By David MacWilliams
Dad came home from work too early. The sun was setting, and it was a grey sun. I hid just inside the hallway where it was darker. Our small Dachshund crouched between my feet. Dad’s boots clunked real heavy through the front door. His frayed army jacket smelled of cold and of snow. Ice droplets clung to his mustache. He slumped into a chair at the kitchen table. Its uneven metal legs made it tilt towards him. He bent his head into his hands, saying damn this and screw that. I was seven and knew I shouldn’t be hearing his language, that these were words spoken and shouted after I was in bed, not daytime words.
Mom looked at me then back at Dad. “Daniel is listening.”
“Why shouldn’t he hear the truth?”
Mom wrung her hands in the flowered apron she always wore indoors. “Fired you?”
He shook his head. “No. Laid off, he says. No warning, no apologies. Nothing.”
“What are we gonna do now? With Christmas? And Fitzi needs the vet. He’s got another tumor.” Her voice broke.
“I can shoot your dog. Maybe the boss while I’m at it. Fucking ex-boss.”
Mom choked back a sob. She turned around, put her hands on the edge of the sink and looked through the window at the heavy clouds out there. “I can think of one more target for you.”
“Better hope I don’t miss.” Dad shoved the kitchen table away and stood. He zipped up his jacket, made for the door. He brushed by me and I shrank into the shadows. He stopped. I stared up at him. He looked as tall as a tower, with his head so far above me it seemed nearly invisible.
He crossed his arms. “For what?”
I didn’t know. For being in his way. For his lost job. For his argument with Mom. For hearing his language.
He raised his voice. “For what?”
I hurried my words, afraid he’d hit me. “For Fitzi,” I lied.
“Sorry? That thing gets more love around here than I ever will.”
I knelt, picked Fitzi up, pulled him close to my chest. “It’s not his fault,” I said.
“So I guess it’s mine?”
“No truer words,” Mom said. Her words defended me. They wrapped me in a woolen blanket like her language did sometimes when Dad yelled at me. She might be talking to him, but she was talking for me.
He stabbed a finger at Mom. “Why don’t you figure out how to pay for the rent, the dog. Dinner. And everything else.”
“Don’t I already.” Mom’s question didn’t sound like a question.
“What’s the use.” Dad’s question sounded like a fact, too. He yanked the front door open. He turned back, his grey eyes narrow and glaring, and stared at me as if to say one last thing, then shook his head and slammed the door behind him. The outside cold swirled inside and into us.
Mom knelt so she was face-to-face with me. Fitzi put his front paws on her knee and wriggled his whole body. I bent my head into her shoulder and the warmth at her neck. Mom whispered, “It’s okay, baby.”
I clung to her, knowing that in this moment at least, it was true.
David MacWilliams earned an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Ashland University in 2011. His essays have appeared in Pilgrimage, Mason’s Road, Apple Valley Review, Creative Nonfiction, and elsewhere. He has only recently begun writing flash fiction for those stories where nonfiction cannot tell the whole truth. He lives in Cloudcroft, New Mexico with his wife and two children.