“Of course, with our Hayley in prison, we don’t see as much of her as we’d like.”
Richard smiled inwardly when all conversation at the table stopped and every head turned toward him.
“She’s doing well, though, especially in her painting class. She sent us her latest work of art and we would love to hang it in our house except it’s just so graphic and gory it scares people. Well, I guess lifers have to vent their anger somewhere.”
Heads nodded politely. “Uh, Richard, I didn’t know you and Vee had a daughter,” one person ventured.
“Oh, we don’t! I’m just messin’ with you,” Richard said, allowing his inner smile to develop into a hearty laugh.
“Oh.” Everyone looked blank and laughed along nervously.
“We were having so much fun, we forgot to have kids,” Vee said, smiling at Richard fondly.
“But I decided it’s not too late to have a virtual daughter and while we’re at it, make her interesting,” Richard added.
At first it was just a party gambit, this imaginary daughter. Something he and Vee would kid about at home.
“The windows need washing.”
“Let’s ask Hayley to do it.”
Richard brought home a child-size rocking chair with the name “Hayley” painted in fancy letters on the back.
“Why?” Vee wanted to know.
“Just to get people going,” Richard said, placing the rocker carefully on one side of the fireplace.
“Maybe…do you think you could be carrying this a bit too far?”
“You know, Vee, I’ve been thinking about it. If we’d had a daughter, she’d probably be about forty years old by now. I got to wondering what she might have been like and what I picture is a bad ass kind of woman. Black leather, rides a Harley, won’t take crap from anybody.”
“Hmmm, this is sounding more and more like personal wish fulfillment,” Vee said, shaking her head.
“No, come on, just imagine her with me.”
“Well, okay. Our daughter would have long dark hair like my Mama’s.”
“And green eyes like my Daddy,” Richard put in eagerly.
“She’d be tough and strong, a woman not to be trifled with,” Vee said. “Is that why she’s in prison, do you think?”
“Hayley told me she killed a man who needed killing,” Richard said. “In Texas, that’s considered a solid defense.”
“So she was actually doing the community a service,” Vee said.
“And was unappreciated – and in fact, punished.” Richard was indignant. “Bet she had a lousy defense lawyer.”
“Maybe she was saving some helpless soul from a bully…or from a violent robbery…or it was self-defense or something.”
“That’s what I thought. Hayley was never one to brag, so she didn’t go into details.”
Soon a day didn’t go by without one or the other adding to Hayley’s story. She became strangely real to them. When Richard brought her up at a party, Vee frowned at him and shook her head. She didn’t like Hayley being made a figure of fun. The poor girl had been through enough.
Richard didn’t say a word of remonstrance when Vee brought home a beautiful Madame Alexander doll and propped it in the little rocking chair. He bought a black leather jacket that cost as much as a month’s groceries.
“It just made me think of her when I saw it,” he said, stroking the buttery sleeve. “It actually fits me and Hayley said I should wear it and enjoy it while she’s in prison, and she’ll wear it when she gets out.”
“But I thought…life?” Vee’s face was puzzled.
“With the possibility of parole,” Richard said.
“Will she need us to speak for her when she goes before the Parole Board?”
“You know Hayley. She’ll handle it.”
Somehow, neither Richard nor Vee was surprised when the doorbell rang late one night after they’d gone to bed. They both got up, put on their robes and went downstairs to answer it. Sure enough, a dark-haired, green-eyed woman stood on their doorstep.
“Mom, Dad, I’m home.”
They were overjoyed to have her, of course. The first couple of days were like a honeymoon. Everything seemed fresh and new. They couldn’t do enough for Hayley, bringing her breakfast in bed, taking her shopping, driving her around in their car. At first she was helpful around the house, but as time passed it seemed Hayley did less and less and Vee and Richard did more and more. They went behind her all day, clearing away her dirty dishes, wiping rings off the table tops, vacuuming crumbs, picking up her clothes and running endless loads of wash. Many nights they’d stumble into bed at midnight, only to be awakened an hour later by Hayley yelling, “Mom! Dad! I can’t find the remote. Is there any pie left? Where’s my pink shirt?”
Vee developed big dark circles under her eyes, and Richard pulled his belt in another notch. The night Hayley shot a hole in the ceiling while playing with Richard’s gun, he called the police.
The young patrolman listened politely to Richard and Vee as they described what their lives had become. “And she’s up there right now, sprawled out on our guest bed, fooling around with a firearm!” Richard ended.
The policeman took the stairs two at a time. He returned more slowly, looking at Richard and Vee quizzically.
“Did you arrest her? Are you waiting for back-up?” Vee asked.
The cop shook his head. “There’s no one there.”