Grape Jolly Ranchers

by Annie Johnson

My father has always resented me. Just a little bit. Not the kind of resentment that sets a fire in your stomach, just the kind of casual disdain fathers have for their daughters.

I remember asking my mother, back when I was very young, why my father hated me.

“Oh baby,” she said, kissing my head. “Daddy doesn’t hate you. He just likes football.” Then she went back to the kitchen and left me to play with my dolls alone.

I tried to like football; I really did. I checked out books from the public library all about Walter Payton and the ‘34 Bears and read them in bed late at night with a flashlight. But I could never get more than halfway through. Flags and sacks and touchdowns were white noise to me—I wanted stories about princesses, where no one ever got tackled.

So, my father took my brother, Jack, to football games. He bought him a baseball glove and drove him to all his soccer tournaments. He gave me fake pleasantries at the breakfast table and forgot if I was turning eight or nine.

Once, when I was ten, we went on a family road trip. I sat next to Jack in the backseat of the minivan as we sped down the highway. He wouldn’t stop blowing in my ear. When I yelled at him to stop, my father whirled around, red-faced.

“Be quiet, Sarah!” he snapped. “Do you want me to crash the car?”

I could feel my face flush. “No,” I said in a very small voice. Jack wore a self-satisfied grin. I kicked him.

“Sarah kicked me!” Jack tattled, pretending to be hurt.

“He won’t stop blowing in my ear!”

“Jesus Christ,” my father groaned. Swerving sharply, he pulled off on the closest exit and into a gas station parking lot.

“You deal with this,” he told my mother, before stalking inside.

I started to cry, shame bubbling in my stomach.

“I’m sorry, Mom,” I whimpered.

“It’s okay, baby,” she said. And then she followed my father into the gas station. She came back ten minutes with my slightly mollified father and a bag of Jolly Ranchers.

“For you.” She handed the bag to me and wiped away tears.

I rustled through the bag very quietly. “Does anyone want one,” I asked.

“I’ll have one,” my father said, reaching a cupped hand behind his seat. “Do you have any grape?”

“Grape is my favorite,” I told him, and he gave a noncommittal grunt of thanks when I pressed it into his hand.

When I was eleven, I asked my father if he could come to my dance recital. He said that he would try to make it. When I stepped on stage in my leotard, I scoured the crowd for his face. I found my mother, smiling widely, next to my brother, who’d fallen asleep.

“Daddy had a meeting, honey,” she told me afterward, rubbing my back as tear tracks streaked through my blush.

I never told him about another recital. I quit ballet the next year.

I’m thirteen now. It’s Christmas morning. I’m sitting, cross-legged, on the ground next to Jack. Shreds of wrapping paper are scattered around the room. But there’s still one more present under the tree. Jack buzzes with barely suppressed exhilaration. We both think it’s his—probably a new baseball glove from our father. When my father picks it up, I see Jack’s eyes light up. He’s sizing it up, trying to rule out what could be inside.

“This is for you, Sarah.” He doesn’t really meet my eyes, just kind of tosses the package in my direction from a few inches away.

I gape at him. He’s never gotten me a present before, not for real. My mother writes “from mom and dad” on all our gifts but I know that he’s just as surprised as I am when I open them up.

Jack watches me with poorly concealed jealousy as I tear the paper.

It’s a large plastic bag, and for a moment, I think it’s a bad joke. But then I look inside.

It’s full of Jolly Ranchers, only the grape flavor.

I stare at my father. “Grape is my favorite,” I tell him.

“I know,” he says.