Arigatameiwaku: when someone does a favor for you that you didn’t want or ask for, and the favor causes you trouble, but social customs require you to express gratitude regardless. A Japanese word made up of ‘arigatai’ (‘grateful)’ and ‘meiwaku’ (‘nuisance’).
“I’m going to help,” said Doug.
Melanie could almost hear him beaming through the phone, proud of his own selfless offer. “Oh no, dad - there’s really no need. We have everything under control - ”
“No, no,” he insisted. “I’ll help. I have all this free time now. What else would I do?”
“Well….” She softened her voice. “How about finally going through mom’s things? You’ve been talking about - ”
“That’s not urgent. The wedding is a few weeks away! There must be so many things to do. So, how can I help?”
“Well, Sarah will be helping this afternoon and Sierra will be helping tomorrow - ”
“But that’s later! Surely there’s something you’re doing now that I can take off your hands.”
Melanie sighed, closing her eyes and pressing her fingers to her temple. “Okay, fine. If I text you what doughnuts we want at the sweets table, will you go to the bakery and place the order?”
“Certainly! But, Mellie - doughnuts? At a wedding? Don’t you want something fancier - ”
“Dad! My wedding, my decisions. Okay?”
“Well, alright, Mellie. If you insist.”
She sent him the address and the order: Three dozen old fashioned, three dozen chocolate, three dozen blueberry lavender. Thx dad.
Doug replied with a thumbs up, but he didn’t feel so confident as he drove to the bakery. Carol wanted a sweets table. We ended up with a cake from Publix, and it was perfectly fine - she agreed with me - but maybe we could have sprung for a small sweets table after all. But doughnuts? Maybe doughnuts at weddings are fashionable nowadays…but they’ll look back and regret doing the fashionable thing instead of the traditional thing.
When he entered the bakery, he was struck by the pastries in their case: cupcakes topped with swirls of buttercream, glistening fruit tarts laden with berries and kiwis, thick squares of chocolate fudge brownies, and delicate pastel macarons filled with jam and caramel. He stared at the artistry, the skill, the colors. And they want doughnuts?
So when the smiling lady behind the counter asked him what he’d like to order, he felt completely justified ordering half the doughnuts Melanie wanted and making up the difference with an order of macarons.
I’ll pay for them myself, he thought, and they’ll thank me when they’ll see them. Macarons are much better for a wedding than doughnuts.
Whistling, he exited the shop and drove over to Melanie’s. On his way, a song was playing on the radio that caught his ear: This song! I have to tell Mellie about it. It’s perfect for the father-daughter dance.
He learned that it was important to choose these kinds of songs very carefully. He thought Every Breath You Take was romantic enough for his first dance with Carol and didn’t bother reading the lyrics. Carol waited until after their reception to tell him that it wasn’t a love song.
As he pulled up to the driveway, he saw Sarah’s car parked behind Melanie’s. Both daughters drove compact cars, and Doug’s SUV looked monstrous next to them. They love their small cars until it’s time to do something practical with them, he thought, like moving or driving in the snow.
“So, what’s the plan?” Doug asked as he let himself into Melanie’s house.
Melanie scurried out of the kitchen, clutching her chest. “Dad? What are you doing here?”
“I’m here to help! I placed the bakery order - what’s next?”
“For starters, ringing the doorbell instead of just walking into my house!”
He blanched. “Alright, alright - but you need to start locking your front door. God knows who could wander in. Do you have time now? I just heard a song that would be perfect for our dance.”
She took a deep breath, the hand on her chest balling up into a fist. “Now isn’t a good time. Sarah was about to go pick up the dresses, but you’re blocking her - ”
“I can do that! I’ll go get them. Just give me the address.”
“I appreciate it, but you’ve done plenty already - ”
“My car is bigger, there’s more room to hang them up. They won’t get wrinkled on the way.”
She frowned, unable to come up with an argument. “Fine.” Her shoulders dropped. “I’ll give you the address. But don’t take Laurel and Sierra’s dresses - they’re picking them up themselves.” She sighed. “Thanks, dad.”
He was still smiling as he parked in front of the seamstress’ and strutted inside. See? Mellie said there was nothing for me to do - and look at all the things I’ve done today! Why should she stress herself out for nothing?
A bell jingle signaled his arrival, and a frazzled woman with a tape measure around her neck hurried out of the back room.
“Pickup for Melanie and Sarah Cooper,” he said.
The seamstress gestured to a rack with four long dresses in black garment bags, their owner’s names pinned to the front. “Dresses for the Cooper-Jenkins wedding. Are you taking all of them?”
“No, no,” he said, grabbing Melanie’s and Sarah’s. “Just these two. The other ladies will be picking them up later.”
