It was going on a month that Lilly had been staying with her parents, Bill and Caroline, at their lake house in Vermont. Although Bill had been a full-bird colonel in the United States Army, there was only one commander in that family, and every time I called I could hear her evil whispers poisoning his ear. “Again?” Caroline would ask. Then the sliding door would whoosh open, slam shut—a retreat to the deck—and Bill would say, “Just take it easy” or “You get to a meeting today?” I could see him out there in the snow, looking in at the women, hand raised in a situation-under-control-type gesture.
Lilly had left after I put my fist through the window, severed an artery, and almost bled out. It had been a bad scene, with ambulances and police, concerned neighbors milling around in their robes. I let her go. I knew that Caroline—who, I’m sure, to this day is convinced that I laid hands on Lilly—would do her worst to turn her. But I had faith in the colonel. Bill was a peacetime soldier—his twenty had fallen smack-dab in the sweet spot between Vietnam and Desert Storm—and, in his mind, somehow, that was a debt he’d never quite repay.
There was no cell service at the lake house, and the first time I called the landline Bill picked up, said Lilly wasn’t ready to talk. It was the same story the next night and next. Finally, I told Bill I’d quit drinking and joined a support group at the VA. He promised to relay the news.
“She’s delighted you’re doing that for yourself,” Bill reported when I called the following evening.
“I’m doing it for Lilly,” I said. “Anyway, you can tell her to come home now, it’s safe.”
“That’s her decision, son,” Bill said.
I allowed myself a swallow from my favorite coffee mug. It was my favorite mug because there was vodka in it, always, instead of coffee.
“Some colonel,” I said.
For weeks, it went like that. Then, one day, we arrived where we’d been heading. “I’m sorry, I think we’re gonna have to put an end to this,” Bill said.
“End to what?”
“These talks. You calling here every night.” There was a pause, then Bill added, “Your belligerence. Your obsession.”
“Let me talk to Lilly.”
“She’s afraid of you, son.”
“Because of the window incident?”
“The window incident? The window incident? What she says, the window incident was the least of it. Did you tell her she made you want to kill things?”
I tried to think back...
“‘Someday, Lilly, you’re gonna make me kill something,’” Bill said. “You never said that?”
“There was a context.”
Bill sighed. “Stick with those meetings, hear. You deserve not to be so fucking miserable.”
I called again—every few minutes, then every minute—but Bill wouldn’t answer. In the end, he was the same as Lilly, same as everyone. People who did not respect the covenant of human relationships. People who believed you could just hang up, walk out. When the Stoli ran dry, I fetched my Bushmaster, threw it behind the bench seat of my truck, and headed north.
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Nick Laird, XY
Carol Muske-Dukes, No Hands