Humble Beginnings

“You right-handed or left-handed?” He looks to me, up from the chair he’s bound to. The wood is mahogany—old, thick, and matching the desk I’m leaning against. Stout juts his chin to the right, the sweat dripping from his goatee adding to dampness already home to his crotch.

I cut the zip tie that binds his right hand to the chair.

“And you?” I say, turning my attention to the other piece of shit, McDonough. The thicker man looks to his right hand as well, but as he does, Ray re-enters the office. Like me, he’s still wearing the Kevlar. Unlike me, he comes bearing gifts: a gas can in each of his gloved hands.

“I see you’ve started without me,” in a way I had, but not how one might think. I’m young here, no longer part of the CCPD, and at a time in my life where failure and I had yet to fuck one another. It meant Jeramiah was still years into the future, Batista still retained the parts of his face he’d eventually lose, and Ray, well Ray was still six feet instead of five.

“Just awaiting your return,” I say, and feel the metal hit the desk.

Ray sucks his teeth, “That’s why these two are going to love you, Bishop. You’re inclusive in what you do, never failing to leave anyone out of the process.” He’s fucking with them now, and the show, it wasn’t new. It’s how Ray’s always been, war, post-war, or otherwise.

I finish my business with McDonough, freeing the hand he’d motioned to. We’re in the man’s own office, surrounded by pin-up posters, a couple of filing cabinets topped with liquor bottles, and a small beige couch that had seen better days. Through venetian blinds to the right of Stout I take in Culver Bay, the docks, and the purple sky above them both. A storm was coming. For some, it was already here.

“Each of you are going to list as many people as you can. Men who could sit in those very chairs and I’d have a hard time spotting the difference.” I had their attention. Of course I did. It’s the way this game was played. Home to a set of rules I’d been forced to understand.

“Whoever gives me the highest number of shitbirds, you are the one who walks.  Not forever. Just today. Until Ray and I here come looking for you again.” If they were smart, they’d picture using that time to either come at me themselves or hightailing it the fuck out of Dodge.

It’s what the man in front of them hoped they’d believe, anyway.

I hand them pens and clipboards.

They write. Stout faster than McDonough. This surprises me, even though it shouldn’t have. Not because human trafficking is a billion-dollar industry but because dirty cops have always been a beast all their own.

Goatee still dripping, Stout gestures through the gag. “You sure?” He nods. I take the clipboard. Read it. Look to McDonough. “You need more time?” He shakes his head, his eyes like O’s, and then he begins to openly weep. I nod to Ray. 

From the small duffel he removes goggles and places them on the bald man’s head, taking and then handing me the clipboard in the process.

“You’re thinking ‘why the goggles’, am I right?” And Ray, as he likes to do when we get to this part, he hunkers down and places his hands upon McDonough’s knees. “It’s because feeling what’s about to occur is only half of what people like you deserve. You need to see.”

Protests comes next—a type of pleading from both men, the kind that each of them would withhold from others without a thought.

Did it change things? Would it?

No. And then McDonough is drowning in fuel, his clothes hungry for the liquid. Ray empties the can, shakes it, then switches it for the full one. He sets it a few feet in front of the man. My turn. I push Stout closer to that gas can, ensuring he would accept the full brunt of what was to come. 

Neither was ever leaving this office alive, no matter how much they wanted to believe in what I told them. Part of them probably knew that, but still, I’d never ask.

I’d lost my mother. I’d lost my sister. I’d one day lose a leg. But here now, back at the start, I was not yet the monster I needed to become.

The fire spreads fast, the explosion coming faster. From the passenger seat of the van, I pull the names from the clipboards—names I did not have at the start of the day.  Ray smiles. I nod.

Time to go to work.

Before the Storm

There actually was a time I favoured more conservative methods when extracting information.  Not quite naïve, no, but perhaps less committed as I’d one day become.  Either way, once Alex starts up the chainsaw and is a quarter of the way through Benny’s right knee, we’re given the name we’d been looking for.  Both arms, the other leg, and the cauterization of all four is just a bonus, so when we do eventually introduce Benny to the Hudson, he ends up knowing a little bit of what his victims went through, there as he sinks like a stone.  Not even close to fair by far, but this world, Culver especially, it has never been one to play fair.

