In which we discover Niall's relationship with Brianna is not what it might be.
Brianna ended the call and glanced momentarily at the screen as if there was something else she meant to say to her father. With a slight sniff, she turned away from the screen calling,
“Johnny, Lora, granddad’s at the airport. He’ll be here in a few minutes. Please get your room cleaned up and put away your toys. We want granddad to see the apartment at its best, now.”
“Yes, mommy,” came from another room, bringing a brief and somewhat skeptical smile to her lips as she visualized how their room would look when her father arrived. Then she got a worried look again and she pensively walked rather slowly through her neat-for-the-moment, somewhat Spartan living room toward her own bedroom. Once there, she crossed to the dresser, opened her jewelry box and removed from the bottom several folded sheets of paper.
Then she sat on the bed and unfolded the pages. They were letters her father had written to her over the years when she was a little girl. The last of them had come some 16 years before and they had been her solace and her torment for the years of her father’s captivity. There had been a time when she could not read them without tears both for her father’s situation and for what they said about their relationship. She chose to read the last.
How many times had she read that letter telling her that Daddy wasn’t coming home for Christmas after all, she reflected. Once again a bittersweet blend of emotions swept over her as she remembered the circumstances surrounding that letter, how she and her mom had missed him so much. In the blink of a tear-filled eye, the apartment had gone from warm and close, with two presents already on Daddy’s chair, to an odd and distant place.
Standing at her bureau, staring blankly now at the end of the letter and the creases it had from endless folding and unfolding, Brianna remembered how scared she had been when, several months after that Christmas, a very serious strange man in a black suit came and wanted to talk to mom alone. Brianna remembered straining as hard as she could to hear from her bedroom what the strange man was saying, but she couldn’t get a word. Then, after only a few minutes, he left, and suddenly, for no reason she could think of, she felt chills.
And then the roof simply fell in when the official came by to tell her mother that her recently divorced ex-husband had been kidnapped and they had no idea where he was – there was no other expression for it. In the several months following that horrible news, Brianna must have changed her mind a dozen times at least about whether to hate her father for abandoning her or forgive him for something beyond his power to prevent. Of course in the letter he had blamed his job and circumstances which prevented his homecoming. He had professed his undying love for her. Sometimes she could believe it but most of the time she could not.
She sighed again and returned the letters to their place under her costume jewelry, nestled in the warm wooden box, the Christmas letter on top, as it always managed to be. She still didn’t know what to feel about her father. She was proud of what he had done and of the good that existed in the world because of him. She was angry that he thought more of those other children than he did of her. She felt abandoned yet she could sometimes, just a little, feel his love in his letters. But then at other times she cynically thought that it was easy to talk of love when you didn’t really mean it at all.
But the one thing she knew was that her own children would never live with the uncertainty and self-doubt that her father’s life had unintentionally inflicted upon her mother and her. No, the kids of the world would never hear of her, let alone benefit by her efforts in any way she could envision. But she could provide a steady, reliable home for her own children. And now, she thought to herself as she turned to go out to the kids’ room, from the sublime to the truly ridiculous, as it was getting harder and harder for her to “check” the kids’ cleaning efforts without bursting into laughter. They did try, bless them, but it just seemed as though…
“Mooommm!” swept through the short hallway like a whirlwind.”MOOOMMM! Come SEE!”
Niall looked at the apartment building. “Victoria Close – Dickens House” was the title emblazoned on the brass plaque to the right of the entryway. The style did remind him very much of some of the buildings he had seen in London but the number of stories seemed too great to be practical in 1890s London. The streetlights could have been actual gaslights for all he could tell. There was iron grillwork and decorations around the windows and what he assumed were false chimneys showing above the edge of the roof. To the right and left of the main building, which took up most of a long block, were the ends of other buildings of the same style and size. On the other side of the street behind Niall as he stared up at the apartment complex, there were three-story commercial buildings holding a variety of consumer stores and shops.
"At least the streets are clean and all the windows are intact", Niall muttered to himself.
There was nothing ominous showing, but of course that meant nothing.
There was the entry with several wide doors opening into some sort of lobby that he could see flashes of as a few people came and went. It seemed well-lit and clean, yet for some reason Niall’s feet seemed reluctant to walk the few steps that would put him in the building.
A flood of memories of his time with Brianna were washing over him. He was becoming frightened now of seeing her again. Would she accept him? Would she merely tolerate him? Would he like his grandchildren? He could remember a score of events in the life of Brianna the baby and Brianna the toddler and Brianna the child. But he only had a couple of brief conversations with her as Brianna the adult. He really couldn’t say he knew her. He might have walked past her in a crowd without realizing the woman was his daughter. All the eagerness to see her that had gripped him on the plane and at the airport had drained away and left him with a hollow feeling, perhaps of dread or shame or guilt. There was no longer the buffer of time and distance between them, those variables that can fashion a happy ending from almost anything and smooth the rough edges of reality.