He whistled as he drove the dresses to Melanie’s. And Sally wanted to pick up two floor-length gowns in her tiny car. They would have gotten wrinkled! Mellie and Sally, they just don’t understand how useful a big car can be until it’s too late.
Doug rang the doorbell before entering Melanie’s house, carrying both of the dresses. “They’re here!”
Melanie and Sarah greeted him in the foyer. “I’m trying mine on,” said Sarah, grabbing the slimmer of the two garment bags. “I wanted to try it on one last time at the seamstress’, but someone blocked my car….”
Sarah disappeared up the stairs and into a bathroom.
Melanie, though, was staring at the remaining garment bag in Doug’s hands. She pressed a shaky hand to her lips and smiled through watery eyes. “I can’t believe it’s here,” she said, reaching out to stroke it. “I mean, I’ve seen it at all the fittings, but it’s here now - it’s actually here - it makes everything feel so much more real….”
Her eyes lit up as he handed her the dress, his chest puffed out like a peacock, when a shout from upstairs made them both freeze.
“Melanie!” yelled Sarah. “Melanie, something is very wrong with my dress!”
Melanie and Doug dashed up the stairs as Sarah opened the door and waddled out of the bathroom. She was swimming in plum fabric - the hemline dragged across the floor, the waistline sagged around her hips, and she had to hold the strapless top up with one hand.
“This is either incredibly unfinished,” Sarah said, “or it’s not my dress.”
Doug frowned. Strapless dresses? For a wedding? That’s not very modest….
Melanie clapped a hand across her mouth and rushed over to the garment bag. The name was still pinned to the front, written in the seamstress’ looping cursive: Sierra.
Melanie and Sarah whirled around to face Doug, both staring daggers at him.
He raised his hands, still holding Melanie’s dress. “Honest mistake!” he said. “So I grabbed Sierra’s instead of Sally’s - ”
“That’s not my name!” snapped Sarah.
“- but you’ve figured it out fast enough! You just need to let Sierra know - ”
Melanie’s phone rang, cutting him off. “Oh God, it’s Sierra - hello? Sierra? Calm down, it’s okay, we know what happened - no, that’s Sarah’s dress, they got mixed up - be careful taking it off! She’s like, a foot shorter than you - ”
She snatched her wedding dress out of his hands, glaring at him as she rushed out of the room.
“Dad, get out, I’m changing,” said Sarah, moving to close the door.
“It was an honest mistake,” he insisted. “Sally, don’t be mad - ”
“That’s not my name!”
Sarah slammed the bathroom door shut.
Ah, Doug thought as he walked down the stairs, once they calm down, they’ll realize that it’s a very easy fix. Sarah and Sierra swap dresses - big whoop! All this commotion for nothing….
He walked into the kitchen and found himself face to face with a scarlet faced Melanie.
“I just got a call from the bakery,” she began, every syllable shaking with rage, “because they were very confused why someone ordered macarons for our wedding when we told them all pastries had to be nut-free.”
He frowned. “Oh?”
“And I’m very confused,” she continued, pointing a trembling finger at Doug, “because I was very specific about what kinds of doughnuts Scott and I chose for the sweets table.”
“Doughnuts aren’t for a wedding!” he exclaimed. “Macarons are so much better - ”
“Scott is allergic to almonds!” she shrieked, making him jump. Her nostrils were flaring, her eyes practically bulging out of her head. “Macarons are made with almond flour - ”
Doug felt the color drain from his face.
“ - and it’s not up to you to decide anything! I told you - my wedding, my decisions!”
“Yes, but - ”
“No buts! You always do this - you always think you know best - and you don’t listen to anyone! You decide that you’re helping me without me even asking for it, and you’ve gone and made huge changes on your own!”
“Mellie, I - ”
“And stop calling me that! Dad - leave. Just leave.”
Speechless, Doug turned around and left.
The next evening, Doug did something he had been avoiding for years: he opened Carol’s closet. Underneath the hangers of her shirts and dresses, next to the shoe rack with her sandals and pumps, was a box of photo albums. After every vacation or milestone, Carol would develop the film, arrange the pictures, and preserve the memories in their own little book. Captions listed people, dates, and places in her tidy print. She never got any details wrong. She never missed a single moment.
Doug sat down on the couch with a photo album in his lap and a whiskey in his hand. The plastic sleeves crinkled as he turned the pages. He sighed and reached for his glasses. I didn't use to need these, he thought as Carol’s face came into focus.
She was enamored with Princess Diana’s wedding gown and insisted her own dress had puff sleeves and a voluminous skirt. Doug wasn’t so sure about following trends, but Carol dug in her heels and wouldn’t budge. When she walked down the aisle, Doug thought the dress was regal and romantic. Doug thought that Carol looked like an angel.