Not when evil was involved.  Not even close.

• • •

“I gotta say, Bishop: if I couldn’t see it, I wouldn’t have believed it.”  I look to Alex, so young, so removed, and far from the middle-aged man who sells me out to a shit-stain by the name of Mapone.  Far from the crying, snivelling piece of shit who would cost me part of a leg.  Far from unexpectedly taking a knife to the gut from an advancing Batista.  And far from falling from the second-floor walkway of the Super 8 we track him to.  Further still: his innards not yet married to the hitch of my van and my foot not yet kissing the floor.  We’re years from this, millennia, but it would happen.  It does happen. I retain the prosthetic as proof.

But here, now, from beneath blonde hair as greasy as ever and mostly covered by a grey hoodie, Alex takes in what I take in—the very things we hoped we wouldn’t find.  To our left are the cages they held the children in, to our right the dirty mattresses they violated them on.  Further back, upon TV tables: dog collars, sex toys, and what for me becomes the hardest to reconcile: the swing.

Behind us, zipped-tied and unaccepting of her coming fate, Brenda Curr tries her best to plead a case for that swing.  I don’t let her, not as she’d like.  I lower the sawed-off instead, down onto the bridge of her nose, and in one quick moment, as it braces for impact, watch as the front of her face becomes the back of head.

• • •

Upstairs is a different monster altogether, the uncirculated air a mix of weed, rotting meat, and more than just dishes in need of a wash.  It wasn’t new either, none of it, but for the time being, in this small part of the world at least, an intermission was about to occur, one which I hoped would give other pieces of shit pause.  Again, conservative? Yes, perhaps I was.

In the kitchen, face up on dirty linoleum, lay the man Benny gave up.  Shirt open and zipped-tied as well, he’s running toward obese and sports the type of beard which isn’t really a beard at all.

“I’m going to ask you some questions, Frank.  I feel you’re telling the truth, Alex here, he remains in place behind me.  I feel any type of bullshit come into the air, the kid, he’s going to be hard pressed to leave you with teeth.”  His eyes went wide long ago, but he nods that he understands.  “I might be wrong here too, Frank, but it just feels off that foster parents could get away with this for as long as the two of you have.  I mean, some of those videos are date-stamped at over a decade old.  Makes me think you had help along the way.  You see where it is I’m going with this, Frank?”

For a wonder, he did.

Most times we get pushback, fuckers who felt (for a little while at least) they could handle whatever was coming their way.  Not Frank.  Not even close.  Spills faster than his head can shake it seems.  Gives us two more names in the link of a chain we’d been chasing for months.  Done, Alex moves in and courtesy of his size 10’s relieves Frank first of his teeth then his orbital bones, there as his brain pan is pulped into mush.

Looking back, the kid had heart.  If anything, I had to give him that.

• • •

It doesn’t take long after that.  Batista giving me the addresses a day after I give him the names.  Four days later and Alex and I have the last of them up in chains in a basement much like the one Brenda Curr looses her face in.  I’d like to say each man learned something from what we took from them that night.  I’d like to say it made some small part of everything they put into motion right.  I couldn’t though.  Not then.  Not now.  What I could say was this: it wasn’t over. As I told Batista: things had just begun.

Smaller Fries

As I believed it would, Culver erupts in response to Levinson Ducard’s death.  At Jeramiah and I in particular.   However, as seen in the footage they release, nothing close to a positive ID could be made.  Two reasons for this.  One, we knew every angle of every camera in that high-rise going in.  The second being unchecked facial hair and a pair of ball caps pulled down tight.

Front page news for days, the Reverand and his wife are portrayed as victims.  Pillars of a community who ran a ministry which could do no wrong.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

This man a predator and nothing more.  His wife something other than a conspirator.  More than an enabler.  A person lacking in legitimacy and soul.

Isn’t until what Jeramiah writes on their living room wall leaks to the public that the perspective shifts, shedding light onto what this has always been about.  FOLLOW THE CHILDREN is the message Jeramiah leaves, using the blood of a woman who no longer owned a mouth to do so.

This begins, we become more middle of the road in regards to persons of interest.  Not that it mattered.  In a city the size of Culver, if one were determined enough, it was easy to stay lost.

