by Len Kuntz

My daughter bought a guitar because she said she needed to be happy, but the strings hurt her fingers.  My ex-wife said, "That's the problem right there."

When I picked her up from school she was huddled with another boy, his head hidden in a black hoodie.  They were both plump and smoking and staring at he same puddle of muddy slush, neither speaking.

She gasped as she got in, bitter nicotine washing the air.

"Good day?" I asked, but she was already lost to her phone.

When I was a kid my father would take us to the fields to pick fruit.  This was when there were no age restrictions.  We were the only white family.  The ones who picked fastest knelt on the stone-laden path instead of scooting on their ass.  My ex used to make fun of my knees, saying mine looked like they belonged to a moose.

"Was that a boyfriend?" I asked my daughter.  "The guy back there?"

She flinched.  "Hell no."

"Hey, watch the language."

"What language?" she asked me, startled and sincere.

Outside gas prices were up again. Steel colored rain spat at a slant.  A skinny stray dog trotted through traffic.

We pulled up later than I'd planned.  My daughter said, "I want to stay in the car."  We argued and she won and when I went inside, down the hall to the last room, the man there looked like a cadaver version of my father.  His eyes were egg shell white and day-old whiskers littered his parched skin like salt sprinkles.

I told him all about the divorce again, about the bad things I'd done.  I told him how afraid I was.

He never answered, just sat staring at a wall calendar, his mouth wide like a trough.

"Okay, Pop."

When I kissed his head I thought I felt his hand reach out and brush against mine, but it could have been my knees getting in the way.

The car was filled with fresh cigarette smoke, everything tinged gray. 

My daughter did a double take, eyeing me suspiciously.   "Holy hell," she said, "have you been crying?"

I put my forehead on the steering wheel.  It felt cold and hard, familiar.

Len Kuntz lives on a lake in rural Washington State with an eagle and three pesky beavers.  His short fiction appears in over sixty lit journals like FOUNDLING REVIEW, CRICKET ONLINE REVIEW, DOGZPLOT and also at