time had slipped away from them. Dawn couldn’t be more than an hour or two away now. The hours moved in strange intervals when she was talking with her old man.

 

Adelle rubbed her nose as the awkward silence floated in like dense fog. Dad cleared his throat, and then he looked up at her; his brown eyes seemed almost alive for a moment—three dimensional in his two dimensional face.

 

“How’s your mother?”

 

“She’s doing okay. Danny’s living with her again.” Adelle rubbed her jaw; it ached on cold mornings, ever since Paul broke it some five years back.

 

“Damn shame. That kid’ll never get outta that town.” Ash burned through Dad’s knuckles, up toward the ectoplasmic filter.

 

“Actually, I felt better coming out to the city knowing he was with her. You know Mom—she needs someone to protect her.”

 

“True. I didn’t do a very good job of it, did I? Not with any of you.”

 

Letting the tears come then, Adelle dropped her head. A curtain of blue-black hair brushed her thin cheeks. “I didn’t hate you, you know. I mean … back then … no matter what I might’ve said, Dad, I didn’t hate you. I think now that I’m older, and I’ve gone through my own shit … I think I understand you now, you know? Why you did the things you did.”

 

“You’re better than me, kiddo.” His fading grin looked weary. “At least you try to fight the demons—understand them. I never could.”

 

“I ain’t doing so hot myself in that department, Daddy.” She laughed and sniffed.

 

“You still try, baby.” He grew fainter as the sunlight poured into the sky. “You still try.”

 

Adelle reached forward, touching the cold, sticky air that was her father. “You can rest now, you know. I’m gonna be fine.”

 

“Not until you’re happy, sweetheart.”

 

“I am happy, Daddy.”

 

He shook his head and stared at her, long and sad. “There’s still a big, black hole inside of you. I can see it, and I know I’m a large part of it. Until that’s healed, I’m not going anywhere, kiddo.”

 

“I don’t know if those wounds are ever gonna go away.” Zipping her jacket tighter, Adelle looked away from her old man. “I get scared when I feel good, Daddy. Scared someone’s gonna pull that happiness away from me.”

 

“Like I use to.” A cold wind that felt like a hand stroked her face. “Just try to let go of them fears, baby. Please?”

 

She could scarcely see him now; just a vague outline, a shadow of yellowed teeth and bloodshot eyes, remained. They left the alley, talking like they use to when Adelle was a teenager, and neither she nor Dad could sleep in their quiet, small house.

 

“How’s this Nathan treating you?”

 

“He’s a perfect gentleman, Daddy.” She smiled up at her father, and noted the concerned frown knotting his brow. “At least compared to the ones in the past he is. Don’t worry.”

 

“That’s good.” His voice sounded shaky. “Glad to hear it, darlin’.”

 

Adelle wished she could still see all of him clearly; hold her old man one last time. Smell the aftershave mixing with the nicotine on the black suit they’d buried him in.

 

“I better let you go, kiddo.”

 

“Ya, we don’t open the shop until noon.” She glanced at her watch. “I can go grab another hour or two of shut-eye before Nathan gets up.”

 

Her father watched her, his eyes seeming too wide, his teeth too bright. Then he went wistful, and looked away. It was a gesture that spelled regret in red, bold letters.

 

“Think I’m gonna try that diner across the street.” Dad pointed to the glaring, neon “OPEN” sign. “I can smell fresh apple pie coming from inside. Can’t eat it, but at least I can breathe in its essence. That’s some comfort. Least your sense of smell don’t leave you after death.”

 

Adelle gripped the outline of his hand, her fingers passing through. “I love you, Daddy.”

 

“I love you too. See you in a year, darlin’.”

 

She listened to his footsteps as they left the curb, until an oncoming taxi drowned out the steady beat of his loafers. The front window of the diner fluttered for a moment, and then the waitress cleaning the countertop looked up, as if she saw someone. A chair inside the restaurant moved out from a table, but the waitress didn’t seem to notice.

 

Adelle walked back to the front steps of her apartment building. She fished a key chain out of her jeans, and lit another cigarette.

Old habits die hard, she thought, as she walked up the stairs toward the battered, double doors.

 

From a young age, a curiosity for all things odd grew in Louise Bohmer.  In later years, this fascination manifested itself in her strange stories. She'll try her pen at just about anything.  Speculative, horror, erotic, fantasy...  If it jumps into Louise's imagination, she'll pull it out andsee what she can do with it.  You can find Ms. Bohmer's work in WickedKarnival—Halloween Horrors, Gothic Revue, Chainsaw Magazine, FEAR, and Raw Meat. Louise also works as a copy editor for Wicked Karnival Magazine.

 

Photo Courtesy of 123rf.

 

 

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Story Copyright © 2006 Louise Bohmer. All rights reserved.