I needn’t had worried.

Not once they prove the link.

Corroborated, the public turns, the outrage they held for two unknown men now a raging march against law enforcement and the Free Dimensions ministry itself.  Free and clear, now back page instead of middle page, we focus on what I can only call an addendum to this whole Ducard thing; another piece of scum who knew no bounds.  Another man who would soon realize he was not long for this world.

Benjamin Mackay.

He comes to our attention by way of a phone belonging to one of five men in a basement which started this all.  The cell is in a baggie with all the others, between the front seats of the van, and goes off as we sit at a light.

Jeramiah doesn’t miss a beat.


“I’m told you do deliveries,” All business, like he’d done this a thousand times before, Jeramiah responds as only someone lacking a conscience can.

“Male or female?”


“Anything else you lookin’ for?”

“I was told this number would be pre-teen.”  Jeramiah bristles, his grip on the phone tightening, but he finds the stones to continue.  They go on about price.  Then location.  And then Jeramiah disconnects the call.

He looks ahead, out the windshield and beyond.  In a better world I might have said something comforting.  Something to relieve the edge.  This was not a better world, though.

Time to go to work.

• • •

“No.  P-please no.  I-I have kids!”  In socks and sandals, carrying a paunch and sheen of face grease I have seen before, Mackay backs away from me while holding the front of his neck.

Those words.  I have kids.  It changed things.  What I planned to do and how I planned on doing them.  Could have been that finger too, the one he continued to point at me as I fully entered the house, but no, it was the having kids thing.

I grab that finger.  Snap it clean back.  He screams and yelps.  His other hand doing its best to comfort the place on his throat I’d punched when he first opened the door.

We enter a living room, me moving forward, him backing up into a recliner.  I look to the walls, at pictures of a wife and kids which hung there.

I break more than a finger this time.

I break them all.

His left thumb being the moment I lose him to shock.  Doesn’t stop the train we were on.  Not as you’d think.  I double down.  Snap backwards and forward, to the left as well as the right.  Isn’t until I turn him over and step on an underdeveloped tricep that he begins to stir.  I pull up.  The sound the compound fracture makes smaller than what comes spewing from his mouth.

We go again, the other arm, and again he passes out.  Fine by me.

Made things easier for what came next.

• • •

He’s leaning forward and toward me when he wakes.  Under him rests his dining room table upon which I’d written the same declaration we warned about Ducard: FOLLOW THE CHILDREN.  Like any good knot, the noose around Mackay’s neck ran from ceiling fan to collarbone and back again.  Inside his mouth: a lime green kitchen rag.

Ultimately the choice—same as the choice which brought us together—would be his.  Short trip or long trip.  Darkness or explain.

Either way, he ends up in a box.

Either way, he never touches children again.

Patience and Rage

Nikki’s Roadhouse.  Off a dusty stretch of blacktop between Hanson Falls and Culver City it sits as if awaiting destruction.

I’m happy to oblige.

Man by the name of Varga is how it begins.  He gives up not only Rawlins but the very basement the recording went down.  We investigate.  Jeramiah into the bar and me into Rawlins himself.  Left eye for shit, out of Millhaven after a ten-year bid, Rawlins reopens the Roadhouse with an uncle the year before last.  A strip joint of the lowest order, it was the type of place where the mirrors held not only the hopes of the damned, but human smear as well.

“Fucker ticks all the boxes, Rider.  Tweaker.  Hygiene for shit.  Wouldn’t surprise me if it ends up being him behind the pig mask.”  I couldn’t argue with the man, Jeramiah seeing the same thing being played out more times than I cared to count.

“We hit it before dawn, then.  If we’re lucky, someone might even be home.”

And home they were, Rawlins and his uncle bursting out from the back of the Roadhouse as the flames take root.  Jeramiah is ready, popping the older man with butt-end of his sawed-off with such force that zip codes and forced dentistry enter the equation.  Rawlins is next, coughing up a lung as he emerges from the smoke.  Jeramiah goes low this time, into the solar plexes. Done, he takes the man’s head between his hands and then it’s a knee that’s given all the time it required to shine.  Under control, we scoop them up and place them into the back of the van, the fire now an inferno behind us.

