Geoff tugged at the collar of his shirt as he eyed the photo of his father. The patriarch watched over the family room, eyes bright and smile seemingly endless even though gloom seemed to be collecting in the corners of the room. The image of Geoff’s father was hung in a heavy, gilded rectangle, the gold edges glittered in the low light as slivers of the early morning sun dared to slip between the gap in the living room curtains.
Hugging his gift for father to his chest, Geoff walked into the kitchen . His mother stood at the stove, drinking coffee as she watched the clock. Geoff could sense her mood was sour, her fingers tapping absently on the chipped handle of her mug as she softly spoke. “Did you wrap your gift?”
Geoff nodded and held it out for her to see. He had done it himself, obsessing over being efficient with the paper and tape. He knew his father would appreciate his attention to detail.
“Good,” His mother paused, her gaze drifting over to the clock over the kitchen sink once again. “The bus will be here in a few minutes.”
Geoff rushed out the kitchen side door and hurried around the side of their small cottage house without another word. He squinted in the bright sunlight, frowning at all of the other children chasing each other across adjoining lawns while their mothers kept watch. He had never been very social with the other children in his neighborhood, and today would be no different.
Gabby’s mom had already began collecting everyone as Geoff made his way to the sidewalk, the bus growing closer in the distance. Her shrill voice carried over the laugher as children swirled around her in a giant mass. “Everyone! Line up! Do you want to be late?”
As Geoff took his seat on the bus he could see that his mother had come outside to gather with the other mothers on the sidewalk. The children around him waved against the glass as they pulled away, but Geoff just stared at his mother’s frown and wished for Father’s Day to be over. He just wanted her to be happy again.
After being herded through the sterilization unit, Geoff and his siblings followed a nurse down the hallway. Each set of glass double doors they passed was protected by two armed guards as other children visited their fathers. Geoff tried not to look at them as his group passed, the guards towered over the herd of children and stood silently with weapons at their sides.
“Group 748, your father will see you now.”
Their father’s visitation room was decorated to mimic standard family room allowed in each of their cottage homes. Geoff had heard it said that it was supposed to make the unfamiliar building seem more welcoming, but he knew this place was nothing like his home. Geoff stayed in the back as the twenty other children rushed into the room, presenting their gifts to their father with outstretched hands. Their voices echoed in the small chamber, but the low rumble of their father’s laugher cut through the excited shrieks. As the chaos settled, Geoff pushed his way through the sea of his sisters; around Gina, between Gemma and Grace, slipping by Genevieve. His father’s smile softened as Geoff thrust his wrapped box to the older male.
“Thank you, Geoff.”
Geoff. He liked the way his name sounded when father said it… It was a special name, chosen just for him. Geoff was the only male of his brood, and it seemed like father always made a point to acknowledge him by name. Father’s voice was gravelly, only heard on special occasions, or in the dreams Geoff had about the older male. He was lost in it until one of his sisters beckoned him to sit down, waking Geoff from his trance.
The children sat in a semicircle as their father began unwrapping each gift. By the end, he had twenty-one identical government issue plastic frames, each containing the school picture of the child who gifted it, sitting on a small side table next to the armchair he sat in. Geoff felt as if his father lingered, if only for an extra second, on his photo, but he knew his thinking was wishful at best.
Father was quiet for the rest of the visit, sunk back into his chair as he nodded along with the stories his daughters happily shared. Unsure of what story would be worthy of sharing with his father, Geoff remained silent, deciding that he would plan something better for next year.
When their visit ended, the filed out of the room, no one attempting to hug father as one poor girl had tried last year. Geoff stared at his father as he began to retreat with his sisters. The older male scowled deeply at him. His father’s eyes were wild in this moment, full of more life than he had ever seen in the older male, and Geoff gaped into the dark brown. They had the same eyes.
Geoff could hardly hear the screams of his sisters over the buzz in his ears as his father lunged for him, dragging Geoff close. Their noses were pressed together. His father’s skin was cold and unfamiliar, but Geoff didn’t dare pull away. Instead his small hands fisted in the material of the older man's shirt, holding onto his father as if the man would fade away any given second.
“Get out or kill yourself. Don’t let them take you.”
Geoff was ripped away from his father and carried out into the hall as the doors were sealed.