“Dad, here they are.”
Little five-year-old Sonya had every intention of waiting for her father to walk over and tell her that, yes, they were the right beans. Instead she found herself running back to the cart, can in hand. Briefly, that is. She tossed the can in as soon as she was close.
Lamar smiled and sighed at the same time, the way Sonya made him do often. He couldn’t put the can back on the shelf, not in good conscience.
“Yes, they are,” he said as he pushed the basket alongside the beans. He grabbed a few more non-bent ones to put alongside the first.
“What’s next?” Sonya asked.
Lamar glanced down at his phone.
“Tuna,” he said.
“Tuna That means we need crackers, too.”
“Yes it does.”
Sonya led the way through the aisles, moving along at the pace she and her father had long ago agreed was not too fast, not too slow. Sonya liked to lead the way, and Lamar was happy to let her, as long as her leadership didn’t take her too far.
Today that wasn’t a problem. Far more bodies than usual filled the space than was common in the quiet town the locals called a city. Lamar used to, too, until he went off to college. When he returned the four strip malls that had offered most things a community would need had turned, if only in his mind, into an intersection that happened to have commercial development on all sides. Actual cities had enough of those intersections in close proximity to refer to them as blocks.
At least a third of the town’s population was crowded into the same grocery store this moment, joined by half the county. Smartphone notifications and websites had all mentioned snow on the way—though in this area, it was still the weatherman that most folks had heard the news from. And it wasn’t just any snow. They were getting inches. Plural.
Lamar knew Sonya wouldn’t have school on Monday. If things went well, that would be the worst of it. But if not, he knew he would have to keep her alive through a power outage, possibly ct off from the supplies he walked past now.
“How many?” Sonya asked.
“Six,” Lamar said.
“Here’s three,” Sonya said, dividing the amount into two trips. “Can we get sardines, too?”
Now more than ever, Lamar was grateful his daughter had picked up his love for canned fished.
Sonya was a child of the winter, conceived the last time enough snow had fallen to keep folks off the road. It was an easy time for Lamar to keep up with. That was the one night Lamar and Sonya’s biological mother—he refused to call her a mom—had spent together.
The two had been seeing each other, in a way, but not really trusting. Lamar was unlike the men she was used too, unwilling to thrust out his chest to defend what Monique considered slights against his character, and hers. He was weak in her eyes, more a boy than a man, despite the income he was already bringing in at twenty-three. It wasn’t the biggest check, but it was consistent, and that was something.
It wasn’t money that, for one night, had Monique willing to view Lamar in a different way. It was the snow that piled up outside her window. It was Lamar’s efforts to salt her driveway earlier that day, despite the likelihood that the road beyond would be in no condition to drive on. It was the water, batteries, and food he had brought to make sure she had what she needed to make it through the next few days.
When Lamar headed to the door, Monique asked him to stay. She needed one more thing, she said, to keep her warm. And he did. For the next three days, Lamar felt like a man. The power went out before the night was up. They lit candles and bundled up in blankets and flesh. In the morning, they boiled eggs atop a kerosene heater. That lunch they scooped soup into their mouths using saltine crackers. When the sun set early that evening, a few hours earlier than it did when the power was on, they bundled up again.
When the snow thawed a few days later, so did their relationship. The next time she saw him, out in public, the man she knew had shriveled before her eyes. He was smart, loving even, but not a man.
It was some irony that when Monique gave birth nine months later, it was a college grad, not the football players and, by that point, backyard mechanics that was the baby’s daddy.
Lamar insisted he would take care of his daughter. The men Monique dated insisted that they wouldn’t. By the time Sonya was three, she lived with her dad, and her biological mother didn’t come by anymore.
In the past two years, Lamar experienced what it meant to be a dad. Sonya called him that every day.
But this was his first time to again be a man. With the snow falling. With the power out. With someone special depending on him. These were the only conditions when he knew he could puff out his chest.
Lamar saw the woman before he heard the voice, but it was his daughter’s name that told him who she was.
“Sonya, come here!”
Sonya looked back at her dad. Was it okay, her eyes asked. Lamar nodded, but the girl didn’t move. When Monique squatted down to give her a hug, Sonya’s arms wrapped limply around her biological mother.
“Are you two ready,” Monique asked, looking up at Lamar.
“Tell her,” Lamar said to Sonya.
Monique broke the hug, and Sonya nodded.
“Would you like mommy to be there?”
Again, Sonya glanced back at her father. Lamar could only stand there, clinching the shopping cart, at a loss for words.
Monique stood up and came to Lamar’s side. It was then that he saw it. Monique was afraid.
“Have you picked up anything?” Lamar asked, his voice a whisper.
“Well, you know, I got a little.”
Lamar nodded slowly, understanding. “Come on, Sonya. We’re going to go help mommy—“ the words felt foreign on his tongue “—pick up some supplies for the storm.”
Sonya perked up. Picking up things from store shelves was familiar, and she enjoyed doing it. “Okay, follow me.”
As the five-year-old walked away, the smile on Monique’s face drooped. She wasn’t going to turn down the offer, but as she looked into Lamar’s eyes, she could see that this man and his daughter were going home alone.