These men would not die by fire.  All told, it was never even an option.

Not while each of us still breathed.

• • •

I tell him it may not look like much, but the shovel, it had by far become my favourite tool.  I wasn’t talking to the man below me either.  No, it was the piece of shit uncle who lay beside him.

I watch his eyes as they follow the shovel, as it leaves and returns to the palm of my hand.  Jeramiah leans back against the hood of the van, his body in-between the headlights which bathe us.  The quarry we’ve taken them to is silent, the rocks beneath their duct-tapped bodies an added bonus to what was about to occur.  They didn’t need to be comfortable when they died.  No, the opposite in fact.

“And Marty, I want you to keep your eyes open for what happens next.  Because when it does, it’s going to happen quick.  I will assume we understand one another.” 

Marty nods.  Good.  Be a shame if he missed any of the particulars.

I turn my attention to the piece of shit between my legs.  Heavy set, in leather pants and a beater T, Rawlins continues to squirm as best he can but duct tape, especially when applied mid-chest to mid-thigh, has a way of guarding against such things.  I hunker down, lean close into his stubbled face, his one good eye bulging as I do.  It screams, that eye, wanting to tear into me in all the ways I was about to tear into him.  I don’t know this for certain.  I only know what I feel.

“Feels different, doesn’t it?  Being on this end of things.  Maybe it causes you to think about what you and your buddies put those women through.  You do that, we might even get you to within an inch of what you made them endure.”  His eye again, shooting daggers, as I stand and place the pointed end of the shovel into the shallow portion of his neck.  An arching comes in response to this, or an attempt to arch, but this man, a man who chose to profit in ways no man should, he finds himself in two places at once: the end of my patience and the birth of my rage.  I step forward and up.  My added weight in seconds separating skin and then breaching bone.  The screaming behind his gag becomes louder, fuller, punctuated with a type of sound not many men get to hear.  Last, I give a heel stomp.  Another.  Detachment achieved with a third.  It brings vertebrae into play, along with cartilage and blood that goes not in one direction, but three. I pause.  Breathe.  Then look back to Marty and see that yes, the uncle was ready to talk.

Full disclosure: they usually are.

• • •

But he gives us nothing new; we’d hit the end of the line.  A good thing, yes, but that we chased it still, no.  We could not catch them all.  We knew we never would.  We could only continue to do what we believed to be right.  Some might say this is enough. My memory disagrees.

Free Food and Bean Bags

Big Ron’s is a ghost town and Junior and I are in a booth at the back.  I ask him to put his phone away.  To just turn the fucking thing off.  Not a day goes by I don’t wish to have that piece of time back.

Junior looks up, his face as angular as ever, as angular as mine.  He takes a swig of beer and then smiles the smile which tells me all the things I’d failed to teach.  “Sure, Pops.  The floor is yours.”  Smart-ass.  Him and the whole generation he came from.  Couldn’t care less what the trophy they received for coming in last has done to hard work and what it has ever been about.   I wished he understood this; that my words would break through.  As ever, it was not to be.  Not how I hoped.

Determined, I do as only a parent can do: I go on, delve deeper, and over-explain how men shot in the head can in fact come back from the dead.


Bob Moses was the man I failed to kill.  Shot him point blank in the back of the head only to have him resurface years later and take out the man who’d ordered the hit.  The bullet I released managing to ride the shape of Moses’s skull in an attempt at taking in the sights, I’m told.  Agree or disagree, it’s the only scenario which made any type of sense.  It jived with the scar tissue too, the majority of fence-work stretching from Bob’s right temple to what remained of his ear.

“As would I, Bob came back centered and with a plan.  It involved a glass case, a man’s son, and a python big enough to take a man down whole.  You might think this impossible, men being the size we are.  You go and break the shoulders, though.  Bingo: all men slide.”  I hoped this would do it—this by far the most fucked up thing I’d ever heard done.  “It means mistakes can be made.  But we have to limit and learn from them.  Especially when it comes to men like us and what we are paid to do.”  True.  Junior’s target a man by the name of Mapone.  Dents in his forehead, Mapone was the type of garbage whose voice ran counter to what you thought it should be.  Top to fucking bottom, an all-around nasty piece of meat.  “And I know you think you know it all, but you don’t.  Not as you should.  But if you take anything from what I’ve been saying here, have it be this: two bullets will always prove better than one.”

