The car sagged onto the end of the cul-de-sac between a pile of bursting trash bags and a rusted sedan set up on cinderblocks. Sara gripped the wheel of their rental car and watched the windshield wipers sway back and forth. Rivers coursed down the blades and down the steaming hood. Mike shifted on the passenger side, his seat belt rattling as the strap sucked in and out of the holder.
The house sat before them, tucked behind drooping willow branches and overgrown bushes. Scuffed periwinkle shutters peeked out through the leaves and sheets of rain.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Sara asked.
Mike rubbed his hand on his trim slacks as if he each brush swept away more of her misgivings.
“It’s your tradition,” said Sara. “I don’t think he’d give a damn.”
“He’s your father.”
She poured out a long breath before flipping the key. She leaned her chin on her hands, like a child peering over a ledge. The car chirped around them as the motor quieted. Her eyes lingered on the front stoop and faded slats.
“Does it look the same?”
She shrugged. “Does anything look the same after 25 years?”
“It’s the right house though?”
The car windows began to fog.
Sara inhaled and leaned back into the chair. Mike’s hand found hers on the wheel, his touch soft and warm. She found her tense hold melting, her fingers slipping away from the leather to intertwine with his.
“I want to ask him,” said Mike.
Sara shook her head and burrowed her eyes into the safely tucked away air bag.
“I don’t need you to.”
“I need to.”
She tore her gaze off the stitched beige and settled on his clean shaven face. She knew he had been looking at her with those crisp blue eyes, ever since he had taken her hand. His gaze remained unwavering even as a timid smile breached his lips.
“Better get it over with then,” she whispered.
Sara closed her eyes as Mike squeezed her fingers. She hoped he’d stop, before any of the tears she swallowed down were squished free. When he released her hand, lingering warmth continued on her skin until she found the door handle.
Gushing drops drummed onto her shoulders as she stepped outside. She tugged up her rain coat’s hood around her frizzing curls and the world suddenly became cavernous. Each smack battered against her head like a pounding hammer. She flung the door closed, the long bang preceding a similar bash from the passenger side.
Sara shrank into the mustard rubber. Her flats drank in water like camels and she hopped past a puddle before making a final leap onto the sidewalk next to a similarly inundated Mike.
They walked shoulder to shoulder to the concrete path dominated by weeds bursting out from the cracks. Water pooled then spread off into muddy oceans in the unkempt lawn.
Sara bowed her head and watched her feet traverse each step. A wilted poinsettia drowning on the porch foretold the imminent arrival of the front door.
With distant clash of thunder, the downpour escalated into a full on monsoon. Despite the weight in her soaked flats and better judgment, Sara scampered forward to be free of the battering. She broke through the curtain of water descending from the front heaves and skidded to a stop as the cave within her hood quieted.
Before her, a molded knocker sat between flaking white paint chips.
Mike shook his shoulders like a dog, showering the concrete porch with spatters. She watched him give the door a stoic glance while she nibbled on her thumbnail.
“Do we knock?” he asked.
She snorted and stuffed her hands into her coat’s pockets.
“Do you see a doorbell?”
He gave her another half grin while reaching out with a dripping hand toward the screen door. Sara stepped to the side, giving him room and swallowing down one last suggestion to walk away.
Sara held her breath as his raps dwindled off into the interior.
Clanging and a bass woof joined the scratch of claws on the other side of the door.
“Oh God,” whispered Sara.
“What is it?”
“Maggie, our…his scruffy dog. I thought she’d be dead.”
Thumps neared with creaks of loose floorboards. A shadow came closer, swaying in the door’s single pane.
The words slurred together as if each desired to be rid of the mouth speaking them.
Sara winced. A gust smacked wet drops onto her back and shins. Her khaki’s began to drag at her hips as if made of lead.
A latch then chain lock clattered. The door opened, breaking suction like a vacuum.
He was frailer than she remembered, as if he and the bony hound at his side had begun to merge. They shared the same red rimmed and drooping eyes, wobbly jowl, and wavering stance whether on two or four legs. Her father’s short sleeves dangled over withered arms mottled like the dogs grunge stained fur. A wristwatch once snug around his skin rattled as he moved his arm on the doorframe.
“What the hell do you want?”
Sara inhaled, the smell of boiling shrimp, mud and beer crawling into each nostril. She pulled down her hood.
The dog sniffed, wet nose flaring with ragged breaths. The furry chest rumbled with something near a growl.
Her father’s eyes walked down her rain coat, met her soaked feet then trundled back up to her face.
“I think you have the wrong house. I haven’t had a daughter in years.” He stepped back inside, hand already swinging the door closed.
Mike stepped in front of her and struck his palm onto the faded paint. The screen door he held open with his other hand clattering.
Sara staggered back, her eyes widening as she stared over Mike’s broad shoulder.
The crimson flared in her father’s eyes. “Some might call you trespassers.”
Mike squared himself before the door and the dog’s growl rumbled again, now louder than the rain.
“I want your permission to marry your daughter.”
Sara watched a lump tousle her father’s Adam’s apple. His hand on the door whitened. He drew a pale tongue over crackled lips.
“You want to marry her?”
“Why do you want my permission?”
“You’re her father,” said Mike. “I need to have your blessing.”
“Marriage isn’t a blessing boy.”
Sara put her hand on Mike’s shoulder. The facets in the diamond ring sparkled like a fresh drop of rain.
“Let’s go,” she whispered.
She felt his back tense into stone and bowed her head.
“You want her,” said her father, “you can have her. I never did.”
The door slammed shut.