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Kindness
About the Author: Tom Hallman Jr., senior reporter at The Oregonian in Portland, Oregon, is considered one of the nation's premier narrative writers. During his career, he has won every major feature-writing award, including the Pulitzer Prize. He has written three books. His work has appeared in Readers Digest and the Saturday Evening Post. This is his first work of fiction.


The steady beat of a bass blasting from a sound system awakened me. I fumbled for the clock radio on the nightstand, and saw it was 3 a.m. Moving carefully so as not to wake my wife, I took my pillow and covered my head.

But down feathers were no match for the sound of breaking glass, the laughter and that incessant bass line reverberating from the house across the street.

I threw the pillow on the floor.

I stared at the ceiling.

Then I saw someone framed in the bedroom doorway.

Everyone’s experienced a before and after moment: A cop’s lights flashing after you’ve pulled away from the bar, or the boss calling you into the office and asking you to close the door.

Sometimes, though, it’s hard to determine where a tale starts and ends. The best I can offer is to pick a moment that I call the beginning and let my story unfold.

This was my moment.

“Dad,” she said, “what’s going on?”

Not by any stretch could you call those four words a conversation. But I was grateful. The teen years had swept over my family. The way Amy saw it, I no longer understood her.

Our most recent argument had been over tattoos. She said all her friends had one. I repeated what fathers have said through the ages: As long as you’re living under my roof, you’ll follow my rules. That brought on the silent treatment that had lasted until this moment when Amy was once again the little girl who believed her father could make her feel safe.

I slipped from my bed and led her to her room. She snuggled under the covers. I walked to her bedroom window and stared across the street at what, out of habit, I still called the Anderson place.

Anderson had been the old guy on the block, a resident long before real estate prices shot up and people like me rediscovered the inner city and moved in from the suburbs. He befriended me, gave me gardening tips and the key to his house, telling me I could borrow tools from his basement. After he died, his house sat vacant for six months. I missed the old man.

A few weeks ago, I was outside when an old pickup, its gears grinding under the load, roared up the street, jumped the curb and ripped out the rose bushes Anderson had tended to so tenderly. A giant of a man squeezed himself out from behind the wheel and walked up the front steps. He put a key in the front door to the Anderson place, and stepped inside.

Now, from Amy’s bedroom window, I saw ten people sitting on the porch. This wasn’t one of those polite suburban parties where people pass around platters of European cheese and crackers while trying to impress each other by discussing the fine notes of expensive wine.

Across the street, the glow from cigarettes cut through the dark. Someone used a stick on an overturned garbage can, pounding out a bad rhythm, while trying to keep time with the thumping bass that had awakened me.

I turned away, walked to the bed and tucked the comforter around Amy.

Sitting on the edge of the bed I was reminded of what she was—an overstuffed doll tucked under her pillow—and what she was becoming—on the end table, photos of boys she’d ripped from magazines.

“Dad,” she said, “can I talk to you about the tattoo?”

I sighed.

“Just listen,” she pleaded. “Lisa found this dye that lasts only three weeks. Nothing’s permanent.”

She threw back the comforter, turned on a lamp and walked to her desk. She pulled open a drawer and handed me a plastic bottle full of dark liquid.

“All I’ve gotta do is come up with a tattoo pattern,” Amy said. “I tape it on my body with this special paper and brush on dye. In three weeks it’s gone. Can I get one?”

“I just don’t know, honey,” I said. “I got to be honest. I don’t get the tattoo thing. Why can’t young people …”

“Dad, don’t get started.”

I kissed the top of her head.

“You’re right,” I said. “I’ll think about it.”

She climbed back in bed. I rubbed her head until she fell asleep. When I was certain she was asleep, I walked back to the window to look at the Anderson place.

The party was still going strong. I turned on a small fan in Amy’s room to drown out the noise.

Back in my room, I grabbed the pillow to cover my head.



This story appears in our APR 2018 Issue
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By Debbie Derrick


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