In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • A Great Dad
  • Tia Clark (bio)

Cliff pushes open the door to TGI Fridays with his body, and the cool air smacks him like a blessing. Outside, that Virginia sun, all fire hot and disrespectful, shaped something of a heart of sweat on the back of his white T-shirt. The new hostess stands up front in her red and white, her hair long and pressed as such girls do. She keeps her eyes down on the menus and the Clorox wipes she cleans them with.

"What's up," Cliff says. She nods at him, but he's past her too soon to confirm if she smiled. Probably did, though. He did twenty pushups before he left his apartment. He always does push-ups before he goes to see Dolores.

It's payday and Cliff's daughter's birthday, and this coincidence, too, is a blessing. He's just stopping by Fridays to pick up his check. He'll take it to the Cashland on Jefferson and find a nice gift from the Toys "R" Us to bring to the barbecue, and there, he'll work the grill while Dolores ices cupcakes, and the baby will sneak away from freeze tag to kiss her real daddy on the cheek and Dolores, from the corner of his eye, will show traces of the old wild, how she used to want him. How she used to slink up beside Cliff in bed, eyes glazed and small, breath wet with Hennessy, one hand on his chest and the other on his then-shaven face, whispering she can't believe how good it can be, how much better he is, the best she's ever had.

Behind the empty striped bar, Malcolm slumps with his chin on his hand, twisting a dark-blond dreadlock between his index and middle fingers. When he sees Cliff, he straightens up a little. Smiles. "Well, if it isn't my Dish Daddy." This is Malcolm's nickname for him, because Cliff has risen to head dishwasher, and the "daddy" is how Malcolm flirts with the men who'll allow it. Cliff allows it, for the most part—what's the harm? "Sit ya ass down," Malcolm says.

Cliff smiles, but says, "I can't. It's my daughter's birthday. Just came to get my check." [End Page 61]

"Daughter?" Malcolm says, and clutches where pearls would be. He plops a coaster down on the slick wood. "We toasting to your daughter then." He grabs the house vodka and pours it into a short glass before Cliff can protest.

And it's something about Malcolm, or maybe it's Cliff's loneliness in this hell-hot town, that makes him take a seat on the stool. It's barely 2:00 p.m., and the baby's barbecue's going at least till sundown. What difference will one drink make?

Malcolm lifts the short glass and places it on the coaster.

"So who's this daughter?" he asks. "You never talk about no daughter."

"What you mean 'who's this daughter'?" Cliff asks. "She's my daughter. It's not no secret. I told you I have a daughter."

"I think I'd remember something like that," Malcolm says. "You supposed to be my Dish Daddy."

"C'mon with that," Cliff says, and rolls his eyes.

Malcolm softens. "What's her name? She got a mom?"

"Her name's Enursha," Cliff says.

"Enursha . . ." Malcolm stretches the ur like it tastes good. "The fuck kinda name is that?"

"Her mom named her."

"Do you even know what inertia means?" Malcolm says.

"I told you, her mom named her."

"She from up North?"

Cliff shakes his head and sips. "Down here."

"Damn, nigga, you just moved down here." Malcolm smiles, but Cliff doesn't.

"I known her mom for a long time. We used to date back in the day."

"And now . . .?" Malcolm asks. "Y'all just fuckin?"

Cliff smirks. "Depends how good a gift I get."

Before Malcolm can probe any further, he's on to another topic.

Today it's the guy he just finished seeing. Some ghost of TGI Fridays' past who used to work behind the...


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pp. 61-69
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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