Knowing it would be even worse if he were caught just standing on the curb, unmoving, and fixing a cheerful expression on his face, he went up the steps and through the door. There was a listing of tenants and their room numbers just inside the entry. He found that his daughter had an apartment on the third floor. The elevator was clean and worked quietly and quickly. As he approached the door with her number on it, his daughter opened the door when he was a few feet away. She was short and slim with dark brown hair and eyes and was wearing a simple white skirt and blouse outfit with an apron that appeared colorful because of the paint splotches on it.
“Come in, come in. We’re so happy and excited to see you.” she bubbled. Niall stepped over the doorsill into a simple living room with a three-seat couch, an easy chair, coffee table, some original paintings on two of the walls where the light from the North-facing windows could illuminate them and a large, darkened, flat panel TV screen that dominated the fourth wall.
Two grinning children came running in from the next room.
Niall held out his right hand to his daughter and she moved right past it to give him a big hug. After a pleasant moment Niall thought,"How did she know I was about to knock on the door?" The pleasure dropped away.
“Hello daughter.” he managed. Then releasing her he asked with a big smile, “Who are these two handsome children?”
“They’re your grandchildren, silly. John, Lora, say hello to your grandfather.”
“Hello grandfather.” they chorused. “Did you bring us anything?” and grabbed at his bags.
“Children! He isn’t Santa Claus. Let him sit down and rest. I’m sure he’s had a long tiring flight coming all the way from Europe.” Then she pointed at the suitcases and said “John, take that smaller bag into the guest room and don’t you dare open it.”
The boy (about 8 Niall estimated) reached for the larger bag and said “OK. Will I get paid?”
“When you get back,” Niall said, “perhaps I’ll have something for you.”
He sat at one end of the couch and the girl (about 4 years old) climbed up beside him and sat on her knees staring at him.
“Can I get you something to eat or drink?" Brianna offered, "You look a little tired.”
“Well my body does think it’s about bedtime.”
“Would you like a nap before dinner?”
“No, I’d like to get to know you and my grandchildren better first,” he said and stroked Lora’s cheek and smiling at her. “Food for the soul.”
Just then the boy ran back into the room and said,
“I put the suitcase on the floor by the bed. Is that OK?”
“That’s fine,” Niall said. “Now let’s see if I have anything for you.” and reached into his pocket for his wallet. Opening it he took out a 5 euro note. “What do you think of this?”
“What is it?” the girl asked.
“It’s money,” the boy scoffed. “Don’t you know money when you see it?”
“That isn’t money,” the girl shot back. “Money’s in the ‘puter.”
“Not this kind,” said the boy. “This is from…” he looked at the bill apparently trying to read where it came from on the bill “Oh, from Europe!”
“You remember Europe on the globe Lora,” her mother said. “We just looked at it a little while ago when I was showing you how far your granddad was coming to see you.”
“I remember,” the girl said with exasperation. “It’s on the other side of the ocean.”
Then she reached out, grabbed the bill away from her brother, jumped off the couch, and ran for the next room.
“Hey, come back with my pay you thief,” the boy shouted and took off after her.
“Be gentle with her, John. Remember she’s still little,” his mother warned. Then turning to Niall and sitting in the easy chair she said in a quiet voice, “I’ll have Tony make a copy of the bill at the library for Lora. That way they can each have one.”
“They look good, very healthy and happy. Are things going well for all of you?”
“Well, pretty well. Tony is still struggling with his dissertation. Sometimes I think he’ll never finish it. But it’s so important to him that I hate to even ask him about it if it isn’t progressing well. It’s OK for you to ask about it but just don’t mention getting it published. He doesn’t like to let even me read anything he’s written until he thinks it’s just right. He’s at the library doing research for it. The kids don’t bother him there, of course, and he can talk to several of his friends who are also doing research there.”
“But how are you doing, daughter? I came to visit with you more than anyone.” Niall said looking rather intently at her.
“Oh I’m doing fine,” she said with only a hint of doubt in her voice. “I still get to do some work now and then. Tony doesn’t mind taking over the kids when they study history or English or research methods. I can often get a couple of hours in. That picture on your left is one I finished just last week.”
Niall turned his attention to the picture and began noticing details about the apartment. The picture had only a plain wood frame but was a rather nice painting of children playing on a swing. The larger child was pushing the smaller child who was apparently shrieking happily with excitement. From the clothes Niall couldn’t tell the genders of the children.
