Daddy

by

I didn’t hear it at first, so engrossed I was in transcribing my Jay-R interview at my office workstation. My cellphone ringing, the chorus of Placebo’s “Protege Moi,” Brian Molko’s heartbreakingly beautiful, hoarse voice saying, Protect me from what I want.

A quick glance at caller ID said “Number Unknown,” which could only mean one thing: the guys from MCA Universal, London, were calling for my scheduled Simon Webbe interview. I tore away my earphones, flipped open my Motoming, at the same time grabbing my notebook and flipping to my prepared questions and popping a fresh tape into the tape recorder. I’ve had a lot of practice multitasking this way, so it was no trouble. By the time I had the earpiece by my ear, everything was ready. At first I could hear nothing but static, which was weird because my phone normally has good reception. And then I heard it: a male voice. It took me a while to understand what it was saying, but not before I recognized the voice.

“Achie,” he was saying.

“Achie.”

I could feel the blood drain from my face, my body begin to shake. There was no mistaking that voice. I had been hearing it for twenty-six years of my life.

“Daddy?” I whispered.

But he was gone, the line dead.

I slumped in my seat, almost dropping the phone when I set it on my desk. That was my father. Of that I was sure. It couldn’t have been anyone else. It all would have made sense, except that he had died in front of his family two years ago in the ICU of the Cardinal Santos General Hospital.

My phone rang again and this time, I sprang to get it.

“Hello?” I said breathlessly, hope surging in my chest.

“Is this Yvette Tan?” a male voice said in a British accent. “Are you ready for your interview with Simon Webbe?”

“This is she,” I said dully. “I’m ready.”

* * *

To this day, nobody knows exactly why my father passed away. The official records state his cause of death as sepsis, complicated by diabetes, but really, this is the doctors’ way of saying they have no idea what killed him. One day he was alive and well, the next day, he suddenly collapsed, and the day after that, he was dead. It was all so sudden, but then, somehow, I think we had all been expecting it.

I couldn’t sleep that night, or for the nights after. Half of me was freaked out by the phone call, by the jerk who thought that mimicking my dead father’s voice was a good idea for a joke; but another part of me was hopeful. What if it really was my father trying to call me from the afterlife? What was it that was so important he had to cross time and space to tell me?

I didn’t tell anybody about the call. It could have been a prank. It could have been a fluke. It could have been my imagination. I had been sad and tired lately, my mother nagging at me more than usual. Why can’t you find a job with regular hours, why can’t you find a nice guy and settle down, why can’t you clean your room? Ever since his death, there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t think of him, that I didn’t miss him. I don’t think that it’s just me. I think the whole family felt the same way. Daddy was our pillar, our rock. He kept us together, kept us sane. I stopped my thoughts before they could wander any further. That phone call was a fluke. It was probably the MCA guy trying to get through from London and the connection being bad. My Simon Webbe interview had gone well, the article garnering praises from my editor, but still, I couldn’t help but wish that it had been my father on the other line instead.

The second time he called, I was in a meeting. We were lining up the website’s features for the next week when Brian Molko’s voice interrupted my editor’s speech about management expecting more hits.

My pulse quickened when I saw caller ID. Unkown Number. I wasn’t expecting a long distance call this time. I rushed out of the conference room and into the corridor, flipping my phone open as I did so.

“Hello?” I whispered.

“Achie?” came my father’s voice through the crackle of static.

“Daddy!” I almost shrieked.

“How are you? Daddy, I’ve missed you!”

“Achie?” he asked again. “Achie can you hear me?”

“Daddy!” I said loudly, “I can hear you!”

“Ach—”

But then static took over, and he was gone.

Mitch, one of my co-writers, found me sitting on the floor outside the conference room, sobbing. She had gone for a bathroom break just before my phone call.

“Are you all right?” she asked, reaching out to help me stand up. “Who did this?”

“I’m okay,” I lied, pushing her hands away. “Just the phone call I got. I’ll be fine.”

She gave me a suspicious look.

“You go back in, I’ll follow.” I said, wiping my tears on my sleeve. So much for my poise.

She squeezed my shoulder, then went back inside the conference room.

I looked at my phone, still open, nestled in the palm of my hand.

