If the statue had been anything less than Jesus, Sean wouldn’t have cared as much. Even one of the major saints wouldn’t have had him breaking out in hives. But like any good recovering Catholic, Sean did not believe in tempting fate, and this visage of Jesus with its crown of teeth marks like dentata stigmata, felt like nothing less than begging fate for a fight.
Destructor, Sean’s eighteen-month-old daughter, kept Jesus firmly wedged in her mouth as she smashed another of the multi-limbed creations Sean had built out of her Duplo blocks. And though his hot, dry eyes tracked the debris, Sean couldn’t help but smile. Destructor’s room was a living booby-trap, requiring much dexterity to navigate.
Sarge would be proud, Sean thought as he watched his daughter reach for another figure to smash. But along with the thought came the memory of Bagram Airbase, with its searing heat and constant trash fires setting the edges of his smile alight. For nine long months he’d dreamed of sitting in his daughter’s room and having nothing more dangerous than lunchtime to worry about. And yet…even with the afternoon light curled about him like a scarf, Sean had lost the knack for being home somehow. Or at least that was how it felt.
Compared to his daughter, Sean neither looked nor felt human on any level. His hair was uncombed, his face unshaven and he’d been wearing the same gray sweatpants for the last three days. Save for a chocolate chip muffin he’d shared with Destructor-which had been a terrible idea-he hadn’t eaten all day and it would be hours before his wife Linda returned home.
As Destructor gleefully masticated their Lord and Savior, Sean tried to remember something Linda had said earlier that day. ‘She’s gonna do what she’s gonna do, hon. That’s all I can tell you. At the end of the day, your goal is happy and healthy. Everything else is gravy.’
At least by those standards, Sean was succeeding. Destructor’s hair was combed, her clothes stain-free and she had all the chaotic energy of a gunnery sergeant taking heavy fire. But while he might have agreed with his wife’s advice in principle, Sean wasn’t convinced the word ‘gravy’ was ever meant to include a not-yet-two-year-old committing sacrilege.
With a giggling smash, Destructor sent a two-headed creation scattering across the floor, pausing only long enough to pull Jesus out of her mouth, a string of drool connecting him to her shiny, dimpled chin.
Seizing the moment, Sean stole Jesus back, stuffing him into his pocket while his daughter studied the last creation left standing. On the floor, Destructor paused, her curly brown head turning to stare at her now empty hand.
Sean’s blood pressure spiked as his daughter’s once happy face frowned and her drool covered hands slapped against the floor, her little chest heaving with every breath.
“No, no, no, it’s okay. Look, blocks!”
The cry hit like a fire alarm that had woken up from too short a nap.
“Aww, my baby. No, no, no it’s okay! See? Blocks. You like blocks. Please keep playing with your blocks!”
Destructor’s cry rose an octave and those pudgy hands swung with a vengeance, scattering blocks to the horizons of the room.
“Kid, I love you, but we don’t eat Jesus. That’s the kinda thing that’ll get both of us damned to-”
Destructor’s face turned red as tears poured and something in Sean’s chest gave a painful kick. With frantic desperation, he pulled her favorite books off the shelf, but the tears didn’t stop. He sang the Itsy-Bitsy Spider, but she only became more shrill.
Wrapping her up in his arms Sean kept singing, his voice dropping in and out like a radio caught between two different stations.
Slowly she quieted, her tears dripping onto his skin with each verse that passed.
Leaning down, Sean tucked his nose into her hair. She smelled like lavender and green leaves and clung to him with a desperate strength. As gently as he could, Sean stroked her back and slid the last living creation within easy reach. Reluctantly, Destructor picked it up and began to turn it this way and that.
With a sigh of relief, Sean kissed her cheek and then stretched himself along the floor, looking for all those lost pieces. He had just snaked an arm beneath the dresser when Destructor giggled, and Sean felt little hands pawing at his back.
“Kid, what’re you…Ugh! Oh God! Please don’t do that!”
Heedless, Destructor climbed atop him, oblivious to her knees as she drove them into Sean’s spine.
“Cheese!” she squeaked happily into his ear.
“Ugh, God help me.”
Sean rolled his eyes. If he hadn’t been flat on the floor, he’d have hung his head in defeat.
“All right kid, you win.” Contorting himself, Sean fished Jesus out of his pocket. “But the next time I’m deployed, I’m takin’ you with me. Sarge can use you to whip up the new recruits.”
Babbling with delight, Destructor took the figure and then farted into Sean’s spleen.
“You’re welcome, kid,” Sean said, barking out something between a laugh and a sigh.
She’s happy and healthy, troop, he thought as he rested his cheek against the floor. If that’s the best you can do then…let everything else be gravy.
Mentally, Sean nodded and then glanced at the clock. Three hours before his wife would be home. As he closed his eyes, a part of him worried at losing sight of Destructor, but the voice in his head assured him he had nothing to worry about. If his little flight risk did decide to make a break for it, his internal organs would warn him well in advance.Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in