Beside him, his young daughter Leah had slumped against his shoulder, shuddering in the still November atmosphere. Her youthful eyes, usually bright and fervent, were dull, nondescript puddles. Blatantly, she had succumbed to the stupor of travel, falling victim to the dragging exhaustion that clutched greedily at her limbs. That pervasive aura of fatigue had enveloped Kirk himself, but he remained attentive: he was the father, responsible for Leah’s wellbeing on this excursion.
Although, he was still learning what that role meant. As he assessed his six year-old, he noted the sheerness of her clothing and winced. Beyond that, the shadow of a stain had somehow appeared on her skirt. With the persistent climate of early winter and every other discomfort the night had afforded, Kirk suspected the child was miserable.
Shedding his coat, he tucked it gently around her slender shoulders, hugging her closer to him on the bench. At the gesture, Leah glanced up at him expectantly. “When will the bus come?” she inquired. The words came out stilted and weak, for her teeth were on the verge of chattering.
“Very soon, I think,” Kirk alleged, rolling his wrist over to check the trusty watch he wore. “Why don’t I tell you a story? It will make time move faster.”
“Will it really?” she answered softly, neglecting to swallow back a yawn. Breaking through her tired demeanor, a spark of wonderment caught upon her dainty features.
“Absolutely.” Briefly, Kirk wondered if the tiny lies he produced were suitable for his little girl to believe. His wife Margaret would know. The distance between them was suddenly much too great, as he paused to recall her lovely wisdom and the way this “parenting thing” was innate to her.
What sort of stories did Leah enjoy, anyway? It had always been customary for Margaret to coax her into sleep with a storybook, since Kirk had recently switched to night shifts at the police department. Sometimes he decided that he was missing too many of the keystone parts in life; then, the thrill of apprehending criminals in the darkest crevices of the city manifested in his heart once more.
Caustically, he thought, I’m capable of dealing with the most dangerous men on the streets, and yet I can’t handle being a father.
Regardless, Kirk launched into a tale about the horses he learned to ride throughout his childhood in Dalhart, Texas. Hadn’t he glimpsed a horse on the cover of Leah’s journal back at the house? While she was at school, he’d allocated at least an hour to perusing the pages. Each one held snippets of writing and drawings. They were so much more than scribbles and nonsense to him, though, and Kirk was deeply proud of his daughter; he only wished he could show it.
Whether she was truly intrigued by the strong animals or not, Leah listened avidly, perched straighter on the bench as he depicted the warm, grassy plains of the ranch. “And there were fields of corn and wheat everywhere,” he explained to her. Growing up in the city, Leah had no exposure to the vast cropland in the northern point of Texas. “Our backyard was so wide, it would’ve taken us ten minutes to sprint the entire stretch of it.”
She smiled faintly. Alarmingly, her lips were tinged with blue, and it startled Kirk so greatly that he swept her gently into his lap and encircled her with his arms. Continuing swiftly, Kirk suggested, “Your grandfather still owns the ranch, you know. Maybe one day we can visit him, and I can introduce you to the animals. Plenty of cows, sheep, chickens...”
Delightedly, she nestled backward against his chest. “Cows say moo, right?” she offered inquisitively.
“Exactly!” he exclaimed, grinning now.
After that, he faltered a bit. Leah was his little girl, his whole universe, and he imagined he could spend days on end holding her so tightly and fondly. So, then, why was it so difficult to communicate? There was no doubt in Kirk’s mind that his wife could have initiated a stimulating conversation, one that would have torn Leah’s focus away from the cruel conditions of midnight in New York City.
But his daughter’s comfort came first, so he rambled on, about the scorching summer afternoons and the trouble he and his brother often found. He spoke extensively about their lack of neighbors and the serenity of the quiet setting, so converse to the highly populated city sidewalks. Once or twice, he wrapped his coat more tightly about her, hardly noticing the goosebumps prickling persistently upon his own skin.
A rumble emerged in the sober silence. Twin pools of light slid over the fronts of nearby buildings as the transit bus delved onto the street, boasting its low beams. Relieved, Kirk pointed to the metal machine. “There’s our bus, Leah,” he informed her softly.
No response came. His little girl had dozed off in the cradle formed by his arms.
Gathering her closer, he brought her securely through the rectangular doorway of the vehicle. Inside, the heat was blooming from various vents, rendering the few other passengers sleepy and languid. Paying the fare, Kirk found a seat.
Other journeys awaited them. For Kirk, parenthood was one of them. And though it would certainly be a mountainous trek for him, he was determined to reach the summit.