Did he listen?  Fuck no.  That’ve been too easy.  Mistake number one.  Mistake number two derives directly from mistake number one and the reason Junior comes to hang by his entrails in front of Big Ron’s like a goddamn wind chime.

Kids, they never fucking learn.


Me, I’m a different breed.  Old school.  Take my lessons to heart and pride myself on never having made the same mistake twice.  It’s why I end up at Mapone’s with a launcher strapped to my back and an aim which has failed to miss since I allowed a man to crawl from the grave.

As I tried to tell my boy: it’s the little things.

Hostile Takeover

The table took some doing but the gag, right down to the hooks, color and make, are all his.  I tell him how I understand that things aren’t going according to plan, not this far into what he’d been attempting.  I go one step further and reveal I’m a fan; that I’d been one for years.  “Things happen though, and sometimes we can roll with what we are given and sometimes we cannot.”  He looks at me, blinks, but what I crave is not yet there.

It causes me to gush, to fanboy, and I explain how I see him as a giant among men.  He grunts, grunts again, but I will not be swayed.  Not this far in.  “And me…I too am more than I appear, but you already know this, don’t you, Todd?”  He does.  The veins upon his neck telling me so.

I go on: tell him how he wasn’t being as vigilant as he should have been.  That maybe his age had somehow factored into this. “I could be wrong though, your carelessness stemming from something else entirely.  I mean, of the information available, I’ve done my homework.  All you’ve accomplished, how you’ve never even come close to being caught, it’s not only all the things we have in common, Todd, but all the things I’m shooting for.”

Brings perspective into play is what something like this does.  Not in his favour, no, but at least he could be at peace in knowing we were more or less the same.  The only issue I’ve had a hard time reconciling is the reason he chooses to fill the nasal cavity as he does.  “Don’t get me wrong, it gets the point across, and the sight of a knuckle or two protruding out from an eye socket does the trick every time, but why this particular signature I wonder?”

I don’t really care.  Not as you’d think.  Like my own signature, I prefer my magic untold.  Him too, sure, but I wasn’t about to ask him his opinion, not with the amount of time which remained.

What excited me more was the speculation to come—the theories and the guesswork.  The networks rife with commentary of whether or not a certain someone had emerged from retirement after all these years.  And yes, yes, we can say it’s something different; that it’s because mommy or daddy neglected us, beat us, or diddled our fucking pee-pees, but bottom line is people like us want to be heard, nothing more.  “And the only way to go about that in a sea of billions is to make the most noise of all.”  Agree or disagree, it’s not the point.  Does he know why?  Of course he does.  Smart men always do.

It’s because we are the same.  The same but not the same.  And because he’d had not the best of runs, but the greatest of runs.  Could have been a bit longer, sure, had another unassuming, non-descript white male moved in next door.  “But it wasn’t the case now, was it? Means I believe it was me you were meant to receive all along.  The lot of things brought down to chance and happenstance and perhaps a little bit of luck depending on your worldview.  That being said, know I plan on doing you proud, but no overtly so.  Not so it offers our pursuers something new to detect.”  He grunts again, the veins beside his eyes like spider webs home from the gym.  I take this into account, there as I begin.

I tell him I will be as he has been; that I will do as he has done.  If only, there at the beginning, we were able to ask for as much.

Knit One, Purl Two

You will never change. I know that now. I mean, of all men, me and you combined, did you really not once envision this playing out as it has? Tough call, agreed, but the look on your face tells me more than you’re willing to admit, I think. S’okay, though: we’re almost to the end of it.

Twenty years is what I gave you Frank. Twenty years without me saying a word. You’d think a thing like that could buy a bloke anything he desired. That silence for freedom could be a pact any sane man could abide. Couldn’t be done though, could it, Frank? Whatever would a man of my skill set do with nothing but time on his hands? Isn’t that what you said that very first day? It was in your Caddy, no? You and your driver idling right outside the gate? For truth, I think this might have been the exact moment I knew we’d end up coming to heads. Not twenty years ago, not when we were the same. And don’t get me wrong, I understand this, how you see things. But I will not accept everything, Frank.   Not after how much I have taken for the team. A man changes is what I have been trying to get through to you. Sometimes this is for good, Frank, sometimes for not so good. The man, he changes regardless. Doing so whether you approve of it or not. This is what I feel you fail to appreciate: that a man’s ways can be left behind. You would have none of it though, would you?

