Shattering


He flew helicopters in Vietnam.

He told me that last summer, watching one fly over head. Told me what kind it was and that he knew, because he used to fly them.

He likes to talk about what he did in years gone by.

But when I stopped by last night to see if he’d claim the key I found in the gutter, the hand holding his cigarette was shaking.

His ex had bought his daughter a puppy, and he knows what that means.

That’s why Monday happened, though Monday wasn’t the right way to deal with it, he knows that.

There’s a scrape on the tip of his nose and down his arms from falling off his bike. He tried to bike to the grocery store for cigarettes after six or seven beers on Monday (but we don’t think he was really counting), and his wobbly, falling progress worried passersby who called police.

They stopped by our door at dinner time, asked if we knew any family members who could pick him up.

We didn’t.

So J picked him from the police station and sat with him for three hours while he drank and smoked and told stories of helicopters and I bought him those cigarettes he needed before heading out to work.

I hadn’t seen him — or the daughter — since. The front door mostly stayed closed.

The last time his ex took his daughter, she bought her three puppies and left the state. That lasted for several months, then the girl was back telling stories of eating canned vegetables for dinner and how her brother’s wife didn’t like her.

He said then that he’d got full custody.

But Sunday the ex bought another puppy and the girl told him she wanted to stay with her mom and he shattered into so many tiny pieces, chased heartache with cheap beer.

I lingered on the porch last night, choking on cigarette smoke. Even the dogs were subdued. He’s just waiting it out. Not pressuring her, hoping she’s smart enough to see through her mother’s capricious bribes.

His grass is six inches tall and his skin looks thinner than I remembered.

He few helicopters in Vietnam but his daughter followed a puppy and dreams of a mother’s favor and his nervous system is bad now, nerves are shot.

And I think that if the girl needs her father, he needs his daughter more.

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