It’s not easy to operate daddy; he malfunctions easily. Mommy told me he needed to be treated with care. I wanted to ask her if it was like walking with a glass of water, and what would happen if I dropped it from my hands, but I kept it to myself and nodded. Her face looked too sad. Whenever daddy malfunctions, the doctors and nurses all come rushing to help him, so the room bustles like an arcade. One morning, a fly went inside daddy’s nose, so I had to press the emergency bell. Even a fly that doesn’t do anything but fly all day can be lethal to a robot like daddy. ‘Lethal’ was a word the doctors used often. I added another entry into my daddy manual that day.
103. Watch for flies. They’re ‘Lethal.’
Daddy began turning into a robot when I was in kindergarten. As I went onto the second grade, he transformed more and more into a robot. Looking at daddy laying in his bed with strange machines attached to his arms, legs and mouth, I had the thought that being a robot would be comfortable. I wouldn’t have to get up in the mornings to go to school, or do my homework. When I told daddy about it, he said with a blank face,
“Don’t be too jealous.”
Of course, he didn’t really say that. Talking robots only exist in cartoons and comic books. Whenever daddy wanted to speak, he blinked his eyes, the only part of his body that hadn’t turned into a robot. The doctors attached these things called sensors onto his eyes and connected them to a screen. When he blinked fast three times, the words “I love you” flashed in red Calibri font. But even blinking was not an easy task for daddy, and the sensors didn’t always work properly, sometimes flashing random words like “cockroach” or “sycamore tree” on the screen. Daddy told me we could communicate through telepathy, as long as we think of each other.
“I always think of you.”
Daddy charges himself on the bed during the day, and turns into a superhero at night to defeat the villains. Monsters under the bed, evil scientists, and alien robots are all powerless in the face of his strength. Daddy often told me stories of his brave battles against villains, in which he used his super punches and laser beams to triumph.
One night, a ghost appeared in my room. She was wearing a white dress that had been torn and smudged with dirt, and she had cracked, scarlet lips. She looked like she hadn’t’ showered for weeks. She crawled out from under the desk and approached me. I think she found out that I hadn’t done my homework. Paralyzed with fear, I shut my eyes and sent daddy a wave of telepathy. Staring into my eyes, the ghost caressed my cheek, and I peed on the bed. Then the door swung open, and daddy stepped inside my room. His steel body glimmered under the moonlight. The ghost made a terrified face and vanished without a trace. I ran to daddy and he held me in his arms.
I woke up the next morning to bed sheets blooming with yellow tulips. Before mommy could find me, I ran to the hospital. Daddy was laying in his bed, pretending as if nothing had happened.
“You saved me, right?” I asked.
After a brief pause, two words flashed on the screen in red.
I launched myself at the bed and hugged him. The emergency bell rang, and loud beeps ripped at my eardrums. I had pulled off the oxygen cord attached to daddy’s nose. He was malfunctioning again. Nurses rushed inside, and daddy laid unconscious for an hour. I clasped his hand and watched him with tears dripping from my chin. I added one more entry into my daddy manual.
89. Don’t hug daddy too quickly.
Daniel called daddy a freak. It was the second time. My friends at school don’t believe he’s a robot. They just laugh, and say that I’m a liar. I punched Daniel in the face, and his teeth became smeared with blood. Mommy had to come to the principal’s office and apologize. It was her second time. I told her that Daniel called daddy a freak first, and she said “they’re just jealous they don’t have a robot daddy.”
When I returned to the classroom, everyone was quiet.
“Some of you might have heard the bad news from your parents already,” said our teacher. “Rebecca has been reported missing since last night.”
“It’s the clunk monster,” whispered one of the girls at the front line.
Kids from our neighborhood began disappearing since last fall. Rebecca was the fourth from our class. Policemen handed out flyers and searched every inch of the streets, but the missing children remained lost and empty desks decorated the corners of classrooms. Among us spread a rumor that the clunk monster was the culprit. Making a clunking noise, the clunk monster would approach children and eat them alive.
If the rumor was true, there was no way a few police officers could stop the clunk monster. Only daddy would be able to handle the job. I imagined him defeating the tinkling ghost and presenting himself to the class, glorious in his indestructible body of steel. Everyone was ought to believe daddy’s a robot then.
I raised my hand and said, “My daddy will stop the clunk monster.”