Nope. Not one goddamn ounce.

Love, It Makes the World Go Round

I’d like to say it was my earliest memory that I knew I was different. Not the case. Add about four years to the total and then I knew something was up. Follow this with the cats I graduated to and yeah, I’m thinking running over a family of toads with the lawnmower and realizing I didn’t give a shit is when my tendencies went and made themselves known.

You understand what it is I’m saying here? It’s importance?

Good. Wouldn’t want anything getting lost in the translation.

So I do the cats. Make my way to dogs. And then come about seventeen I go live, become a big game hunter, and say my whatnots to old Mr. Kemper who lived two farms down. Did a number on that man too, his bib overalls the same color of his shirt by time the thresher catches bone. Unfortunate accident they said. Bad things just sometimes happen to good people. You don’t say.

I’m never suspected. Never even asked. Weird, I know, but by this time I’d already figured out how to play the game. Have been playing it my entire life now that I mention it. Fifty some odd years and not even so much as a sniff. Means I’m doing something right. Means I might be smarter than your average bear. Might also mean my time is coming and I’m only as lucky as the next guy. This seems more likely the case, as I’m a firm believer in the law of averages.

But I’m having fun. Oh yes. Loads. Which brings us to you and how you fail to see things as you should.

Molly. Molly-Molly-Molly.

The way Rob treats you is not the way a person should be treated. Not someone such as you. You are a fine woman, strong and opinionated. Your hair is long and your eyes are bright.   But I know this is just for show. Parts of it anyway. I can respect that. I have to. Not because I have seen the medication your doctor has you on but because sometimes we all need a little alone time to let out the air.

It’s okay, I’m on your side.

And you never asked for help, correct, but I am a man who not only believes in averages but one who is compelled to do what he thinks is right whenever he can. This might run counter to what the world thinks of men like me but it is who I am regardless. Just because you did not give me a key and I had one made does not make me any less forthright than the next guy. I’m only looking out for you, ensuring you are as safe as can be. It’s why I friended you on Facebook and joined all the groups you like. I also “happened” upon your passwords, doing so from my computer late at night.  You are quite the little saver I see, though you do still owe quite a bit on your student loan. This here, us getting to know one another, this is what eventually leads me to your underwear drawer and why I eventually try on all nineteen pairs. We have touched now, you and I, but not as I want, nor as I need. It’s why I find your dirty clothes bin and pull out the final two pairs. You are on them, in them, and then so am I. As I knew you would be, you are exquisite. It’s why Rob will never again touch you as he’d like, why you will never again wear nothing but turtlenecks for weeks.

You understand what it is I’m saying here? It’s importance?

I am not as stupid as I look, not when it comes to matters concerning the heart. Some are, sure, and this is the reason I took our Rob home to the old farm where my dearly departed parents eventually purchased old Mr. Kemper’s thresher. As is its purpose, the big machine eats, the time between sittings quite vast indeed. I want to say Rob understood this but the man seemed a little preoccupied there at the end. Some could wonder why.

It means you are safe now. Or safer than you were. I will continue to check in on you from time to time. I might even say hi. If I do, a word of caution. Do not ignore me, not as you have. Not after everything I’ve done. Give credit where credit is due. At least do that. It would also help for you to remember and believe in what makes this world go round.

If anything, I would have you do that.

Coffee, Tea and Me

Looking back, I never would have guessed I could be this type of person.  In my opinion, it proves the existence of God, or at least narrows the implication of him; that we do have free will.  It is only because of this rational that I carry on.

I believe there are two types of people in this world: those who drink coffee and those who drink tea.  How they drink their choice, well, that’s where most of the problems lie.  From early on I’ve been a tea drinker, same as my wife.  Often I would ready Cara a hot cup for when she exited the shower.  She never asked me to do this—it was just something I would do.