It couldn’t be a joke, unless someone with a cruel sense of humor was holding a tape recorder with my dad’s voice on tape. As much as I tried to rationalize it, I knew deep in my heart that it wasn’t a tape recorder or some sick fuck imitating his voice. It was daddy, calling from wherever he was, trying to tell me something.

My first instinct, of course, was to let everyone know about it. My mother, my brother, my sister, everyone who had known and loved my father. They would be happy to know he could still contact us, would even want to cart my phone around just in case he called again. But, I slowly convinced myself, that was out of the question. Nobody would believe me. They would think I was crazy. Worse, they would think I was possessed, communing with otherworldy entities. My mother would march me straight to church for an exorcism. I hated to admit it, but there was also the selfish thought that he had chosen to contact me and not the others. Not his beloved wife, not his doctor daughter, not his only son. So I decided, once again, not to tell anyone. Only this time, I was sure about what secret it was I was keeping.

* * *

“I wish daddy were here,” my little brother said angrily as he slammed the door shut.

I guessed that my mother had once again asked him to do something he didn’t like. My brother was of the opinion that my mother lived to make him do distasteful things like hand her this or help with that. Before, he got away with not doing things because my father would do them for him. He was, after all, the baby of the family, the only boy, and my father spoiled him rotten.

“What do you miss most about daddy?” I asked.

“I miss that he used to take me to eat out after school,” my brother said. “We’d go to Angelino’s on Wilson. Or Chopstix. Or Cravings.”

My brother was living proof of the adage that the way to a man’s—or boy’s—heart was through his stomach.

“Are you still mad that he had to die?” I asked.

During my father’s wake, my brother had alarmed everyone with his rants about how angry he was that daddy had left him alone, that daddy was selfish because he had to die. The rants were alarming enough, but to hear them coming from a man in his late teens somehow made it worse.

“I hate God for taking him away,” my brother said.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that God wasn’t the only one who wanted our father dead.

* * *

“If you had a chance to speak to daddy now, what would you tell him?”

I was in my sister’s room, lying on her bed while she leafed through a back issue of O Magazine on the floor. My sister is a big Oprah fan. She lost 30 pounds in three months and became a gym bunny after watching an episode on Oprah’s fitness plan. Watching Oprah partly helped her through the aftermath of our father’s death, the good Ms. Winfrey’s advice lifting her through the most trying of days. If my sister weren’t so religious, she would have thought Oprah was God, and Dr. Phil a saint.

“I dont know,” she said, then paused, giving the question serious consideration. We never joked about daddy. Ever since his death, the subject of him had been shrouded in reverence, like some holy doctrine.

“I still have one of his texts to me,” she whispered. “He said, you will always be my darling daughter. He sent it two weeks before he died.”

She stared at the pages of her magazine, and I wondered if she saw anything in front of her at all. The one text of him that I kept for the longest time had come out of the blue a month before he passed away. I had been spendng a lot of time in the office, enjoying my work too much to want to come home. It had said, “Take care, I love you.” I had kept the message because it was so unlike him. Daddy was always generous with his I Love Yous, but always verbally, and never out of the blue. I lost the message, along with everything in my phone’s memory, when I accidentally dropped my Ming and had to get it reprogrammed. Now that I think about it, even then, he probably had an inkling that he wasn’t going to be with us for much longer. They say that happens sometimes, knowing that you are going to die. In my father’s case, it was something that he had been wishing for for quite a while.

“What would you tell him?” my sister asked me.

“That I loved him. That I missed him,” I said.

“Oh sure,” my sister said. “That’s what any one of us would tell him. But what would you say after that?”

I looked at her. She had a point. My father probably already knew that we loved him and missed him. What else would I say besides that?

“Why are you asking, anyway?” my sister asked.

I shrugged. “It just came to me.”

* * *

After that conversation, I decided to write down questions that I would ask my father, should he call again. After two weeks of writing down anything that came to my mind, I had a really long list, which went from what did he really die of to what the afterlife was like to if sasquatches really existed. I spent the next two weeks paring it down, the whole time jumping whenever my phone rang and being disappointed whenever I could see a name or a number on my Caller ID.

My final list read:

1. How is the afterlife treating you?

2. What did you die of?

3. If you can see the future, what is going happen to the family?

4. Can you give me this week’s winning Lotto numbers?

5. What do you want me to tell the others?

It was a rather shallow list, but he was my father and I didn’t see the need to impress him with philosophical musings. I crumpled the list soon after. I wanted our conversation to be spontaneous. Besides, there was only one thing that I wanted to tell him.

