Nathan Philips threw his coat on the bench as he shut the front door from behind. Seven in the evening and the smell of coffee still lingered. His wife, Leanne, sat by her desk, writing her memoir. Soon her readers would get a peek at her personal life, and a tidbit of his, a telltale story he didn’t sign up for.
“Hey, honey, how was your day?” Leanne pecked at the keys without looking up from the screen.
Same question as usual. He rubbed his head and stared at the fridge door decked with ABC magnets. B and C pinned pictures of his two little girls artworks. A picture of a dolphin and a dragon with creepy red eyes and snarling snout were the newest addition. They were fairly good, considering the girls were eight and nine.
“Good. How was yours?”
She swiveled around in her chair and rolled herself along the wood floors toward him. “Did you give your mom the check?”
“No. Didn’t get around to it.”
Leanne scooted back to her desk in the study. “You drive right by her house every day. You can’t ignore her forever.”
“I just wanted to come straight home. I’ll do it tomorrow.”
“I needed you to take care of it today, not tomorrow. Could you not spare a few minutes?”
His tongue couldn’t be restrained anymore. “You’re home all day. Why couldn’t you?”
One side of her nose curled and wrinkles spread along her forehead. “I’ve been at the kids school meetings or don’t you remember?”
Nathan turned his back to pour himself a glass of wine. “And you couldn’t do it because…?”
“Regardless. I asked you to do it.”
“Can we do this later?”
“Why, do you have somewhere to be?”
Nathan slammed his wine glass in the empty sink, shattering bits about, and headed for his keys. Footsteps followed him. He would not turn around. Not to look at that face, the one that always held him in conviction. A door in the hallway creaked open. He wouldn’t turn around for that either. Not even for a voice of an angelic girl.
“Daddy. Where are you going?”
He whipped his head around and stared at Paige, his youngest daughter of eight years of age. She wore a play dress. Purple ribbons and glitter decked across the waistline. She gripped a plastic sword in her hand, ready for action.
“Come Daddy. You’ll be my knight in shiny armor. You must help me fight the dragon before it’s too late. It’s coming for you.” Genuine terror scrunched up her usually jubilant features.
Leanne pulled on Nathan’s shoulder so he’d face her. “Where do you think you’re going?”
Nathan reached over her shoulder and plucked his keys off the wall hook and turned to twist the doorknob. “I’m joining the guys at the game. Be back later.”
Paige screamed in pretend horror. “No Daddy, it’s coming now! It wants to devour you! Help me before it’s too late.”
A pinch tugged at his chest as he squeezed out the door.
“What is wrong with you?” Leanne’s tone faltered.
Without turning, Nathan shut the door on his girls and drove away in his car.
There was no such game to be at, and so he drove aimlessly around his own neighborhood. No company to visit and talk with. Not this time, not like the feminine ones he usually got drunk with. When invitations were given he always took them. The problem with invitations was that they were the first temptation. Next the woman. Then touch. Skin under caressing fingers grew to lust, and so from there, he could never stop.
The public pool came into view and he parked. Surrounding crickets chirped near the empty lot. He leaned against his car, and scanned the damp stairs up the iron gate. A sign hung across a long metal fence. CLOSED.
Nathan gripped at the locked fence and pulled himself up. He tucked his boots at the bottom rail and lifted his other hand to cling on. Hand after hand and foot after foot, he climbed, swung his legs over to the other side, and jumped down. All outside lights were off but the moon’s grace assisted enough to see the chairs and tables around the still pool.
Nathan undressed until only boxers covered him. He stopped at the edge of the pool and stared. The water was calm, like slick ice ready to be broken through.
The man in the reflection could almost be mistaken for a good husband, as his mother once thought of him. But he wasn’t, he was nothing but a cheat, a scoundrel. He chuckled at the word scoundrel. His youngest first learned and used the word to describe a squirrel she saw steal a nut from another squirrel at the park. If she knew every word on earth he couldn’t help wonder what she would use to describe her daddy.
He stared down at himself and hated what he saw. He spread his arms—and dove through the monstrous image.
The icy cold water swallowed him. Small bubbles rushed out from his nose. He resisted the urge to swim, and allowed the heaviness in his chest to sink him. His butt rested on the bottom of the pool. The word deadweight came to him, in his daughter’s delightful tone.
As his lungs began to burn for oxygen, he caught a glimpse of a pair of red eyes glaring at him from the deepest and darkest end of the murky pool.
Pulse racing, he thrashed his legs and arms, but they might as well have been tied down with invisible chains.
A narrow scaly body thrust at him with enough speed to match a striking cobra. A massive jaw extended, and the beast spoke, not out loud but within his mind.