by Alice Maglio

It ended. With a gun. Like in a Western, but in the woods. And no standoff. Just the one guy. So, not much like a Western at all, except, maybe, for the stakes: a child, specifically, a daughter. A pearl of greatest price. A mouthless river. A suggestion of a wing.

This daughter became not a daughter but a gap.

The guy behaved as a person might when forced to contend with a gap, that is, not well. He emptied out his apartment, emergency sidewalk sale, but he didn’t stick around for the dollars from the women with lavender hair. He couldn’t deal with the extra furrows in their foreheads, with the seeds of the things they’d say later on landlines to their friends and grandsons: the vague image they’d sketch of him standing, lanky, about to be toppled over by the light breeze. The grandsons’ inevitable boredom, their restless fingers.

He thought of Prufrock, specifically the lines, In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo.

He couldn’t remember any more lines from the poem, but he did know it was about growing old, and something about a peach.

He let his sideburns run free.

He stopped going to his job. He had some money saved.

He made coffee, now, by boiling water in a pot and pouring it over grounds in a mug, then straining that liquid into another mug through one of 50 filters in a pack from CVS.

He’d met his ex in grad school. He liked how her incisors looked a little fangy. She had a name that was popular in the ’90s but now felt a little ridiculous, nostalgia heavy, and no one wants to go back to the ’90s and its not quite solidified aesthetic—wannabe millennium babies living in fear of Y2K.

When his daughter was born, he insisted they name her something verging on old fashioned. At least the name would point to times in history filled with innovation and forward movement.

He drank his coffee. He contemplated the fibers of his wall-to-wall carpeting. He had no power to avoid clichés.

It’s amazing how long a day is.

He sat in awe of this.

His daughter had gradually stopped talking to him. How does a nine-year-old gradually stop anything? Taper off. Shoot back some methadone.

The prospect of acquiring drugs was too exhausting to consider.

He knew of course that it wasn’t the daughter tapering but the ex. Extending the rectangle of her phone less and less in the direction of the girl. And when the ex did extend it, he imaged her keeping one eye trained on the little one, maybe making her face more sealed up at every laugh, more relaxed at every frown, every beat of silence.

The last time he saw his daughter, she squirmed in a restaurant booth. Mostly she looked at her plate, her water glass, the window. She held her mother in her face. She responded politely to his questions but didn’t ramble on about whatever she was doing that day, earlier in the week. Her restraint devastated him.

He stared at the woods from his kitchen window every time he made coffee. Was that rustling in the brush a deer?

He could insist on seeing her. He could insist on regular calls.

He counted forward in time, year by year. Each year guaranteeing he’d occupy less and less space where she was concerned. He calculated how far he could stretch.

It was surprisingly easy to purchase a gun.

When his ex was pregnant, he’d lay his head next to her stomach at night, feeling slightly ridiculous, like an expectant father in a movie. He wanted to assure the baby, give her preemptive advice, suggest a plan for how everything would play out. But he didn’t want to tell her the wrong thing, so most nights he’d end up falling asleep, silent, the strength of his intention playing against taut skin.

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