The silence of the room was broken by laughter. Daniel laughed the loudest. I gave him a spiteful look, and turned to my teacher. But the edges of her mouth were twitching.
Daddy used to be a baseball player. He was the best pitcher in the world. Each ball that left his hand got sucked into the catcher’s mitt like a laser beam. One day, uncle Ernest came by to visit when daddy was just beginning to turn into a robot. They were friends since high school. Uncle Ernest was one of the batters who helplessly swung their bats through the air when daddy took the mound. His nose was the size of my fist, and his brown curly hair spread evenly on each side of his head like two patches of ramen noodles. The two talked in the room until the tips of their noses turned pink.
“How are you doing?” Asked uncle Ernest. He snorted when he spoke.
“I’m doing fine, how about you?” I replied.
“I’m fine as well.”
“Well, you won’t be soon. If daddy turns into a robot, he’s going to throw even faster pitches at you, and you’re going to look silly again!”
Uncle Ernest responded with a guffaw that made his belly jiggle like baby waves. The hall echoed with his voice, and I burst into laughter. A few stretched seconds passed, and he knelt beside me to tell me a secret.
“When your daddy becomes a robot, he won’t be able to play baseball anymore. He’ll be too busy fighting villains.”
It was a sad thing to hear that I won’t be able to watch daddy play baseball anymore. He’s been a pitcher ever since I’ve known him, and we’ve played catch together since I was six. We were like an inseparable pair of AA batteries.
I remember our last game of catch. I threw the ball over daddy’s head into the trees on the edge of the field. He followed the flight of the ball with his head, and gave me a thumbs up. The brisk breeze kissed our cheeks under the sun. After that summer, daddy’s team went into postseason, and played against uncle Ernest’s team in the first match. Uncle Ernest hit three homeruns. I assured him it would never have happened if daddy were on the mound.
At first, daddy didn’t realize that he was turning into a robot. He just said his ankles were aching. He was hospitalized after a few weeks, and I could only wait outside in the hall for the results. I hated the smell of hospitals. It made me feel feverish even though I wasn’t actually sick, and I imagined the misled doctor would then stab me with a needle. Daddy doesn’t like needles either, I thought. I sat down and prayed that he didn’t get hurt. A few minutes later, he walked out with a smile (he could smile back then), and looked me in the eyes. Like a pitcher and a catcher in a baseball game, we exchanged secret looks. He was about to pitch the last, perhaps most important fastball of his life.
“Daddy’s going to become a robot.”
No one walked with me. Other kids walked in pairs or triplets with their hands folded together, but I was a single. That didn’t bother me, though. In front of the school were friendly police officers, garage sales, and Mr. Gordon, our neighbor who often fixed toys for children. They kept me from being bored.
I went to the field where daddy and I used to play catch. My dream was to become a pitcher. A pitcher like daddy, who made every hitter look like a fool. In seven years I’d be able to try out for varsity baseball, and I needed practice to make it to the team. The cement wall at the end of the field was a decent training partner.
As I walked back into the streets to go home, a man approached me. It was Mr. Gordon.
“Coming back from baseball?” He asked. He must’ve seen the mitt poking out of my bag.
Mr. Gordon was an extraordinary man; he could fix anything. Daniel said he’d even seen him bring a dead stray cat back to life, but he’s probably lying. But that Mr. Gordon was a skilled man was undoubtable. Broken cars, bicycles, and toy M16s all became as good as new when touched by the magical hands of Mr. Gordon.
“Yes, from the field behind school,” I replied.
Mr. Gordon smiled. His smile reminded me of a piece of watermelon sliced into a wedge. He told me to get home before sunset. He must’ve heard the rumors about the clunk monster.
“Mr. Gordon, have you heard about the clunk monster?” I asked.
“The clunk monster?” He responded.
“Yes. The monster that takes children and eats them alive.”
“I haven’t heard about that yet. But it sure is a scary thing to hear.”
“Don’t worry, my daddy will defeat him.”
“Your father’s a police officer?”
“No. He’s a robot. He fights villains every night.”
Mr. Gordon widened his smile, then nodded his head. He seemed to believe me, so I felt happy. I told daddy about it through telepathy.
When I got home, mommy was sitting in the dining room with her face buried in her palms. She must’ve been tired. She started working a full time job because it cost a lot of money to turn daddy into a robot. I was old enough to understand that. We walked to the hospital together.
“I waited for you,” flashed the red letters on the screen.