How the decades swam by since their wedding day. Sometimes, he felt the years ache in his hands and in his back. Sometimes, it felt like everything couldn’t have happened more than a few years ago.
It wasn’t long ago at all that he was looking forward to retirement with Carol. All that free time - who knew what they would get up to? They talked about traveling across the country, visiting national parks. They talked about becoming grandparents, spoiling Melanie’s and Sarah’s future kids. They talked about selling the house, downgrading to an apartment by the beach with a spare bedroom for visitors.
Retirement came, and there was no Carol. There was no traveling, there were no grandkids, there was no apartment by the beach. What was the point without her?
He flipped the page. In the photo, they were walking down the aisle hand in hand and beaming at each other. Right after this picture was snapped, Carol reached over and fixed Doug’s bow tie. All the photos of them at the altar confirmed that his bow tie was crooked during the ceremony.
I was such a mess without you, he thought, wiping his eyes. Still am. I don’t know what I’m doing without you.
His phone buzzed, and he almost jumped when he saw a text from Melanie.
Hi, dad. Can I come over to talk?
Heart thumping, he tapped out Yes as fast as he could.
After agonizing minutes, the doorbell rang. Doug set his glass on the table and hurried to the door.
It was Melanie. She stood on the front step and couldn’t quite meet his gaze.
“Hi, honey.” He swung his arms, not sure what to do. “Do you, uh, want to come in? Sit down?”
She nodded and headed over to the couch. “Since when do you drink whiskey?” she asked, gesturing to his glass on the coffee table.
“Since I became a dinosaur. Boys in the office gave it to me on my last day. Thirty-five years earns you a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black, I guess.”
Melanie chewed her lip and picked up the photo album. She smiled as she looked over the pictures. “Mom looked really beautiful,” she said.
“She did. She made her own wedding dress, you know.”
“There wasn’t anything that your mom couldn’t sew.” He took another sip. “My suit came from the thrift store, and your mother tailored it to fit like a dream. She made her own bouquet, too. We did most of the wedding ourselves. Didn’t really have family to help us out.”
Melanie sighed, placing the photo album back on the table. “And that’s why you want to help me out so much?” she asked.
“I’ve done this before. I just don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to avoid the mistakes I made.”
“I appreciate that,” she said, “but dad - the way things are going, I don’t think it’s going to work.” He opened his mouth to argue, but she held up her hand. “I love you, and you’ll always be my dad. I want you at the wedding, and I want you to have a special role, but I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to keep trying to help behind the scenes.”
Doug swallowed hard. “I know I messed things up,” he said. “I promise that I won’t.”
She gave him a small smile and shook her head. “I’ve made my choice,” she said.
“But the father-daughter dance!”
“I said I had a song for the father-daughter dance that I wanted to talk to you about.”
She narrowed her eyes as she considered this. “Okay. One last discussion. What was the song you had in mind?”
Doug brightened. “It’s a beautiful song, I think it’s a waltz. Have you heard of a song called Kiss From A Rose?”
Melanie blinked. “Kiss From A Rose?”
“Yes! It’s by this gentleman, I think his name is Steel.”
The corners of her mouth twitched, and she burst out laughing. “No,” she said through giggles, “his name is Seal. And no, we can’t dance to Kiss From A Rose. It’s a love song. Like, an actual love song.”
“Oh,” he frowned. “Are you sure? It’s a beautiful - ”
“Yes, I’m absolutely sure. It’s a romantic song, and it’s pretty famous. It would be…really weird as a father-daughter dance.”
“Don’t you remember when it came out? It was a big hit.”
“How do you not remember Kiss From A Rose? It’s from the Batman movie you took me to see.”
“Did I take you to that?”
“Yes! Mom was so mad at you. The Riddler gave me nightmares for a week.”
Doug chuckled, his heart squeezing in his chest. He looked back at the picture of him and Carol walking down the aisle. So before he tried to dedicate a love song to his daughter, before he nearly ruined her wedding, he terrorized her with a movie that she was much too young to see. Did he, at any point, ever get it right?
He had a few doubts.
Carol knew how to be a mom. Carol got it right. Carol knew what movies were too scary, what nicknames the girls liked, what songs were appropriate for a dance. Carol forgave him for the ways he messed up their wedding, and she would have known how to actually help with Melanie’s.
“I miss her,” said Doug.
“I know. I miss her too.” Melanie paused. “Have you started cleaning out her things?”
Doug shook his head.
“Do you think you would be ready to?”
He hesitated. “I…might be. It just feels….”
It felt like he would never know where to start. It felt like it’d be easier to ignore it altogether. It felt like he wouldn’t be able to throw anything out. It felt like he wouldn’t be able to keep anything at all.
Melanie reached over and squeezed his hand. “I am going to help,” she said. “I promise.”