“What’s that, sweetheart?” I’m back to the present. Soccer practice. We’re off to soccer practice.
Susie cocks her head sideways. I wonder if she should be in the backseat. The seatbelt is too big for her tiny frame. “It’s your turn,” she says and sticks her bottom lip out. “We always play Eye Spy on the way.”
I loosen my death-grip on the steering wheel. Zoned out. How long was I on auto pilot? Thirty seconds? A minute? Green. She said ‘green’.
“Dumpster,” I say and wink at her. My hands hurt.
Susie’s smile almost makes me forget. Almost.
I look out the window and see the perfect item. “Eye spy, with my little eye, something… red!”
She twists and turns in the seat, trying to look out every window at once. We’re stuck in traffic. Susie stops and fixates ahead. She got it.
“Mailbox,” she offers with a hint of her mother’s smugness tickling her voice. God, where did the time go? She turns ten next week.
“Lucky guess,” I say.
“Whatever, Dad.” There’s construction ahead. Underground electrical. She ploughs forward, undeterred. “Eye spy, with my little eye… something blue.”
My phone buzzes again. Thirteen times, James. Stop. I pick it up and thumb the power button until it shuts off. Enough.
“What if Mom calls?” Susie isn’t scared. She just doesn’t want us to fight again. It’s not important. Nothing is anymore. Nothing except getting my little girl to practice.
“I’ll turn it back on when we get there.” A flash of heated frustration boils. I lay on the horn uselessly.
Susie rescues me from my rage and touches my arm. “Something blue, Dad.”
I nod. “Rope.” I see it clearly. Swinging as if weighted, like a pendulum. Nylon. Like they use for camping.
“No. Guess again.”
I frown and look a second time. Steel grey cable is being pulled off a spindle. Not blue. Not rope. My hand absently reaches for my coffee cup, only my second of the day. I take a mouthful and savour the cold thickness of it. Did I take this with me when I left? Must have. I swallow and scan the scene.
There it is. “The minivan three lanes over.”
I had to leave work early today. Nancy couldn’t run Susie to soccer, so that left me to pick up the slack. As usual.
Work was nuts. I needed one more caffeine boost to get things wrapped up. I remember a flash of a blue dress to my left caught my attention. Jenny tapped on the glass wall as I walked past the server room. She waved me in.
The room was cold, dry and dark. Server fans roared in the background. Jenny was crying. My stomach sank.
“I’m pregnant,” she said.
I was numb. I was angry. “I won’t break up my family.”
“I’m going to keep it.”
“I won’t break up my family.” Cold bastard. That’s me.
I walked away, filled my mug in the break room and took a swig. The coffee was burnt. It tasted much better now. Funny.
Susie taps me on the arm. “You okay, Dad?” she asks and takes my coffee cup away from my frozen lips. How long this time?
I refocus on the road. Traffic is moving again. Horns blare behind us. I stick my hand out the window in apology and tromp on the gas to catch up.
Sirens ring out from somewhere ahead and I pull over. Sweat trickles down the back of my neck. An ambulance races through the throng. Traffic clears up and I see the sports field ahead.
“Thanks, Dad,” says Susie as she gets out. “You going to watch?”
“Yeah,” I say and fake a smile. “Gotta call your mom first.”
I watch her sprint to join her teammates before turning the phone back on. It rings immediately and I drop it. James is yelling something about the police as I bend to pick it up and hit ‘end call’.
We snared rabbits growing up. My brother and I would walk the line every morning in the winter. Usually one or two most days. I’d hang them in the basement by their feet over a five gallon bucket and make the first cut. It took both hands to pull the fur down. I’d hold my breath the whole time and not let it go until the eyes were hidden by the loosened skin. Her eyes were the worst— swollen and shot with red. Her feet must have kicked out and knocked over the bucket of blue network cables. My hands hurt.
The phone weighs a hundred pounds as I dial home. She answers right away. My mouth is dry and I swallow thickly when she says hello.
Red and blue lights flicker in my rearview mirror. I close my eyes. “Hey, Nance. We need to talk.”
Photo by aguscr