Martina Navratilova Duncan sat at the table of her tiny Metropolitan condo flipping through the worn, plastic covered pages of a decades old photo album. She allowed the trembling worn out fingers on one hand to smooth the slightly rippled, protective sleeve as her eyes traced over the edges in these scenes from her life. The thumb of her free hand gripped the handle of a stained, chipped mug tapping out a melancholy rhythm every now and then.
Memories of the stories she had heard about herself began to flood her mind. Like tidal waves cascading over the well built walls inside the dam of emotions welling in her heart. Confusing emotions scrambled then overflowed in gushing, torrent waves. She gripped the coffee cup harder, setting her jaw hard against the tears threatening to fall.
I’m not going to do this. I’m not going to cry. Weak-willed women get mushy over memories – I’ll never be weak like that.
She rested the tip of her index finger on a faded picture of a dark-skinned woman with slightly graying hair. “Why did you do it, Momma?”
Martina’s eyes betrayed her resolve and a few large drops of liquid heat began to fall down her wrinkled, leathery cheek. Something about that picture tripped a video tape in her brain and all she could see was her mother standing in front of her on her fifth birthday with a bow-clad tennis racket in her hand.
“Don’t you love it baby?” Her mother gloried in the used racket she had acquired from the pawn shop on the corner.
Her mother had wanted her to be a tennis star like her name’s sake. Her head hung low as she slowly swung it side to side.
A sudden rush of heat indicated that low boil had started again in her heart. She felt the gall rising in her esophagus as the well of emotion rising up lodged itself in her throat. The memory fully taking hold of her heart… Her mind… Somewhere deep in her soul the voices started to play.
“Who do you think you are MART-Tina?”
Tommy Farris’ snarly, freckled face flashed into view. His sing-songy voice echoing down the hallways of her mind.
“Oh Yeah! You’re MARTINA NAVRO-TALOVAAAA! Show us your swing superstar.”
All she wanted as a little girl was to be normal. She wanted to go home to a family in a real house with a real yard. She wanted a Mommy and a Daddy and a few dolls in the corner to have tea with in the afternoon. A life she stopped hoping for when she was eight years old.
“No…No…No… Daddy! Take Me With You, DAAA-DDDDD-DDDDY!”
A fresh wave of tears erupted with violent shaking and gasps for air.
She had been playing with a caterpillar on the fire escape when she heard the door slam. She scurried through her open bedroom window and rushed toward her mother’s quiet sobs.
“He’s gone, Tina. He don’t love us no more and he left.”
Tina’s tiny, little girl’s heart shattered into a million pieces. She ran through the door and raced down the stairs after her father. As her little legs catapulted her through the street level safety door she caught a glimpse of her father rounding the corner with an overstuffed suitcase.
A new wave of urgency rushed through her veins as she ran after him. Her tiny feet hit the pavement with hasty thuds. She caught him just before he crossed the next street over from their block.
“Daddy…” Sobs erupted from deep inside between gasps for air. “Please, Daddy. Don’t leave me here. Take me with you, Daddy. I’ll be good. I promise. I will.”
She grasped for his hand. Before her fingers could clasp hold of his he pulled away and stopped walking.
“Go home, Tina.” The hard lines etched in his face frightened her. His dark cold eyes peering down at her seemed to pierce her soul.
She scrambled for words hoping to reach the daddy she loved. He must be lost somewhere inside this stranger who was leaving her behind. “I have to go now, baby. I can’t do this anymore. I don’t want to live like this anymore. Go home little girl, be with your mother – she needs you.”
“But… Daddy… I need you…” Tina’s tiny head was spinning as she stood there and watched her father walk away.
Martina’s blaring phone pulled her back to reality. She recovered the scarred handset from under a pile of bills deposited beside her on the table. One glance at the caller i.d. told her what she already knew. “Bill collector… No, thank you.”
Her blackened thumb easily marked the end button to send the call to voice mail. She dropped the phone back to the table and swiped at her nose and eyes with one stroke. She slapped the photo album closed and leaned back hard in her chair startling her cat awake. Her house slippers fell free as she pulled her heels off the floor.
“What am I doing here anyway?”
The cat. known simply as Cat, pawed out and stretched lazily before rising and sauntering over to her food dish sniffing for a morsel of nourishment. “Hey, Cat. You hungry, baby?”
Martina stood and walked to the cupboard in the corner of her small, urban expression kitchen. Four weeks without work had left the storehouse empty. She plucked her last can of tuna out of the pantry.
Her can opener creaked around the top of the can of processed fish After depositing two spoonfuls into the cat bowl she finished off the rest in two bites. A swallow more of coffee polished off her morning meal.
A sharp pain crept out from her lower back and stabbed its way down her left leg. She doubled over trying to catch her breath. After straightening out her cramping frame, she tapped a couple of generic pain killers out of an amber bottle on the kitchen counter. One hard, dry gulp pushed the pill down. All that was left to do – wait for the needed relief. Her feet gently kissed the worn floorboards of her living room as she limped toward the temporary escape of a hot shower.
“What if you’re not who you think you are?” The masculine voice echoed from her bedroom.
Tina’s heart beat hard in her chest. Her hands came up to grasp the robe at her throat. She cautiously walked forward looking for the person who asked the question.
“Whoever you are, come out…” She reached for the walking stick she kept near the front door. She stepped slowly toward her the slice of light shining through her barely opened bedroom door. “Is there anyone there?”
“I’ve been here all along. Waiting for you…”
“If you don’t come out now, I’m going to call the police. Now come out and tell me who you are.”
“Tina… Don’t you remember me, I’m your father.”
Panic mingled with anxious expectation flooded every part of Tina’s being. “Daddy?”
Tune in Tomorrow for the next part of Tina’s story. What if you’re not who you think you are?