Cara and I met in college, she in her final year of admin, me just about to complete my bachelors in popular science.  As they say, the sparks flew and oh how we danced.  Times change though—don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I am adverse to such things.  Quite the opposite, matter of fact, as I know it is a part of life.  What I am trying to convey is that we were no more special than anyone else, and that after twelve years of marriage there are bound to be some bumps in the road.

Bumps, yes.  Mountains, no.

“What’s wrong with mommy?”  That is Leighton.  She is eight now and came four years after Cara and I became husband and wife.  Except for her chin, she is a mirror to her mother, right down to the curl of her dark brown hair.

“Mommy’s sick.”  I say.  Which was true—sick enough to keep Cara from work and in bed for the better part of the month.  We sat at the kitchen table, my daughter and I, bowls of frosted flakes in front of us both.

“I know she’s sick.”  Leighton says.  “It’s just…”

“Different?”  I suggest, and suddenly recognize my daughter’s strength for what it is; that she is much smarter than I had previously thought.  Deep down she knows something is off.  Some part of her anyway.  Keeping cool I change the subject, ask on about iCarly and the Montana girl.  It works, our discussion soon turning towards school and the getting ready for it.  At the bus, before she gets on, Leighton asks:  “She won’t die, daddy, will she?”

Did I lie?

Did I tell the truth?

I did neither, realizing I was now more of the man I never thought I would become than ever before.  Granted, I had been well on my way, but by not answering Leighton’s question, well, that just solidified it all together. Gelled it, actually.

“You needn’t worry about such things.”  I said, and then waved her on her way.  Turning, I took in the view of our house, thought about what lay inside.  She was dying, yes, and it was clearly because of me, but it was also because of her—that is what I want known most of all.  Not because Cara lived the life of a naturopath, but because of what she did.  She will never admit as such, not out right, and for truth I would never ask her to; this just us being us.

Things began to turn around the time Cara began mentioning a new co-worker at the office, this new guy named Mike; my take on it anyway.  After a retreat her entire floor went on was when it hit home, however; when this Mike was no longer mentioned in the stories of Cara’s day.  What clinched it were the blowjobs I began waking up to not long after.  I chalk this up to guilt, as this was Cara’s way.  Not that I minded, there at the start, but when I really sat down to contemplate the reason for the extra attention I was receiving some mornings…

This is when I think I began to turn; the moment and place.

Was my tea not good enough anymore?  Yes, this thought did go through my mind.  So did: Was it coffee she wanted now?  Is that the way it was?  I didn’t know, couldn’t know, and seemed to be standing beside myself, our lives together running through my mind at a gallop.  I see her smiling, laughing, dancing; see her cooing, sighing, frowning.  I see it all, our entire life, the good as well as the bad.  This is life, I think, what everything’s all about.  And then I see her drinking tea, the tea I make and leave on the counter for her to have after her shower.  I do this because I love her, so she would never have to wait.  I picture her dumping it then, there in the toilet, there in my mind, and this is where the coffee comes forth, my analogy of the damned.  It is more than I can take, hence what I have done.

Cara turns towards the light as I open the door.  The room is dark and has begun to smell.

“How are you feeling?”  Better, she says, but her voice betrays her calm.  It is because of this stubbornness that I will get away with what I have done.  Her family has been here, mine as well, but Cara, God love her, will not budge, not even here, when we find ourselves at the end.  It was the same thing with Leighton’s birth; that no modern medicine would touch our child’s head.

“No.  No.”  I say.  “Don’t try to get up.”  She ignores me, stumbles, but I am far enough into the room that I catch her in time.  Sitting up, I pass her the tea that I have brought.  She smiles, says thanks, and sends a hand to stroke my stubbled cheek.  For a moment I pause and think I hear the man I used to be; that he is protesting from somewhere very far away.  The moment passes, as moments do, and then it is only Cara and I, sitting as we have come to do.

“It’s bitter.” Cara states, her smile weak, her body weaker.

I agree, telling her the flavour is new.  What I don’t tell her is I no longer have the wherewithal to mask the taste.

“Oolong-almond?  Who’d have thought?”

“Yes.”  I say.  “Who indeed.”