by Josh Stallings

"Stay Pure" was all she said, then walked out the door. Toad had no idea what to make of it. Ever since he had moved down to the city he had had a feeling everything could, and most likely would explode on him. "Maybe this was it, maybe this was the big bang I heard coming." He thought, "or not. Probably too soon to tell anyway." Pulling on his hat and scarf he walked out into the gray fog of San Francisco. A cup of espresso and it would all come into focus. His life had taken so many strange turns, twists and almost acrobatic tumbles. Now at the ripe young age of thirty eight he not only didn't know what door to walk through, hell he couldn't even see the hall way.

The rich almost bitter taste of the thick coffee would jump start his heart. Good coffee and fat cigars were the only vices he still serviced. He had done drugs, booze and lust but they had all run their course years back. A road that always ended in a boring cycle, as predictable as that nine to five he had walked out of. Now he felt some big adventure was waiting, something fresh and new. Stay pure, what had that meant. Shelly standing with her small suit case, the one that held all she really cared about, stay pure. Was it the moment of parting that made it seem like worlds to live by. Stay pure. He checked his watch, two hours and a thirty minute car ride til he had to pick his daughter up at the airport.

Inside the 727 Katlin looked out the window, the clouds below looked like a field of cotton. She toyed with the idea of pulling the emergency hatch and stepping out into that soft pure world. At fifteen she was heading to spend the summer with her father. Was she giving her mother and new stepfather space, running away from them or just trying to escape the boredom of Indiana? She had thought allot about what she was leaving behind, but almost nothing of where she was going to. What did she really know about Toad, he was more of a mythic character from her long gone childhood than the man she would spend the summer with. He was San Francisco and side walk cafes, jazz clubs and poetry. He was the freedom to dress how she wanted. He was freedom from the fights with her mother as she struggled into womanhood. He was boys with flashing eyes. He was... standing at the goddamn gate with a balloon bouquet and a nervous smile on his face.

As the passengers disembarked Toad noticed a hot young woman in a short skirt and leather jacket. The legs were the first thing he noticed, both soft and strong at the same time. Heavy work boots, a purposeful dichotomy to the femininity above. Letting his eyes rove up, past the budding figure and onto her face. He was hit by a rush of embarrassment and fear. He had just been ogling his daughter. Had she seen him? No. She scanned the crowd and finally seeing him, with a fleeting smile she moved towards him. They hugged briefly, more because its what you do in airports than out of any real need for contact. In three short years they had become strangers. He took her shoulder bag, handed her the balloons and asked her the perfunctory baggage questions.

Standing in the claim area they fumbled for conversation. Mom was well, sure she liked Bill. The wedding was nice. No, Shelly wouldn't be staying with them. Things just worked out that way some times. They both were glad when the carousel started to turn and the baggage began to tumble out, it gave them something to do, a mission, a place to put their eyes instead of staring at each other, privately wondering what they had gotten themselves into.

In the city they parked the car. Down the street he pulled her roller bag, dragging it behind like a silent dog. She dutifully held the balloons, knowing they made her look silly and young. This wasn't who she wanted to be in the City. Up on the corner three young men were hanging out in their leather jackets and long hair, she felt a sudden panic. Goddamn Toad and his balloons. Toad looked at his daughters tense smile, her white knuckles clutched the balloons as if they were a venomous snake that might at any moment strike. He followed her eyes to the young men. Somewhere in the back of his mind he remembered what it felt like to be them, and her. To work so hard to be cool only to have your dopey father blow it.

"Let them go." He said stopping his walk.

"What?" She asked, had he seen her watching the boys, was that it?

"The balloons, let them go. I bought them for this little girl I used to know. She didn't get off the plane. She's somewhere in the Santa Cruz mountains playing with her Laura and Mary dolls in a log doll house her father made her. Let them go, maybe that dad will find them and give them to the little girl he loves so much."

Releasing her fingers the rainbow bouquet floated slowly up. Looking from them to her father, Katlin felt something soften in her heart. It wasn't just the nostalgic memory of childhood past. This summer might not turn out just as she had planned. With any luck it might turn out better. Walking past the boys on the corner she took her father's arm. Yes they were cute, but he, the man they called Toad, was noble and she was proud to be on his arm.

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Toad & Katlin, 19 April 1997