“Daddy, will we be able to play catch again?” I asked.
“Of course,” flashed the letters on the screen again. But this time they seemed to be flashing dimly. I could tell he was lying. It was sad to think we won’t be able to play catch together anymore. Sometimes I wished he wasn’t a robot.
He blinked three times, and I blinked three times back at him. We didn’t need to talk to connect with each other. We were a pair of AA batteries.
I placed my daddy manual on the table by his bed. Fighting villains was a tough job, so daddy was ought to malfunction regularly. The doctors helped me with the first few entries of the manual, but mommy and I filled in the rest on our own. Checking if sufficient oxygen was being supplied to him, and making sure liquid food didn’t get stuck in his throat were some of the first entries we wrote down. The nurses couldn’t always be at daddy’s side, so it was up to me and mommy to take care of him.
I remember the night before daddy completely turned into a robot.
“I still remember the day I met you,” he said. He could only talk very slowly.
“When was that?” I asked.
“When you were still inside of mommy,” he replied. “I saw you through an ultrasound, and you were smaller than a fingernail. I’ve loved you ever since.”
“Even though I was that small?”
“Of course. I recognized it was you as soon as I saw you, and you didn’t even have eyes or a nose back then. And like that you spent ten months in mommy’s belly. You won’t be able to remember, but I ran to you as soon as I finished every game, and whispered to you with my cheek against mommy’s tummy. I talked to you about how many strikes I pitched that day, how my day had been, how much I missed you.”
“I think I remember hearing those things,” I said.
Daddy gave out a laugh.
“You know what else? I was right by your side when you came out from mommy’s belly. Your head was pretty big, so you gave her a hard time. You entered the world crying so loudly that the nurses had to cover their ears. I couldn’t stop tears from pearling in my eyes when I held you. I promised that moment that I’d always love you.
Daddy spoke in a deep voice that warmed me. He was breathing heavily with his mouth. Tears trailed down his face and wet my hands. The device attached to his heart made an unpleasant noise, and the nurses rushed inside the room. It was the first and last time I had seen daddy cry. I wrote another entry in my daddy manual.
24. Don’t make daddy cry.
Daddy looked more tired than usual. His eyes were barely open, and he didn’t blink when I talked to him. The screen refused to flash with red letters, as if it were upset at me. I rummaged through my daddy manual, but I couldn’t find the solution to an unresponsive screen. Mommy called the doctors. She looked more anxious than usual.
I was never a smart kid. I wasn’t good at sports, I didn’t play musical instruments, and art was boring. Naturally, I drew myself away from school, and towards the hospital, where I could talk with daddy all day. Staring at the screen flashing with red letters was enough to keep me content for an entire afternoon. Of course, not a lot of conversation was exchanged between the two of us. Many days daddy only had the energy to blink three or four sentences, and on some days he remained silent and listened to me talk. I told him a lot of secrets, mostly about boys I liked.
Mommy’s face was never bright. She wasn’t happy that daddy was turning into a robot. Sometimes, she sat and cried without making a sound. I understood how she felt, as there were many things I had to give up too because daddy was busy fighting villains. “But crying doesn’t solve anything,” I often told her. She usually responded with a smile.
One day after school, I was walking home and I saw mommy standing at the bus stop across the street.
“Mommy!” I called out.
She stared at me with a surprised look. It was the first time after daddy turned into a robot that I ran into her in the streets. I asked her where she was going, and she didn’t answer. She plunged into the bench. She looked as if she was about to burst into tears. I had a feeling that if she rode the bus like this, she’d never come back.
“I’ve been having these dreams lately,” I said.
She remained silent.
“That daddy flies into space. Far away, until he reaches Saturn. I realize he’s never coming back and cry. But the sadder thing is that you’re not here with me either.”
I clutched mommy’s hands. They were trembling. We sat on the bench with our hands trembling together. Nine buses went by, but we remained still. As I was about to fall asleep, she stood up and said,
“Let’s go home.”
Later that day, we walked to the hospital to see daddy. I looked into his face. It had become stiff, but he was still handsome. I caressed his grass-like hair.
“Wake up, daddy. Tell me about the stories of monsters you fought last night.”
At that moment, he blinked his eyes. The screen flashed with red letters, but I wasn’t able read what it said. Mommy walked into the room. She said the school had just contacted her, that Daniel has been reported missing. I was shocked, but daddy was more important.
“I think daddy’s up.”
