- Defensible Space
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[End Page 148]
Sometimes Ned Parrish dreams that his ex-wife has come back and lives out of his converted office and greets him in the hallway like an apologetic stranger. Their daughter, Julie, celebrates and rearranges the [End Page 149] house, and he accepts it because her joy outweighs his qualms. After the dream, he wakes in a mood, stranded with little to say.
After their split, he spent some years at a simmer while his ex-wife remarried and made vague apologies and kindly overtures. Julie, who was five at the time, expressed her feelings with an unexpected facility for swearing and a penchant for tipping furniture at school, later telling a behavioral therapist that she didn’t want her dad to talk mad at her mom. This surprised him and his ex-wife, who were so careful around each other they didn’t know their own feelings or how apparent they were to their daughter.
Over breakfast Parrish studies the fine, oat-straw-colored hairs on the back of his daughter’s neck. The light straight on turns them so white they almost disappear; the same light from the side turns her brown eyes green. She is a skinnier, taller, prettier version of her mother, whose image and a mild sense of alarm remain fresh after the dream, because it is plausible. Her current union is showing signs of wear.
He blows on his coffee and watches his daughter furrow cold egg yolk with the tines of a fork and massage the husky mix under the table with her bare feet. She slips bacon fat to the dog, which takes the contraband and disappears. Julie worms her feet into socks and shoes. Parrish drinks coffee and struggles with a sharp-cornered sensation, a worrisome feeling that he’s forgotten to do something for her. It’s partial and vexing like the memory of his dream. Whatever it is, it fills him to choking and makes him look away from her. He would call it love except for the unrest it causes him.
When a muted horn blows outside, Julie leaps up, chair legs and sneakers hiccupping on the linoleum, and spears her school bag off the chair stile and onto her shoulder. She goes by him, pausing only to give him a milky kiss and a hasty mumble before heading out the door and pulling it closed with an explosive percussion that rattles the casement. The dog appears at the door, silent as a ghost. She huffs and whines and looks from the door to Parrish and back to the door. He gets up from the kitchen table and peeks out the window. The year before, after Julie’s eleventh birthday, he was demoted and no longer accompanies her to and from the bus. He squints slightly at the risen sun and watches her stick figure walk to the end of the gravel drive. A spirited hop lands her on the second step of the bus, and she pinballs through the doorway just ahead of the doors winging in and the hiss of brakes. [End Page 150]
Over the summer, the top of her head reached his shoulder, and her coordination has yet to account for the extra length. In repose she tends to resemble something you fold for easy storage, like a deck chair or an umbrella. As the bus eases forward, Parrish breathes through the unsettled feeling and maps out the day. She had said, “Love you, Daddy,” and the sound or its memory holds like a musical note in the rush of quiet. He can smell her shampoo, a trace of wildflowers. He washes the breakfast dishes and leaves them to dry.
In places the tang of woodsmoke still makes him tear up. With scant rain, the signs and odors linger. The fire sheared off all evidence of civilization, or nearly so, a few hundred homes included. The county and the regional planning agency, usually at odds, are working together to expedite building permits. For Parrish, it means a backlog of survey work.
He seldom works...