Thursday, December 31, 2009


Julie died six days after her sixth birthday. She was an only child, the apple of his eye, and he had killed her.

They had been in the pool, and he remembered that he had forgotten the phone. He told her to stand in the shallow end: no swimming, no diving. "Okay Daddy," she'd said, with that sweet little sing-song voice.

He walked back to the pool with the phone and lemonade. He thought she was playing a joke on him at first, floating face down in the pool, but a heartbeat later, he knew it was no joke. He pulled her out, and felt tremendous relief when she started breathing again. She opened her eyes, looked into his, and said, "Daddy."

He picked her up, kissed her on the forehead.


She went limp, and he saw the light in her eyes dim. He watched life ebb away from his little girl, and the screaming and crying and pleading with God made no difference.

Cardiac arrest. A congenital heart defect. His mom had died of the same malady. But not at six.

Katie was shipwrecked, of course. And yet, she never blamed him, not even with her eyes. She tried to keep the bridge between them intact, but he'd driven her away, crippled by self-loathing.


He awoke in his dingy apartment in the bad part of San Diego, ambushed by a hangover, with an hideous taste in his mouth. The drive to the office seemed to take hours, and the sun drilled through his skull. He remembered little of the previous night's alcohol-fueled journey.

He pulled off the freeway onto the surface street. He stopped at the light, and noticed a commotion to his left, outside of a cafe.

He didn't remember stepping out of his car, or leaving it running at the stoplight, or walking to the scene. He only remembered a young woman on her knees, crying hysterically, and a man holding a handgun to a young girl's head. The girl looked like she could be six or so.

The scene was horrible enough, but he froze when he saw the little girl's face. She looked like a raven-haired, dark-eyed version of his Julie. His daughter. The daughter he'd killed.

He thought about running away, calling in sick, and holing up in a bar for the day. But he kept moving toward the man and the girl.

The man saw him from twenty feet, and leveled the pistol at him.

"Stop. Not another fuckin' step."
"I just want to talk to you."
"I don't want to talk to you."

He took three more steps. Again, the father moved the pistol from the girl's head and aimed it at his chest. The little girl was hyperventilating, squeaking Daddy please Daddy please Daddy please.


He felt his body go rigid. Fear gripped him, and that struck him as strange. He laughed at something his dad had told him: Don't meddle in the affairs of others.

"You stupid bastard. You think this is funny?"
"Yeah, sort of."
"What's so fuckin' funny then?"
"Well, until you pointed that gun at me, I thought I wanted to die."

A siren in the distance. A pause. The father looked at him, his rage dimmed by bewilderment.

"Why do you want to die?"
"Because I killed my daughter."

The father seemed to deflate.

"What did you say?"
"I said that I killed my daughter."

Another pause.

"I left her alone in a swimming pool."

Another pause.

He said, "I could take your daughter's place, you know. You could use me as a hostage."

The father looked down at his little girl. His face softened.

"Come closer."

He did. The sirens were close.

The father bent down. "Go to your mama, honey."

The girl tumbled into her mother's arms.

The father looked at him. He placed the barrel of the pistol squarely in his chest.

"So, do you still want to die?"
"I guess I'm too much of a coward to want what I deserve."

The father pulled the pistol back. He looked at his daughter, and his wife at his knees. He turned the pistol around, with the barrel resting on his abdomen.

"DON'T," he cried.

The father didn't. Instead, he handed him the gun. He smiled. "I guess I'm a coward too."


A week later, on the last day of the year, he called Katie.

"I was wondering if I could take you to lunch," he said.
"Yeah, really."
"I'd like that," she said. "Or, you could come over and I could make you lunch."
"Yeah, really."

"I'd like that," he said.

Prompted by Thom G's Three Word Wednesday. The words are ambush, hideous, and meddle.