As soon as the words left my mouth, the emergency bell rang. It seemed to be louder than usual. I covered my ears. It was a noise I heard at least four times a week, but it made me anxious every time. I could see that mommy’s face had turned pale as well. I might’ve screamed if the doctor hadn’t burst in. He began touching the cords attached to daddy’s body.
“Stay outside,” said mommy.
I wanted to stay, but I walked outside into the hall and shut the door behind me. My heart pounded. I sat in the chair by the entrance, with nothing to do but think. Daniel entered my head. I guess to some extent I was pleased, but I felt scared and guilty. I had prayed every night that the clunk monster takes him away.
The door opened, and the doctor walked out of the room. I saw his belly first, and then his stubby nose. I stood up.
“What happened to daddy?” I asked.
“I have bad news for you,” he said. He knelt beside me.
“You couldn’t fix him?”
“No. He malfunctioned really badly this time. It’s lethal. You probably know already, but daddy’s had a rough time fighting all those villains. It’s time for him to rest now. He’ll have to go somewhere far, far away to fix his broken parts. It’s going to take a long time.”
I couldn’t understand what he was saying.
“Why can’t you just fix him?”
His faced looked old, like my grandpa’s. It was a defeated face that made me angry.
“No! Fix him now!”
I thought about all the toys that had broken and were never fixed. I thought about the broken microwave mommy threw into the recycling bin. I thought about the dreams of daddy flying into space.
“Your daddy tried hard.”
I wanted to rush inside to see daddy, but I was scared. It felt like someone had nailed my feet into the ground. Then a thought struck me.
Moving as quietly as I could, I crept across the hall and into the elevator. When I reached the first floor, I ran out of the hospital. I had no time to waste. If the doctors couldn’t fix daddy, there was only one person who might be able to. The man who could fix anything – Mr. Gordon.
For some reason, I couldn’t keep out of my head what daddy often told me when we played catch. “You need to focus when you pitch the ball. Don’t think of anything else but the catcher’s mitt.” As I ran to find Mr. Gordon, my shoelaces flapped around like a set of broken propellers. I ran without stopping. Past the harbor, past the supermarket, past the lottery store. I was sure daddy would disappear if I stopped for even a second. I could see police officers standing across the school. When I reached Mr. Gordon’s shop, he wasn’t there. I caught my breath between tall shelves of metal tools and gadgets. My heart was about to come out of my mouth. I wiped my face and it became smudged with snot, sweat and tears.
“Why are you crying?”
I turned around to a familiar yet uncanny smile. If Mr. Gordon hadn’t appeared from behind me, I probably would’ve collapsed on the spot.
I told him about daddy; that he’s the best pitcher in the world, and that he’d become a robot. I told him he needed to be fixed, because he had to defeat the clunk monster that went around stealing children from the neighborhood.
Mr. Gordon started packing his bag. He filled it with spanners, bolts, hammers, and toys.
“I’ll fix him for you,” he said.
I let out a sigh of relief. Mr. Gordon can fix anything, so he’d be able to fix daddy without a problem. Maybe it was true he brought the dead cat back to life.
“But it’s not an easy job to fix a robot, so I’ll have to stop by at my house and gather some more tools. You should come with me.”
I was in a hurry, but I had no choice. We walked side by side to his house.
“Did you tell anyone you were coming to visit me?” He asked.
Mr. Gordon’s house lay farther than I had expected. We had to walk for more than thirty minutes on an unfamiliar trail into the forest.
“Are we almost there?” I asked.
“We have to go just a bit more.”
There was a sense of satisfaction embedded in his voice. He was whistling, too.
“My daddy’s good at whistling,” I said.
“I see you have a great father. He’s the best baseball player in the world, a super robot who defeats villains, and a good whistler as well.”
Hearing compliments of daddy always made me happy. But Mr. Gordon stopped talking, and he wasn’t whistling anymore either. A few more minutes passed, and he opened his mouth again.
“You see, my father wasn’t a great person. All he did was drink all day.”
His tone was still hinted with joy. I didn’t know what to say.
“My daddy liked to drink too. Before he became a robot.”
“No no, it wasn’t liked that. He was obsessed with alcohol. Addicted. He didn’t care about his starving wife and kids. I wished that my father had died, several times each day. I wasn’t like you.”
