“You really shouldn’t do that, you know,” she said quietly, eyes focused sharply on his right hand.
“She hated it.”
Joe lifted his eyes away from his coffee cup, and looked through the haze of smoke, curling its way up to the ceiling fan. The smoke seemed heavier in the dull lighting of the room. Neither of them had bothered with the light switch, content enough with the sparse rays from outside. “Yeah, well, you shouldn’t tell your father what to do.” He said gruffly. He brought his free hand up to his neck to tug at his tie, loosening it enough so that he could breathe again. He never was any good at putting those things on – he’d always relied on her to do it for him.
He surveyed his daughter. She suited formal attire far better than he did. On him, it looked poorly fitted, made him seem like he was trying too hard. But on her… despite the look of unmistakable sadness that had clung to her for the last few weeks, she had an air of grace and beauty about her. She certainly hadn’t got that from him. The deep black of her dress worked well against her green eyes, which, once so sharp and inquisitive, were now haunted by an eerie dullness that looked alien on her face.
He tapped the side of his cigarette against the blackened, crystal ash tray. “Elizabeth,” he said. Her eyes briefly flickered to his, before finding their way back to the steady stream of smoke that was forming a thick smog between them. Frustrated, he stubbed it out, forcing her eyes to meet with his. “Elizabeth, I just want you to know that you don’t have to go today. People will understand-”
A flash of anger crossed her face for a moment, and Joe was just glad to finally see her eyes light up again with their usual fire, if only for a short while. “No, Dad, I have to go. She would have wanted me to be there, ok? I have to.”
He frowned slightly, unable to discern just who she was trying to convince, but relented nonetheless. “Ok. Just as long as you’re certain.”
She nodded once, and then, just as quickly as it had appeared, all traces of fire drained from her eyes, leaving them lifeless once again. He remembered how different she had been only months ago. He remembered her racing into the light, smokeless kitchen, demanding a lift to go and meet her friends. He remembered watching them leave, watching Elizabeth flash a hypnotic, thankful smile at them both, while he settled down to read his morning paper. He was never usually the one to take her out - she usually volunteered immediately. He wondered if the reason Elizabeth hadn’t left the house since it happened was because she thought he would refuse to take her where she wanted to go. He doubted that somehow, but, all the same, he should make sure she knew that wasn’t the case.
They settled back into silence, the only sound the soft, pathetic drizzle of rain on the roof. After a few minutes, it started to get on his nerves. It made it seem as though the world didn’t even have the decency to summon the torrential downpour that the situation deserved. Like it didn’t even care she was gone.
Elizabeth reached into her bag and brought out two small pieces of paper; he recognised it immediately as the speech she was planning to make. He watched her as she read it over with shaky hands, and hoped there would be a podium she could rest it on. He doubted she could even read the words with how much they were moving.
As selfish as it was, he hoped desperately that, should she be unable to finish, he wouldn’t have to step in and take her place. He knew that he lacked the strength necessary to even attempt such a feat - the thought of merely writing the speech was enough to send him running. Her bravery was yet another thing for which he could claim no responsibility.
He reached once again for his pack of cigarettes, the sound of the lighter causing Elizabeth’s eyes to momentarily halt, before carrying on again as though nothing had happened. He got up quietly from his chair and walked to the window. The streets were their usual, busy selves. Filled with people going about their day-to-day lives. Nipping to the shop to buy milk, meeting friends for lunch, or darting around to avoid the rain, and Joe couldn’t understand any of it. It seemed completely foreign to him. He cracked open the window and returned to his seat.
His coffee was cold now, but he drank it anyway. Elizabeth lifted her head up and looked to the clock, for the third time that morning. “We have to go now. We’ll be late otherwise.” Joe nodded, despite knowing that, really, they had another twenty minutes to spare, and stood up again. Elizabeth followed suit, heading straight out of the door.
Joe, however, lingered in the doorway for a moment, looking over the empty room, and for just one, fleeting second, wished that he had never met her. Because, as painful as that though was for him, and as disgusted as it made him feel with himself, at least then he would never have had to say goodbye.