By Todd Case
Megan slept in the bassinet. She was three weeks old. Guffey marveled at the slight rise and fall of his daughter’s chest, and the way she smelled so sweet. He pulled the cotton baby blanket down to reveal her face. Joanie’s mother had sent them that blanket and about two-hundred dollars’ worth of baby items: diapers, formula and toys. It made him think just a little bit more of the woman. He studied Megan’s features; he couldn’t understand how others could recognize him or anyone else in that tiny face. She was beautiful and for the first time ever he felt the power of some direction in his life. He studied her hands, the tiny bones and fingernails, like the small fan shells he and Joanie had picked up off a northern California coast last year. He had worked the night shift at a local canning factory and he remembered what it was like coming home every morning smelling like fish. But everything was different now, he thought, everything was better.
Joanie had gone out to the van to look for the cigarettes. He’d smoked the last one but he didn’t bother telling her. It would just make her mad. The baby’s eyelids fluttered and her body gave a jerk. Guffey wondered, could you dream without words, or was she capable of remembering somehow where she’d spent the last nine months? He tucked the blanket under Megan’s body and bit his nails.
He heard the hammer of the van engine—a bad rod—as Joanie pulled out of the Capri Motel parking lot. She was on her way to the Coastal Mart for more Camels. He didn’t like her smoking so much in the motel, not now with Megan. Guffey felt claustrophobic when he was hemmed in by the wall-to-wall smoke. He tried to step outside to smoke or did it in the van when he went for diapers and formula.
They’d only been in Iowa two weeks, and Guffey wondered how much longer the money would hold out. They were down to three hundred eight dollars and that wasn’t going to last forever. But it was better than Colorado. When he’d gotten a postcard from a friend saying that Iowa had jobs, he and Joanie picked up and moved everything that would fit into the old Econoline—the tent, the Coleman stove, sleeping bags, clothing, sci-fi books, Guffy’s carpentry tools—and they hit I-80 at one o’clock on a Saturday morning. Driving at night was the best: You could pop four or five white cross and drive forever, happy, and the lights from oncoming cars and the small towns were vivid and inviting. Why hadn’t they just up and left long ago, he’d wondered as they crossed Nebraska—leave that shitty one-bedroom apartment and all the roach-infested furniture for the new tenants. He was tired of owning garbage, couches propped up on bricks, shirts and jeans with stains that would never come out, cars that had just enough go left in them to get you miles from home before the transmission fell out or the radiator leaked.
He took the plastic lid off the Styrofoam cup of the free motel coffee. Why did coffee always taste so good in the morning? There was something about the ritual of it all, grinding the beans when you could, waiting for it to percolate. It made him feel connected to something, or equal to somebody. The rich need their coffee as much as the poor. He surveyed the room as he sipped his coffee. The Capri would do for now. They could wait it out for another week or so until he found a carpentry job. He’d dig holes for a while if he had to, pour concrete or tie steel.
The handgun sat on the table next to the bassinet. It was a .45. Guffey marveled at how much bigger the slug was than his baby girl’s fingers. Joanie had bought the gun for him last Christmas. He’d bought her a microwave. He liked the feel of this gun in his hand. It was power, too, but of a different sort. You could blow it all away with a gun this big. You could end up in jail. You could end up in the grave. You could even end up rich, lots of money somewhere down in Mexico, or some place you’d only seen on TV. Guffey had only been as far south as Kansas. He liked the sound of the word Mexico, the way those gardeners in Colorado had said it, the way it rolled off their tongues, like the name of a car, like Cordoba or Corolla.
Guffey pulled the clip out of the gun. The slugs were golden and made Megan’s skin look pale. He heard the van rattle into the assigned parking space out front. Megan began to stir. He snapped the clip back into the gun and set the safety. He was lucky, he thought to himself, to have this baby, to be someone’s father.
Todd Case is a local real estate agent.