The Night I Shot My Father
Getting my family together for Christmas is challenging.
Growing up, my mother and aunt would feed everyone at our house–wherever our house happened to be at the time. Four, then three, then two grandparents, depending on the year, three parents, six children, four dogs and a cat would be at (or under) the table for a meal that lasted at least two hours. It was crazy, but I loved it.
The kids grew up. For a couple of years there were more or less the same numbers but with some missing and significant others added. My sister and her husband moved across country. My brother joined the Navy. My cousins spread out, married, remarried, blended families and had other families to visit. Of the kids that stayed close to home, I joined the police force and one of my cousins became a practical nurse. We never managed to have the Christmas off in the same year.
Then my parents split. After thirty years of marriage, my father announced that he was gay.
My sister insisted she always suspected. I doubted it. Mum said she always knew. That I believed. My brother was angry. My cousins ranged from bemused to confused. I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me.
I’m not homophobic. If I had always known about Dad, my life would have been different and I would have accepted that. It’s just...
My sister and brother were named Bella and Bennett respectively for my mother’s parents, who died before I was born. If I had been born a few weeks earlier, I would have been called Linda or Constance because my grandmother’s full name was Belinda Constance Bennett. But my aunt had twins first and those two names were taken. A couple of years earlier, she beat my mother to calling her son Cecil, my grandfather’s first name, for which my brother and I have always been grateful.
I was named Bonnie because my father liked the name. I was his girl. He was a career soldier, a sergeant in the military police. When I joined Army Cadets, he gave me extra shooting practice so I could joined the Range Team. He encouraged me to follow my dreams and become a cop, though my mother wanted me to be a teacher. Both my parents taught us to be honest, but it was my father who impressed on me how important it was to be true to myself.
So why couldn’t he be true to me?
With us kids grown up and Dad gone, it didn’t make sense for Mum to keep the house, even though Dad had signed over his share of it. Losing the house was no big deal. We’d move too often to get really attached to one set of walls. Losing a home for us all to gather was another thing. That was heartbreaking.
This year I bought my own house. It’s a 70's ranch-style house in a cul-de-sac with a bunch of would-be dictators for a neighbourhood committee, but I call it home. Though not a big place, it has a Great Room instead of a separate living room and dining room, so there’s space to put tables together and get as much of the family as can come to sit down for dinner. Since Christmas was too complicated, we opted for New Year’s Eve.
My mum and aunt took over my kitchen. Bella and Linda helped out. (Connie is useless in the kitchen. She can burn water.) Meanwhile Ben directed the older kids at setting the table and getting it shipshape for dinner while Cecil, Connie and my brothers-in-law watched the younger kids. (The football game on TV got most of the attention.) I moved from one room to another, picking up empty beer bottles, putting out extra nuts, going down to the freezer in the basement for a second bag of frozen corn. Generally fussing.
I’d been less worried about my academy finals than I was about this dinner. It had taken all my negotiating skills, some judicious threats and transferring all my Air Mile points to my sister to bring everyone together. Only one living person was missing.
Finally the food was on the table. The children were washed up so they could get mucky again. We were all seated. I stood, wine glass raised, ready to give the toast that traditionally acted as grace for our family.
The doorbell rang.
Training made me check before I opened the door. It was Dad. He made it.
Being a police officer, and having a brother in the navy, has taught me that police and military personnel are more traditional and conservative than most civilians. I hadn’t really got that when I was younger, even though Dad was in the army. In his day, being gay in the military wasn’t an option. It wasn’t just a case of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” It was “don’t be suspected or else.” By understanding, I was able to forgive.
I checked with Mum first, of course, but that’s why there was an extra place laid at the table.
I opened the door.
“Hi Bonnie girl.”
Throwing my arms around my father’s neck, I pulled him into a tight embrace.
It took a moment for my keen, police-trained senses to detect the second man on my front porch. He was slightly shorter and rounder than my father, though the roundness might have been because of his puffy down coat.
“Bonnie, this is my friend Gordon.”
“I hope I’m not intruding.”
Gordon might have looked like the Pillsbury Dough Boy, but he sounded like Sir Ian McKellan,
“Set another place kids!”
Hours later, full up with good food and feeling sleepy, I pushed myself out of my chair to fetch the champagne glasses and bubbly.
It was almost midnight.
“I just remembered I forgot to make the family toast at dinner,” I announced. “I’ll make it for the New Year instead.”
Sixty seconds to midnight. I started to work the cork loose on the champagne bottle.
“I have an announcement first,” said my sister Bella. “I’m pregnant again and the doctor thinks its twins.”
“No way!” Linda squealed. “I’m pregnant too.”
“Use your thumbs,” said Ben. He was more interested in my battle with the cork than more additions to the family.
Dad cleared his throat. “Maybe this is a good time to tell you that Gordon and I are getting married and you’re all invited.”
“Huh?” I turned to my Dad, feeling that rug slip away again but in a good way.
The cork flew out hitting my father in the forehead, right between the eyes. Must have hurt like hell. He and Gordon were soaked with champagne spray. I just stood there, feeling shocked and dismayed, but also wanting to laugh.
“Get your father some ice, Ben,” said my mother, taking control as usual. “And bring a roll of paper towel.”
We missed the countdown and there wasn’t much champagne left to toast with. Dad said he’d rather have whiskey anyway. Ben poured double shots for Dad, me and himself. Finally I made the family toast.
“To that dear octopus, whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor in our inmost hearts ever wish to, the family. Happy New Year!”
All the characters in this story are fictional
and bear no intentional resemblance to persons living or dead (except
Sir Ian's voice). That being said, my father almost put his own eye out
opening a champagne bottle one New Year's Eve and the Dear Octopus quote
is traditional in our family.
Alison Bruce has had many careers and writing has always been one of them. Copywriter, editor and graphic designer since 1992, Alison has also been a comic book store manager, small press publisher, webmaster and arithmetically challenged bookkeeper. She is the author of mystery, suspense and historical romance novels.