There were only the two of us in the forest. The only thing I could hear was the sound of our footsteps. Mr. Gordon was smiling, but he wasn’t the Mr. Gordon I had always known. Staring at the treadmill of gravel and dirt below my feet, I slowed my pace.
Then I heard a clunk.
It came from Mr. Gordon’s bag. The spanners and bolts waltzed among each other and produced a lifeless symphony that echoed beneath the trees.
“So I swore to myself,” he said. “That I’ll be a good father. That I’ll love and care for my children.”
I stepped backwards, and he yanked my arm towards him. He wrapped his arms around me like a boa constrictor.
“But the children never gave me a chance. They all cried, and tried to run.”
He looked at me and stretched his mouth. I could see his tongue, writhing like a serpent. His eyes remained unsmiling. I couldn’t see my reflection in them – only a depthless pit of black. I tried to scream but my voice hid behind the edge of my throat.
I woke up to the pungent scent and humidity of the basement. There were cockroaches crawling on the cement floor. Mr. Gordon was unpacking and arranging his tools.
“Are you the clunk monster?” I asked.
He didn’t respond.
“Did you take Daniel too?”
“Yes. He said he’d come along.”
There were no windows. A small light bulb attached to the ceiling faintly lit the center of the room. Mr. Gordon was swinging a hammer back and forth, forming shadows that danced amid the walls to the tune of his whistles.
“Can you let me go home? My daddy’s waiting for me.”
“No, no. I’m your daddy from now.”
He slapped me. Tears rolled down my face, and the scent of blood leaking in my mouth somewhat dissolved the unpleasant smell of the room.
“Be a good girl now. I’ll give you toys, and buy you ice cream too.”
My hands trembled in fear, but I felt a sense of pity for Mr. Gordon. He probably never played catch with his daddy, felt the tender rub of a bearded cheek, or was held in someone’s arms as he drowsed to sleep. If he had for once in his life felt those things he would’ve known, that love isn’t something that can be forced.
“That’s not what daddies do,” I said. “They first tell you they love you before giving you toys, or buying you ice cream.”
Mr. Gordon walked toward me. He still had the hammer in his hand. At that moment, a shriek came from the corner of the room. It was Daniel. Mr. Gordon turned around in the direction of the shriek, and dragged his feet across the floor. When his entire body became veiled by the dark, I ran to the door. I slammed my body against it, and it vomited me out of the room. I sprinted up a flight of stairs that led to the exit. Mr. Gordon’s fingers brushed through the tips of my hair, and bursts of breath swept across the back of my neck like waves crashing against a cliff.
Then, in front of me I saw the shadow of a figure. It was winding up, as if to pitch a baseball. It had the form of the best pitcher in the world. The shadow threw the ball, which cut through the air like a laser beam and hit Mr. Gordon between his eyes. It was a great pitch; not even uncle Ernest would’ve been able to hit it. Mr. Gordon collapsed on the ground. The shadow revealed itself – and as I had expected – it was daddy. He had completely turned into a robot. He looked down at me, and stroked my head. The coldness of his metal fingers made me feel even more sorry.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t fix you,” I said.
He clenched a fist, pounded his chest twice, and pointed his thumb upwards. We gazed at each other as the brisk breeze kissed our cheeks under the sun.
“I’ll always be your daddy.”
He was crying, even though he was a robot. I told him I’ll always be his daughter too. My tears made daddy look blurred. He seemed to be waving his hands. I heard the sound of police sirens approaching me, and the cacophony of yelling neighbors filled my ears as I closed my eyes.
When I opened them again, I was at the back of a police car. I noticed the officer who normally stood outside the school. The siren still resonated in my ears.
“What happened to Mr. Gordon?” I asked.
“He’s being sent to the hospital. I think he had a stroke.”
“What about Daniel?”
“He’s in good shape. We found the other missing kids, too. They’re all fine.”
“Can you take me to the hospital?”
“My daddy might be dying.”
The police car changed direction, and we reached the hospital in twelve minutes. I rode the elevator to the fourth floor, and rushed inside daddy’s room. There was no one inside, and his bed was empty. He had gone away to fix his broken parts. But he didn’t forget to leave a goodbye message for me. Familiar words were flashing on the screen.
“I love you.”
I ran to the window, and blinked three times at the sky. And then I wrote the last entry of my daddy manual, as if I were throwing the last strike of the game. Teardrops fell on the pages and smudged the ink.
105. Tell daddy I love him often.
updated by @americymru: 11/16/16 11:47:46PM