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Not a soul bothered the girl with the pink-tipped hair and the blue bird tattoo behind her left ear who entered Daedalus’ Daughter, a bar on 30th Street, every day. She would slowly open the door laden with colorful advertisements and plastered in notices, step onto the fringy doormat, and then let the door close behind her, with her small hands still bracing against the glass as if she was protecting herself from the dingy and dodgy streets she had come from. She would then, after a quick brush of her short blonde hair behind her ear, let her eyes roam into the darkest corners of the pool hall.
They would graze slowly over the peeling, red cushioned bar stools, over the chalkboard with “specials” written on it in scrawly print, over the paycheck from March 1999 that was framed above the rows of hard liquor. She would examine every man in the pub, as methodical as a hawk stalking its prey, and then glance to the others. The men would always lapse into a judgemental and tense silence; the only sounds one could hear was the sounds of the soaring notes of “Donna Lee” or “Blues for Alice” on the radio, and each man always felt as if he was being turned inside out and examined. Finding both everything and nothing she was looking for, she would then walk to the barstool on the far right where a drink of coke, no ice, would be awaiting her, always, and the cacophony of sounds would resume as normal.
She talked only to the bartender, a smaller man of retirement age whose eyes were bright in his aging face. She would offer up a small smile, and, after a heartbeat, he would too.
“How was your morning, dear?”
“It was fine. And yours?”
“Busy as always, busy as always.”
Sometimes she said her morning was great. Other times, she would say tiring, or gloomy, or hopeful. The bartender would always pause for a moment, as if contemplating the answer, and then nod in satisfaction and answer “busy as always, busy as always.”
After that small encounter, she would sit on her perch and drink her coke from the red straw, grasping it in her small hands as she swirled her chair around to watch the men take bets and play pool and drink too much and eat too little. Either as a disapproving guardian angel or a devil seeking her next victim, she would observe the men with slightly narrowed eyes and a disdainful pucker of her strawberry red lips, neither laughing at their jokes nor sombering with their sorrows.
After several hours of this, her coke sucked dry and back stiff from sitting, she would rise from her barstool-throne and stretch once, airing out her feathers, before setting her empty glass that was somehow not as empty as her eyes and say once, clearly, “Thank you, I shall be back tomorrow.” Her exit would be more brisk than her entrance, as if she had accomplished her task and was anxious to choose her next unassuming pool hall to stalk. The bartender would watch the girl leave, pausing for a moment in his work, before continuing to clean the glass he was holding.
The girl with the pink-tipped hair and the bluebird tattoo would then walk to her car, an old silver 1981 Delorean, an uncharacteristic indulgence. She would reach into the pocket of her worn, leather jacket and pull out a single letter, worn from years of reading and caressing and examining. Opening the paper slowly, she would flattened it out against her leg and began to read, as she had done after every visit for the past five years.
March 14, 1980
I am writing this letter from a hospital bench somewhere in the maternity ward of Shriners with a pen I have stolen borrowed from a nearby desk and on the back of a napkin from the cafeteria downstairs. You were born 18 hours ago, on March 13, and were put up for adoption twenty minutes ago by your mother and I. You were so little when I was holding you, Ava, and so pink, and I couldn’t bring myself to put you down for hours. Your mother couldn’t hold you, Ava. She couldn’t make herself hold a life which was so fleetingly hers, and so she let you fly away with a nurse immediately, allowed you to leave her in a nest of blankets eighteen years early.
We would be awful parents, Ava. We have nothing but each other, and we won’t be able to hold onto that bond without you between us. Your mother has striking blue eyes, always has a square of chocolate with her morning coffee, and will stop anything to listen to bluebirds sing. I play the saxophone and have a love affair with Charlie Parker; I can eat scrambled eggs but only with cheese and ketchup. We loved each other once, but now all we have are hospital bills and your mother’s addiction and my incompetence. I can’t make it sound romantic Ava, because it isn’t. By the time you read this letter, I think you will have realized that.
I instructed the adoption agency to send this letter with you, and for your parents to give it to you when you’re eighteen years old. That gives me eighteen years to make a home for you Ava, a home that you can come back to if you need it and bring your own children to and spend holidays at. That gives me eighteen years to find a better job than mixing drinks at a bar and living out of a car on Broad Street. It gives me eighteen years to get over the guilt that I’ll have over leaving you 18 hours after you were born.
Meet me at Daedalus's Daughter on 30th Street on your 18th birthday, Ava. I’ll be there, on the barstool on the far right, drinking a glass of coke with no ice. You’ll know it’s me, Ava, because I’ll be so happy to see you. Happier than you can imagine, and I can show you the hospital bracelet that the nurse gave me with your weight and birth date and your ID# 18976. I don’t expect you to call me your father, Ava, or to come to me with loving arms ready to accept me. I just want to be your dad if you want me to be.
The first time Ava had read the letter on her birthday, she had cried. Her face had crumpled up when she read that her father had been able to hold her, and tears came streaking out from under her eyelids when she read that her mother couldn’t bring herself to. The sobs began when she learned of her father’s promise, and the words began to blur into smudges of ink by the last paragraph.
She had walked into the bar on her eighteenth birthday, slowly opening up the door laden with colorful advertisements and plastered in notices, stepped onto the fringy doormat, and then let the door close behind her, with her small hands still bracing against the glass. If she didn’t let go however, she was worried that she would fly too close to the sun and that the wax holding her feathers together would melt. She took the plunge anyway, however, and had crossed the threshold into the establishment only to see that the barstool was empty, the glass of coke missing, the hospital bracelet absent. She had walked purposefully to the seat anyway, dodging pool cues and high chairs and inebriated men, to sit on the barstool.
The bartender had cast his eyes on her from the moment she had entered the premises, and his eyes had remained focused on her bluebird tattoo. He walked over and had asked her, once, “how was your morning, dear?”
“It was fine. And yours?”
He paused for a moment as the sound of her voice reached his ears, and he had smiled to himself.
“Busy as always, busy as always.”
And so it had been for five years. Every day, Ava showed up to the Daedalus’s Daughter with only a hint of expectation to sit with her coke and wait for her father. It had become a steadfast ritual, a gleam of routine to grasp onto, and she had never missed a day for five years. The bartender had moved to a more reputable job in the beginning of the fifth year, and Ava had considered abandoning her daily ritual, yet she had found the wheels of her car guiding her there anyway and had accepted the inevitable with barely a shrug of resistance. The men occupying the bar changed faces but not personalities, and the music changed from the bartender’s jazz to some obscure alternative choice. Ava stayed there through seasons and years and presidents, and little changed about the girl with the pink-tipped hair and bluebird tattoo.
The bartender returned on March 13 of 2007. Ava was twenty-seven; the harsh bones of her face had not softened, but the pink-tips of her hair had faded into dull blonde. The bartender had gained width but not height, she noticed, and was fitted in clothes absent of the wear and tear of his former life. He was sitting on the barstool to the far right, with a glass of coke with no ice. Around his fingers he twirled a bracelet with ID# 18976; 03/13/80, 7 lbs 8 oz on the label.
And Ava flew into his arms.