My Father's Women

by Alice G. Waldert

When I was six, my father's girlfriend Doris drove us to the bus terminal. At every red light, she dabbed at her eyes with a wrinkled tissue. My father kissed her for a long time while waiting passengers lined up for the bus behind us. The bus driver took two tickets from my father, then nodded to me to climb in. With my father sitting next to me, we waved to Doris as the bus pulled onto the street. I spoke to my blonde-haired baby doll while my father scanned a magazine filled with naked women. Preparing to fall asleep, I wrapped my doll in a blanket and covered myself with my jacket. I woke to the horn of the ocean liner waiting for us at New York Harbor. On deck, men in gold buttoned uniforms greeted us. Our cabin had bunk beds and a porthole, half-covered by algae green water, the other half––blue sky.

That first night, my father turned off the light and left me alone in my bunk. I hugged my doll and told her she didn’t need to be afraid of the dark. The ship held a welcome ball––adults only. Ladies wore long evening gowns. In the morning, he was in his bunk. On the second night, he disappeared again. The following morning, his bunk was empty. Instead, he arrived in time to go for breakfast and dropped me at the ship's nursery—a room filled with children, toys, and an indoor slide. The third night he introduced me to a new lady friend, Lizzie. She had blonde silky shining hair and black eye-lined crystal-clear blue eyes. Every night she kissed me and my doll goodnight and left the cabin with my father.

On the last day of the voyage, I said goodbye to a girl I met in the nursery. Her mother greeted me in their cabin. She gave me a pendant and said, Give this to your father––he’s quite the gentleman.

When the ship arrived at Bremerhaven, my father and I had a tearful goodbye with Lizzie. She gave me a doll blonde like her, with long black eyelashes and eyes the color of crystal blue water. My father kissed her for a long time as passengers lined up to disembark.

Onshore that night, I followed my father to a phone booth in the harbor terminal to call Doris. Before he dialed his number, he whispered to me Don’t say a word about Lizzie. I placed the Lizzie doll in a bag and waited for him holding my baby doll close to my heart.

About the Author

Alice G. Waldert is a poet and creative nonfiction writer. Her poetry has most recently appeared in Sisyphus, Red Eft, and Survival Lit. She is currently working on a collection of poems that focus on sexual abuse, abandonment, and war trauma. She formerly worked for twenty years in international humanitarian aid and taught English at Westchester Community college. She has an M.A. from Carleton University and an MFA from Manhattanville College.