The apartment, though, was rather plainly furnished with rounded furniture, not a sharp corner on anything. It looked used but sturdy. He could see that the children were used to treating it roughly, but the material of the upholstery wasn’t stained or torn at all. The colors in the room were cheerful, matching those outside in the hall and lobby. It was spring and the windows were open, letting a gentle breeze billow the translucent drapes from time to time. The painting of the children on the swing complemented the other paintings on the walls. From the style of the works they were both apparently done by his daughter as well. The TV screen, alone on its wall, seemed to Niall somewhat ominous. As if the human paintings were trying to stay away from it. “That’s nonsense,” he thought and tried to direct his mind into more hopeful topics.
“This is quite nice. You’ve made it very cheerful. You can tell the children really love one another.” Niall shifted around to face Brianna. “Are you making out all right?”
“It’s true we don’t have much money, dad,” she said soberly. “Most of what we have comes from my pay for caring for our children. I try to save it for paints and canvas and such stuff and you’ll be sleeping in what I use for a studio. That costs something each month. Tony has some income from work he did years ago and he does some lecturing at the Community College, but of course he won’t get paid for that for years. I think he just does that work because he loves lecturing. Anyway, since we don’t go out much I save by using standard clothes most of the time. But I really am happy. I have these wonderful kids and I love Tony and we get by all right.”
“Can I help you out? I seem to have become rich, well, it seems rich to me anyway. The computer tells me that I have over $80,000. Maybe I could give you a few thousand, at least until Tony gets his book published and makes you all really rich.” He felt like he was on dangerous ground since he didn’t want to offend her. But damn it he was her father. A father has a right to pamper and spoil his daughter sometimes. After all he hadn’t even seen her in years.
“Oh, dad,” she said smiling broadly at him. “You can’t give me money. You can take me out to eat and give me some really good paint brushes though. I’ll take you to the store tomorrow if you feel up to it.”
“Would it upset Tony if I gave you some money?” he asked.
“No dad, it would astonish him,” she said with a laugh, “You really, truly can’t give me or anyone else the money in your account. You can spend it to buy things for someone but you can’t give money to them. The only way to get money out of your account is to spend it and when you spend money it’s just gone. The money you spend isn’t anywhere any more just like it wasn’t anywhere before you got paid. Our money isn’t transferable.”
“Then how do you buy things if you can’t trade your money for them? It doesn’t make sense,” Niall frowned.
Brianna took his hand, “You just spend it. You don’t care where it goes. When you want something that’s for sale you tell the computer you want to buy it and the computer deducts the money from your account and transfers ownership of the item to you. Haven’t you spent any money yet?”
“I paid the cabbie for bringing me in from the airport.”
“Well, there you go. You had money deducted from your account and for that you bought a cab ride. See, it was easy wasn’t it?”
“Sure it was easy. I gave the cabby some of the money in my account.”
“But you didn’t dad. That cabby didn’t get that money at all. It just stopped being. The numbers in your account got smaller but that didn’t make the numbers in the cabby’s account get any larger.”
“You mean somebody else got that money? Maybe the company?”
“I give up. You just won’t believe me. Never mind, you’ll learn that you can’t give anybody any of your money.”
“We’ll see. I’ll find some way.” Niall smiled at her.
“Dad didn’t they tell you anything about how our money works?”
“Sure, I remember there was something in the news back before my 15-year ‘vacation’ but I was too busy at the time to really pay attention and during my treatment after my release they told me a little and they gave me this brochure to read but I never bothered. I mean, what’s to know? I’ve been using money all my life.”
“Dad you really…”
“Tony’s in the elevator,” the avatar on the TV announced.
Niall jumped a little and looked at the TV which had not appeared to be on.
The kids came out of the other room. “Johnny won’t let me play with the you-row,” Lora announced as if summing up her case before a judge. “I’m going to tell daddy that you aren’t helping me learn about money. He’ll make you give it to me for a while.”
“It’s five Euros and he won’t make me do any such thing,” said the young defendant pleading his case. “The bill is mine. You heard granddad say he was giving it to me as pay. Since it’s mine I don’t have to let you or anyone else touch it, do I momma?”
“Tony is here,” the avatar stated, unobtrusively.
Lora ran to the door and snatched it open. Well, that explained how Brianna had known when he arrived that he was just outside the door.
“Daddy, daddy, Johnny won’t let me play with the you-row. Make him let me play with it,” she demanded.
“What’s all this about a you-row?” asked the middle-aged man wearing whites with a straw hat and carrying a briefcase, as he bent down to pick up Lora.
