von Carlton Mellick III
“I’m sure you’re wondering why I’ve called you here today,” said Doctor Black, as the smiling little girl entered his office. “Please, take a seat.”
He gestured to the small metal chair in the center of the room. She nodded twice and quietly seated herself.
“Back straight,” said the doctor, pointing at her abhorrent posture. She straightened her back and raised her chin. It was a drill she knew very well.
Doctor Black stood from his desk and towered above the girl. Her glossy brown eyes twinkled up at him, smiling a chubby smile and fidgeting with a purple-checkered bow in her hair.
“Normally, I would have my secretary inform my colleagues and acquaintances of this information,” said the doctor. “But as your father, I decided it might be more appropriate to deliver the news to you personally.”
The little girl just smiled at her father, excited to be in the same room with him. Even though they lived together, she hardly ever got to see him in person. He did not take weekends or holidays off. And when she did see him, he rarely spoke to her directly. He was always so busy with his work.
“I called you here to inform you that I have only a week to live,” said Doctor Black.
The girl’s smile fell from her face. At first, she thought he was joking, but that couldn’t be possible. Her father never, ever joked.
“You mean… you’re going to die?” she asked, her breath quickening, her eyes moist.
“Correct,” said the doctor. “Your mother and I decided it would be best if you were unaware that my disease was terminal until I was in my final days.”
The girl stood from her seat and raised her arms up to him, wanting him to hold her, but the doctor wouldn’t allow it. He held out his hand so she couldn’t come near.
“Hugging is not permitted,” he said, and told her to return to her seat.
The girl wiped at her tears.
“So, we’ll only be together for another week?” she asked.
The doctor shook his head.
“No,” he said. “Unfortunately, I have business to attend to for the rest of the week. I’ll be leaving for the airport after this meeting.”
The girl’s eyes turned bright red until she burst into a crying fit.
“Please, compose yourself,” the doctor said, pointing to a strategically placed box of tissues. “This is a place of business.”
The girl pulled tissues from the box. She tried to calm herself but was hiccupping with distress.
The doctor looked at his watch. “I’ve only allotted ten minutes for us to spend together and we’ve already wasted five, so we should hurry this along.”
The doctor handed the girl a pile of envelopes.
“Here are your birthday cards for the next twenty years,” said the doctor. “Each contains a hundred dollar bill. Please refrain from opening more than one card per year even if you require the money.”
The girl looked at the envelopes. Each one had a different year written on the front. The handwriting was not her father’s.
“And here is a list of acceptable career options ,” said the doctor, handing her a laminated sheet of manila paper. The girl held it like a restaurant menu. “Choose one of them by the time you come of age. I recommend Data Systems Analyst. It is an exciting field that is always in demand.”
The girl had a distant look in her eyes. She wasn’t even listening to him anymore as he retrieved a stack of DVDs and placed them one by one in her lap.
“This DVD contains my speech that I prepared for your wedding reception,” said Doctor Black. “You’ll need to find a projector and a good PA system. It might be a little quiet so make sure the volume is adjustable.” He pointed at another DVD. “And this one is a congratulatory message for when you have your first son. You might want to watch this one in advance because I discuss suitable names for the child.” The girl cradled the DVDs in her arms, embracing his residual warmth. “The rest of the videos are disciplinary lectures if you ever happen to commit a felony, drop out of school, or find yourself inappropriately attracted to members of the same gender.”
The girl put the DVDs aside and raised her hands, begging to be hugged.
The doctor just shook his head at her. “I already told you, hugging is not permitted.” He pointed at a doll in the corner of the room. “If you must hug something use the hugging dad.”
The doll was a life-sized plushy replica of Doctor Black. Its arms were raised in the hugging position, its face drawn with magic marker. Even the doll version of him did not have a smile.
The girl looked at it for a moment, but she did not hug the thing.
“I believe that covers everything,” said the doctor. “Do you have any questions?”
The girl trembled in a panic. She could not believe she would never see her father again.
“So I’ll never see you again?”
“That is correct.”
“It’s just me and mommy now?”
“No, I’m afraid not. Unfortunately, your mother was killed in a car accident on the way to work this morning. You will be staying with my secretary’s family until your uncle is released from prison next month.”
The girl stopped breathing, her eyes shaking at her father. Then she screamed at the top of her lungs.
“I understand this news might also be a bit upsetting to you, but please compose yourself.” Doctor Black pointed at the doll version of himself. “Use the hugging dad.”
The girl looked at the doll. Tears poured down her cringing red face.
“I insist,” said the doctor. “Whenever you’re lonely or upset, just use the hugging dad. I asked my secretary to bring it home with you.”
The girl went to the massive doll and awkwardly placed her arms around it, wetting the fabric with her tears.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me,” said the doctor. “I have a plane to catch.”
He straightened his suit and raised his hand. It looked more like he was giving an oath than waving goodbye.
“It has been a pleasure being your father,” he said.
Before he could leave his office, the daughter tore away from the dad-shaped doll and attacked the doctor, wrapping her arms around him with all her strength, crying into his lower stomach. The doctor did not hug her back, raising his arms away from her, standing there uncomfortably with the girl coiled around his waist.
“Just for a minute…” the doctor said, attempting to tolerate his daughter’s grasp.
He looked at his wristwatch and then let out a loud sigh as the girl created a head-shaped indention in his abdomen.