"Hello, Prin," he said.
The girl turned from the table where she was arranging a display of women's shoes.
"What are you doing here?" she said, scowling. She was wearing black lipstick and had a ring in her nose.
"It's your birthday," he said. "I thought we could go to lunch."
"Go away," she said, turning back to the table.
"Stop calling me that name." She dropped a shoe on the floor and cursed, picking it up. "Could we go out to lunch?"
"I'm working, can't you see that?" She seemed unwilling to look at him.
He looked around the shoe store. It was empty, except for a woman at the cash register. "Can she cover for you?" he said, pointing to the woman.
"Why are you doing this?" she said, under her breath.
"Because it's your birthday and I'd like to take you out."
"Is that supposed to impress me? That my father wants to take me out on my birthday?"
"A birthday is something to celebrate."
"Why now?" she said, her pale skin reddening as she wheeled on him and glared. "You haven't been around for a couple of years this time. Why are you coming back in my life now?" "Because you're my daughter. I want to be part of your life."
"You didn't want to before."
"Please. Do we have to go into that again? Can't we just go out to lunch?"
She sighed. "Okay. But you're not buying me lunch. I'm eating the same lunch I eat every day, and I'm going to the park. You can come if you want to."
"If that's what you want."
"That's what I want." She called to the woman at the cash register. "Dolores, can you take over for me? It's my lunch break."
"Sure." The woman looked at him and said, "Are you Mica's father? I can see a resemblance."
"Yes. Although I don't call her Mica. I call her Prin, for Princess."
"Dad, that's not my name anymore."
"You can't stop being a princess."
She put her hand to her eyes. "Just stop. Please." She went over to the counter, reached behind it and pulled out a brown paper bag, then walked out the door. He had to hurry to catch up to her.
In the park, they sat on a bench across from some men playing chess at a small folding table. It was an October day and very bright, and there were knots of people playing Frisbee, strumming guitars, reading books, chatting.
She opened her bag and began eating a green apple.
"I'm glad you like apples," he said. "I was worried you weren't eating right."
"Because I'm so pale? I'm not sick, I just don't like going out in the sun."
"You used to. You were very outdoorsy. Do you remember when we went camping?"
She frowned. "Don't make this some sentimental visit where we talk about my childhood, okay?"
He sighed. There was a whistling sound, a wheeze, in it. "I'm sorry, Prin. I made a lot of mistakes. I know I was a bad father."
"You were a horrible one. Why are you here? Why don't you just stay away?"
"Because I want to see you. Is that so bad? I want to find out how your life is going. I want to know you better."
She took a bite of her apple. "I don't understand why. What's so special about now?"
"I don't have much time left."
"What are you talking about?"
"I have cancer. My lungs. It's pretty advanced."
She looked straight ahead, at some pigeons fighting over crumbs on the lawn. "That's your own fault. All that smoking you did. God, you were never without a cigarette. Stupid."
"I know. I should have stopped a long time ago. Do you remember when you used to hide my cigarettes?"
"I was 8 years old. It was one of your periodic visits. You'd swoop down into our lives like a bird, stay a few days, then swoop off."
"I was a wanderer back then. A career in music will do that to you. I spent too much time traveling."
"It wasn't the travel, and you know it."
"What do you mean?" "Stop lying. Mom kicked you out because you were cheating on her like crazy."
"Okay, I guess that could have been the reason."
"Don't guess," she said, looking straight at him. "It was the reason."
"Your mother was the only woman I ever loved."
"Stop it. Just stop it right now, will you? Stop trying to feed me that crap. It's not true, and you know it. I can't believe anything you say."
"So, do you like working in the store?"
"It's a job. It sucks, but it's a job."
"Have you thought about doing anything else?"
"Like what?" "You like to draw, don't you? You always had artistic talent."
"I'm not that good."
"No, you were terrific. Remember the pictures you used to draw? You'd lie on the living room floor and draw these elaborate pictures, fantastic scenes with kings and castles and princesses and dragons. Remember?"
She nodded. "Yes."
"What happened to that? Do you do it anymore?"
"I haven't drawn anything like that in years."
"You used to make up stories about them. Remember? You had a whole kingdom you created, and characters, a whole history. I thought that was so fascinating."
"Why are you so concerned about this? It's something I did when I was a kid."
"Because it was so creative. You had such an active imagination. Dragons. Do you remember the dragons? They were pink and purple and green. The colors denoted their rank. I think purple were the wise old ones. They changed color as they got older, right? Do you remember?" "You remember more of this stuff than I do."
"Maybe it's my age. I think about the past a lot. Do you know, I visited our old house."
"I don't know. I drove down the street, and there was a man outside gardening. The guy who bought it from us. I just parked the car and went up to him and introduced myself, asked if I could see the place. He was very nice. He gave me a tour."
"You're weird. I'd never go back there. Too painful. Like those pictures and stories I made up. It was all fantasy. The world has no place for that, I found out."
"It's a shame you feel that way. I think we had some happy times there."
Her features softened. "What does the house look like?"
"It's changed a little. They converted the garage into a family room. Painted the outside a different color. Cut down some trees."
"Not the big oak tree? Where we had the treehouse?"
"No, that's still there."