“It’s mine dad,” put in John, eager to State his case before the judge made a decision, and waving the bill safely out of the reach of his shorter sister. “Granddad gave it to me for taking his suitcase into his room. Didn’t you, granddad?”
“How do you do,” Niall said extending a hand. “I’m Niall Campbell, Brianna’s father. I’m afraid I got you into a mess with my present to John.”
“It wasn’t a present. I earned it. I worked for it. Now you won’t have to carry that bag into the bedroom. That’s a benefit to you isn’t it?” John maintained stoutly.
“Take it easy, Johnny,” his dad smiled down at him.
“Johnny’s ‘posed to share, isn’t he daddy. He’s not ‘posed to keep everything for his self.” Lora put in quickly.
“Lora’s not supposed to just take my things either, is she dad?”
Tony looked at Niall,”Did you give the bill to John for work he did for you?”
“Well, sort of both as a present and for the work,” admitted Niall.” I’ve also got some euro coins I was going to give Lora as her present.” He reached into his pocket, took out three coins and extended this shiny temptation toward Lora.
Lora reached out her hand and carefully took the three coins, thought a moment, then said. “I got three you-rows and you just got one.”
Tony set his daughter back on the floor with her prize and addressed both children. “John, the bill is yours. You earned it. So Lora, you should not even touch it without Johnny’s permission. Do you understand me, Lora?”
“Yes daddy but isn’t Johnny supposed to share?” her contrition changing quickly to indignation.
“Yes Lora, he is. But if I make him let you use his things, he isn’t sharing at all, is he. That would just be me forcing him to do something against his will. It would be me threatening to hurt him in some way if he didn’t let others control what belongs to him. It would just make him mad at me and mad at you. Since I can’t be with you all the time, he might do something to hurt you when I wasn’t there. So, Lora, by making him let you play with his things I’d be making the two of you enemies. You don’t want Johnny to be your enemy. You want him to be your friend.”
Turning his attention to the boy he continued,
“Johnny, if you own something and don’t want to share it, then you have every right to keep it to yourself. Your mother and I won’t punish you for doing that. We will be disappointed, we will be saddened, but we won’t punish you. On the other hand, if you keep everything you own to yourself, why will others want to help you? Why will they care what happens to you? Why will they care whether you have things to play with? You see, Johnny, Lora won’t always be a little girl. Some day she’ll be a young woman. Some day there’ll be things she can do for you that you’ll really want her to do. If you teach her now that you won’t do anything for her, it’ll be very hard for her to change her mind later. And Johnny, she’s too young now to learn this lesson that I want you to learn, but some day I’ll want you to help me teach her the same lesson.”
Both children looked rather solemn for a few seconds. Then John said, “Here, Lora, you can play with my Euros for a while.”
Lora grabbed the bill and ran for the other room before he could change his mind.
“Dad, are you sure this will work?” John asked doubtfully.
His dad gave him a big hug and said,
“Son, it always works for me, but sometimes it takes a while. I was nice to your mother for weeks before she was willing to marry me. Just be patient. I’ll even let you stay up 30 minutes late after Lora goes to bed tonight because you made me feel so good by letting her play with your money.”
“Oh boy! Thanks, Dad.”
“OK, fellows,” Brianna said “do I have to cook tonight or can we go out to Good-n-Quick for supper?”
Tony looked a little doubtful. “Mr. Campbell do you feel up to going out or would you rather just relax and eat here? All we have is standard food but your daughter is a good cook when she puts her mind to it.”
“How about if I take you all out for supper? I have lots of money, it turns out, and I’d be happy to spend some of it on you,” Niall said.
Brianna frowned and said, “Dad there aren’t any luxury restaurants for families near here. It’d be a lot of trouble. I’d have to get the kids all dressed up and…”
Niall threw up his hand, shook his head, and said, “Tony, I should’ve known better than to go against a woman’s suggestion for what to do for supper. I guess I really have been away from the country for too long. We go to Good-n-Quick and we like it.”
Tony grinned and said “Well in that case I’m ready to go. How about you? Are you hungry yet?”
“I could use a few minutes to freshen up and shave.”
“Fine, about 20 minutes then? I’ll start organizing the kids.” Tony replied.
Brianna took Niall’s arm and guided him toward the guest room. “Dad, the Good-n-Quick is just down the block and it’s quick and the food is good. I want you to be able to have what you want to eat rather than just taking pot luck with us.”
Niall went into the room she indicated. It had its own bathroom. Things were worse than he’d thought, though. They didn’t even have enough food to feed one extra guest. Well, he was definitely going to pay for the meal tonight and see if they couldn’t go by a grocery store to bring home more food.