by Jessica Walker
“Sweetie, I have to.” My daughter’s fingernails left crescent moons tattooed into my skin.
“We’ve talked about this. Why does Mommy have to go?”
“To protect me.”
“And all the other little children.”
“Like Maggie from kindergarten?” Ice tinkled inside her sippy cup. “But not Ellen. She hogs the crayons.”
“Even Ellen, honey.”
She seemed to weigh whether my departure was worth protecting her nemesis. “Will you bring me back a teddy bear?”
“I don’t think they have teddy bears there, but I’ll find something.”
“Let’s make it a surprise. We don’t need a holiday to give a gift sometimes.”
A horn beeped outside. Cinderella’s carriage waited. If only a prince was the prize, and not another tour overseas in a desert far, far away. I slid my feet into my boots, and swung my bag over my shoulder. How long until my hands—which had softened from washing dishes and playing teatime—hugged a rifle’s trigger with ease?
“Be nice to Daddy, okay?” I kissed her, breathing in the aroma of baby powder and freshly cut grass.
She stood with her thumb in her mouth. No smile, no hug.
The taxi drove halfway down the street before the ice inside me cracked, and the tears poured.
Jessica Walker is a writer who uses fiction to make sense of the world. She has been published in Flash Fiction Magazine, Eye Contact, and Corvus Review. Her best work happens with a cup of coffee in hand.