* * *

“Tell me again how you met daddy.”

I was helping my mother make lumpia. By helping, I mean sitting by the table and not getting in the way.

“Oh, we were kai-siawed, introduced,” she said, chopping carrots into even, miniscule pieces. “He said I was ‘peh-peh, pui-pui, dio-dio, sui-sui,’” she said, reciting a quaint Chinese rhyme that meant ‘fair, chubby, tall and pretty.’ “I was his first and only girlfriend,” she sighed. “He wanted to be a lifelong bachelor, until he met me.”

During the 23 years of their marriage, my parents were never apart for more than a few days. They were joined at the hip. They went everywhere together, and if possible, they took their kids with them. My mother was lost when my father died, though she did her best not show it. But even months after, she would suddenly stop what she was doing and leave the room, only to come back minutes later with tear-stained eyes and a forced smile on her lips.

“You miss him, don’t you?” she asked, pushing the carrots from the chopping board and onto a plate.

I nodded.

“I miss him too,” she said. “I still talk to him everyday. I know that wherever he is right now, he can hear me.”

I saw that my mother’s eyes were wet, and that she was remembering. She was the love of his life, and him, hers, even though she did not know it until later. My mother was the daughter of a rich tea merchant. My father had to work to put himself and some of his siblings through school. She gave up a life of luxury for him while he in turn tried to give her everything that she was accustomed to. He did the same for the rest of us, always giving his family the best. When the economic slump hit in the 90′s, we were deeply affected, but we weren’t poor. And yet, it was this inability to give his family the life he thought they deserved that depressed him, made his heart break, made him want to stop living. I believe that my father loved us a lot. He loved us so much, it killed him.

“If you could talk to him now, what would you say?” I asked.

My mother smiled. “I would tell him to be happy.”

* * *

Two months after my conversation with mommy, my father called for the third and last time. By then, I had stopped waiting for his call. Two times was freaky enough. A third would be asking for too much. I was reading in my room when my phone rang, and a shiver ran up my spine when I realized that Caller Unknown was flashing through my screen. Trying to act as normal as possible, even though I was alone, I flipped open my cellphone and whispered a hello. This time, there was no static to separate us, no noise to make us not hear each other.

“Achie,” he said.

“Daddy,” I replied, tears streaming down my cheeks. “We miss you.”

“I miss all of you too,” he said. “But that’s not why I called.”

“What do you want? Why did you have to leave us?” I asked, openly crying now, thankful to be alone when he called for once.

“I didn’t call so you could cry,” he chided. “Achie, you’re the eldest. I want you to do something for me.”

I sniffed, wiped my tears, kept quiet, waiting for what he was going to say.

The line was silent for a while, then my father’s voice, deep and warm and soothing, said: “Don’t forget.”

“Don’t forget what?” I asked. By this time, the static had crept in once again. I knew I was going to lose whatever signal it was that connected me to daddy. “Don’t forget what?”

“Everything,” he said, his voice fading as the static overcame it. “… love you.”

“I love you!” I screamed into the phone. “I love you!”

And then he was gone. I don’t know how long I lay on my bed, my pillow muffling my wails, which slowly turned to sobs, and finally, dry heaves. Somehow, I knew that that was the last time I was to speak to him, that he wouldn’t be calling again.

* * *

Don’t forget. Up to now, I’m still not sure what that means. I’ve asked a lot of people, always careful to couch the circumstances as if it had been a dream. Mitch says he wants me not to forget the good times. My sister says that he wants me not to forget him always. Joaqui, my boyfriend, says that he wants me not to forget myself, not to dwell on his absence. They’re all probably right, and yet, I get the feeling that it’s not what daddy was trying to tell me. I still think about it a lot, though not as much as I used to. I figure that daddy wouldn’t want me stressing over it too much, especially since I’m up for a promotion next month. Besides, whatever it was that he didn’t want me to forget, I have a lifetime to remember.

Yvette Tan is a Manila-based horror writer. Her works have been published in The Philippines Free Press, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Manila Times, Uno magazine, Rogue magazine, Story Philippines and Philippine Genre Stories, among others.

Her short fiction has also appeared in anthologies such as Sleepless in Manila and Philippine Speculative Fiction II and III.