Larry Clarke parked in the driveway. He sat there, motionless, for a good fifteen minutes, staring at an unlit cigarette in his hand, sniffing it several times, before finally sliding it back in with the rest of the pack.
He sighed, exited his mini-van, than approached the front door. He let himself in, and as soon as he did his little eight year old girl, Vanessa, ran to hug his leg.
He bent down quickly, smiled and kissed her cheek. “Hey baby. How are you?”
“Good!” She yelled jubilantly.
“That’s great sweetheart.” Larry rubbed her hair, then continued to the kitchen, where he found the woman he had once married busy at work, marinating some chicken.
“Hey,” he said.
She turned over shoulder, raised a single eyebrow, then responded. “Hey.”
Larry scratched the back of his head, moved beside her at the kitchen, then feebly reached his arm out, before retrieving it back into himself. “So, uhh… How are you?”
Rose didn’t turn to him when she answered. “How do you think.”
Larry crossed his arms then let some air sift out through his nostrils. “You know, the therapist said we can work this out.”
“The therapist?” Responded Rose at once, smacking a pan away accidentally after hastily raising her arms. She sighed, then let them droop back down to her sides as she faced him, frowning. “C’mon, Larry. Let’s stop pretending.”
Larry rubbed behind his ear firmly, before grumbling then leaving the kitchen and taking a seat at the family room table. Vanessa ran over to him, then took a seat in his lap.
“Daddy, what’s wrong? Why do you look so sad?”
Larry rubbed her back. “I’m not. Mommy and I were just having an argument, that’s all.”
Vanessa hugged him, smearing her face into his stomach as she did. “Why do you and mommy always fight, daddy?”
Larry winced, with his hand to the back of his head as he did. “You know I love you, right baby?”
Laughing, Vanessa looked up to him. “Of course I do!”
Larry pet her hair back. “Well good. That’s all that matters.”
Rose entered the room, with a coffee mug in hand. She took a seat, sitting at the opposite side of Larry, then smacked her own thigh several times. “Come over to mommy, dear.”
Vanessa jumped off of Larry then did, eagerly joining her mother in a game of patty-cake as they both laughed together.
“You know I hate that Rose.”
Rose looked back to him, dismissively. “Don’t. Not in front of her. Don’t.”
Larry groaned, ran a hand through his thinning hair, then slouched forward. He crossed his arms, began rocking back and forth, then groaned again and stood up, starting to the front door. “I need a cigarette,” he said as he did.
“Of course you do,” She responded from behind.
Larry stopped at the door, hung his head low, then turned back to face her. “You know, you’re really something Rose. You really are.”
“Are what?” She hissed back at him.
Larry scratched the back of his neck intensely, then left to the outside. He returned to his mini-van, found his pack of Marlboro reds, and rushed to light a drag. He lowered the window down, turned on some talk radio, and sat there, listening and doing his best to drown out the thoughts.
Long after the sun had set, he still remained there, all on his own. Finally, he left his seclusion, and returned back inside.
“Enjoy your smoke?” asked Rose, as soon as she saw him.
Larry ignored her, walking straight past and over to Vanessa, who was watching television in the other room with her teddy bear hugged in her arms. He knelt down beside her and pet back her hair.
“You know I love you, right baby doll?”
Vanessa’s eyes remained fixated on the television as she responded. “Of course, daddy.”
“Good. That’s what matters.” Larry moved closer and kissed her on the forehead. He pet her hair back once more, then stood up and left.
Rose stood by the front door with her arms crossed as he approached. “And what, you’re just going to bail now? You know I’m going to win custody, don’t you?”
Larry scrunched his eyebrows to a close, tugged at what remained of his hair, then finally released. He set a hand to Rose’s shoulder, and pushed her out of the way. He exited in silence, closing the door behind.
– Thomas M. Watt